Contributed by David Stutzman
Design and construction projects require an enormous number of participants to complete each facility. The basic teams include owners, architects, contractors, and suppliers. The lines of communication are well defined, especially after the construction contract is executed. But how are the teams collaborating before the contract is signed?
In no particular order…
The relationship between the owner and architect is well defined by the agreement for the design services. According to AIA agreement Document B101, the owner and architect share information at each design phase. The owner provides the project program and budget. The architect reviews the information and advises the owner if there are any concerns before the design is started. They discuss alternatives for the design approach and for the construction project delivery method. The communication is nearly continuous as the design is refined and solidified while progressing to the completion of the construction documents.
When the owner retains a contractor or construction manager for preconstruction services, the architect communicates with the contractor about cost, schedule, and constructability. When the architect and contractor are collaborating during design phases, the owner can have greater confidence that the ultimate design will meet the owner’s budget and schedule.
Product representatives, whether manufacturer’s direct employees or independent representatives, will meet with the architect team, including the specifier, to advise about the use of specific products for particular applications. The discussion is particularly valuable to resolve unusual conditions, to verify the product performance will meet the owner’s project requirements, and to understand the product cost implications created by the design decisions.
The specifier typically begins by challenging the architect – asking many questions to determine the design intent and confirm project systems, assemblies, products, and materials. The Q&A process becomes a dialog to ensure all aspects of the project will be specified correctly so the owner realizes the quality expected in the completed facility.
The specifier may recommend alternative systems and products that offer advantages to the project. And the specifier will connect the architect to suppliers, subcontractors, and other resources needed to solve particular design problems. The architect and specifier discuss alternatives to determine the optimal design solutions for each application.
Subcontractors provide invaluable real-world experience, with both product and installation. They can advise architects and specifiers about the practicality of construction details, installation sequencing, system costs, and product availability through local distribution channels. The owner may engage subcontractors during design to provide design assist services to develop project specific details and shop drawings before design is complete.
Unlike suppliers who typically furnish product prices only, subcontractors can provide installed system costs that reflect the expected project complexity.
Availability can be a significant issue, especially for short duration projects and just-in-time manufacturing. When architects select the perfect product that is not available in time, project completion may be delayed.
Traditionally, the subcontractor is rarely given an opportunity to contribute during the design process, except as part of a design assist process. The architect team, including specifiers, tends to rely on suppliers for product and system information. Suppliers are rarely responsible for complete systems, while subcontractors always are responsible for complete systems. Be sure to include subcontractors in the process.
Each team and every team member has a contribution to make. The best design responses will take advantage of experience and expertise that is readily available. Together, through active collaboration before the construction contract is signed, the teams can help ensure the owner’s project requirements will be met when construction is complete.
(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 Elias Saltz
As a consulting specifier, my clients come to me for my expertise, and to bolster my knowledge I frequently find myself in conversations with product reps, talking about the nitty-gritty technical aspects of their products. These conversations delve into a far deeper level of detail than I would previously get when I was a ‘normal’ design architect and project manager. Over the course of those conversations, I am occasionally surprised that things I thought I knew a lot about were based on misconceptions. In fact, even things that I considered “common knowledge” have been shown to be wrong, or at least over-simplifications. Armed with accurate information, I can pass correct technical advice on to my clients, hopefully dispelling those misconceptions one person at a time, one project at a time.
Which leads me to the idea for this series of posts. Misconceptions can be found across the spectrum, in every product category and in every MasterFormat number. I thought it would be fun and enlightening to ask my go-to reps in a wide variety of product categories to tell me the biggest and most common misconceptions they hear as they work with designers and architects, and present their responses here. In each post I’ll relate my discussion with reps in one category or one MasterFormat header. So without any further ado, today’s Misconceptions.
The reps I chose to approach for this post, Andy Vegter from USG and Thad Goodman from National Gypsum, are both active and involved CSI members that I’ve come to know well over my career. I consider them my trusted advisors when it comes to questions about their companies’ lines of gypsum-based products. I’m not promoting their products over their competitors’ - it’s far more about the individual reps than the companies that they work for.
Without any further ado, today’s Misconceptions.
09 29 00 - Gypsum Board
I asked Andy and Thad this question:
“When you think about the questions and comments you hear from design professionals across all levels of experience, what misconceptions about gypsum products do you find that you most commonly have to dispel?”
First, this brief introduction - What is gypsum/gypsum board, anyway?”
