Electricity for the Photo Shoot…the Sales Models

            One requirement sometimes not considered in scheduling the grand opening of the sales models for a multi-unit production tract housing or condominium project, is that electricity must be on for the interior and exterior photography shoot.

            Photographs are typically taken two or three weeks before the opening date so as to be included in the sales brochures and promotional ads that run in the real estate sections of local newspaper, and on the internet.

            Electricity must be on so that dining room chandeliers, hanging light fixtures in stairways, kitchen florescent lights, bathroom bar light fixtures and sconce light fixtures, and bedroom table lamps can provide lighting for the photography.

            Providing electricity two or three weeks earlier than the grand opening date can throw the sales models construction into panic mode if this requirement was not anticipated. 

            Normally, the approval to allow electricity to be provided for a project is not released by the city building department until construction is complete.  If the project is scheduled to continue construction right up to the grand opening date, the construction will not be far enough along at the time of the photo shoot to have a final building inspection, much less allow time for the utility company to set meters and turn on the electricity.  

            Some city or county building departments will make an exception for sales models and give a separate electrical inspection before the building final inspection.  This process allows the builder to get electrical power earlier than normal.

            This approach must be planned for ahead of time, however, so that the electrical inspection, the setting of the meters, the release by the city building department, and the bureaucratic process between the building department and the utility company all transpire to coordinate in-time for the grand opening.

            The fallback position is for the homebuilder to rent a generator to power the electricity to the sales models, with the project electrical contractor making the temporary connections at the electrical breaker panels.

            The mistake to avoid here is in thinking that the construction completion date and the sales model grand opening date can be the same day, unless the builder is planning on renting a generator.

            The construction completion date should be about three to four weeks before the opening so that electricity, as well as furniture and indoor plants can be in place for the promotional photography shoot.

Temporary Power Pole Placement

            The placement of temporary power poles on the jobsite should be analyzed and planned so as not to be in the way of future concrete walkways and driveways, trenching for underground utilities, and large landscaping trees.

            The builder should attempt to avoid the common occurrence toward the completion of the project of having to move one or more temporary power poles, not only costing money, but disrupting electrical power to a portion of the project while it is moved to another location.

            For high-density condominium and apartment projects, and for large multi-unit tract housing, the initial placement of temporary power poles so as not to interfere with any future construction activities, can be difficult because of the scarcity of open, unused space within the completed project. 

            These projects often have most of the available space filled-up with walkways, driveways, courtyard patios, common area parking, recreation and swimming pool areas, and landscaping.

            For tight projects with limited space such as these it is sometimes best to have the civil engineering surveyors stake the locations for temporary power poles as a separate distinct activity, or along with and in addition to some other early staking activities that brings the surveyors out to the jobsite.

            The builder must spend some time at the start of the construction determining the desired locations for temporary power poles, so their exact locations can be plotted and laid-out in the field.

            For detached tract housing the exercise of choosing locations for power poles is made easier by the leftover open space on each lot.  But the builder still needs to ensure that the temporary power poles are out of the way of concrete driveways and walkways, as well as the underground utilities.

Wind-Screened Fences

            Some housing construction projects are required to install temporary chain-link fencing around the perimeter property-line of the building site for the duration of the project.

            Nylon wind-screen covering the fence might also be required or added by the builder to enhance the appearance of the fence and the project.

            On one particular large condominium project I worked on as the superintendent, adjacent to a golf course, about 700 lineal feet of wind-screened chain-link fence was installed by driving the vertical steel posts into the ground.

            This entire length of fence blew over twice during the windy season.

            At a considerable expense to repair each time, the builder finally removed the wind-screen portion of the fencing.  The money that was spent putting the fence back up twice could have paid for originally setting the posts in concrete, thus allowing the more attractive green-colored wind-screen to remain.

            Suggestions to prevent the fence from being blown over by the wind are:

  • Set each post in concrete
  • Set every other post in concrete
  • Give the fence a 45-degree jog in the shape of a “V” every 100 feet or so
  • Use diagonal braces to support the offset posts at the point of the “V”

Keys to Storage Bins

            Subcontractors should notify the jobsite superintendent in advance when a storage container bin, full of materials, is being delivered to the jobsite, and instruct the bin delivery person what to do with the keys.

            An occasional occurrence on a construction site is for a particular worker to ask the jobsite superintendent on the first starting day for that particular building trade, if the superintendent has the keys to open their bin.

            Whenever a subcontractor’s storage bin is delivered to the jobsite, the superintendent should ask the delivery person if the bin contains materials and is therefore locked, or empty and therefore unlocked, and what if anything are the instructions regarding keys to locked bins.

            The problem to avoid here is placing the jobsite superintendent in the position of being clueless as to the situation regarding storage bins, locks, and keys, which the superintendent should not be involved in, but nevertheless becomes involved in by virtue of often being the only person present to receive the delivery of the subcontractor’s storage container bin and to direct its placement on site.

