Contributed by Liz O'Sullivan
Purchasing for construction projects isn’t like purchasing in our personal lives.
When we buy things in our personal lives, we go to a store, or go online, find exactly what we want, and buy it. Sometimes we ask someone else to get something for us. The very particular among us might attach a photo of exactly what we want when we send the email or text message request for the item.
On construction projects, the architect finds out from the owner the general idea of what is required, then the architect, through the drawings and specifications, tells the general contractor exactly what to provide. OK, so this is complicated, but it still makes sense.
What happens next is where it gets weird…
The bidding general contractors solicit bids from subcontractors and vendors, each of whom is a specialist in his or her area. These are the people who read the documents and actually provide what the drawings and specifications require, and the general contractor who is awarded the project coordinates all of that work. These bidders may submit bids on the specified items, or may submit substitution requests, requesting that different products be approved by the architect.
One time I was talking with a product rep at my CSI Chapter meeting about specifications for toilet partitions and lockers. The rep represents several different manufacturers. She currently has someone working with her who is new to the construction industry.
The new person looks at specifications for all projects that have just hit the street, to see if the specs include manufacturers they represent, or products that they might be able to meet the spec for, even if their manufacturers aren’t specifically listed. If their manufacturers aren’t listed, but they can meet the spec, the product rep will prepare a substitution request and submit it to the general contractor for him to submit to the architect, to see if they can get approved, and therefore be able to provide a bid.
The new employee described this process as “the strangest way to do business.” It is very odd, from a manufacturer’s or distributor’s point of view. The building owner, through the architect, asks for something specific, or maybe says “provide one of these three” or maybe says “provide this, or something equal.” Then the manufacturer, distributor, or subcontractor goes through a process which looks a bit like begging to be allowed to play, too.
This isn’t actually that strange when the documents are clear.
Contributed by Russell Harrison
In my last blog post we looked at the struggles a product rep has comparing a product that is specified that doesn’t match the drawings. Or, how we compare apples to oranges.
In this post, we’re going to take it one level further and look at one small thing that happens at the subcontractor level during the bid phase. Before I go there, I’m going to sidetrack into the glazing side a bit, but we’ll bring it back around to the metal panel industry we spoke about in blog post #1, I promise!
In a past life, I was a subcontractor in Oregon working in the commercial glazing realm. We would install anything glazing related in commercial buildings or high-end residences. That could be curtainwalls and storefronts, automatic door entrances, or even vinyl windows. The reason I bring this up is because it gave our team exposure to items from Divisions 5 (Metal), 7 (Thermal and Moisture Protection), or 8 (Openings). As our work was based around Division 8, this forced us to sometimes work with quite a few items outside of our realm of expertise and brought up a lot of questions internally. Anytime we had time to reach out to a rep and discuss the things we didn’t understand, we would do so. However, when our bid lead times were short, we’d have to make a lot of guesses.
Guessing isn’t an abnormal occurrence in construction estimating. Unfortunately, it’s quite normal. Controlling the amount of guessing for subcontractors is an area where we can all help.
Subcontractors, like most people involved in the commercial construction industry, have to clearly understand the work to bid a project accurately. As product reps, we try to work side by side with our subs to make sure they have all the information they need by the bid date so they can provide a thorough bid, but sometimes things happen outside of our control. A recent item outside of our control, and a very relevant example, would be our white-hot construction market in a booming economy.
During a construction boom, most estimating teams at the subcontractor level are working 60-70 hours a week in an attempt to keep up with the number of projects that are bidding. This doesn’t leave much, if any, time for other daily tasks. Estimators are typically very selective of what they will consider bidding during these times, will only work with general contractors (GC's) they like, will choose to bid jobs that are completely detailed and well specified, or will chose projects that fit into their available labor calendars.
Contributed by Roy Schauffele
One of my favorite movie lines is “you’re killing me, Smalls”, from the baseball movie, 'The Sandlot'.
Well in today’s world, especially specifications for air barriers, the construction industry is killing me. I have written about this item before on #FixConstruction, but to no avail. One of the technical data points I hear design folks dig their feet in on is the “perm rating”. Permeance is a measurement of water vapor transmission through a material, often based on testing performed in accordance to ASTM E96, either Procedure A (dry cup or desiccant) or Procedure B (the wet cup). Big note here, the IBC (International Building Code) in Chapter 2, only references Procedure A.
For the record, I love good reproducible usable data, but the ASTM E96 method of testing leaves me flat. At this moment, I’m sitting here looking at the same material, tested by two different accredited laboratories and there is a 300% difference between the two labs between both two (2) Procedure A samples and two (2) Procedure B samples. With that type of difference, how can one rely on this type of data?
