Want to know how bats may effect your engineering plans? Want to hear about cool new bridges? Read on.
Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of attending two events hosted by the North Carolina Chapter of the ACEC (American Council of Engineering Companies). The first of these was the Joint Transportation Conference, held in conjunction with the NC DOT. The second was the annual ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards. At both events, I learned interesting information that engineers should know. Today, I will discuss the Transportation Conference, including some new regulations and unusual design methods. I will save the highlights from the Excellence Awards for later this week.
1. It’s a cave, it’s a bat, it’s bats, man! Did you know that your future bridge project may be effected by the Northern Long-Eared Bat? It’s true. Right now, the federal government is considering listing the bat on the Endangered Species List, due to the 98-99% mortality rate the bats are experiencing due to “white nose syndrome”. Over 1,700 projects in North Carolina could be impacted, including work on bridges, culverts, abandoned buildings, and guardrails–essentially, any activity involving tree clearing, structure demolition/removal, or structure maintenance. On November 26th, 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service extended the comment period to discuss the implications of listing the bat on the endangered species list. If the bat is listed, there is no grandfathering of projects. All projects will immediately be required to engage in protective activities. Stay tuned, but be aware that your transportation projects could be effected starting sometime next year.
2. Is that a pirate on your map or is it worse–soil contamination?
At the conference, we also heard from the GeoEnvironmental Section of NC DOT on their geologic symbols for known or potential contamination. Known contamination consists of soil or ground water samples that have been analyzed; or by evidence of such contamination as cracked transformers, battery casings, unusual odors while excavating, or new anecdotal information about past use. Potential contamination, in contrast, is for areas where there is no data, but historical maps or photos which indicate current or assumed past uses of possible contamination, such as gas stations, dry cleaner facilities, auto body facilities, chemical manufacturers, landfills, and manufacturing plants. Both known and potential contamination sites are important for designers, as they consider:
- large cuts, drainage, utilities, or stream relocations in contaminated areas
- selecting chemical resistant construction materials
- additional costs for materials, remediation
- other unanticipated costs or complications
3. Water, water everywhere! We also heard what’s new with the Highway Stormwater Program, including the updated Post-Construction Stormwater Program and the companion Stormwater BMP Toolbox manual. To learn more about these programs, check out:
- The NCDOT Stormwater website, which contains useful links; and
- The Highway Stormwater youtube chancel of training videos, which is still in development but will include environmental sensitivity maps, nutrient load accounting tools, and stormwater management plans.
4. Cool, cool bridges One of the highlights of the conference was hearing about some truly unique bridge designs, including:
- The Tappan Zee Hudson River Crossing, in New York, featuring twin-tower cable stayed structures and all electronic toll collection
- Vietnam’s Dragon Bridge, a truly working piece of art; and
- The Milton-Madison Bridge Slide, (Indiana/Kentucky) the longest bridge slide in North America. The Milton-Madison Bridge Slide was a feat of engineering design. Using “truss sliding” a new 2,427 foot long truss was moved along steel rails and plates and “slid” into place atop the existing, rehabilitated, bridge piers.
What about you? Did you attend the conference? If so, what insight did you take away? Share in the comments, below.
I saw this sign outside the Jacksonville, North Carolina regional airport. For those of you who don’t know, Jacksonville is home to Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corp base. Many of the passengers are coming from or going to the base.
Think a Marine on R&R might like a brewskie or two? Probably so. Thus the sign Yes We have Beer.
Like it or not, we’re all in the marketing business. Yes, you are a design professional, and went to school for years to be a licensed architect or a registered engineer. But, you also need to keep the clients coming in, and cash flow flowing. So today’s marketing tip: remember your audience!
It’s a simple thing, but something that many folks forget. Write the proposal or your brochure copy with the client in mind, not to impress the client with your erudite vocabulary (Yes, I’m using the word erudite — I saw the movie Divergent this weekend, so it can’t be helped!)
Photo: “We Have Beer” by Melissa Brumback
Preparing for the Tax Man: Tips for Architects, Engineers, and other small business owners (guest post)
Miss me yet? No, I’m “not dead yet” (for you Monty Python fans). Nor have I fled to Hong Kong (a la Edward Snowden). And no, contrary to rumors, I am not working on a Middle Eastern documentary with Jon Stewart. Ahem. My MIA status was simply due to too much work. Good problem to have, right?
