Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Build Process - Compare Job Progress to Job Plans - Part 4

Information collected from the site is reviewed and compared with the project plan to determine if the project is on time, the resources (both material and personnel) allocated were sufficient and of the right type, and the actual state of the project conforms to the schedule. Effectively comparing the project’s progress to the job plan enables you, as the customer, to bring the project manager’s attention to an area of the project most in need of attention.
Take Corrective Action
The corrective action necessary requires decisions to be made by the project manager and addresses questions that are technical in nature and relative to an actual issue that may be the cause of or result in a delay.  Your input may be required, time to time, to agree with a proposed solution to an unanticipated event.
Typically, this may be something as simple as where the tile can be stored indoors, an alternate location to keep a family pet, or setting aside an area in the yard to stage materials. Or you may find the discussion involves dealing with a cost overrun, material shortage or substitution.
Whatever the issue, your input will be required to help guide the project manager and it is necessary you, as the owner, agree to the proposed work arounds, or offer alternate solutions.  Unfortunately, you may find making these kinds of decisions bring you out of your comfort zone because you lack sufficient expertise and knowledge to know if your decision is the best one to make.
Whatever the case, deviations in the project plan must be noted.  Failure to note these issues and deal with them will result in a job that will end up behind schedule, over cost, and not conform to the contract documents.  The result of not taking corrective action is the equivalent of not monitoring the project at all.
Collect Historical Data
This involves collecting data about what has happened.  The type of information collected validates the work as the project progresses.  This requires measuring walls to validate they were built the required length, are the needed width, and placed in the correct location. Walls built in the wrong location happen more often than you may realize.  The same goes for lowered ceilings, bulkheads, and chases for mechanical elements such as ductwork and plumbing.
The drawings are your authoritative source of information indicating where the electrical, plumbing and HVAC rough-ins are to be placed, the sizes for openings for doors and windows, and show the tile installation patterns. Comparing the as-built conditions to the design requirements needs to be done as the work progresses in order to identify or pinpoint any deviations from the job plan.  Also, prior to any material being installed, the material needs to be inspected and validated to ensure they match those specified. A record of this inspection needs to be kept available along with any photographs taken.
The historical data collected serves two purposes: first, to serve as a basis for planning future jobs; and second, to serve as a thorough record of actual events in the event claims for non-performance arise.
The purpose and importance of describing the components of the Project Control Cycle was to help you understand what they are and the underlying concepts behind all the actions and steps used to properly control, monitor, report, and record the status of the project.
By understanding how the project is managed and monitored you are empowered to know if the project is doomed or can be saved. It’s not enough to understand how things are to be controlled, you also need more information describing when an activity is to take place, who will be doing what, how long it will take.  This information is contained in the Building Schedule.

The Build Process - Project Control Cycle Components - Part 3

The project control cycle applies just as readily to activities such as demolition, installation of  plumbing fixtures, floor and wall tile, and painting as it does to the suppliers who are providing the materials and products used to build your renovation. Your project’s success, and especially for a seemingly small one like a bathroom, needs to follow a Project Control Cycle  because one small deviation can have a significant impact on the progress of the work.
Here is a more detailed explanation for each of the Project Control Cycle components.

