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.  

New Home Price Affects Final Quality Approach

            The price range of the new house determines the final approach taken to achieve a quality product.

            For high-end, luxury new homes the various subcontractors directly related to visual quality…the subcontractors for painting, finish carpentry, finish plumbing, drywall, tile, and flooring…to name a few…will not allow the jobsite superintendent or anyone else to make repairs to their work.  In this price range…these subcontractors obtain work through word-of-mouth referrals based upon their reputation…so they take full ownership over the quality of their finished work.

            I once worked as the project manager/onsite superintendent on four $6.75-12.5 million houses in Newport Coast, Southern California. 

            At the completion of the first house, I asked the painting contractor for a small amount of flat wall paint so that I could do minor touchup myself instead of adding these items to an already massive punch-list I compiled for this 10,600 square-foot house. 

            He humorously told me that I cannot touch his work, even the flat wall painting, which was a departure for me coming from a previous background in tract housing where the sheer volume of the number of houses needing final prep precluded getting the painter to touchup every last smudge on the walls.

            The opposite approach is found in the economic low-end of production tract housing and condominiums, where the various subcontractors cannot financially afford to do perfect Steinway or Stradivarius workmanship and still make money.

            As a jobsite superintendent in this low to medium price-range I learned that it was easier and less time-consuming, after all of the punch-list repairs were made by the subcontractors, to do final prep repairs myself along with assistant superintendents and customer service staff, in order to aim for zero-item homebuyer walkthroughs.

            Newly constructed houses in the slightly higher middle price-ranges require some mix of subcontractor pickup repairs plus some amount of builder prep-crew final touches to achieve final acceptable quality.

            In my opinion, people in building construction who say: “the subcontractors should be able to make their final pickup repairs to produce homebuyer walkthroughs having zero number of itemized complaints” are leaving-out the important qualifying information as to the price-range of the houses being discussed. 

            Final quality is not an apples-to-apples comparison when house prices can range from $200 thousand to $10 million.  

Projects that Finish Late Lose Money at the Back-End

            Staying with this theme of the management of project costs, one consideration for new housing projects large and small is that construction loan interest becomes larger at the tail-end of the project.

            Construction loan interest costs are fixed monthly expenses which must be paid to avoid a loan going into default.

            They are calculated on the total amount of funds that have been disbursed through the loan, and are therefore a growing unpaid balance until the property is sold and the loan balance is paid off.

            At the beginning of the construction the disbursements out of the construction loan are relatively small compared to the total loan amount, and thus the interest costs are also relatively small. 

            But the vigilant management of time and the sense of urgency in prosecuting the work should never let-up from start to finish, because time gets more expensive as the construction progresses and disbursements accumulate.  

            This is one reason why constructability analysis based upon recorded past lessons-learned is a proactive investment in preventing construction problems that cause delays in time. 

            Unanticipated design and construction problems arise throughout the course of the actual construction can cause work stoppages, which dovetail with other adverse events like bad weather or materials procurement problems.

            Proactive and preventive debugging should be a part of the upfront analysis in terms of minimizing loan interest costs at the tail-end of the project, or equally important the inflated costs of jobsite congestion of workforces to accelerate the work to catch up on the schedule.

            Paying two or three months of loan interest costs at the end of the project for a high-end luxury house that has a loan balance of several million dollars outstanding because the structural plans had problems requiring re-design and resubmittal to the city/county for plan check, part-way into the construction, is a difficult financial pill to swallow.

            The same concept applies to tract housing, custom homes, and apartment projects.  Time is money, whether in construction loan interest or lost rental income, when projects are completed late.

            The point here is to suggest that the value of preventive constructability analysis upfront can be viewed in hindsight as huge when looking back on the costs of a project that finished late. 

            The value of mistake prevention looking forward at the start of a new project is difficult to calculate. 

            How could the avoidance of a future potential problem that was eliminated ahead-of-time, that did not occur, be evaluated in terms of dollars? 

            The idea that diligence and urgency is an approach that should be applied uniformly and universally throughout the duration of a housing construction project from start to finish is a concept that is reinforced by the accelerating accumulation of loan interest costs as the work progresses.          

