Architects & Engineers – Liaising With Contractors (guest post)

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.

carrot with club

 

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.

 

When Running a Project, Don’t Think Like an Architect! (guest post)(Tue Tip)

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!

Chris Hill
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.

Wind Energy Gets a Second Breath of Life (News Note)

wind trubines

Have you been following the “fiscal cliff” debacle?  Unless you spent the holiday season in a cave, the answer is probably YES.  One interesting detail tucked away in the recently passed compromise legislation is the renewal of the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power, now extended through 2013.

The PTC awards a 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour tax credit for wind, geothermal and closed-loop biomass and 1.1 cents per kilowatt hour for other renewable energy technologies. This lasts for 10 years for most technologies, including wind.  Alternatively, companies can request a lump-sum payment of 30% of the wind construction cost as a tax credit once the wind turbine starts producing power.

Also new for 2013, companies are allowed to claim the credit if construction begins before the end of this year.  Previously, the facility had to be placed in service (i.e., operating) before the end of the year.

According to the folks at Green-Buildings.com, the extension of the renewable energy credit should boost wind energy construction, at least for the first half of 2013.

What is your opinion of the tax incentives for wind energy?  Yeah or Nay? Share in the comment section, below.

Photo (c) berent

 

4 Federal Labor Laws Every Construction Manager Needs to Know (guest post)

construction hard hat on postToday, a guest post from Kristie Lewis, freelance writer for Construction Management Degree.  Kristie has written numerous articles on both construction training and education as well as industry news and trends. In her spare time, Kristie enjoys cooking in her newly remodeled kitchen and reading science fiction novels. You can reach out to her at Kristie.Lewis81@gmail.com.  Thanks for sharing, Kristie.

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In an effort to protect the rights of employers in all industries, the federal government has enacted several labor laws. Some of the laws apply to all business sectors, and some apply to specific industries, such as construction.

Although those who earn a degree from an accredited construction management program will be required to learn about a variety of laws that apply to the construction industry, it is never a bad idea to review the details of them. Here are four labor laws that every construction manager should know like the back of their hand.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

This act sets the standards for wages and overtime pay. In general, it requires employers to pay covered employees who are not otherwise exempt at least the federal minimum wage and pay 1.5 times the regular rate for overtime hours. The Fair Labor Standards Act is administered by the Wage and Hour Division. More information on this law can be found at the division’s official website.

Davis-Bacon and Related Acts

These policies apply to contractors and subcontractors that are working on public buildings or public works projects that are federally funded and will cost more than $2,000 to construct, alter or repair. According to the act, contractors and subcontractors must pay their laborers and mechanics employed under the contract no less than the locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits for corresponding work on similar projects in the area. There are additional details that can also be found on the Wage and Hour Division’s official website.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

This act is administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and includes an array of industry-specific regulations that are enforced through regular workplace inspections and investigations. Compliance assistance and other cooperative programs are available for employers who request help. Although there seems to be an endless amount of rules to comply with, most of them are common sense rules that smart construction managers already abide by. Still, it is wise to make sure your project is congruent with the federal law, because any infractions can be found through inspection or reported by a worker.

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959

This law deals with the relationship between a union and its members. Also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, it protects union funds and promotes union democracy by requiring labor organizations to file annual financial reports. Employers are also required to file reports regarding certain labor practices. It is administered by the Office of Labor-Management Standards. You can read the details of the law here.

Knowing the details of the above laws will not only keep your construction business safe from legal trouble, it will also allow you to provide your employers with the best working environment possible.

Questions on these laws, or comments?  Drop Kristie and me a note in the comment section, below.

Photo: (c) Anna Strumillo.

Solar Energy in North Carolina- an A plus! (news note)

You may be aware that back in 2007, North Carolina adopted a renewable energy portfolio standard (REPS), the first of its kind in the Southeast.

As part of the state’s commitment to clean energy and sustainability, required utilities to produce a portion of their electricity from renewable resources such as solar energy, wind, or organic waste. This portfolio standard created a new market for many North Carolina based clean energy companies. Coupled with generous corporate tax credits (30% from the federal government, 35% from the state), North Carolina has provided a fertile ground for these new businesses to grow and thrive.

north-carolina-solar-summary

 

Currently, North Carolina ranks eighth in the nation in solar photovoltaic capacity. Over 1,200 photovoltaic systems are registered with the N.C. Utilities Commission and of those registered systems, over 250 are of commercial size.

SunEnergy1 is an example of a success story in the state’s nascent solar energy industry. The company launched in 2009 with two employees. Today, it has a total workforce of 130 (including contract labor) and projected 2012 revenues of $135 million. Founder and CEO Kenny Habul had decades of experience in construction back in his native Toronto. However, green construction and was only an auxiliary part of his business. The recession prompted Habul to turn them into the core of his business. The incentives provided by the state encouraged him to grow his new business here.

This short (1.11) video is a cool time-lapse footage of a SunEnergy1 2.5 MW solar system installation in Plymouth, NC. The project took 17 days and required four Schneider Electric GT-500 inverters and 9,800 Bosch 245-watt solar panels. The system produces enough energy to power over 300 homes.

According to Kabul, North Carolina could provide even more incentives to grow the solar energy industry. One controversial suggestion would be to allow companies such as SunEnergy1 to sell electricity directly to consumers rather than use public utilities as middlemen. Current law mandates that only utilities may sell power to consumers.

Even without direct sales of solar energy, NC is still a leader in the solar movement.

Between the federal solar tax credit, the state solar tax credit, and energy bill savings, North Carolina, according to SolarPowerRocks.com, has one of the shortest payback timeframes “worthy of an “A” in everyone’s book”.  You can’t beat that testimonial!

Thoughts, comments, or questions?  Do you think your clients are ready for solar power?  Share your experiences in the comment section, below.

Video courtesy SunEnergy1.  NC Solar Summary chart courtesy SolarPowerRocks.com

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