INTRODUCTION TO SERIES ON BUILDING SCIENCE

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles on practical applications of what has come to be known as “Building Science”.  Yes, there is such a term.  “They don’t build them like they used to” is quite true, but in a good way, we build much better now.

We have learned so much since the days of the log cabin in the real old days, and Sears kit houses which symbolized the emergence of fast and efficient building techniques after WW2.  Every year there are new products offered by an industry that has a world wide market.

In North America we build primarily with wood because that is a resource we have available.  In more Southern countries cement and masonry are the  dominant building materials.  High-rise buildings are made primarily of steel.

The concepts of preventing moisture infiltration, of creating healthy and comfortable buildings is similar in all.  What is important is a thorough understanding of how to combine materials so as to prevent holes.  Holes that allow water to enter or air to both enter or exit uncontrolled.

In the evolution of building techniques we have both improved our buildings in terms of energy efficiency, and at the same time created some flaws such as trapping moisture.  We have made our buildings more comfortable but at the same time sealed in some very harmful chemicals.

That is where building science comes in, it is the well studied concept of best practices.  It is how to have an energy efficient comfortable and healthy building. Topics this series will cover:

  • We will address what constitutes a high performance building or home.  
  • We will learn how to avoid the pitfalls of moisture build-up and mold creation.
  • We will learn why we now split insulation into both inside and outside the wall to create what is called CI or Continuous Insulation. 
  • We will learn why we want to think of a building enclosure, and not building envelope.

Due to the horrific fires suffered by so many residents of California in the last year, we will also cover ways of lessening vulnerability to fire. For example, we are finding fire often entered attics through vents and started burning the roof structure from the inside.

In the next issues you will find information on:

  • Thermal movement control in homes (heat and cold)
  • Water barriers and rain screens that allow the building’s skin to breathe but repel water
  • Various new products that are worth considering in new construction
  • Fire prevention measures
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HOW TO CREATE A SMOOTH, PREDICTABLE AND ENJOYABLE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

I am listing below tasks that I have found are critical for creating a smooth running home construction project.  These are all tasks that an experienced Owner’s Representative, (a.k.a., Project Manager) should either initiate or ensure are accomplished during the design and building process. Ideally the Owner’s Representative/Project manager is to be the person in charge of managing these tasks listed below.

  1. Budgets:  Create budgets that are realistic at various times during the process in order for the owner to be confident that the project is proceeding within the financial comfort zone.  This budget should be comprehensive including all associated costs and wish list.  
  2. Budgets ideally are created:
    1. Early in the conceptual design phase and verifying as the design progresses that the original budget is still realistic.
    2. Prior to the construction drawings being drawn.
    3. Prior to construction starting
    4. Once a month during the construction. Keep owner apprised of Predicted Final Cost.
  3. The design team is the clearing house for all design related communication, unless otherwise requested.  We don’t want random people making design decisions that may not have the overall design direction in mind.
  4. Offer possible solutions to problems prior to announcing the problem.  Always consult with Design team first, then after agreement, notify owner of the problem with options for solution.
  5. Consolidate questions (RFI’s) into a list and then communicate these to the appropriate entities with as much lead time as possible. Avoid panic phone calls. Identify which party is responsible for answering each item: Architect, interior designer, owner, contractor.
  6. Arrange questions to be answered into groups by date needed in order to continue an orderly pricing/ordering/construction process.  
  7. Expect that some answers will come as building takes shape. In a true custom home some selections are best made when the building is taking on character.
  8. Send weekly updates to design team and owner apprising them of tasks being worked on each current week as well as planned for the following week.
  9. Plan ahead on critical times for owner and design team to visit the site; such as electrical wiring time, to avoid future surprises and changes.
  10. Make client feel as much an informed participant in the process as they wish to be.
  11. Schedule site meetings with all key subs, and if needed designers, during various stages of the job to coordinate their needs and timing.
  12. Update budget and schedule on a monthly basis and share with owners, and if desired, the design team.
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CAN A CUSTOM HOME BE BUILT WITHIN A BUDGET?

Yes, definitely, but it must follow a process that gives the owner control, accountability, and a roadmap with scheduled reality checks.

How?

The owner needs one person in charge of the entire process, to monitor the budget and ensure the groups communicate and work in harmony.

Who would that be?

The owner’s representative. This type of role is common sense in other types of projects, and it’s no different with a custom home project.

Why would this be an improvement to an already complex group?

Some owners have the time and skills to oversee their own construction project, including watching the budgeting and change orders, making in the moment decisions around materials and staff, and thinking through the long-term implications for every course adjustment. If the owner doesn’t have the time and skills, they’ll want a construction expert on their side to oversee the process, from the start of design to completion.Construction project manager owners representative marin - 27

The problem with custom home building today

The typical process for building custom homes is stressful for everyone, especially when the budget starts to spiral out of control and the choices pile up. That’s because there are many different parties working on the project, but communication between them can fall apart.

A convoluted, expensive project that goes over budget and over deadline hurts all involved, including owners, realtors, designers, and good builders. No one group feels at fault or fully understands the situation, but everyone loses.

This can be fixed. Any major project needs team-wide accountability and a start to finish process that is clear to all, with controls and reality checks at scheduled times and as the design evolves. This is what an owner’s representative does. And all the team members benefit! An owner’s representative works on behalf of the owner, but helps support the work of architects, builders, and other parties to complete the shared vision.