            The communication fiasco of not being able to start the work smoothly because the subcontractor failed to coordinate clearly who had the keys to the storage bin, can be avoided by the simple policy of requiring subcontractors to notify the superintendent when storage bins are being delivered, and what if anything to do about the keys to fully stocked, locked bins.

Storage Bin Locations

            Many subcontractors use storage bins placed on the jobsite to store materials on large, multi-unit tract housing, condominium, and apartment projects.

            Typical trades who must store materials on the jobsite include framing, plumbing, electric, drywall, lathing, and painting.

            During the planning stage before construction, the builder should select one location on the jobsite where storage bins can be placed without needing to be moved later.

            Few things are more frustrating and disruptive for a subcontractor than to be asked to move a storage bin two or three times during the course of the construction.  Picking up and moving a large storage bin is not a delicate operation, and materials and supplies which were once organized inside the bin are usually tossed all over the bin floor.

            The builder cannot insist that subcontractors be organized and efficient in their materials management, and then disrupt and displace those same materials by repeatedly moving storage bins because of poor jobsite planning.

Location of the Trailer

            I have worked on two projects in which the builders used detached houses that came with the purchase of the land, as the construction jobsite office in lieu of a temporary trailer.

            This approach saved the builders the expense of providing a temporary office trailer, but in these two projects these fixed-in-place houses became farther and farther away from the construction in-progress as each new phase of tract houses moved farther away from the first phase closest to the house office.

            These growing distances resulted in a forced and unnatural isolation between the field office and the construction, especially when the distance became too great to cover on foot.

            A temporary office trailer allows the trailer to be moved so that the construction office is not more than a few hundred feet from the actual construction in-progress.

Entrance to the Trailer

            When planning for and designing the construction trailer location and orientation, several features should be considered to help keep the inside of the trailer clean.

            First, the builder should consider placing loose clean gravel or temporary asphalt paving around the entrance to the trailer, to remove dirt and mud from shoes as people approach.

            Second, a doormat can be placed at the entrance of the trailer, allowing people to wipe off their shoes before entering and reminding them to do so.

            Third, the builder should consider providing a roof or awning over the construction trailer door and stairs or ramp, so when it is raining people can pause to wipe off their shoes underneath overhead protection.

Cleaning the Trailer

            One item sometimes missed in the project budget is to include weekly or bi-weekly cleaning of the construction trailer.

            The sales office and the models in multi-unit projects are typically cleaned and vacuumed at least once per week.  This keeps them in good shape for displaying to the buying public.  Sales models must be sparkling clean to impress prospective buyers.

            The construction trailer also reflects the professionalism of the housing development company: the builder. 

            Although subcontractors, building inspectors, and tradespeople might not be as important to impress as buyers, the construction trailer is usually the first impression people involved with the construction get of the project.

            If strangers walk into a construction trailer that is large, spacious, carpeted, furnished, clean, and organized, the first impression is of a business office which generates the accompanying respect.

            If the trailer is small, old, with a stained vinyl floor, a used old metal office desk with a squeaky chair, and has a makeshift plans table made from a throwaway interior door, the first impression is that the builder is not serious about business efficiency.

            Worse yet, if the construction trailer is partly used as a storage bin, with electrical temp-power boxes and cords laying on the floor, along with shovels, picks, brooms, and water hoses, the trailer ceases to function and look like a place where the business of the project can be conducted. 

            I have walked into construction trailers where I had to climb over all sorts of construction equipment and debris.

            If the builder chooses the second method of providing a small, beat-up looking construction trailer, then periodic cleaning is obviously a waste of money. 

            On the other hand, if the builder thinks that the construction trailer should resemble a business office as closely as possible, then periodic cleaning should be budgeted along with the cleaning of the sales office and the sales model units.

Office Supply Package

            At the start of a new project, some builders give the jobsite superintendent access to office supplies from the main office for the construction trailer, or ask the superintendent to buy the necessary supplies and then get reimbursed. 

            Other builders might have an account at a local office supply store, at which the superintendent can purchase these supplies and charge the purchase to the builder.

            Another option is to order office supplies online and have them delivered to the construction office trailer.

            The problem to avoid here is a reinvent-the-wheel, individualized approach for every new housing construction project. 

            The builder should have a standardized list of the minimum items needed in the field to equip and supply the field office. 

            A suggestion I offer here is for the main office to assemble the package of varied supplies needed…boxed-up and labeled according to a standardized list…and order the equipment and furniture, all ready for use soon after the construction trailer is delivered and set-up on the jobsite.

            This approach eliminates the possibility that some superintendents will under-supply the construction trailer because of an inadequate list, or the mindset that economizing in this area will be favorably looked upon by their supervisors.

