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A Developers Guide to Helping the Contractor Get Dry.

Chris Hauska, National Director of Quality Assurance, Gables Residential

A Developers Guide to Helping the Contractor Get Dry.Chris Hauska, National Director of Quality Assurance, Gables Residential

It’s hard to overstate the importance of dry milestones to a construction project. Whether those milestones be intermediate or final, whether the project be a small tenant fit out or a multi-phase campus, I doubt that anyone reading this needs convincing as to the importance of getting and staying dry.

"Performing due diligence early on by engaging a variety of subject matter experts is essential to the decision-making process"

As a Developer, construction schedule milestones hold an interesting place of priority. On one hand, achieving commitments set forth in the contract schedule are largely the Contractor’s prerogative. On the other, the Developer has agreed to the schedule and has vested interest that the contractor hits their dates so they can start generating returns.

The question for the Developer then becomes: where can they best influence the construction schedule without taking on undue risk?

As with almost all Owner-related impacts to a construction project, timely and decisive decision making is paramount. Even in the more normal times of just a few years ago, storefront, curtainwall, windows, and many other critical components carried lead times measured in months not weeks. Although not as significant from a procurement perspective, it’s just as important to understand and select the appropriate air / vapor barrier. We can always pay to get a building gold plated, submersible, and ready to set up on the moon but sometimes building wrap is just fine.

Performing due diligence early on by engaging a variety of subject matter experts is essential to the decision-making process. The days of getting a set of documents from an Architect and blindly relying on them to be appropriate are largely behind us. Engage the full design team, envelope consultants, and if possible Trade Partners early on. 

All parties have the same end goal and perhaps most importantly all parties come at that end goal from slightly different angles. Said more succinctly: ask the right questions, ask hard questions, decide, and stick with the decision unless circumstances absolutely demand a change. Very little sets a building back further quicker than late design changes

The Developer has an additional role to play prior to execution. As the controlling entity it’s important to manage the Contractor and the Design Team to ensure that these critical-path submittals are turned around in timeframes that meet and if at all possible exceed contract requirements.

With materials selected and the delivery clock started, the team will now start to tee envelope execution up for success. An often-underutilized best practice is constructing and testing a full-scale mockup wall. Mockup panels can serve many purposes – including aesthetic – but all too often the high price tag of a full-sized wall with representative details can scare an Owner into choosing “simpler” options. Rest assured that finding even one issue with a mockup will generally pay for itself during production, and even if no deficiencies are identified the cost of a mockup weighed against the total project cost or the cost of major or systemic failures is generally very cheap insurance.

While not exhaustive, below are some points to keep in mind when specifying a mockup wall.

 Include the design in the contract documents. It’s not breaking new ground to state that contract inclusions are more cost effective than change orders.

 Include as many representative openings in the design as practical, even if they are not sized as depicted in the contract documents. A 24” x 24” window will have the same joints, seals, and components as its full-sized counterparts. Consider windows, transoms, swing doors, sliding doors, vents, louvers, etc. Field-built assemblies should be given special consideration.

 Include as many representative material changes and flashings as practical, including typical details, unique details, inside corners, outside corners, roof transitions, etc. Incorporate as many failure points as possible. Typical issues cover the majority of the project while unique details should cover challenging aspects

 Begin mockup construction as soon as possible once materials are approved. If that means the mockup needs to be offsite, so be it.

 Require that the Trade Partner identify and use the foreman and at to the extent possible at least one technician that will be on the job to construct the mockup. This may be difficult far in advance but should not be impossible. Further, the tradesmen constructing the mockup should be production workers, not “artists”. The point is to create a reproducible sample of how the asset is going to perform, not do the best job possible for a high-profile set of inspections.

 Test each component of the mockup as you would test the building. In the event of a failure, don’t take the easy route and caulk up an issue just to get a passed test – the intent is to identify as many root cause issues as possible before material hits the production line or the installers’ hands.

 Oftentimes a Contractor will request that a mockup be performed in-situ. While possibly advantageous to production, a mockup rarely if ever passes all tests and inspections the first time if for no other reason than the design details need further hashing out. Additionally, when a deficiency is identified in an in-place mockup, schedule constraints have invariably dictated that production continue in parallel with mockup approvals. At that point, you have lost your chance to get in front of a myriad of design, manufacturing, or installation issues that may arise.

With envelope materials selected, in production, and having passed front-line installation vetting, the Developer, Design Team, Contractor, and Trade Partners can now concentrate proactive efforts on getting dry and starting interiors rather than reacting to issues that inevitably arise. While it’s easy to point to the contract documents and just tell the Contractor to get it right, it’s in all stakeholders’ best interests to take a team-based approach. Through thoughtful design decisions, team management, and the use of a performance mockup, the Developer has a unique opportunity to invest time in low- to no-risk action up front that will pay dividends once material hits the jobsite.

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