Note: For builders, architects, interior designers, tradespersons, college professors, and students around the world viewing these construction blogs and videos, go to my You Tube channel at Barton Jahn to see longer videos.

Decision Bottleneck for Builder’s Interior Design

            For the high-end homebuilder doing a combination of custom homes having a homebuyer client, and spec-houses (short for completed homes built on the speculation they will attract a buyer), there exists the downside of the single decision-maker at the top of the company becoming a decision bottleneck.

            For the small-sized custom-home and spec builder of a few houses per year, this is not usually a problem. 

            It stands to reason that the owner atop of the homebuilding company makes the aesthetic/artistic decisions regarding the myriad of small and large architectural and interior decision decisions, in coordination with the architect and clients as the case may require.

            This decision-making function affects the bottom-line economics for each individual project and thus the success and solvency of the company.

            However, when the size of the successful homebuilding company expands it can reach a point where decisions that are repetitive should be standardized so as to minimize the number of individual decisions to a manageable quantity.  Otherwise, the single decision-maker at the top of the company can quickly become a bottleneck of unaddressed lingering questions and issues that adversely affect the construction schedule.

            This is best done in the proactive mode, long before a crisis in leadership and time-management emerges.

            For example, if a medium high-end homebuilder always uses as standard a 3-1/2”  wide casing around interior doors and windows, and often has wood paneling wainscot from the floor to mid-way up the walls in various hallways and rooms, then the wall-framing returns at each rough door opening should universally be understood to be a minimum of six inches.  This should be the standard on every project, whether or not this is called-out on the plans. 

            Six inches minus 5/8” for the thickness of drywall leaves enough space for the door casing and wall wainscot…wood or ceramic tile. 

            For the door casing to fit without it having to be cut to a narrower width, this standard knowledge regarding the rough framing around interior door openings must be repeated on project after project without ever having to ask the question. 

            The exception would be in the case where the homebuyer requests larger width casing, or the high price of a particular house requires an upgrade in the width and detail of the door casing.

            For a kitchen floor plan layout that is repeated every third or fourth house, for example, dimensions from the kitchen-sink wall to an island cabinet should be standardized, so that the plumber and the electrician already know where to come up through the concrete slab with their pipes and conduit.

            If the kitchens all have pot-fillers (water pipe coming out of the wall with swivel arms and a handle-valve for adding water to pots and pans directly at the kitchen range-top) above the kitchen ranges, the height in inches above the rough floor elevation for these pot-fillers should be standardized.

            In secondary bathrooms, the location, size, and dimension in inches above the rough floor for the shampoo niche rough framed opening, should be standardized. 

            In secondary bathrooms, the layout and dimensioning of the various valves for the bathtubs and showers should be standardized. 

            The width and the length of the inside dimensions of the minimum-sized secondary bath should be standardized, so that a 2’-8” doors opening in front of a toilet does not hit the toilet. 

            The height of sconce lights and the top of mirrors in secondary baths should also be standardized.

            These and fifty other things can be standardized long before a successful homebuilder grows to the point that the decision-maker at the top of the company becomes an information bottleneck, answering the same repetitive questions over and over.        

In-House Interior Design

            One downside of having an in-house interior design person or small group within the office staff for the high-end custom homebuilder is that some of the architectural and all of interior design decisions are managed from within the homebuilding company.

            The homebuilder then owns the myriad of RFI’s (requests for information) which are now internal within the company staff and cannot be “farmed-out” to an outside, independent interior designer “of record” to answer and resolve.

            If not addressed in an organized, systematic, and timely manner these RFI’s internally circulated can quickly snowball into questions and issues that delay the construction operations in the field.

            The standard, arms-length arrangement of owner/architect/general contractor divides up the varied duties, roles, and responsibilities into relatively clear lines of demarcation. 

            Questions from the construction as requests for missing information in the plans and specifications that arise during the course of the construction are handled through RFI’s from the general contractor to the architect and/or structural engineer, for example.

            These RFI’s are then individually monitored for timely response by the general contractor. 