Set Initial Goals

The first task in the project cycle is to set goals for each of the activities. This step needs to be completed before the job is awarded to the contractor to do the work.  Many of the goals you are required to identify are the project pricing, materials selected, and the completion of the contract documents such as the detailed working drawings, scope of work and specifications.
The pricing allows you to arrive at an initial cost for the project. The working drawings, scope of work, and specifications identify who is going to do the work, where it’s going to be done, what materials are to be used, and how long the project will take. Simply put, the budget for the construction should not exceed the costs anticipated in the estimate nor can the time planned in a schedule exceed the number of days permitted.
Why? Under the terms of the contract, expectations for the budget and schedule are clearly disclosed.
It is important these initial goals are established and agreed to in writing before any work starts. Knowing what these goals are allows you to measure the project’s progress enabling you to address issues in a proactive rather than a reactive manner. So if your scope of work outlines a task needs to be completed in 1 day, and 3 days later the task is still not complete, the damage this delay causes to the project becomes extremely evident, especially if it’s the early stages, such as the site preparation activity.
Establish Job Plans
Establishing your project’s Job Plan is a three step process.  
First, the job is broken down into its composite parts or activities.  
The second step is to plan and optimize the activity for maximum efficiency.  For example, some of the activities may be Site Preparation, Demolition, Mechanical Rough-in, Framing, etc..
Lastly, with the activities identified, these are then strung together in a realistic order of work.  This order of work is converted into a diagram and calculations are applied to determine at what time and on what dates the activity should take place.  
The result is a plan you can use as a guide for all of those involved with building the job. The job plan is used to effectively cope with the inevitable changes that will occur.
Monitor Progress
Monitoring progress of the project is a two step process.  
The first part is carried out on the job site at regular intervals and involves monitoring the actual events occurring. This may happen once or twice a day, typically being at the beginning and half way through the day.  The purpose of this monitoring activity is to determine who is on site and/or confirm if the materials have arrived or are available for the work scheduled.
The information gathered from the monitoring activity is compared to the working drawings to confirm the work is being done to meet the design developed. The specifications are consulted to ensure the correct materials delivered are those purchased. Jobsite health and safety practices and standards are important, and the trades doing the work are observed to confirm they are meeting those standards.
The second step of the process is to monitor the schedule, or schedule monitoring as it’s called, and this is done on an activity by activity basis to measure if: the work starts on time, is performed within the time allocated, and is completed according to the schedule.  Schedule monitoring is done at all stages of construction, from set-up to the final cleaning. This includes the performance of all of the required inspections too.

The Build Process - Your Project and the Project Control Cycle - Part 2

To bring order to the seemingly chaotic world of construction, a formal method is used to control, monitor, evaluate, support decision making, and allow you to understand how well your project is progressing once it’s underway. Your contractor’s goal is to meet each of the objectives you define and outline in your construction contract and those objectives are to:
  • Establish a realistic schedule
  • Work within a realistic budget
  • Identify resources/materials used
  • Define the project’s outcome
To manage a project such as a bathroom renovation, the method used to do all of this is called the Project Management Cycle. Basically, it’s a term used to identify the project’s performance criteria, allowing you to control and monitor the progress of the job.  Using a Project Management Cycle enables your contractor to establish short term goals and you to determine if these goals are being met.  
If project goals are not being met, the Project Management Cycle will show you how successful or unsuccessful your project is so action can be taken to get everything back on track, fast, or keep on making steady progress.
To do this, the Project Control Cycle allows you understand the who, what, when and how of your project to:
  • Control material and personnel resources
  • Organize trades
  • Direct activities
  • Decide on the use of resources and individuals
  • Control and direct trades toward a goal
  • Define a formal decision making process to achieve specific goals
You need to be able to understand how this is being accomplished because your project has the following characteristics:
  • It’s fractured
  • There a large number of disconnected people involved (craftsmen, subcontractors, suppliers, designers, and you, the owner)
  • Suppliers and installers need to be coordinated
  • A small mistake or oversight can have huge implications later on in the project
  • Everyone has an opinion
  • Decisions have to take into account the requirements, opinions, and attitudes of all those involved
  • The customer is rarely right (because of their limited experience and practical knowledge)
Here, in a nutshell, are the major steps used to ensure every activity performed for your project is successful.  Each project requires your manager to:
  • Set initial goals
  • Establish job plans
  • Monitor progress on work done
  • Compare progress to job plans
  • Look for deviations in the work
  • Take corrective action
  • Collect historical data
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at what this all means to you and how you will be able to determine the effectiveness of the manager in charge of your project.

The Build Process - An Introduction - Part 1

The Build Process for your project requires you to prepare the space where the work will be done, select and then coordinate the delivery of your materials, and hire the trades necessary to do the work required.  If you’ve done all this, you are now ready for the Build Process for your project.  