Design and budget conflicts hurt everyone

The all too common result of custom building is an unpleasant and stressful situation for clients who find themselves with building plans that significantly exceed their intended budget. This tends to happen mid-way through the project, when the owner is forced to decide whether to make compromises to the design (which they have now grown emotionally attached to), or to cancel the project. Design changes usually lead to a reduced quality of materials, or looking for cheaper labor options, both of which lead to bigger unpleasant experiences and long-term home problems.

Bay Area custom homes are unique

Home owners in the Bay Area benefit from many environmental regulations to keep our environment safe. Marin and the East Bay also have a number of local regulations around open space, view obstruction, and other local guidelines. Finally, Marin Design Review Boards may have additional preferences or requests in order to approve a project. This is local knowledge that not all builders and architects are familiar with, and review can become a complicated process with several rounds of revisions.

If the building team is not familiar with California zoning and environmental regulations for custom homes, there can be additional late-stage changes and delays. At best, there will be missed opportunities to build an environmentally friendly home and save on long-term expenses by using appropriate materials.

One of the great benefits of building a custom home in the Bay Area is the diverse and beautiful building sites, but owners need someone who is familiar with the area, including the environment and review boards.

A solution for custom home building in the Bay AreaConstruction project manager owners representative marin - 65

West Coast Project Management offers a complete construction project management service, guiding the process from the beginning of design to final construction completion.

After decades as a custom home builder in San Diego, California and the mountains of Telluride and Aspen, Colorado, Richard Wodehouse has the expertise and complete project knowledge to guide even the most unique and complex custom homes to completion.

Richard’s methodology is successful because of his continuous monitoring of the budget, expertise and support for builders and architects, and deep knowledge of custom home projects of all types.

When to call West Coast Project Management

We can facilitate at any stage of the construction project, but it’s best to start from the beginning. The design is when most of the budget will be set, and when structural decisions will be made. That being said, West Coast Project Management is often called in mid-stage to help. Contact us to see how we can help make your California dream home happen on schedule and end with a positive outcome for all.

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If You Want Confidence You Have a Good System in Place When Building a Home

By hiring me a your owner’s rep early on in the process you can be assured of having a great process that will give you peace of mind and save you lots of money during the entire construction process. (And design, if you bring me in early enough.)

Here are four duties I can perform that will give you confidence that you have a good system in place:

1. Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work.

  • Become familiar with the plans and specifications
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to others
  • Comparing the budget values for costs compared to the proposed construction schedule

2. Vetting the contractor

  • By checking on his financial and professional standings
  • Inquire and verify as to his/or her’s commitment and availability for this project
  • inquire and vet the key management and support personnel. (If any)
    • In the case of the one man contractors:
      • Establish his/her experience, knowledge and skills
      • Establish what systems if any will be used for budget and schedule management.
    • If needed, supplement contractor’s capabilities with Owner’s rep’s systems for tracking budget
    • Create and update our own schedule.
    • Verify with contractor that key steps such as site utilities are planned for.

3. Vetting the major sub-contractors and verifying they can fit our construction schedule.

4. Verifying plans are complete and all permits are processed

Here are other tasks I can perform during the construction process:

  • Create preliminary schedule for the entire process from design to move in
  • Ensuring, building and design remain within budget
  • Substantiate Status of permit processing, facilitate as prudent.
  • Verifying that the Budget is appropriate and sufficient for the planned work
  • Analyze the contractor’s budget line by line item and compare to historic data
  • Comparing the budget values to the proposed construction schedule duration. (e.g: is supervision enough)
  • Review all plans and specifications
  • Review all contracts with all subs and owner paid consultants
  • Compile budget encompassing all hard and soft cost envisioned for the entire project
  • Keep all encompassing budget up to date
  • Work with contractors, and designers to provide detailed construction schedule
  • Keep construction schedule up to date
  • Weekly site meeting with Owner’s Rep and Builder.
  • Twice monthly meeting with Owner’s rep, Architect, Contractor (owner invited to all key meetings)
  • Substantiate all temporary and permanent utilities are planned for
  • Additional subcontractors recommend as needed
  • Green building features and materials suggestions
  • Review and negotiate proper change order issues
  • Giving options to the design team when needed to potentially save money, including alternative construction techniques, and reviewing other areas of cost saving.
  • Scrutinize all invoices, explore questions in invoices and approve proper invoices.
  • Managing final close out at completion:
    ▪ Collect all lien releases
    ▪ Collect all warranties
    ▪ Manage final payments to subs and contractors
  • Prepare Operating Manual for owner’s future use and maintenance with emergency preparedness.
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Sonoma County Fires Will Cause Scarcity of Contractors and Subs

We feel deeply for all those that suffered tragic loss in Sonoma and Napa this October 2017. One of the many unfortunate outcomes is that the construction industry in Northern California including the San Francisco/ Bay Area will become stressed even beyond the overheated conditions we have currently.

Even more than in the present contractors and subs will become difficult to acquire and more costly. There will also be material shortages and price hikes.

As your plans for your rebuild in Marin, Sanoma or Napa County get developed consider hiring and securing as many subcontractors and large materials as you can purchase.

Napa & Sonoma County Fires 2017

Napa & Sonoma County Fires 2017

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