Regular posting will resume next week. In the meantime, since it is, once again, tax time for quarterly filers, I thought this guest post on tax issues particularly appropriate. Even if you don’t file quarterlies, pay attention now to save heart ache at the end of the year!
Looking for a few small-business tax tips? Consider this shortlist to help streamline your process:
1. Proper record-keeping: Year-round record keeping ensures that come tax time, your paperwork will be in order. Make sure that you save all documents relating to deductions in case your business is audited. Because tax credits and deductions change from year-to-year, keeping excellent records allows you to adapt while being able to reference previous years simply by checking your filing.
2. Keep two Acts in mind: Both the Small Business Jobs Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) help you manage your tax burden. The first has over 17 tax provisions that decrease taxes for small businesses, all of which can win your business great savings. The Affordable Care Act allows small businesses to cover 35 percent of the health care premiums that they pay to provide health insurance to employees. In 2014, the amount will increase to 50 percent.
3. Avoid an audit: Audit traps are indicators to the IRS that they need to investigate your business dealings further. Avoid this scenario by keeping the following details straight:
Home Office Deduction rules: Know what qualifies a home office and make sure yours abides by the IRS definition before claiming one. Not all home-based businesses qualify for this deduction.
Properly classify your employees: Independent contractors and employees are not one and the same from an IRS perspective and should not be treated as such. Non-compliance with proper classification is a red flag to the IRS that your business may be attempting to avoid payroll taxes and can result in back taxes and penalties.
Miscellaneous deductions: Be cautious with your deductions, as a large amount of itemized deductions can raise suspicion. Be sure that you have all of your paperwork to support any deductions and claim them in a clear and specific manner.
Business and personal expenses do not mix: While Turbotax encourages freelancers to combine business with pleasure and write off the expenses, the IRS does not welcome this blended method and will scrutinize individuals who combine their business and personal expenses too often. Maintain separate bank accounts for your personal life and business and maintain meticulous records to ensure that your actions do not require further attention.
Whether you have an accountant or do your business taxes yourself, knowing the proper way to file is an excellent policy for a small and growing business. By maintaining clean records and staying aware of IRS policies, you can make the most of business deductions and enjoy a penalty-free tax season.
Chelsea Terris provides online content for Meticulous Plumbing, a family owned company located in Portland, OR. Chelsea is passionate about helping small businesses thrive.
Thanks Chelsea for the tax tips!
Today’s guest post is by David Morrison. David has worked on both sides of the construction site during his time in renovation. Having stepped from the gravel pit into the office a few years ago, David currently now works with UK Tool Centre, liaising with the industry on their behalf.
Working as a site engineer or lead architect has many challenges and is undoubtedly one of the toughest roles, interwoven around effective communication skills with the clients as well as the site contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.
Since maintaining discipline and accountability is at the core of any successful venture, the same is true for a construction site also. The site engineer plays the “unwanted” role of implementing carrot and stick policy, awarding the effective contractor and dealing with the laggard.
For those beginning their engineering and architectural careers, or for those who still struggle to maintain a tight ship when dealing with contractors, there are a number of things to keep in mind.
a.) Organizing Self - The way a site engineer organizes his work plays a very important role in meeting the final objective and let the workplace run as a team. The first and most important thing is to set an example by doing things in the same manner as you are requiring and expecting from the contractors.
b.) Be Clear - A site engineer must ensure that the contractors have clear instructions, drawings and specifications related to their work. Otherwise the “garbage in; garbage out” rule shall be applicable to the final outcome.
c.) Work Milestones - A site engineer should coordinate with the general contractor, who in turn should use professional project management tools, define work milestones and interact with the subcontractors to keep an eye on their timely completion. If any issues arise, they must be addressed quickly, so that the contractor or subcontractor’s work is not delayed.
d.) Performance Appraisal - Informing a contractor of his performance quality is only half the job; informing him in a timely manner is the remaining half. The site engineer should develop methods of regular assessment of work of each prime contractor, and should include this information in regular project meetings. This allows the site contractor to timely identify the gaps (both related to man and machine) in his work and to take action to complete the work successfully.