When you were planning your renovation, selecting the materials, and working to prepare the construction documentation such as specifications and scope of work, it may have taken you well out of your comfort zone.  Completing all of those tasks requires a great deal of time, patience, and perseverance on your part. Now you need to ensure all that time and effort you’ve invested into your planning and design phase is actually used to build your project. To do this, a process or system is used to manage the build.
To ensure your project is a success, process management tools are used. The more you understand about the build process and how it’s managed, the more it makes sense for you to understand how your project is controlled and the activities and resources are managed. This knowledge equips you with the means to measure and evaluate the progress of the project on a day to day basis, along with the performance of the contractor you’ve hired to do the work.
A fundamental building block of the process used to manage, monitor, and control your project is the Project Control Cycle.  Every activity starts and ends with this cycle. What you need to understand is the project is made up of a number of smaller individual projects or activities and each of these smaller activities is managed by the Project Control Cycle. The success of your renovation depends on how well the Project Control Cycle is applied to these activities.
As the owner of the project, you are a stakeholder and whoever you hire someone to do the work for you, shares the responsibility with you to ensure the work is done to conform to the specifications and scope of work.
Although some of the trades such as the plumber, HVAC, and electricians may need to be certified, the person running your project does not need to be. Nor are they required to be either. So despite all the time and effort you spent with other certified and accredited building professionals and/or suppliers, to help you design and develop your project, there are no guarantees your project will be managed well, or at all.
To protect your project and the investment you are making, you need to monitor the project and measure its outcome to be sure you are receiving the services you paid for.
So how do you do that?
The Project Control Cycle is the key you use to be assured what you have created will be delivered.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Feeling Confused? Frustrated?

If you're feeling confused or frustrated about how to proceed with a renovation or any building project, you're in good company.

Without taking the time to prepare for the project you also include everyone who would like to help you too.

Forget Free Estimates, because they have an accuracy of plus or minus 120 percent.

Before contacting anyone to do anything, you need to:
  • Identify your requirements
  • Know your budget
  • Be realistic with your expectations. 
Let's face it, building a house is expensive, and renovating an older home even more so. In order to properly move your project successfully from napkin scribbles to where nails are being driven, you need to spend time preparing an accurate scope of work.
Your scope of work identifies:
  • The type of material used
  • How the material is stored, handled, and installed
  • Crew size required to do the work 
  • How you will evaluate the work performed.
Your scope of work also forms the foundation of the agreement between you and your contractors. It provides everyone with a clear and concise set of expectations enabling you to get a price for work and materials you want rather than what people think you need.

Here is a high level outline you might find helpful as a framework to use to help you prepare for a renovation or construction project:

1. Do a feasibility study to see if: your zoning allows you to do what you want, your existing services are up to snuff, and the expectations for your project are realistic.

If all is good, then:

2. Identify your budget
3. Develop a design/plan to suit

Use the budget and plan to:

5. Determine costs for upgrades to your existing systems
6. Create a scope of work and set of specifications based on the design and/or plan
7. Solicit and pay for a detailed cost analysis based on the scope of work, specifications, and plan
8. Assess and adjust the budget and/or design and/or project scope of work to give you what you need
9. Go back to step 1 and repeat as often as required.

Only when your budget, pricing and plans all align do you go to the next step:

10. Tender your project for bids

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Building A Deck - The Wrong Way

My deck sucks.

Yep, whoever built the deck for the previous owner of my home was a complete dolt.  After reading this you're probably going to feel a great deal better about your deck.  Although my deck situation definitely makes me feel "Not OK", you'll probably end up feeling quite a bit of "I'm OK" after reading this. 

Glad to help out and make your day, by the way.

Deck Builder Dude: Who Are You?

After buying my home and placing the existing deck on life support for the last few years, it's time this deck is taken down and forgotten. Mind you, it has served its purpose to remind me that out there, somewhere in deck-building contractor land, there is some guy out there building decks stupidly.

So where do we begin our voyage of discovery?

I guess from the ground up would be the best thing to do.

As we all know the thing that hold up our houses, skyscrapers, and decks is the soil or dirt on the building lot.  The best and only type of soil to build upon is undisturbed soil.

