Don’t Let Construction Problems Become Construction Disputes (guest post)

Chris HillTo start our week off right, today we have another important article from guest blogger Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP.  Chris is a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC.  He authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  His practice concentrates on mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  [His blog was also one of the first construction law blogs I found and followed, even if he is a Duke alum!]  Take it away, Chris!

First and foremost, thanks to Melissa for inviting me back to post here at her great blog.  She continues to invite me back despite my being a Blue Devil (and I try not to hold her Tar Heel status against her).

So much of discussion relating to construction law and construction lawyers centers on the litigation of disputes.  This discussion comes in many forms from avoidance of such litigation through the early intervention of good counsel prior to getting into a project to what sort of resolution mechanism to use. Another branch of this discussion is essentially the right way to pursue your claim (or as some may read it start the dispute ball rolling).  Sometimes a payment bond claim is the best method while others a straight up contractual suit is the best way to go.

Of course, all of this discussion presumes that there will be disputes.  While I agree to some degree that in the Murphy’s Law riddled world of commercial construction, problems will arise.  These problems need not rise to the level of a dispute that requires outside (read court or arbitrator) intervention.  A few tips that are easy to write, but admittedly hard to practice at times can hopefully keep problems from blossoming into disputes.  I’ve listed a three big ones here:

  1. Use “in house counsel.” Yes, I know that most of you engineers, architects, commercial general contractors and subcontractors out there aren’t big enough to either want or need a full time attorney on the payroll. What I mean by this is that when problems occur (or preferably before doing so), give your friendly local construction lawyer a call. As I learned from my dad, an ounce of prevention and all that. That 10 minute phone call may help avoid many hours of time and bills from your attorney later down the road.
  2. Build Relationships. This seems like more of a marketing tip, but it is also a risk prevention strategy. I have seen many a potential dispute get resolved with minimal or no intervention on my part simply because the general and subcontractor had a good working relationship. With the right team oriented approach and communication many a jobsite problem can be resolved in the pre-dispute stage. If the two companies don’t know each other, this is less likely to occur.
  3. Communicate Up Front. I know, I beat this drum a lot. Why? Because it’s a big deal. Setting the right expectations through proper communication and negotiation on the front end will set the terms of the “deal” and give all involved a guide for how to deal with problems as they occur.

Following these three tips will help you avoid construction disputes and the hefty attorney fees that come with the prosecution of those disputes.

Can you think of other tips that we can add to the list?  Let Melissa and me know.

Thanks Chris! As always, you hit the nail on the head (pun intended). For those that don’t already follow Chris’ blog (and why don’t you???), do check it out and show him some blog love. You’ll learn a lot, and be glad you did.

Wake County Justice Center- a LEED Silver Project done right!

Justice Center

The atrium

Yesterday evening, I had the privilege of attending the Triangle USGBC’s  “Talk & Walk” at the Wake County Justice Center.  The 576,996 square foot Justice Center was completed 6 months early and over 30 million under budget.  (The final cost, including soft costs, came in at ~$141,000,000).  Now that’s what I call a LEED project done right!

Interestingly, the County did not endeavor for a LEED Silver rating– the plan was to aim for a Certification.  However, as the process unfolded, the Team kept meeting the goals and points for a Silver certification without any appreciable additional costs.

The end result?  An “iconic but energy efficient building,” according to Tim Ashby, current Wake County Facilities Project Manager.  Tim was initially involved in the Project while working at O’Brien Atkins, which served as the architecture firm for the Project under the direction of Architect Andrew Zwiacher.

The Project was a Construction Manager at Risk project, involving a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Construction and Barnhill Contracting Company.   Did the contract type contribute to the success of the Project?  According to Project representatives, it likely was responsible for the 6 month early completion due to the high level of coordination.

Energy efficiency in the Building comes from the low flow plumbing (total water savings of 45%, 15% more than LEED requires), programmable and natural daylighting, and almost 98% construction waste diversion.

