Contributed by David Stutzman
We see it time and again. The deadline approaches. The rush is on. All the delayed decisions and tasks are now urgent.
Stress builds. Checking stops. Mistakes happen. Coordination suffers. Quality erodes. Time runs out. Then comes the refrain, “We’ll catch it in the addendum.” The A/E is already spending his construction administration budget.
And, ultimately, the Owner pays!
Getting it right the first time ultimately saves time, avoids unnecessary costs, and relieves stress. Think about the consequences and the conclusion is obvious.
What Are the Consequences?
Let’s review a hypothetical project after the deadline. The documents are issued for bidding. The bidder receives the documents and checks to be sure he has everything that is required to develop his bid. He checks the specifications table of contents and compares the listed sections to those actually bound in the project manual. He also checks the drawing list against the drawing set.
What is he likely to find? Missing or “extra” documents that are not named as part of the bid set? Documents with titles or numbers that do not match the list? Next step – RFI, and the bidder hasn’t even looked at the technical content. What else awaits discovery for potential Change Order?
The bidder writes the RFI, creates a transmittal, and sends it to the A/E. “Hey, Mr. A/E, I just received your bid set documents. What you said was included does not match what you sent. Would you please explain the discrepancies?” Translation: If this A/E can’t get the document list right, what can I expect of the content?
The A/E’s clerk receives the RFI and logs it in. The clerk sends it to the project manager who reads it, decides who must respond, and returns it for distribution. The RFI is distributed to the project team. The team members review and respond. The project manager assembles all the responses, drafts a reply to the bidder, and collects the revised documents from the team.
By the way, Owner tend to notice RFIs. Some may rate the A/E by the number of RFI and Change Orders. The more the bidders question missing or inaccurate information, the more the Owner’s faith in the A/E erodes. That faith may be critical, later, when defending a claim.
But wait! It’s not so simple now. Once issued for bid, documents can only be changed by addenda. Drawing revisions must be clouded. Spec changes must be tracked. Each revision must be formally issued to modify or replace the previous issue.
What Time Does the Process Take?
Make your own assessment. I believe, on average, each RFI is a minimum of 8 hours – just for the design team. This is only the first RFI just to confirm the bidder has the right set of documents. How many more might there be?
Meanwhile, the bidder is reviewing the content for the first barrage. The more the bidder finds the more his confidence in the documents erodes. The less the confidence, the greater the price to compensate for the perceived document quality and assumed risk.
Let the Owner Pay Less!
Bids include both the cost of construction and the bidder’s risk. Maximizing document quality reduces bidders’ risk and associated costs. Plus it also reduces the design team’s construction administration time and costs. A/Es have long lamented their cost overruns during construction administration. Managing document quality allows A/Es to reduce their risks during construction administration.
When risks are reduced, fees can reflect the reduced risk. Reduced fees and better quality will put design teams at a decided advantage when pursuing the next commission.
The Owner pays less and the A/E improves profits! What a combination.
Plan for Quality
Stop the stress and improve the documents. Adopt a workflow that promotes decisions and creates information when both are needed. Address all the easy issues first. Get them out of the way early. Then focus on the more difficult and important issue.
Require a simple step to improve coordination. Insist that entire design team develop a proposed list of specification sections during Schematic Design. Maintain, update, and distribute the list regularly as the design develops. Or better, yet, use a live, collaborative document, accessible by the entire team. Add notes and questions to the list about the major products and systems that will be included in each specification. Use the specifications list as the powerful coordination tool it can be.
Schedule time for quality checking and correcting. Set an early completion date for drawings and specifications before the end of each design phase. Distribute a check set. If possible, arrange for an independent review by staff members not on the design team.
Schedule reviews. Allow time to make the necessary corrections and complete the coordination. Follow the schedule.
(Editor's note: This blog post, along with numerous others, appeared originally on the Conspectus website. You can view an archive of Conspectus' posts here.)
Contributed by Randy Nishimura
Construction insurance, bonds, and warranties are among the most confusing and inscrutable matters requiring the everyday attention of everyone involved with design and construction. Consequently, it’s important for building industry professionals to understand their various forms and the salient features of each that distinguish their fundamental purposes.
Accidents happen. Losses occur. Things break or don’t work like they’re supposed to. To “fix” these problems entails prescribing responsibilities and providing assurances necessary to safeguard the interests of the various parties involved in today’s increasingly complex building processes. This is the role of construction insurance, bonds, and warranties.
In a nutshell, they may be defined and distinguished as follows:
Fundamentally, insurance is a financial risk management tool, the primary concept of which involves the transference of the risk of potential financial loss from the insured to an insurance company in exchange for a monetary premium.