Take a look at the creative approach deck builder dude took to solve the issue about putting a post on disturbed soil close to the foundation.  The solution - there is no contact with any undisturbed soil, or any bearing surface for that matter - period.

The post is suspended with an air gap close to 3 inches separating the underside of the post from anything that would offer it support.  Disturbed or undisturbed soil.

Well, you may think this is a bad thing.  Actually, it's a good thing, especially when you look at the beam to post connection up above.

Two Posts Are Better Than One

Typically, the beam to post connection is just pure compression.  The beam collects the live and dead loads from the deck joists above.  The post accepts these loads and transfers them down into the soil below. Undisturbed soil that is.

 Well, deck builder dude must have had one too many during this summer holiday project.  To be on the safe side, two posts were installed.  The beam is connected to the shorter post with three nails and to the longer post, one screw and one nail were used.

Since neither post bears on anything, deck builder dude could have used chewing gum and binder twine for this connection.

I mean, come on.

My quick calculations tell me the live load this one post is supposed to carry is about 2,880 pounds, plus or minus 10%.

When you consider the amount of weight the post and beam connections need to transfer between one another, you want more than one screw and one nail to be doing the job.  To be fair, on the other side of the "beam" deck builder dude used two screws for long post and four nails for the shorter post.

Oh, and never, ever, ever use nails or screws to hold up a beam like this. This type of beam connection needs to have a cleat nailed to the face of the post below the beam.

I bet right about now you're feeling pretty "I'm OK" about your deck, aren't you. 

It gets better.

Joist Hangers and Hand Grenades

Floor joists, whether used for an exterior deck or for your home need 1-1/2 inches of bearing surface to rest upon.  When you have a flush connection, say between a ledger board and a floor joist, you use a joist hanger to provide the bearing surface required.

The tricky part about joist hangers, at least for deck builder dude, was knowing you needed to insert the joist into the joist hanger for the system to be effective.

So for all you wanna-be deck builder dudes out there: placing the joist hanger near the joist just doesn't cut it.  The joist must rest inside the joist hanger.

So what happens when you run out of joist hangers?

Well, you can go buy more, or, hey wait a minute, why not make your own?

And that's exactly what deck builder dude did.

Yep, believe it or not, the ends of this beam are supported using home-made joist hangers fashioned out of sheet metal.  Deck builder dude did a pretty good job of making these hangers look real, but to be real, a joist hanger is engineered to provide you with the stiffness, strength, and nailing pattern required.

Mind you, this connection may not have seemed critical because, after all, just four feet away to the right, deck builder dude installed those two posts I talked about earlier.

Accuracy or Precision? Take Your Pick.

Speaking of nailing patterns, as was mentioned, every joist hanger is engineered to carry the load a floor joist may be carrying. A 2 by 10 joist hanger will have more holes in it for you to drive a fastener into than a joist hanger for a 2 by 6 joist for example.  That only makes sense since bigger joists are capable of bigger loads before they fail.

Once again, deck builder dude shows us what their opinion on the matter is.  To this particular individual, properly nailing a joist hanger is optional.

You have to give deck builder dude credit though. They managed to get the joist to sit in the hanger on this one.

Back to the joist hangers. The joist hanger manufacturers make it dead-simple to use their product.  Place the joist inside the hanger, and where there is a hole, drive a fastener into it.

Over 60% of the required fasteners for this connection in the photo are missing.


Oh, and can you see the difference between the "real" and "home-made" joist hanger? The home made joist hanger is dented where deck builder dude used those wee thin rusty nails.

Is There More?

Oh, there is just so much more to this project deck building dude messed up.  This is just a small sample of the type of idiocy that exists in the deck they built for the previous owner of my home, and the type of service that's out there.

If you're a homeowner, be aware, because this deck builder dude may be the guy building your deck.

To stop deck building dude dead in his tracks, hire a professional to design your deck for you. Create a scope of work and get a building permit.

Get a permit.

Did I say that already?

The only person you're helping by not getting a permit is deck building dude who is tired of all those inspectors telling him how to do things and messing up his zen.