Gypsum is a natural mineral, chemically made up of calcium and sulfur bound to oxygen and water. It is found naturally in sedimentary rock formations, with some of the world’s largest natural reserves in North America. A synthetic version, which is a byproduct of coal burning electric power plants, is chemically identical to natural gypsum. Some gypsum board manufacturing plants are fed with mostly synthetic gypsums and others are built over a mine where the gypsum is coming out of the ground. Synthetic gypsum is considered a recycled material by sustainability rating systems, so projects seeking certification can specify that gypsum panels be made up of 90% recycled content. It’s important to remember that not all products are available from plants that use synthetic gypsum.
Gypsum board is manufactured when gypsum is mixed with water and additives to form a slurry which is then fed between continuous layers of paper or another type of facer. Through a chemical process, the slurry hardens to its original rock state, and the facer becomes bonded to the gypsum core. The boards are then cut to size and dried.
What follows are some of the most frequent misconceptions and misunderstandings that the reps related, followed by the correct information.
Contributed by Tom J. Moverman, Esq
A long time ago modular construction had a limited understanding that brought it down to parked trailers and temporary metal buildings that did not retain heat. Fast forward to now, increased efficiency in the modular business has shifted the focus from stick building methods to new building processes.
What Is Modular Building Or Construction?
Put simply, modular construction or building is the method of having all the components of a structure pre-built in a secure and dry factory and finally assembled at the respective site. Most people who have seen this type of building have witnessed it in the construction of a home. An increase in modular construction saw nearly three percent of all commercial construction done using modular methods. Using modular construction is growing in popularity in the construction industry and with very good reasons.
One of those reasons for this popularity is that modular construction saves time and money. For example, construction slows down in the colder parts of the country, but using modular building methods means this is not normally the case. Construction is done inside a climate-controlled factory where workers do not have to battle the elements and construction companies don't have to be concerned about losing time and money due to inclement weather. It's estimated that a structure built through modular methods can be constructed 25 to 50 percent quicker than standard construction methods. This further adds to its popularity with companies looking to save money on building costs.
Questions That Come With This Type Of Construction
One of the most pertinent questions that come up when talk about modular construction happens, is how this type of construction will affect American workers' jobs. The most viable answer to this question is that foreign companies can try to create modular building segments to be used in America but they are not going to have the best insight into building exactly for American needs. This lessens the potential threat of job loss that this construction is perceived to bring.
Furthermore, shipping costs associated with getting big modular segments to the United States can prohibit foreign companies from building for American projects. As already stated above, foreign manufacturers might use materials and methods that do not meet American building costs. It is likely that foreign modular construction companies are going to be reluctant to change their methods in order to meet American specifications. What all this means is that there is a less chance American jobs will be taken out of the country and into foreign hands.
A Degree Of Accuracy Is Required
Another element of modular construction that needs to be taken into consideration is how precise the site preparation needs to be in order to for a structure to be built correctly. With regular building projects, imperfections in the foundation can be corrected by making adjustments on site. However, when it comes to modular buildings, the foundation has to be accurately level to within one-half of an inch otherwise the entire structure will need to be rebuilt. Many American construction companies have adjusted to this unique facet of modular construction, however the thought that one wrong move could ruin the whole project can certainly elicit a lot of frustration sometimes.
Will All Buildings End Up Looking Similar?
Modular structures used to look alike a lot, regardless of their structure. Thankfully, technological advances have helped modular construction companies find ways to offer a lot of variety to their clients. Some of those advances now allow architects to design modular structures with curves and other various shapes that were not possible before. A desire for modular construction companies to acquire more of the commercial market is the reason behind this new innovation. Modular manufacturers turned to commercial construction after the residential housing market fell. Many manufacturers have found success in this market.
However, despite the changes and successes, modular construction still faces some limitations based on the look and functionality of a structure. That still does not mean modular construction is not something to consider for your projects. It is also worth noting that modular does not have to be done for the entire structure; heating, cooling or plumbing systems can be built in advance and shipped after completion. Whichever way modular construction is used, it is worth considering for its time and money saving purposes.
Tom Moverman established the Lipsig Brooklyn Law Firm with Harry Lipsig and his partners in 1989; The firm’s focus is in products liability, personal injury, construction accidents, car accidents and medical malpractice.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
CSI's practice documents - MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and the Practice Guides - present a unified and consistent approach to preparing and interpreting construction documents based on AIA or EJCDC general conditions and related documents. They also are applicable to documents produced by most other organizations, though some modification may be necessary. When teaching CSI classes, I emphasize the overall organization of these documents as a first principle; with that in mind, it's easier to understand why things are organized the way they are, and to see how they all work together. This sometimes leads to comments and questions, such as, "That's not the way my office does it!" and "Why don't this manufacturer's specifications follow those rules?"