            RFI’s which have not been answered that might adversely affect the construction schedule are communicated to the owner, often during the weekly owner/builder meeting.  The owner then contacts the appropriate design professional regarding the particular question or issue.    

            The point here is that if the owner, being the spec homebuilder and/or custom homebuilder, is the party generating new architectural information by moving walls, changing interior layouts, moving interior doors, etc., and thereby making all of the interior design decisions, then a “circular firing squad” reality is created.

            In this arrangement, the builder would be sending RFI’s to itself, which in practice becomes the reality.

            If RFI’s are by definition always discovered in the reactive mode through questions unearthed during the course of the construction, and these questions belong to the builder rather than to outside consultants such as the architect or interior designer, then the builder generating these questions and problems through their own in-house decisions must have an adequate response mechanism in-place internally to be able to react in a timely manner.  

            The procedure of sending RFI’s to the appropriate design consultant and expecting prompt replies no longer exists for the builder co-opting design decisions through in-house interior designers and owner’s changes. 

Out-of-Pocket Expenses and the Construction Loan

            While working as the vice-president and onsite project manager for the construction of four high-end houses in Newport Coast in Southern California, the construction lender could not entirely cover the “hard-costs” for each of these houses having sales prices of $6.75 to $12.5 million (in year 2002). 

            The brick-and-mortar hard-costs for each house exceeded their loan limits.

            We therefore capitalized (owner’s equity) 18-1/2% of the upfront costs of the construction budget, paying out-of-pocket for the concrete work and part of the lumber costs. 

            The idea here is to postpone the disbursement of construction loan funds to a later point in time during the construction, so that the clock for loan interest costs begins part-way into the total project duration. 

            This meant that the construction loan did not start until roughly four months into the construction of each house, saving on loan interest costs reduced from the full 18-month construction schedule to 14 months.

            The suggestion here is that if some portion of the construction costs must be capitalized by the builder, from a loan interest cost-perspective it may be cheaper to fund the front-end of the project.

            I also worked for nine years as a construction manager for a bank. 

            Several savvy, single-family builders manipulated their construction disbursements to minimize loan interest payments. 

            Even though the construction budget lines itemized on the construction loan document have the required funds for each category of the work, the borrower is not required to withdraw/use these funds for every budget line-item during the course of the construction.

            Some borrowers would complete the construction and sell the new house, close escrow, and pay-off the loan, yet still have unused funds in several categories in the budget like HVAC, flooring, landscaping, supervision, and builder’s fee, for example.

            By not using all of the funds in the construction loan, these borrowers elected to save on loan interest costs by capitalizing some of the work out-of-pocket.

            The construction lender is required to adequately fund the new construction project by having all the budget line-items covered.  This banking requirement was regularly audited by a government agency, in our case the OTS (The Office of Thrift Supervision).

            But the borrower is not under any requirement to use all of the funds itemized in the loan budget. 

            Loan interest costs are calculated on the funds disbursed-to-date, and not on unused funds undisbursed in the loan.

Keeping Self-Perform Work Crews Busy

            For the builder of single-family houses, there is a sweet-spot compromise between finding and keeping competent yet economical subcontractors, and maintaining a crew of in-house, self-performing tradespeople.

            I once worked, in my middle twenties, for a home remodeling contractor in a thriving beach community.

            This general contractor employed a full-time crew of six people including himself, and a part-time employee doing occasional rough cleanup.  He engaged the usual specialty subcontractors…plumbing, electrical, HVAC, cabinets, drywall, etc.  Our crew did the demolition, concrete, framing, and finish carpentry.     

            The challenge for this remodeling contractor was to always keep enough work out in front of us so we were busy five days a week and occasional Saturdays. 

            This locally popular remodeling contractor would tell new prospective clients he would accept their project, but it would take three months before the start date.  The other balancing act was to get the subcontractors to show up on time and with full-size crews, as they also had their own challenge of keeping their workforce busy.

            Later in my career, I worked for a large single-family homebuilder doing a mix of “spec” and custom homes in an upscale, economically high-end location.