If you're buying a house, have it inspected by a qualified professional, like me, who can spot deck building dude's handiwork right off the bat.

Together, we can stop deck building dude cold in his tracks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Exterior Insulation and Strapping

Here's the reason why dumb contractors are a mouse's best friend.

First, a little background.  The exterior of the house was insulated with foam insulation.  When you hear that the walls of the house have been upgraded to exceed code by having exterior insulation applied to the walls, your first thought is "Wow!  That's fantastic!!"

Exterior insulation installed the wrong wayWith a little bit of investigation your initial "Wow!" factor quickly turns into an overwhelming sense of WTF!? 

Check this out.  Exterior foam insulation was installed and then strapped with 1x3 spruce strapping.  Umm, to me it's pretty obvious something is amiss.  

Need a clue?

It's the writing on the wall - it's sideways.

The manufacturer's installation instructions simply state:
  • Tongue and groove (T&G)edge panels install horizontally.
  • Fit joints tightly.
Well, the manufacturer is pretty clear on how things need to be done.  Install the panels horizontally and fit the joints tightly. Never mind the nailing pattern which is completely botched as well, or the fact the joints remain open and untaped.

Like, how dumb is the contractor? How blind or ignorant was the homeowner who hired the dumb contractor?

All of this indicates this energy retrofit is a major fail because the dumb contractor did everything they could to screw it up. The ignorant homeowner didn't read the writing on the wall, nor did they take the time to educate themselves about how the product they purchased should be installed either.

Then we have the strapping installed by the dumb contractor and how this dopey dude became the best friend a mouse could ever hope for.

Here's a corner detail.  Strapping is installed so it creates a raceway from the bottom to the top, with a convenient means to gain access to all parts of the wall, behind the siding and parts beyond.

See that wee hole? That's a hole chewed by a mouse.

Oh, and don't get me started on the golf towel used to "fill a gap" in the insulation. Of course it made a great home for the mice.

I hate mice, but I hate dopey dumb contractors even more.

I Hate Mice

I hate mice.  

I mean, I really, really, really hate mice.  Rodents of any kind that want to live in my house, uninvited, are near the top of my list of things to hate.

What tops off my list of things to hate are dumb contractors, or people who are dumb enough to think they are contractors.  Dumb contractors are a mouse's best friend.

Why? Because the lack of attention and the sheer idiocy exhibited by dumb contractors is taken advantage of by mice.

Have a dumb contractor build your home and mice will surely follow.  They are the piped piper of furry scuttling feet running around in your attic or walls.

That's all I have to say for today.

I may hate mice, but dumb contractors top my list.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cost Versus Value - A Delicate Balance

As a homeowner you're probably curious what projects provide you with the best return on your investment (ROI). Or maybe you want to spruce up your home to help with its resale.

As an architectural professional, questions I'm often asked are: What are my options? Is this project worth the time? Is it worth the money?

Fortunately, there's information out there to help you understand what the costs and ROI will be for typical renovation projects.  It's often surprising to learn bigger is not often better.

Let's take a look at a kitchen renovation as an example.

A major kitchen remodel may cost you anywhere between $40K to $60K. A minor kitchen remodel will be in the price range of $10K to $20K, maximum. If you, the homeowner, are thinking the major kitchen remodel is going to give you a 100% ROI you're sorely mistaken. Same goes for the smaller kitchen remodel.

The ROI for the major kitchen remodel tops out at 74.2% and the ROI for the smaller kitchen makeover is 82.7%.  So if you're looking to add value to your home for resale, fixing up the kitchen may not be the best project to undertake.

Here's what I mean.

Let's say you're thinking of selling your home in the next year or two and your home renovation budget is $15K. Your goal is to make your home sell faster, since the time it spends on the market just eats into your profit margin.  Your second criteria is you want as high a ROI as possible.

What projects should you consider? 

For a budget of $15K, here are a couple of scenarios you may want to consider to help improve your home's curb appeal, saleability, and the ROI you will experience.