Most everyone is familiar with insurance in one form or another, such as automobile insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or health insurance. Construction industry insurance is similar, protecting policy holders from catastrophic financial losses in the event of a claim or occurrence.
Construction insurance includes coverage for general liability related to claims for bodily injury, property damage, personal injury, and others that can arise from construction-related activities. There are also professional liability policies, that protect individuals and companies from the full cost of defending claims of negligence, primarily for errors & omissions (after all, humans sometimes will make mistakes). Other forms of liability insurance include policies for managerial liability, and liability risks related to pollution, the actions of company directors and officers, cyber activities, and workers’ compensation. Excess liability policies provide coverage limits above those of an underlying liability policy, and are sometimes a contractual requirement on construction projects.
Construction insurance also includes property insurance. Builder’s risk policies offer coverage in the event of property losses, protecting the insurable interests in materials, fixtures, and/or equipment being used in the construction or renovation of a building. Builder’s risk insurance can be purchased either by the owner or the general contractor, depending upon the terms of the Contract for Construction. It is usually a statutory requirement for public work. Inland marine coverage (a peculiar term) protects property in transit, as well as the instrumentalities of transportation (the bridges, roads, and piers, etc.).
Property insurance purchased by one party can also provide coverage for the business or personal property of others, who become additional named insureds on the policy. This kind of coverage is often used in the instances where an owner may rely upon the insured contractor to provide protection of property the owner has paid for but is not yet part of the completed work (such as for materials stored in an off-site warehouse).
Some cautionary words about construction insurance: Insurance, the saying goes, is like Swiss cheese. There’s a lot of substance to it but a lot of holes as well. It’s in everyone’s best interest to understand required and recommended coverages for any construction project. It’s also important to avoid limiting coverage through poor contract language. Equally important for everyone involved with a construction project is to review contractual requirements related to indemnification with their respective insurance providers. Finally, coordinating, verifying, and tracking certificates are keys to effectively managing insurance products.
Contributed by Karl Michels
The recent growth of programs advocating sustainable design is numerous: LEED, Living Building Challenge, mindful MATERIALS, etc. Through all of these, though, there seems to be a disconnect between specified products and installed items. The owner is paying for something he didn’t receive, the architect is delivering a product they didn’t envision, the contractor is building a project that is not as described, and the manufacturer missed out on a sale of a product designed for the task.
The Boss noticed a continuing pattern of building projects where there is a difference in collaboration and specification language of sustainable design between architects, engineers, and contractors and he wants me to look into it. Something’s not right in these specs and I can’t quite figure it out, but, I’m on it. My name is Specman; I carry a bunch of technical sheets.
* * * * * * * * * *
8:15 AM. The sun is bright, the coffee burnt, and my head is splitting. I have been at this since 5 am this morning. I reach into the desk drawer, shake the last two aspirin out of the bottle, and knock them back with the lousy coffee. It’s going to be one of those days. Thank God for the pharmaceutical guys; they’re my helpers. The 010000 General Conditions and 018113 Sustainable Design specifications are pretty clear. Why didn’t this project get built with the appropriate materials as specified? I don’t quite get it.
9:02 AM. I phone the architectural specifier. “Specifier”, she barks into the phone. “What do you want?” She’s a hard driven cookie; smart, but tough. Billable hours are important, there’s no time for small talk. I called her Honey when I first met her; she made it quite clear she wasn’t an ex-wife or current girlfriend. Just because she was female didn’t mean she didn’t know her stuff and I would be well served to address her appropriately. She was right then and right now. She doesn’t know, however, that I call her Toots behind her back. “Look, I need some answers and I know you can give them to me”.
“Yeah. What’s the deal with the intent of sustainable design that only encompasses half of the project?” I ask.
“What are you talking about, Specman?” she answers. “A sustainable project is sustainable throughout. We just finished issuing the documents on that LEED Plutonium Level building. You know, the one intended to be loved and cherished by the community for time immortal. We covered all the bases: Fasteners are made solely of recycled horseshoes; Ventilation is air movement generated by the wings of 100,000 Monarch butterflies and the Finishes are comprised of the most ecologically responsible building materials with a minimum 20% recycled rainbow content verified by an independent third party. What more is there?” I increasingly get the feeling I might be grabbing a tiger by the tail.
“Well”, I answered, “someone else didn’t get the memo. The engineer hired by you to design the parts of the building no one sees in this same project advocated Electrical Wiring as “throughout” and Piping as “leak free.” Will that meet your sustainable design criteria?”
