5 Things Contractors Can Do Today to Irritate Architects:

1)      Say “I’ve never had to do that before…”  sketchWell, maybe you haven’t. But maybe you should have been doing that and you just didn’t realize it. Or just maybe this project is just different and has its own requirements. Never bagged the ends of your ductwork after a wipe down in the factory? This is your first cleanroom, I expect? Never put down crack suppression material under a ceramic tile floor? Never submitted Shop Drawings? Let’s read the contract documents and talk about it. As an architect I’ve learned a lot from some pretty savvy tradesmen who quietly pointed out better ways of doing things. And I’ve also had to hold firm on project requirements, despite what you did on your last job. If you wanted to do this job different than the way the documents called for it to be done, you should have said so before you accepted the contract.

2)      Ignore the Submittal Process The submittal process exists for a reason: usually to make sure that the contractor has contracted with appropriate suppliers and trades to do the work at the quality level and in the manner shown in the design documents. Architects can become irritated when they suspect contractors are ignoring submittal requirements. Intentionally delaying submittals in the hope that an unauthorized substitution can be made, or that extra time can be added to the project schedule, will destroy Contractor credibility. Submittals are meant to assist the Architect to generally follow the course of the work. But it is still the Contractor’s obligation to meet the requirements of the contract documents regardless of what the shop drawings say or don’t say. Additionally, the general contractor should make sure that the shop drawings from your suppliers and subcontractors have been reviewed and stamped before passing them on. Architects typically struggle to stretch their fees to cover the whole construction period and reviewing deficient shop drawings multiple times costs them real money. Don’t make them look at your submittals multiple times. Finally, remember that shop drawings are not change orders. An architect’s review of your submittals does not mean that you are okay to deviate from the contract. If the review comments seem to indicate a change from the contract documents is necessary, follow up with a Change Order Request to make the paperwork trail complete.

3)      Expect the architect to create your Punch List. urinalZero item punch lists are the goal but for a variety of reasons may not be achievable. However, if you expect the architect to tell you what still needs to be finished or corrected in the job you are building, what message does that convey? Are you hoping that the architect won’t list every deficient item on his list, and that somehow you won’t actually have to fully complete your contract obligations? You already know (or should know) the status of every trade and supplier on the project. You know (or should know) the quality of work expected. If you are having a Substantial Completion inspection, a punch list is a likely result. Take control of the project closeout and prepare a comprehensive punch list of your own that can be reviewed during the inspection walk. Everyone will appreciate it.

4)      Refer to Spec Sections as though they define Subcontract Limit lines.  The function of specifications is to define the quality of products, materials, and workmanship. If you want to irritate the architect, complain that the plumbing section didn’t say anything about painting the fire sprinkler lines, or that the electrical section didn’t include controls. Some contractors attempt to use spec section divisions as definitions of contract limits, but architects usually disapprove that approach. Division of the work varies among different contractors. The scope in each subcontract depends on many factors specific to the bid process and the nature of the work. Architects are not in the best position to make such determinations, nor are they in a legally appropriate position relative to various subcontractors and trades. In addition, Division 1 specifications typically apply to all phases of the work, regardless of trade or specialty and should be included as a part of all subcontract language. Determination of which subcontractor performs what scope of work is almost always the job of the general contracting entity, not the architect.

5)      Point out flaws in the documents in front of the Client.  rug-pulled2Okay, it’s true: there are no perfect sets of plans or specs. Anywhere. Can we get past that and try to figure out how to solve the problem of getting the project built right without the posturing in front of the Client? As an architect I hate the feeling of always having to watch out for a contractor trying to discredit my capabilities or my relationship with a Client. The Contractor often spends far more time on the work-site with my Client than I do, going over the details constantly. Why not show them the stuff that works, not just the stuff that doesn’t? To be fair, this doesn’t happen often and certainly not always on purpose. But keep your observations and criticisms for a time when just you and the architect are present, or risk having him become defensively critical of the quality of your work too.

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5 Things Architects Can Do Today to Irritate Contractors:

1)      Set bid deadlines for the day after a holiday or a weekend. dateMaybe you’ve scheduled a weekend golf outing or a
week-long trip to the cabin. Wouldn’t it be nice to come in Monday morning and find a stack of bids for your latest project waiting at the front desk? It can be tempting to schedule bids for your own convenience, so why shouldn’t you? Hard as it may be to accept, contractors and subcontractors have lives too… and weekends. But setting aside the issues of civility there is a practical reason that you’re likely to get a better bid on a Tuesday or Wednesday: fewer potential bidders will be throwing your bid invitation in the trash or sending you a “safe” courtesy bid.

2)      Ask for extensive bid detail to be turned in with a hard bid. This does one of two things: it either exposes how little you really understand about what happens on bid days, or it signals that you just don’t care how much wasted effort it takes from multiple losing bidders to try to comply with your request. Maybe both. Because of the desire of suppliers to achieve competitive advantages, sub-bids often arrive at the contractor’s office at the last possible moment possible. This is especially true when contractor selection is based on the lowest cost. Evaluations and comparisons of only the most basic bid elements are often all that is possible by a contractor, given bid deadline constraints. Consider making unit pricing submissions a requirement within some time frame, say 24 hours. Consider making them a requirement of only the two lowest responsible bidders.  And think of a bid response as unpaid work for all of the bidders but one. Your contractors will get irritated if you demand too much!

3)      Create poor documents and expect the contractor to flush out errors during bidding. Scan3Contractors aren’t plan checkers. They bid what they see. If the contractor is required to build to your plans and specifications, he likely can’t be held responsible for the results of defects in your plans or specs no matter when they are discovered. Contractors have an obligation to identify patent errors, mistakes so obvious they can’t be ignored. But don’t expect contractors to try to correct your product selections, engineering and applications. That isn’t their job and they’re not good at it. At least, they’re not going to do it inexpensively…

4)      Process RFI’s and Pay Applications slowly. If you want them irritated, ignore Need By dates on RFI’s. Remember: to a contractor, time is money. Delay in resolving RFI’s might mean postponing work in certain project areas and a loss of overall schedule time and real money.  In such a case, expect consequences. Similarly, don’t delay required action on Pay Applications unless you are wanting a confrontation. To get great work and pricing, subcontractors and suppliers need to be paid as quickly as possible. By balancing project revenue and costs, good contractors avoid robbing from one project to pay costs for another… a recipe for financial disaster.  Information and money both need to flow at a reliable and contractually agreed upon pace.

5)      Try to deflect change orders by expounding about your Design Intent. agreementClarifying design intent can be helpful in any number of situations. Why does a door swing a certain way? Why was a particular color chosen? Or why use a specific grade of steel?  But this phrase about intent can irritate a contractor like no other when it is made to deflect a change request needed in conjunction with item #3 regarding poor design documents. Sorry, but your intent is not acceptable as a defense of poor documents. Nobody bid your intent; they bid what they saw in the bid document. The whole bid system is based on that premise. Imagine your reaction if a contractor said, “Well, my intent was to have built the job according to your specifications, but…” It doesn’t work as an excuse, does it?

I’m sure there are more things than these five, but these seem to be the re-occurring issues. Next week I’ll write about the 5 Things Contractors Can Do Today to Irritate Architects.

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