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
Read More

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.
Read More

Help Save Tiburon Trails

About TRUST:

We are Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails or “TRUST”. We are an unincorporated, nonprofit association fiscally sponsored by MarinLink.

The TRUST mission is to protect, preserve, and promote public access to and use of local trails and open space areas on the Tiburon ridge through advocacy, conservation, and community engagement.

We will be holding two Community Meetings:

Tiburon Council Chambers, 1505 Tiburon Blvd. The

dates for the meetings are:

Monday, July 16 at 6:00 p.m.

and

Tuesday, August 7, at 7:00 p.m.

We want to bring you, and our community members up to date on our efforts to preserve the existing trails on the open space on the Tiburon Ridge.

If you can’t make it to one of these meetings at the

Council Chambers, we are also hosting a house party on:

Wednesday, July 25 at 6:15 p.m. 

Let us know you are coming by emailing us at

[email protected] or calling us at 805-404-6768,

we will give you the address and directions to our

house party.

Some details:

Several key trails adjacent to St. Hillary’s Open Space are being threatened by the prospect of private development which, as currently proposed, does not guarantee future access to the trails by the public. This includes portions of the Ridge Trail, the iconic Spanish Trail, and even Founder’s Rock.

We have brought a legal action in Marin Superior Court in an effort to preserve public access to these trails. We need your help to ensure a successful outcome. At these meetings, you can get the answers to questions you might have and learn ways in which you can make a difference. Please come and support this important cause.

Visit the TRUST website at www.tiburontrails.org

for more detailed information.

House Party

RSVP to [email protected] or 805-404-6768

Upon receiving your RSVP, we will send you the address and directions.

Read More

Our Contractor Has Spent All the Money and We’re Only 65% Done, What do we do Now?

This is a phone call I get often in my work as an owner’s representative. While it seems like a very dire situation it actually is solvable, and it is possible to reach a positive end result.

The initial fear for most owners is that they have been ripped off by either an unscrupulous or unqualified contractor. But the reasons for this situation are actually more varied. Here are some of the common issues I encounter when I am called in to projects that are well underway but in trouble such as this.

  1. The cost of the work was underbudgeted by the contractor.
  2. The contractor let the scope of the work creep to include higher costs but did not properly document change orders or alert the owner.
  3. The owner had an unrealistically low budget in mind and convinced the contractor to attempt to do all this work for the low budget.
  4. And then of course there are times when there is the unscrupulous contractor who has sought to deceive the owner by entering into the work with a low initial budget while expecting to make it up on change orders.
  5. Finally there is the unqualified contractor who took on a project that he could not manage properly. Often this type of contractor has demanded deposits or payments higher than the work done to date.
  6. So what do we do in these situations?

Cost of work underbudgeted

For those projects that were under budgeted to begin with, a knowledgeable owner’s representative will be able to ascertain what a realistic budget should have been at the beginning. As the Owner’s Representative, I work backwards, and then advise the owner that this is the case and mediate a solution where the contractor can finish up the job at a discounted fee while the owner pays a fair cost to get the work done.

Scope creep and change order misunderstandings

This situation is especially difficult to solve, when the scope of work increased without acknowledgement from the owner. Retroactive charges for change orders are difficult to add to the budget for fair payments. Emotions are high, and blaming seems to be the answer. When there is tension between the owner and contractor, and a mediator is important to keep things clear.
It is typical (and understandable) for owners to only remember a small portion of additions to the scope of work. Of these the owner may remember only the core item but not all the ramifications of that change. Clearly communicating changes and their financial ramifications is one of the key ways an owner’s representative works to bring success to both the owner and contractor.

For example: “We just added air conditioning”
What was not documented was this also meant upgrading the following:
Electrical to supply enough power to the furnace coil and the condenser.
Walls had to be opened to run the copper fluid lines and wires from the fan coil to the condenser.
Walls had to be opened to enlarge the ductwork and move it up high on the walls.Construction project manager owners representative marin - 36

Unrealistically low budget

If the project got started with the owner pressuring the builder to accept a low budget, then we have to start questioning the intentions of the owner. Since the owners can typically control the flow payments to the contractor, the owner really has the upper hand. But forcing a low budget sets unfair and sometimes impossible demands.

An owner’s representative that is knowledgeable and fair can discuss the work with both parties and determine what is a fair payment for the work done.

The contractor who intentionally bids low

If it becomes apparent that the contractor intended to extract more money from the owner after signing the initial contract, then we need to be harder on this contractor. An owner’s representative can authoritatively state what cost should be for the work performed, then show proof that the contractor intended to raise the cost.

Since the relationship will by now be soured, the best option probably is to end the contract and hire a new contractor to finish the work. An experienced Owner’s Representative can take over construction as the Project Manager and either see it through completion, or set it up for a new contractor to take over.

The unqualified contractor

In the case of the unqualified contractor who took a job way over his ability, termination is often the best option, and the sooner the better.

The owner’s representative can advise the owners through this difficult process that requires:
Determining if any sub-contractors or and suppliers still need to be paid.
Getting lien releases from all major subs-contractors and material suppliers.
Studying the contract between the owner and contractor and advising the owner how to follow the procedures outlined in the contract, such as a 10 day notice letter
Give notice to the contractor to stop all work and not enter the site.
Secure all materials stored on site, so that any expensive equipment such as windows or appliances cannot be “repossessed” by the contractor.
The owner’s representative can attempt to mediate a final settlement. If this is not possible then an attorney can be brought in, with the owner’s representative providing all the relevant information to the attorney. Since these cases seldom go all the way to court, the advice of a knowledgeable owner’s representative is crucial in determining an outcome that allows the owner to be able to continue with a new contractor and complete the work.

Read More

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.

Read More