            This builder employed a self-perform workforce crew of 50-plus people in eight specialty trades…plumbing, electrical, finish carpentry, painting, low-voltage, concrete flatwork, tile, and general labor. 

            This homebuilder subcontracted the other major trades.

            The scheduling and coordination of these varied work crews, some having 4 or 5 people and others having crew-sizes of 10 to 12 people, resulted in several projects sitting empty and unmanned for days as crews were shifted daily in the reactive mode of “putting-out fires.”

            The primary challenge for this builder was to keep each person within this 50-man crew busy for a full 40-hour work-week.  This establishes the stability of the workforce.  It reduces the turnover that would otherwise occur if employees could not depend upon full-time paychecks.

            The problem with this approach is that building trades have different lengths of time for each activity during the housing construction.

            Plumbers may be needed at the jobsite for one house for 20 separate periods of time, with crew sizes ranging from one to four plumbers, from the ground up over a 9-month construction schedule.    

            Four plumbers may be needed for the under-slab work, three plumbers for the rough plumbing water, gas, and waste & vent, and two plumbers installing the finish plumbing. 

            These activities can last one week, four weeks, and one week respectively.

            But in-between these larger activities are 12 or 15 smaller activities of one or two-day durations requiring one or two plumbers.

            All of this has to be coordinated with the other in-house building trades, each having different activities of different length times and crew sizes.

            By employing specialty trades in order to be both economical and have control over the quality of the work, the builder in this example in essence supervised and managed eight disparate in-house subcontractors.

            The logistics problem of balancing different activities, different crew sizes for each activity, different lengths of time for each activity, and the efficiency requirement of keeping every tradesperson busy and productive over a 40-hour workweek, exposed the downsides of the self-perform approach.

            This becomes more complicated in terms of manpower scheduling when a builder has projects with 9-month, 10-month, and 12-month construction durations for houses ranging from 4,500 to 8,000 square foot size.

            Absent a sophisticated computer program and flawless, two-way communication between the field and the office on a daily and hourly basis, the practical realization was that there always had to be more houses under construction than workers to fully man each jobsite.

            This meant that some or all of the houses took longer to complete than they otherwise should have.

            This meant that homebuyers could not move into their new homes on time.

            If every person within a large self-perform crew of diverse specialty trades must be kept busy, then what has to expand as a variable is the construction schedule.

            In the three-way relationship between the project budget, the construction schedule, and quality…if the economics of maintaining an in-house, self-perform crew predominates…then time suffers.

            Using subcontractors can be frustrating in terms of controlling manpower and production rates and in maintaining consistent quality. 

            But expanding into multiple diverse specialty work crews in-house is not the panacea that it might appear at first glance.        

Using the Square Footage on Architectural Plans to Calculate Construction Dollars per Square Foot

            I worked in the construction management department of a bank for nine years. 

            In interacting with realtors, builders, and bank loan officers, the term “dollars per square foot” is often used to describe and differentiate between qualities of craftsmanship, levels of amenities, and geographical location of a particular new house under construction or for sale, all communicated through this one popularized standard of measurement.

            During the last five years of working for this bank, I was given the task of evaluating new single-family construction loans in terms of the sufficiency of each construction budget line-item: lumber, framing labor, cabinets, HVAC, flooring, etc. 

            To create a more accurate method to evaluate each new loan, we produced “cost models” representing each local geographical area.  By taking past recent completed loans in these areas, and dividing each budget line-item by the house square footage, this created an empirical bench-mark average consensus of the dollars per square foot broken down for each construction activity, and an overall global number for that geographical area. 

            This produced a reasonably accurate apples-to-apples comparison standard in units of dollars per square foot.

            When calculating the square footage from the building plans from outside-of-wall to outside-of-wall, plus the internally, in-house agreed-upon convention of 50% for garages and balcony decks, we discovered that our total square foot calculations exceeded by about 10% the square footage given on the title page of the architectural plans.

            For a construction management department working within a savings-and-loan making new single-family construction loans, getting the right dollars per square foot in evaluating the line-items in the construction budget is critical.