Jury Room

The large & relaxing Jury waiting room

Another interesting legal factoid: BIM (Building Information Modeling) was utilized.  Through BIM, a conflict was discovered in the space allocated for the air handling units versus the planned size of those units.  This discovery enabled a change to the AHU units (to make them wider and shorter) prior to manufacturer, saving untold delays in time and increases in cost.  We’ll talk more later about the pros (and cons) of BIM, but suffice it to say it worked very well on this Project.

If you haven’t been by to see the Justice Center yet, please do.  It’s a great design (17 elevators!), and a great change from the old Courthouse across the street.

Have you seen the Justice Center yet?  Thoughts on the design?  Share in the comments below.

Photos (c) Melissa Brumback. .Creative Commons License

 

 

Construction Communication Done Right!

thumbs upGreetings all!  Today, I have the honor of writing a guest post on Chris Hill’s blog, Construction Law Musings, on the topic of how to communicate– and how not to miscommunicate–on a construction project.

I know that I talk a lot about communication on this blog– and with good reason.  One of the number one reasons complaints turn into lawsuits against architects and engineers (and contractors, and others) is a failure of the parties to understand– really, truly understand– one another.

Check out my post, and pass it on.

 Photo courtesy openclipart.org.

Green Home Predictions That Are Best Poised to Come True in 2014 and Beyond (guest post)

net zero energy houseToday, a guest post on the green design issues that are becoming realities from Penny Olmos, who is associated with Holloway Houston, Inc. a leading industrial lifting equipment manufacturing company.  Welcome, Penny!

The scorching heat singed us and the winter wave chilled us — more than ever before. What are we heading to? Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes and extreme temperatures? Mother Nature is warning us in myriad ways. And the good news is that we are heeding her calls after long. Saving our natural resources and going green has found many takers. We have seen many eco-friendly homes and buildings designed and created in the last decade. Green homes are here to stay. We look at the popular green home design and construction trends in 2014 that are about to transform the landscape of green realty.

Rise of Net Zero Energy Homes

It seemed impossible until a couple of years ago but 2014 will witness a rise in net zero energy homes. These are homes with zero net energy consumption. The total amount of energy used by these buildings annually equals the amount of renewable energy created on the property. This is the greenest and the most energy efficient house you can possess. And you do not need to cut down on any of your comforts. There are heating, cooling, entertainment and utility appliances functioning in the house like they would in any other home.

The only difference is that it happens much more efficiently. Air source heat pumps are becoming the choice of heating and cooling in such green houses. Solar photovoltaic systems that are installed on the roof function to cover all energy use in the house including charging of electric cars. Zero energy homes are being sold in states with an abundance of sunlight and solar energy like Arizona, Texas and California.

Use of Micro-Windmills

Solar energy-powered homes have taken the realty market by storm, but the trend to watch out for this year will be micro-windmills. These are so small that ten of them can be accommodated on a grain of rice. But do not underestimate these tiny wonders. These micro-mills harness the air for electricity. They are very cost-effective. These nano windmills will soon power entire homes. Their developers claim these tiny wonders can be mounted on the walls of the home to harvest air motion and derive cheap and quick energy.

Smart Collection of Energy Usage Data

  nest

All those interested in having a green home need to first determine their energy consumption and where is it being used. The smart thermostat is going to be a key feature in a lot of energy-efficient green homes where owners want minimum wastage of energy.

These devices can transmit accurate live data about energy usage via your smartphone and help you monitor it as well. Thus the homeowner is equipped to configure all appliances in a way that uses minimum energy. Another reason smart thermostats will find their way into many eco-friendly homes in 2014 is the drastic drop in the price of their hardware.

Energy-Efficient Lighting and Heating

    skylight

Natural light is going to be one of the key realizations of green living in 2014. Architects, Interior designers and homeowners are putting a lot of thought into deciding the number of windows to make and their best placement, so as to allow maximum light into the house. The right windows can be an equally good source of the much-needed winter heat. Install windows with a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.55 to allow maximum heat to pass through your windows.

Another easy step towards a green home is switching from single pane windows to double or triple glazed windows. They will reduce the heat entering the building and consequently the energy consumed by the AC.

