In the last writing we focused on the on-site duties of a good construction project manager.  In this issue we will delve into the administrative duties that are also necessary.

Construction project managers have come from one or two basic paths:

  • Those that rose up doing physical work on site, typically carpentry.
  • Those that graduated from a college with a degree in construction project management.
Photo by cetteup on Unsplash

They both have advantages and disadvantages that are rather apparent:

  • Those that rose up doing the physical work how to put a building together but are naive about the systems required to properly manage the administrative duties such as budget accuracy.
  • Those that graduated with a degree in project management are knowledgeable about software and systems but lack the knowledge of how trades and materials interact in real life.  

Of course the best are those that have gained knowledge of both.

A good home construction project manager is competent at:

  1. Creating a realistic and complete budget.
    1. The best starting point for a project is a budget that a has included in it all the line items that will require funds in order to complete the project.  
      1. A one page outline is not enough, too many items can be missed.
      2. A laborious budget that is too specific can also be tedious to work with.
    2. The ideal is a budget that has enough line items that it forces the project manager to remember and deal with all the pertinent items that will need funding.
  2. Creating a schedule that is digitized and can be updated easily.  Typical schedules are called gant charts or bar charts.  
    1. Schedules should be digitized because it should have the following qualities:
      1. Dependencies:  That is where the start on a task is dependent on the completion of other prior tasks.  For example unless it a a project with many concurrent phases, foundations must be completed prior to framing.
      2. Have an identifiable critical path.  These items must be completed in the sequence shown for the project to be completed.
      3. Be easily updated.  A hand written schedule on notebook paper becomes misleading and good for the dust bin within one month of starting.
    2. A good construction project manager in the San Francisco Bay Area must be good at managing the schedule because there is so much demand for workers that they must be scheduled way in advance.
  3. Manage change orders.  Yes there will be change orders, no matter how good the plans and the builder are.  Custom home construction is unique and new issues become apparent during construction.
    1. A good project manager is knowledgeable about construction so can quickly discern if a cost requested  for a change is appropriate.
    2. It is the project manager’s job to know what line item in the budget spreadsheet to charge this to.
  4. Processing pay requests and logging them into the budget.  This is where a software system designed for the purpose of tracking pay requests is critical.  No, Quickbooks is not the answer.  Quickbooks does not have the capability to tell you how much has been paid, what is left to pay, and what percentage of the total line item budget is consumed.  This information is critical for a project manager of a construction project to keep on top of the budget as it is being spent.
  5. Collecting warranties and lien releases.  A good construction project manager will make sure these collected and collated before the end of the project.

For the administrative purposes alone an experienced construction project manager is crucial, especially when building a custom home, and especially when building a home in the condensed areas of Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. Without someone with the knowhow and ability to stay on top of these tasks subcontractors, supplies and even simple things like permits can slip into the cracks or through your fingers. 

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Efficient Home Walls: A Good Construction Manager Knows These Rules

Efficient Home Walls: A Good Construction Manager Knows These Rules

If your building or renovating a home in the Bay Area and are installing walls in your home, you might think “can’t be that hard to do right?” You’ve seen it in the movies or on TV, maybe even in real life. You nail in some studs, put up some drywall and you’re done. Right? What can be so hard about a vertical structure that supports weight and keeps out the rain? I hate to burst your bubble if you wanted to try DIY home walls, but there is much for a Construction Manager to consider if you want walls that will last and prevent things like leakage and mold.

A good construction project manager will make sure your walls are fit in perfectly. But if you are attempting this home project on your own here are some things you will need to consider:

  • Leaks: Think about how many building have you been in that have had leaks around windows etc. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen wall building mistakes made in high end homes. As the project wraps up in the summer everything looks perfect, but a few months go by and the homeowners get their first rain. The best case scenario if a mistake was made is that the home owner actually sees the leakage, worst case: they don’t see it until several months go by and mold starts to form around the windowsill.
  • Mold: Oh right, with leaks comes mold. How nice to see that black fuzzy growth at the corner or the room. Not only is it unsightly but it can cause some health issues. You may find yourself wondering why you have a residual cough that won’t go away.
  • Cold: How often do you find yourself moving away from the window or exterior wall because it’s cold. It can also be slightly embarrassing when you notice your dinner guests are sitting at the dining room table still wearing their coats.
  • Air leaking in: Maybe you do manage to heat your home but you wonder why your electric bill skyrockets so much in the winter.

A well built, modern wall solves all the above problems, but it is tricky to design and build the walls while making sure all the parts work together well. What you, as the homeowner, are looking for is a way of combining commonly available materials to create an inexpensive assembly that supports weight and provides comfort, while at the same time avoiding any of the problems mentioned above.

In this blog I will borrow images and concepts form an excellent lecture given by John Straube, Principal, RDH Building Science, Waterloo, Canada. I heard him give this lecture in the North Bay a few months ago.