Together, CSI's practice documents provide a firm but adaptable framework for preparing construction documents. They provide enough structure so, as the old adage says, there is "a place for everything and everything in its place." On the other hand, they are sufficiently flexible to allow one to specify just about anything imaginable.
Although these documents create a fairly complete framework, they do not go into great detail about how to address all matters: there is no standard specification for concrete; a number of optional methods are offered; there is no boilerplate text for any part of a specification beyond article titles, and even those are suggestions. The specifier, following the principles of the practice documents, is left to supply the remaining detail.
Obviously, this leaves a lot to be done. If a specifier were to start with nothing more than access to products, it would take a long time to assemble a set of master specifications. The widespread availability of reference standards is of inestimable help, making it possible to easily define performance testing methods and properties. However, even with these standards, writing even a simple section could take many hours, and the amount of research that would be required for a complex system or assembly could be overwhelming. (Reference standards are not without their own problems; see my previously written "Faith-based specifications.")
Fortunately, a few entrepreneurial people, and later, manufacturers themselves, saw an unfulfilled need and began to produce master guide specifications for a great variety of construction products and systems. Unfortunately, the results typically have not followed the rules established by AIA and CSI documents. Even worse, guide specifications often are used verbatim or with only minor changes, and without much concern about how well they are written. A common excuse is that they are incorporated late in a project, but it's not unusual to see them become office masters with little change.
Manufacturers have a defensible position; they are in business to sell products, and they have a tendency to stack the deck any way they can in their own proprietary specifications. I'm not saying it's right, and it definitely doesn't comply with CSI practice guides, but it's understandable. How many times have you seen a manufacturer's guide specification that requires the product be produced by only that manufacturer, not once, but two or three times? From their viewpoint, it makes sense to identify the manufacturer under Section Includes, Quality Assurance, Manufacturers, Components, Assemblies, and a few more times under Execution. Some manufacturers also like to include a variety of restrictive specifications that have little to do with performance or quality. I won't be surprised if some day I see a manufacturer's specification that includes something like, "Label: Must include the words Acme Widgets, Inc."
Still, I can't get too excited when a manufacturer writes a specification that eliminates the competition. They still offer useful information, and the price is right. The sad thing is that some designers apparently don't realize what's going on, and leave all of the proprietary provisions in place - and then call it a competitive specification!
Regardless of how guide specifications are written, the designer should modify them so they express what is needed by the owner and the project.
Contributed by Sheldon Wolfe
Among the things specifiers grumble most about are the typical architect's lack of knowledge about how things work and how they go together, and the belief that "If I can draw it someone can build it!"
Some architecture schools do include courses about the practical aspects of architecture, but those courses are often optional, so most architects graduate with a lot of knowledge about visual design, planning, and presentation, but little understanding of materials or construction.
It's fine to have a presentation about masonry, but so much more could be learned from participants getting their hands dirty. It's easy to draw a 4 x 4 x 8 brick, but what does it feel like?
It takes no more effort to draw a 3-5/8 x 2-1/4 x 11-5/8 brick or a 3-5/8 x 3-5/8 x 15-5/8 brick, or, for that matter, a 12 x 8 x 16 concrete masonry unit, but what difference does it make to the mason? It doesn't take any longer to draw a large masonry unit, but does the size affect installation time?
Until you pick up a brick, mix the mortar, and try to build a wall, you simply cannot appreciate what your details mean in the real world. This shortcoming presents a tremendous opportunity for continuing education programs.
In June of 2000, twenty-five architects from my office went to the masonry apprentice school in St. Paul for an afternoon of fun, down-and-dirty continuing education. The program was set up by Olene Bigelow, our local International Masonry Institute (IMI) rep, and contact for the Brick Industry Association (BIA).
The apprentices set up a series of stations, each showing a specific part of the job. Demonstrations included reading drawings and specifications, estimating, mixing mortar, laying brick and CMU of various sizes, installing door frames, and more. After the book learnin' discussions, the architects got their hands dirty at each station and learned how their decisions affected construction and schedule.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of CSI visited the school and followed the same program. It's easy to complain about what architects don't know, but they are not alone. Specifiers may know more of the technical properties of materials, but many have had no more practical experience in construction than architects.
I used masonry as an example, but similar programs could be done for everything that goes into a building.
ALL of us can us do better if we know more about how other team members do their jobs.
Let's Fix Construction is a collective group of construction professionals who want to better the industry by sharing our knowledge, openly communicating and encouraging collaboration.
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