For homes where natural light availability is difficult, tubular skylights are an effective and energy-efficient source. Tubular skylights transmit sunlight into the house through roof openings. Tubular lighting also works for providing natural light to the basement and to the first floor of a two-story building. Most tubular daylight devices are equipped with optional dimmers that allow you to control the degree of light in the room. You can dim these energy-efficient lights as and when you like.

Production of energy exhaustive incandescent lights is set to drop in 2014. Developers, interior designers, and home owners are all turning to LED lighting. Investing in LED lights is not just about going green but also about saving the green in your pocket. Home design experts say that built-in LED ceiling lighting can illuminate the whole room. You can say goodbye to those energy consuming bulky ceiling lights and lamps.

Changes in water heating standards, made in the year 2014, will make them even more efficient. Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of The Greened House Effect, says that replacement of “incandescent light bulbs and reform in water heating measures alone will save billions of dollars and enormous amount of pollution.”

Radiant Barrier Roof Panels

If there are ways to reduce heating costs, those that cut cooling costs cannot be far behind. Radiant barrier roof panels are extremely energy-efficient. This type of solar board roof sheathing can reduce your air-conditioning requirements by half a ton. There are many radiant barrier roof panel installation systems in the market that eliminate the need for felt paper, making the building process even more environment-friendly.

These roof panels are an attractive option for both the builders and the homeowners. Builders save money on the HVAC equipment and homeowners save on energy costs.

Conclusion

There will be more green homes in USA than ever before as more people take an interest in healthy living and proper utilization and conservation of all available resources. Thinking of going green? Include energy efficient and water saving devices in your homes. Make use of solar and wind energy, bring down your bills, and prevent environmental pollution and degradation.

 Thanks Penny for your thoughts.  Another option, particularly for commercial ventures, is a green roof system such as those provided by XeroFlor America (headquartered in Durham) which uses pre-vegetated mats.  (disclosure:  XeroFlor America is a friend of the Firm.)

Your turn.  What green design do you like? Have you considered?  Share in the comment section or drop me an email.

Photo credits: Net Zero Energy House * Nest Image* Skylight

 

Is your design professional construction contract too friendly? (law note)

not friendlyMy husband often travels the back roads between Chapel Hill and Fuquay Varina to visit friends.  En route (a circuitous route that goes past Sharon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, among other places), he passes by the “Friendly Grocery”.  For those who haven’t had the pleasure, here is a photo of the side of the building in all its glory.

In case you cannot read the list of forbidden activities, I’m re-printed them here (complete with spelling error):

not friendly sign

I’m not sure which is the “friendly” part of that sign.  In fact, the sign seems to be the antithesis of friendly.

What does this have to do with your construction contracts?  Sometimes, in an effort to please the client and/or secure the project, architects and engineers have the habit of being too friendly in their contract language.  That is, you make promises or proposals that may promise too much of a good thing for the client.  This can cause big problems.  Bigger than being towed away from a rural grocery store in the middle of nowhere.  You could be putting your insurance coverage at risk.

Have you ever promised to use “best efforts” in your design or plans?  Promised to design to a specific LEED standard?  Guaranteed 100% satisfaction?  You might be putting your errors & omission coverage at issue.  By warrantying or guaranteeing something, you are assuming a level of liability well beyond the standard of care required by law.  By law, you only need to conform to the standard of care, and your insurance will only provide coverage up to that standard of care.  In other words, if you make guarantees or promise “best efforts,” you are contracting to something that will *not* be insured.  If something goes wrong, you will be without the benefit of your professional liability coverage.

Instead, make sure that your contracts, and proposals, are not too friendly to the client.  Sure, agree to work in accordance with the standard of care of professional architects/engineers.   But don’t make guarantees, or promise “best” efforts.  In fact, you might want to educate your client on why you cannot make such guarantees, and why anyone who does (i.e., your competition) is putting their insurance coverage at risk.  Owners want and need you to stay within the bounds of your coverage.  You need to, also.  Maybe the owner of the Friendly Grocery was on to something there.

Your turn.  Have you ever used language that jeopardized your insurance protection?  Uncertain if you have?  Drop me a line and we can talk.

Photo (c) Melissa Brumback  Creative Commons License

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