The ASTM E96 standard itself states, in part, “A permeance value obtained under one set of conditions may not indicate the value in another set of conditions”. Based on a round-robin testing effort, ASTM reports E96 has about 20% lab-to-lab variability. I bet you are going to have to think fairly hard about another part of your project manual where you’d allow a 20% variability in testing data.
Permeance data is not an evaluation criterion for ABAA (Air Barrier Association of America). The data is listed by ABAA because the design community has requested it.
Going back to the code definitions, the language used in the air barrier business is constantly changing as the industry and technology evolve. Nowhere is this more evident than in Building Code language, which now fully defines Vapor Retarders and Vapor Permeable in Chapter 2 of the 2015 & 2018 IBC (International Building Code).
Contributed by Russell Harrison
As product reps, most of us have it pretty easy in our day-to-day lives. Sure, there are long days walking, driving, or even flying from meeting to meeting. And don’t forget the many nights in hotels!!! But overall, our jobs aren’t too difficult.
Well, except for the one thing that we don’t have control over. When the drawings and specifications don’t agree on a project. This is always a difficult spot to be in for a product rep. I won’t even start to cover what happens at the subcontractor level, as that’s a blog post unto itself.
Has anyone ever wondered what happens when a manufacturer’s rep is asked to provide a bid in that instance? Many things happen, and not necessarily all of them are good! To give you a background on what products I cover as a rep, I handle aluminum composite materials (ACM), plate, and honeycomb panels in the Pacific Northwest. Our products are specified on a regular basis. A good number of projects we end up working on are handled via substitution request.
Typically, when a subcontractor gets an invite where one of our products are being used (material, not necessarily manufacturer specified), we’re forwarded some, or all of the information we need to get started on providing a material bid. As reps, we get to go through the details and specs to make sure they work together and there aren’t any issues. In the last month, I’ve had eight or ten projects come across my desk where the specs and details did not agree, even to the point of ACM rainscreen panels being specified, but the drawings calling out honeycomb barrier panels. That, kids, is an apples and oranges conversation and very difficult to negotiate at the architectural level without ruffling feathers!
The first thing that I do when providing a subcontractor request is to annotate the project spec and note where our proposed substitution is an equal or comparable, but I always include notes where there was a “miss” on the part of the architecture team to either make sure the spec was clean or where the details don’t match the specs. Unfortunately, because my notes are on the spec, it always seems that I’m picking on the specifier, but I’m not. Regrettably, it’s a feature of the substitution request process, since they are typically based around the specifications.
Contributed by Eric D. Lussier
By definition from the Construction Specifications Institute, Fellowship is one of the top two honors given by CSI. Fellows of the Institute are chosen by their peers. Nominees must have been members in good standing for not less than five years and have notably contributed to the advancement of construction technology, the improvement of construction specifications, education, or by service to the Institute.
I've known my friend and Let's Fix Construction co-founder, Cherise Lakeside, for just shy of seven years. Relatively fresh off of joining CSI, we met at CONSTRUCT, when it was held in Phoenix in September of 2012 by happenstance. In those seven years that I've known her, I've watched her give, give and give some more. Always selfless. Never asking for anything in return. Seven years of continually making up for the lost time of not being involved in CSI earlier in her professional career.
Cherise and I are friends. Friends talk. When she knew she would be nominated for Fellowship, she had her doubts. "I haven't been doing this long enough". "I haven't done enough". "I won't be selected". All thoughts that she uttered to me in private conversation. "You're full of it", I would respond. "I know of nobody else in CSI who has given more in seven years".
Even I was shocked on just how much Cherise has done for CSI and the construction industry in seven short years. I read a draft of her Fellowship submission and even I was in awe. CDT classes. Specs 101 presentations. Let's Fix Construction workshops. Dozens of blog posts. The list went on and on.
When I was on the shortlist of those that were asked to write a Letter of Endorsement for her earlier this year, I wondered to myself where I was going to start and where I was going to end. I've never met anyone who has said "I haven't done enough", but turns out has done a bit of everything. It turns out I had to stop myself at 1,500 words, and I felt that I only scratched the surface on describing what Cherise has done.
I submitted my Letter of Recommendation with little doubt of what the end result would be. I concluded my Letter with "I’m honored to call her a friend and I’ll be even more honored to call her a Fellow." On August 2nd, the information trickled out and joining John T. Dunaway, CSI, CCS and Kermit Duncan, CSI, CCCA in elevation to Fellowship on Thursday, October 10th in National Harbor, MD at CONSTRUCT will be my friend, Cherise Lakeside, CSI, CDT.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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