Scenario 1
  • Entry Door Replacement (steel) 
    • Your cost: $1,162 
    • Your return: $1,122 
    • Your ROI: 96.6% 
  • Wooden Deck Addition
    • Your cost: $9,539
    • Your return: $8,334
    • Your ROI: 87.4%
  • Garage Door Replacement
    • Your cost: $1,534
    • Your return: $1,283
    • Your ROI: 83.7%
This first scenario will cost you $12,235 and your ROI will be $10,739.  The difference is a loss of $1,496.

Scenario 2

If you want to switch things up a bit, consider what this scenario offers:

  • Entry Door Replacement (steel) 
    • Your cost: $1,162 
    • Your return: $1,122 
    • Your ROI: 96.6% 
  • Window Replacement (vinyl)
    • Your cost: $9,978
    • Your return: $7,857
    • Your ROI: 78.7%
  • Garage Door Replacement
    • Your cost: $1,534
    • Your return: $1,283
    • Your ROI: 83.7%
This second scenario will cost you $12,674 and your ROI will be $10,262.  The difference is a loss of $2,412.

Both home improvement scenarios are below the $15K margin, which is a good thing, because you give yourself some wiggle room for any unforeseen complications with the work.

Scenario 3

Let's compare these two scenarios to a bathroom remodel:
  •  Bathroom Remodel
    • Your cost: $16,128
    • Your return: $11,688
    • Your ROI: 72.5%
The bathroom remodel will cost you $16,128 and your ROI will be $11,688.  The difference is a loss of $4,440.

When we compare the bathroom remodel to Scenario 1 and Scenario 2, the bathroom remodel is over budget and provides you with much less return.  Not to mention the disruption and inconvenience you will encounter while the project is underway.

The conclusion is: pick your projects wisely. If you have a limited budget for your home improvements and want to maximize your return on your investment, going big is not always better.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Building Permits And Your Property

You're either interested in purchasing a home that has had previous structural work done to it or you are interested in selling your home that has work done by you or a previous owner, the big question is: Was a building permit issued for the work?

The answer to this question is important for two reasons.

First, if you are looking to purchase a property and it's clear previous work was done, you need to be sure the work performed was done in accordance with the building code.

Second, you, the homeowner, will have to pay to have the work brought up to code and prove the work meets the building code requirements, even if it was the previous owner who did the work.

Let's take a look at what the implications of previous structural work done to the foundation of your home would mean.


Previous Structural Work

Underpinning or bench footings often indicate a problem area that had previously existed with the property. For most older homes this is either a result of inadequate footings below the foundation wall, poor soils, or some other equally important and significant structural issue.  The importance of discovering previous structural work like this, whether done by you or a previous homeowner decades ago, is the work needs to be backed up by a building permit and engineering reports too.

If it's found the structural work is non-compliant, you're looking at a significant cost to have the work brought up to the standards necessary. So if you are serious about making an offer on a property and are thinking the lack of a building permit is something you can ignore, better think again.

What Are Your Options?

If you own a property and are unsure if prior work on the home was done with a building permit, you have two options to exercise; both help you to discover if there was a building permit issued.  The first method is to conduct an anonymous search to determine what permits the municipality has issued for your property in the past. The other method is to contact the municipality directly to determine what work was done and under what building permit.

If you discover your home has unpermitted work and have no intention of having the work inspected by the municipality to determine if it meets the building code requirements, you must disclose the unpermitted work to the next buyer so they are aware of the risk they are assuming when purchasing your property. 

If you are looking to purchase a home and it has been disclosed there was unpermitted work done, the larger risk is you, as the buyer, may not be able to get financing for the house. That means even if you were interested and ready to buy the property because it has a great finished basement apartment perfect for your family's needs, you may not get financing.

If you want to bring the work up to code, then you will need to work with an architectural professional to help document the existing condition and open up portions of the covered work to show the municipal inspector how the structure was put together.  You will be responsible for all costs associated with bringing the work up to code.

So if you hear your contractor suggest you can do the work without a permit, contact your municipality to double check.  It's in your best interests to do so.