            New construction loans that fall short of funds midway or at the end of the construction, requires the borrower to come back to the lender for an increase called a loan modification.              Loan modifications add an increased element of risk to the overall bank loan portfolio.  Too many loan modifications as a percentage of the total number of loans, and the bank regulatory agency will note this negatively in its periodic audit.  This can adversely affect the bank’s rating and its stock value.

            What created this 10% difference in calculating house square footage? 

            The architect uses living-space (inside-of-wall to inside-of-wall) as the criteria for calculating the house square footage.

            I have never heard the official reasoning behind this approach, but we assumed one reason is that living space is a number that the homebuyer can evaluate that leaves out the thickness of exterior and interior walls.

            This approach identifies usable space for living. 

            But another practical reason in terms of cost to the builder and the homebuyer is that an understated house square footage based on living space, reduces city building permit and plan check fees when cities and counties uncritically accept this living space, square footage number as given in the architectural plans.

            The actual construction costs of concrete, lumber, drywall, painting, roofing, and stucco plastering extend from outside-of-wall to outside-of-wall. 

            A square footage total understated by 10% using living space will artificially inflate costs per square foot overall and for every budget line-item, because a smaller number in the denominator dividing construction costs will pump-out a larger dollar amount.

            This makes it appear there is more money in each line-item and in the aggregate budget than there is.  From a real estate sales pitch this gives the house an inflated value in terms of construction costs and amenities.

            In effect, an apples and oranges difference is created which inaccurately skews the talking-point cost appraisal number higher by 10%, unless the caveat is disclosed that the figure given is based on living space.  This is almost never done because few realtors, builders, or bankers make the distinction. 

            Only a construction person would bother to calculate the real square footage on the plans, rather than accept the architect’s living-space square footage. 

            And this would only be done for the purposes of uniformity and reality in comparing construction costs in the banking industry for evaluating new construction loan budgets, and for other interests related to construction costs such as cost estimating.

            An example would be helpful. 

            Using round numbers, assume a 3,000 square-foot size house in the year 2000 in East Manhattan Beach in Southern California on the inland side of Sepulveda Boulevard, with a lot price of $500,000 (knocking down the old existing house), a projected new house sales price of $1,100,000, and construction budget costs of $300,000.

            If we use these figures, the construction costs are $100 per square foot ($300,000/3,000 sf).  The builder, realtor, and anyone else involved in the marketing and sale of the new house will use this number to communicate the quality and amenity level of the construction.

            But what if, after calculating the square footage of the new house using the criteria of gross square footage plus the convention of 50% for garages and balconies (they have real costs) instead of living space, the actual square footage is 10% higher at 3,300 square feet.

            This new larger number in the denominator produces smaller numbers for each individual line-item and in the aggregate budget than when calculated using the architect’s square footage. 

            The construction costs per square foot are now $300,000/3,300 square feet yielding $97/square foot, not $100/square foot.

            From a sales and marketing standpoint, a $100 per square foot house sounds better than a $97 per square foot house.

            But in terms of the cost of the building permit fees, the smaller square footage figure is cheaper for the builder.

            But in evaluating a new construction loan budget, if the number for the line-item HVAC is understated by 10% at $18,000 when it should be $19,800 per the cost model, along with every other budget line-item like cabinets, countertops, finish plumbing, and hard surface flooring, for examples, the risk potential for the need for a loan modification is increased by 10%.

            The value of the product has been inflated artificially from $97 to $100, in an industry where these comparative numbers are important, relied upon, and evaluated by the consumer. 

Review Sales Model Changes for Building Code Violations

            I once worked in the construction management department of a bank, that foreclosed on a builder who could not financially complete a project during an economic recession.

            My assignment was to the complete the construction of 25 houses, which were 80 to 90 percent complete.

            During a courtesy pre-final building inspection, the county building inspector called-out a code violation in 17 of the houses.  The violation was a 36” long gas cooktop placed on kitchen countertops directly below upper cabinets that contained 30” long microwave ovens. 

            This resulted in 3 inches of wood cabinets on each side of the microwave oven that was directly above the cooktop burners.  The vertical clearance between the upper cabinets and the lower cabinet countertop was 15 inches, rather than the minimum 18 inches that was required for wood cabinets above gas cooktop burners.