Efficient Home Walls

An ideal wall has the following components:

  1. Thermal Control
  2. Water Control (Prevent water from entering)
  3. Air control
  4. Vapor control: Allows the wall to breathe
  5. Ventilation and drainage space behind the exterior siding to allow it to dry.
  6. And of course structural support.

Simple you say: We have done this for decades in areas that have wet and dry seasons like Napa, Sonoma, Oakland and Marin; wood studs with insulation between, some product to cover outside and inside, a window or two and done

Well, here’s the deficiencies that have become apparent over time:

  • Thermal transfer: The wood studs are responsible for transferring lots of heat out or cold in. Yes, the insulation in between the studs helps, but there are some limitations. The studs themselves are responsible for quite a bit of transfer. More on insulation later in this series, but it is important that it be installed correctly.
  • The current concept is to do what is called continuous Insulation, or CI. More on this later.
  • Water intrusion, (leaks): The products available for this purpose have improved greatly from tar paper to modern compost materials that work like gore-tex does in your clothes and boots. It allows water vapor to pass through but does not allow water droplets to enter.
  • Air leakage: We need to build houses and buildings that are comfortable without using tons of energy to maintain warmth or cold. We have found that air movements accounts for a large part of heat loss, or gain. There are many products to control this and sometimes this is the same for the water barrier. The current term is weather barrier.
  • Ventilation space. We have learned that exterior siding materials, be they wood shingles, wood boards, plywood, or cementitious material (best) lasts much longer if there is a gap behind it that allows water to flow down and air to circulate. This can be achieved with furring strips or with mesh material such as Benjamin Obdike Slikker.
  • As for structural support, the less wood the better from a performance basis. The use of 2 feet on center framing where joist and rafters are stacked above the studs is gaining favor as advantageous in that it uses less wood and has less thermal transfer.

In an upcoming blog we will elaborate a little bit more on the products and methods to achieve an efficient and comfortable and durable home.

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A home construction project manager will have two different types of duties: 

  • Management of the work taking place on site
  • Administrative and financial duties

In this blog we will focus on the on-site work.

On site work management duties are varied and multi faceted

  1. The most important is to anticipate the work that is about to be done and think through the details. The construction project manager should be prepared for each phase of work that is done each day. To do this they must be planning in detail ahead of schedule.
    1. This sounds like a no brainer: the project manager should know the schedule, the contractors show up with their crew and execute the planned work. What could go wrong? While executing a construction schedule may sound easy it is really the crux of the skill possessed by a good home construction project manager. They not only need to plan out the scheduled work in detail but they also need to anticipate any and everything that could go wrong. By what can go wrong I mean:
      1. What details are there to be communicated to the person performing the work? For example when the electrician comes to do the rough wiring in the future kitchen:
        1. Is the drywall 1/2 inch or 5/8 of an inch thick. This affects how the electrical boxes, light cans are set.
        2. Is there an added thickness such as stone or tile backsplashes?
        3. What are the power requirements for the various appliances.
          1. 110 or 240 volts?
          2. Hard wired direct or plugged into an outlet box?
          3. Where on the cabinet or wall is the power box to be placed?
          4. Does the disposer have a wall switch or an air switch on the counter top?
      2. These are just the details to be communicated and followed up with just the electrician. A good project manager will have three or four different trades working at one time in the same space.  What can go wrong is if any of the above information is not properly transferred. Then there will have to be “remodeling” done later when cabinets and finishes are in place.  This is costly and causes delays.
    2. Which brings us to the next topic, which is smart scheduling. A good home construction project manager has alerted trades and workmen weeks in advance as to when they will be needed.
      1. A good project manager also has the site ready for each trade to be able to do their work.
        1. To follow up on the example of the electrician, a good project manager has completed the carpentry and framing prior to the electricians arriving on site. Nothing is more frustrating to subcontractors than when their crew arrives to a site as requested and they cannot work effectively.
      2. Materials: A good construction project manager has planned ahead of what materials will be needed each day and has them on site. 
        1. If the site has a staging area, materials are ordered in bulk and delivered to the site by the supplier free of charge.
          1. Individual workmen stopping by the lumber yard each morning is a sign of lack of planning. (Unless there is no space on site for staging materials).
      3. A clean and safe work environment: If you cannot walk through the site without having to look down all the time in order to avoid tripping on debris and materials, this is a sign of poor site management. Not only is this unsafe and an injury waiting to happen, but it is also a significant time and efficiency loss.
Precision is Essential for a good construction project manager

It is important to have a skilled, and experienced project manager especially if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area. The tech industry has attracted moguls to Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and the peninsula who are looking to build the home of their dreams. While wild fires have initiated home rebuilding and remodeling in Napa Valley and Sonoma. So there are many home owners competing for services. If you can obtain a good Construction Project Manager or Home Owner’s Representative that is familiar with building in the Bay Area you can be rest assured they will get quality people on the job to help with your home rebuild. 

These are just some of the tasks a good project manager performs on a daily basis.  Next writing we will elaborate on the administrative duties, such as budget and change orders.

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