It would be easy to say that the mantra of construction is “happily ever after.” Yes, it is possible to feel satisfaction post-project if the design is right and the construction values are high. But, BEWARE … the path to “happily ever after” can have some bumps along the way …
Indeed, the mission of The Healing Home is to raise the health and happiness quotient (as far as the aesthetics of the home environment goes). Avoiding pitfalls in a highly subjective process is one of the keys to success.
Authentic Listening, Ideation, and Collaboration
The Designer’s Responsibility: The “trouble” can begin early if the designer isn’t really listening to the client’s needs. It’s sort of like going to the shoe store. If the shoe doesn’t fit all sorts of problems can later arise. A “plan” is, simply put, a comprehensive package of potential. Let’s get it right.
The Client’s Responsibility: If the client doesn’t pay careful attention to the initial design brief, plans may be drawn that don’t quite fit and may need to be redrawn, causing additional time and cost. To avoid this bump write down your “Wish List” in a prioritized format. If you want a new kitchen, say it first. And emphasize it. “I hate this kitchen, not enough storage, clunky old cabinets”, etc. As you go down your list include mechanical issues: ineffective heat or A/C; poor water pressure; even “the front door sticks”.
Mutual Responsibilities: Get the zoning and building department information early and accurately. If the county won’t let you build an accessory building due to lot area coverage issues, it is better to know it early so we don’t waste time and money designing a building that will not be approved for construction. Sometimes just a visit to the municipal website garners enough information. Sometimes you need a visit to the planning office. No fears here. These are public service environments, there to support the best interests of individual and community.
Plans and Specifications
The contract between the Owner of a dwelling and the Contractor doing the work is only as tight as the Plans and Specifications. Stating what is included in the project is a basic list comprising what we call the Specifications of the Project.
There are literally thousands of items in every job. Some are covered by building codes – such as framing materials or insulation. Others are included in the overall design drawings – such as windows and doors, dimensions, and plan notations. The rest falls into the category of General Specifications. And the list can be quite long.
The best way to get a tight agreement is to describe it as including everything in the Plans and Specifications, except if this is not fully inclusive. The Contractor’s Agreement should not vary much from the Design Documents. If it does, say there is a change of the window manufacturer, there should be a good reason for doing this – such as “We get a deep discount from these guys.”
Buyer Beware: Not all windows are created equal. Do your homework before agreeing to the change.
Unless otherwise stated, it is not the Contractor’s job to modify the plans. His/her job is to price the work presented – fully and accurately. Lots of problems arise later when the demons of “This is not what I expected” arrive. Homeowners, do your homework and make sure the person who designed the work is involved in Contract Review. This can get even more complicated when there are multiple bids for the work.
General Contractors and Subcontractors
Most General Contractors these days don’t have employees. With perhaps a supervisor or two, they rely on subcontractors to accomplish project obligations. This generally means that the scheduling of work can be difficult if subs have other projects or personal obligations.
In a world where good carpenters are at a premium, the Contractor may not have the manpower available when needed. This can stop or impede progress on any project.
Training good carpenters takes time. I used to tell prospective apprentices that it would be at least 8-10 years before they have enough experience to actually run a project. They will need to learn not just framing and finishing but also a good bit of the other trades to have authoritative control of high end remodeling jobs.
It has always been a workout getting the electricians, plumbers, sheet rockers, insulators, roofers, HVAC techs, floor finishers, kitchen suppliers, tile setters and painters to conform to a tight schedule. A week lost here and there due to other commitments telegraphs down the timeline to create extended project windows.
Most of the subs are small business owners – including the carpenters – and nothing gets done if the carpenters aren’t working or if there is no onsite supervision.
The old adage, “Schedules are made to be broken” unfortunately applies in the construction/remodeling world. By all means make a schedule – get the GC to create a realistic one. Expect changes, expect delays. Good communication by everyone involved helps keep the ball rolling smoothly.
Heed the Weather Gods!
Many times during larger jobs where foundations are open, or the roof is off, or the whole rear wall is exposed, the Weather Gods rage! A thunderstorm comes rolling through, or a foot of snow gets dumped in November or April. We live in the natural world where these events are common. It is important to understand that bad weather usually means delays or damage to exposed areas of the home. It is the job of the GC to anticipate the late afternoon thunderstorm and batten down the hatches in the event of a deluge and/or high winds. Having a fresh, quality tarp ready and closing up early is just the right thing to do.
A project needs to be safely closed and protected every day. This includes boarding up openings, taking down ladders and covering stockpiled materials. Also knowing when it’s too cold to work. We used the mantra “28 degrees and climbing” to indicate that it was okay to pour cement or lay block. Roof shingle tabs won’t glue down in very cold weather making them vulnerable to high wind damage. It’s just common sense. And experience.
Every trade gets inspected, often several times. A tradesman is not allowed to cover up anything until a building official inspects the wiring, piping, insulation or fastening.
The Building Permit is closely tied to the Plans and Specs that are submitted for approval. It is the GC’s responsibility to document, usually by letter from the Engineer, any deviation from the stamped plans. It is difficult for the building inspectors to see everything that is changed in a large remodeling project. They often rely on the reputation of the carpenter or builder to guarantee that things are constructed safely and strongly. It is a big responsibility and one that is earned. The attitude of the subs is key. Making sure that the post in the crawl space is directly under the load above needs to be verified by the chain of command: Contractor; Supervisor; Carpenter, and lastly the Inspector.
Inspection schedules may also create production delays. Allow a minimum of one week, perhaps more for this process. Even a small code violation requires re-inspection and your job goes to the bottom of the list!
Certificate of Occupancy
Before writing the check for the last payment to your GC, get all final inspections completed. When you take out a building permit, the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of the home is revoked – meaning it may be illegal to live in the space. Smaller projects provide for living within the building. Check the code. Living through a remodeling project can be stressful, so be sure to know what you are getting into.
Buyer Beware: Having the final inspections may mean there are fee and tax obligations. Check with the code officials. Passing along a clear title with completed inspections is the responsibility of the GC.
The basis for a successful construction project is trust.
The Client trusts that the Contractor will perform according to the initial agreements: cost, schedule, quality.
The Contractor trusts that the Owners will pay fully and promptly and will make all of the decisions required to keep the project moving forward in a timely fashion. Often they go into Agreement knowing that some items remain undecided. This is normal. Project expectations are best kept flexible. After all, we want to be able to make reasonable changes and selections to organically fit the desired result. Honoring these decisions and responsibilities entails understanding and cooperation. This is – at best – is a team project and – at worst – adversarial.
Change Orders are a consequence of the complexity of construction – and especially remodeling. It is hard to anticipate everything. Trust empowers generosity. If we give our best, we have a better chance to get the best – both in terms of quality and personal satisfaction.
When trust breaks down it is very hard to repair: bills are delayed or only partially paid; job progress becomes stunted; seeds of anger develop. Believe me, you don’t want this outcome. Do everything you can to keep the communication open and the good will flowing.