            When reviewing the plans, I saw that the architect had correctly drawn a 30” long cooktop beneath the 30” microwave oven (the microwave oven is considered non-combustible).

            But the builder had decided to upgrade the cooktops to 36 inches during the sales model construction. 

            The county building inspector apologized for having missed this builder’s change on the sales models, but still required us to change the cooktops to 30”, which resulted in expensive ceramic tile repairs to the kitchen countertops affected.

            The point in this example is that the builder changed the size of a kitchen appliance, contrary to the design plans and without the knowledge of the architect, and was unaware of the building code considerations.

            Because the cabinet manufacturer worked entirely from the design plans, the only people aware of the cooktop upgrade were the cabinet installers cutting the larger openings in the cabinet plywood rough-top, and the ceramic tile installers.  Neither of these two groups of tradespersons could be expected to know the broader subtleties of the building codes or the manufacturer’s recommendations involving appliance clearances from wood cabinets.

            If the builder had informed the architect of all changes so they could be reviewed in terms of compliance with the building codes…this costly mistake would have been noticed by the architect, the design plans revised, and the problem altogether prevented.

Review Plans Before Plan Checks

            My father was a building official for a city in Southern Florida.  He had done hundreds of plan checks. 

            I once asked him the percentage of plans that get approved the first time without corrections, and he said that about one out of every seven or eight first-time plan checks are successfully approved.

            He said that many of the same corrections occur over and over again, and if the builders would simply spend an hour reviewing their plans before submittal they could save the cost of a two to four-week added delay between the time the plans are submitted and the time they are actually approved. 

            For example, every city in southern Florida requires a products approval package to be submitted with the building plans for plans review because of wind-loading requirements. 

            Single and double-hung windows, sliding glass doors, and garage doors must be approved by a national testing lab for a particular sized opening. 

            A special brand and model of an 8’-0” wide sliding glass door, for example, can be approved ahead-of-time up to a 10’-0” width if the proper paperwork is submitted.

            This does not mean that a brand and model of a 10’-0” wide sliding glass door unit isautomatically approved simply because it is approved up to 8’-0” wide.

            The problem that often occurs is the builder submits the products approval package along with the building plans without checking whether the products approval package actually matches the opening sizes in the building structure as shown on the plans. 

            The loose and disorganized stack of papers then shows an approved 8’-0” wide sliding glass door units, but for a house that has a 10’-0” wide slider at one of its bedrooms.

            In this case, the plans checker must then return the plans to the builder for correction. 

            The sliding glass door opening is then reduced on the plans to 8’-0”, or the architect specifies another sliding glass door that is approved up to 10’-0” wide.

            If the builder would spend a little time going through the products approval package before plans submittal, many corrections like this example could be eliminated.

            In southern Florida, every set of building plans must show the minimum finish floor elevation to qualify for flood insurance under FEMA standards.

            This finish floor elevation is taken off the lot survey and usually requires the finish floor to be at least 18 inches above the crown of the street, although this dimension changes for different communities.

            Building plans often come into a city or county without showing the finish floor elevation and the plan checker must then return the set of plans to the builder for correction. 

            Again, in southern Florida, many other omissions on building plans occur over and over, such as not showing the garage slab seven inches below the house slab elevation, not identifying an egress window as a secondary means of escape, and not calling-out 60 square inches of garage vent per car, etc. (check current building codes for your location).

            The builder must then pay construction loan interest for every day the plans are not approved, while the architect is correcting mistakes and omissions found during city plan check.

            Many cities and counties have a generic check list of building code violations that commonly occur during plan checking.  One of the questions a builder should ask when choosing an architect is whether the architect has a plan review check list for the city or county in which the project is located, and for other adjacent cities as well.

            The builder should also begin compiling their own plan review checklist expanded from the city or county version, so the plans can be reviewed in-house for code violations before submittal.    

Note: For builders, architects, interior designers, tradespersons, college professors, and students around the world viewing these construction blogs and videos, go to my You Tube channel at Barton Jahn to see longer videos.

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