            Another suggestion is to assign someone from the main office who is an expert in organizing the filing system and the file cabinet, to come out to the jobsite during the construction trailer set-up phase to get this area of field operations up and running smoothly from day one. 

            This should be a non-negotiable, required company activity using the same repeat office person performing this activity, with interim feedback and project close-out evaluation to improve this important field information management function.

            A minimum list of office supplies, stationary, and equipment might include:

ball point pens                          

mechanical pencils & lead                     

scratch pads 8-1/2×11

scratch pads legal size             

colored highlighters                              

colored pencils

paper clips                               

correction tape                                     

fluid white-out

push pins                                 

pencils                                                

transparent tape holder

transparent tape                       

erasers                                                

adhesive stick-on notes

file cabinets

file folders                                

file labels                                             

stapler & staples

architectural scale                    

engineering scale                                 

drafting triangles & templates

plans holders                           

key rings                                             

key box

keyed padlocks            

calendars                                            

business card holders

business cards                         

scissors                                              

paper hole punch

spray paint                               

upside-down spray paint                       

trash cans & bags

paper towels                            

first-aid kit                                           

fire extinguisher

water dispenser           

coffee machine                       

copy paper standard

copy paper legal                      

copy paper 11×17                                 

copy machine toner

computer laptop           

11×17 printer                                       

fax machine

land-line telephone with conference call capacity                       

safety books

building code books

The Construction Office Trailer

            The following group of topics describes my ideas for the construction office trailer and surrounding building site.

            Not everyone will agree financially with these ideas. 

            Some builders might not have the budget to outfit a construction trailer with the office equipment and furniture I recommend. 

            The goal here is to analyze the pros and cons of a good construction office, so that the decisions regarding the construction office trailer can be the result of thoughtful consideration as well as budget constraints.

            A friend of mine builds high-end custom houses in the beach communities of Southern California.  He works alternate Saturdays on his construction projects and often uses this time to secure new business, utilizing the construction office trailer as a selling tool.

            On the weekend, people drive up to his projects, typically large single-family houses under construction, saying that they own a lot around the corner or down the street, and ask questions about his construction company. 

            My friend takes them into the construction trailer and shows these prospective clients framed photographs of past and current projects, 24×36-inch hand-drawn and colored activity-on-node “box” construction schedules, and computer-generated estimating spreadsheets they use to help customers establish budgets and to secure bank construction loan financing.

            The construction trailer has a conference table, comfortable chairs, floor carpeting, bookshelves, a drafting table, an organized plans table, copy/fax machine, laptop computer, and isometric three-dimensional sketches of details pertaining to the construction.

            The interior look and feel of the trailer, combined with the framed photographs and schedules on the walls, leaves the prospective clients with a very good first impression. 

            This approach works very well for his type of work because people thinking about building a new house often drive around the area to look at what is actually being built, rather than going to a builder’s or general contractor’s business office.

            The opportunity to create the right impression and thereby find new business in this case is on the project site, and the construction office trailer plays an important role.

            If daily construction loan interest on large projects amounts to hundreds of dollars, then the construction office trailer should not be something to be economized.

            Instead of looking at the office trailer, furniture, and equipment as overhead costs to be automatically economized, the field office should be looked at as a tool to speed up the construction operation.

            The size of the construction trailer is critical for function as a command center, but some builders think that two or three people can work effectively out of an 8×12 or 8×16 foot trailer.

            A few years ago, I worked as a superintendent on a 282-unit, 22-building condominium project. 

            The size of the construction office trailer was 12×60 feet, with three offices and a plans room. 

            Having previously worked out of the typical 8×12 and 8×16 trailers on other projects for other companies, the luxury of having enough wall space to hang schedules and pickup lists, along with being able to work in a separate office without having random interruptions and attempting to tune-out background conversations as a result of being in a confined space, was a huge benefit toward improved efficiency, time-management, and morale.   

            This book describes management tools such as schedule charts, walks checklists, homebuyer options selections spreadsheets, and cheats sheets.

            All these paper tools require enough wall space to be displayed.  These and other informational aids, such as contact phone number lists and calendars provide information at a glance, thereby saving time and improving efficiency. 

            The typical 8×12 or 8×16 trailer simply does not have enough wall space.

            An archaic mindset of some builders is that by providing an inhospitable and too small office trailer for the field staff, that this will encourage the superintendents to spend more time out in the actual construction site and less time camped-out in the construction trailer.

            This old-fashioned approach backfires at the end of the workday when superintendents need to stay onsite to do paperwork after the tradespeople leave. 

            If the construction office trailer is an uninviting place to work, the superintendents are more apt to leave the project each day when the construction activity concludes.

            In my opinion, the best approach is to provide a construction office trailer that is adequately furnished and equipped to function as a field office.  

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