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
Although it didn't seem like it at the time, one of the best parts of my CSI chapter's certification classes was reading the A201 - not selectively, but the whole thing, beginning to end. Being the heart of the construction contract, anyone who works on a project should know what's in it. I can't quote every part of it, but it's familiar enough that I can find what I'm looking for fairly quickly. I don't deal with much of it, e.g., claims and time requirements, but there are a few parts that I find of particular interest.
We'll start with what I call the complementary clause.
§ 1.2 CORRELATION AND INTENT OF THE CONTRACT DOCUMENTS
Most architects are aware of this requirement, which is quite useful when something is on the drawings but didn't make it into the specifications. Clearly, when that happens there has been a communication failure. The specifier might not have seen something on the drawings, or it might have been added unbeknownst to the specifier. Regardless of the reason, this clause has saved many an architect when something was missed.
It's obviously a useful fallback requirement, but it shouldn't be relied on to cover mistakes that should have been avoided. It is quite powerful, but it also is limited. Let's look at a couple of examples.
The bidding documents show a bathroom on the drawings, and in the bathroom, floor tile is indicated. Unfortunately, there is no specification for tile. No problem, right? The complementary clause requires the contractor to provide floor tile! Of course, there is that pesky provision that requires to contractor to ask the architect about obvious conflicts, but it's pretty much impossible to prove the contractor saw this error and failed to call the architect.
Now we're in construction, and the contractor discovers the error. Because the tile should have been included in the bid, and because of the complementary clause, the contractor is on the hook; the tile must be provided. That is true, but without specifications, the contractor is free to choose any type of tile. The contractor can claim the bid was based on plastic tile on sale at the dollar store, instead of the really cool stuff the architect wanted, priced at $20 per square foot. Furthermore, without installation instructions, the contractor could argue that simply laying the tile on the floor is all that's required.
A silly example, to be sure, yet it emphasizes the importance of specifications as a way to ensure you get what you want.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
Many products offer not only a selection of standard finishes at a standard price, but offer more options at additional cost. Some will offer those options in price groups, such as Standard, Group 1, and Group 2, where each group is more expensive than the last. Finally, some manufacturers offer to match any color.
Unfortunately, the requirements for getting a custom color often are vague, and a minimum quantity may be required or other limitations may apply.
The result? I may tell a project architect that a custom color will cost more, but because I often don’t know how much, the response usually is, “It doesn’t matter; we want custom.”
The problem, of course, is that bidders, who are trying to get the job, are forced to either comply with the specifications and risk losing the job, or bid a standard color in hopes of getting away with it - which too often is the case. I recall a project that required all exterior metal finishes and all concrete coatings to be bid as custom, to match a specific color. Had that color been something unusual or exotic, that might have made sense, but the chosen color was essentially off-white. Trying to get all those colors to match was a nice theory, but in practice, there was as much difference in appearance between adjacent panels, one in shade and the other in full sun, as there was between the colors submitted. And then there are the effects of dirt and UV exposure… Colors change, and some change more than others, so the carefully selected finishes may no longer match after only a short time. For that project, the owner probably paid the price of custom color and got a standard color for some of the finishes.
A couple of years ago we had two projects going, which just happened to have the same custom color for the metal roofing. An astute supplier was able to combine materials for both in a single order. Individually, neither project had enough material to meet the minimum for a custom color, but together they almost did, so the supplier was able to cover most of the added cost. It's always possible for the architect to insist on a custom color regardless of quantity, but that can be more than a bit embarrassing when the contractor tells the owner that the cost can be reduced by a large amount simply by changing to a slightly different color.
Some joint sealants can be produced in virtually any color, and architects are accustomed to always asking for custom colors. It’s usually not a problem for a large project, but the architect should know that the contractor might have to buy fifty gallons of sealant for a joint that's only ten feet long.
Specifying acoustic properties presents similar challenges. Many assemblies will meet a given STC or NRC rating: brick, CMU, CMU with filled cores, multiple layers of gypboard, high density gypboard and similar products, resilient channels, clips, resilient adhesives for multi-layer assemblies, etc. What do they really cost? How do they really perform? Without knowing the relative costs and properties, detailing a particular assembly may result in performance that is lower than expected, or it may cost more than another assembly that would perform just as well.
And what about dimensions? It's easy to draw a large panel in elevation, but can it be produced? Do the length or width force the fabricator to alter the orientation of panels, which can affect appearance of some finishes? Do the dimensions require greater thickness of material, thereby increasing the cost beyond what the designer expected?
These are all very real issues that big-D Designers don't think about, yet it's essential to evaluate such information early in design - before the client has been sold on the design.
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