e.) Teamwork, Motivation and Inspiration - To foster teamwork among various site contractors, a site engineer should know how to dig into his own experience of similar works. He should always work to motivate them by giving good and bad examples out of his experience. A well experienced site engineer always have lots of good advice from his earlier encounters to inspire the contractors and give them potential solutions to difficult tasks and situations.
f.) Prompt Payments - A site engineer must always ensure that as per contractual terms with contractors the payment for the various milestones must be promptly processed and done without any delay. This is of utmost importance in getting the work done from contractors on a construction site.
g.) Safety - A site engineer must always ensure that contractors shall never compromise on safety and security rules to expedite the work. A bad accident can be devastating, to the individuals involved and also to the project schedule.
h.) Friendship, Philosophy and Guidance - A site engineer should know how to work as a friend-philosopher and guide to the contractors and must not always act as bully. After all, the contractor may have some genuine issues with the design team’s performance as well.
Advice for construction is ten to the dozen and there are a lot of potential misguiding mantras out there. One of the most useful to take into account has always been: “It may take a lifetime to learn the ways to deal with contractors on-site, and still a lot will be left to learn.”
Thanks David. Now it’s your turn. Thoughts, comments, questions? Share in the comment section below.
Photo courtesy Teaching Underground.
Today, we welcome back Christopher G. Hill as guest author. Chris is a LEED AP, Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC. Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011 and 2012. He concentrates his practice on mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.
Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and the Board of Governors of Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar. Most importantly, Chris’ blog was a personal inspiration to me as I set about my own blog back in 2009. Welcome Chris!
First and foremost, thanks to my pal Melissa for the opportunity to post here at her great blog.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, I will explain the title of this guest offering. When Melissa first contacted me for my thoughts on poor project management from the contractor’s perspective, my first thought on how to avoid causing friction was “Don’t think like an architect.”
Before you flip the switch and head off for another post, possibly even another blog, hear me out. Yes, I know that much of the audience for this piece is likely to be architects and other design professionals. Yes, I know that all of you try hard. But no, not all of you can run a job smoothly when acting as an Owner’s representative on a project (as opposed to designing a great building). I’m here to help with my “musings” (see how I did that?) gained from years of representing the folks that you all seem to think are trying to ruin a project: contractors and subcontractors.
The main thing that both “sides” of this equation need to remember is that you are all in this together. Without your approval, the GC (and by extension the subcontractors and suppliers) on the project won’t get paid. Without the GC and its cohorts, you, the architect, will have to listen to an Owner complain about the pace of the project and the fact that you aren’t running the project how that Owner wants it run. See? All of us are in the same boat.
Failing to row in the same direction (to continue to beat this metaphor over the head) as the GC and seeing the GC as one that seeks to undermine your beautiful and artistic design sensibilities can only undermine those sensibilities. GC’s and subcontractors, if asked nicely early on, can give you great insights into the scheduling, proper materials, and even the best and most efficient building design.
For example, an HVAC subcontractor can help you with the ductwork design in the beginning so that later on you aren’t barking at the GC because the subcontractor requested a change order (now waiting on your desk for approval) due to the fact that a load bearing wall would have to be moved in order for the ducts to go where you wanted them. This minor bit of early discussion avoids the issue and keeps the GC and its subs happy, keeps the project on track and avoids messy things like liens and bond claims.
Failure to consult early and often, in a cooperative manner, leads to grumpy GC’s, ticked off subs, and a project that slows to a glacial pace. This keeps everyone, including you, from being paid.
I could continue to rant, but you are smart folks. You can do all of that engineering type math and all of that geometry and work with CAD that I decided was too hard so I went to law school. You get the point: you and those that perform the construction at your project are not adversaries. Yes, you represent the owner and want to make sure that the building is built right. However, the best way to do this is to consult early and often. Free information flow is the best way to keep everyone happy and everyone paid.
Thanks again to Melissa for letting me rant.
Thanks, Chris. Ranting with a purpose is always welcome on my blog! Readers, it is your turn. Questions, comments, or rants for Chris or me? Comment below.