Identifying Construction Bugs

            In-house sources of information that housing development company owners and managers can use to identify construction problems and mistakes include the following:

  • building inspection correction cards
  • superintendent punch lists
  • RFIs
  • red-lined plans
  • homebuyer walkthroughs
  • warranty complaint letters
  • subcontractor extras
  • subcontractor advice
  • meetings with field employees
  • incentive programs

            Without hitting this same nail on the head too many times, the individual jobsite superintendents or project managers are not in a position to collect this information from all of a company’s projects…or to initiate a company-wide debugging program.

            Again, the development company owners and managers must first recognize the need to research the information…then delegate someone within the organization to do the research, collect the information, and have the time and resources to coordinate and disseminate this information.

            Each source of information that should be researched…is described in more detail in the following sections.

Light Fixtures Crash with Address Plaques

            The aim of this blog is to identify quality-control issues that can be prevented upfront through foreknowledge.

            Most important, each topic can be cut and paste copied from this website, and/or from my 14 e-book series and placed in the details pages of architectural and interior design plans, and in building trades subcontracts produced by general contractors, builders, and purchasing agents.

            I do not feel bad about engaging in shameless advertising in this blog because the costs of the book resources are so inexpensive.  Each of the 14 e-books costs $2.99 and $9.00 in print, available on Amazon.  All 14 e-books purchased separately run about $42, and the 5 print books together cost $45.  The 14 e-books are available as one large e-book that costs $30.

            The examples in this blog are samples of the 1,035 topics in the 14 e-books.  Each topic is an assembly-line bug that escaped the foresight of the designers, builders, and tradespersons involved.

            Only in this way will quality-control debugging enter into the standards of the industry, overcoming the constraints of geographical isolation between projects, economic competition, and the lack of channels of communication to communicate this information.

            Only in this way can housing construction begin to approximate the efficiency of the traditional mass-production assembly-line.  

Light Fixtures Crash with Addresses.

Height of light fixture rough outlet box placement and size of house address numbers plaque all coordinated to fit.

The Design Plans

            Nearly every construction activity is dependent upon some previous activity being done correctly.

            For example, the installation of steel hold-downs for structural wood posts depends upon the anchor bolts being correctly placed in the concrete foundation or the concrete floor slab.

            Adequate clearance space for door casing to fit inside a coat closet or in a narrow hallway…depends on the rough door openings being laid-out and framed correctly…starting with enough dimensional space given on the architectural plans.

            Wood beams in the floor framing cannot be mistakenly designed in the structural plans directly underneath the location of a bathroom toilet shown on the architectural plans…blocking the drainage piping.

            Roof rafters and ceiling joists must be laid-out and framed so that ceiling flush lights…”can lights”…can be centered typically above bathroom sinks.

            Thousands of other small details must be correctly implemented early in the construction in anticipation for activities that come much later in the construction.

            Because the construction is divided up among so many different subcontractors and specialized building trades…the only person in a position to integrate all the pieces is the jobsite superintendent.

            When the anchor bolts are slightly off correct layout, or placed too high or too low, or do not have all of the concrete wire-brushed off the anchor bolt threads…the concrete subcontractor may no longer be on the jobsite to hear the framing subcontractor complain about it.

            The concrete subcontractor may not even be aware of these problems when it leaves the jobsite.

            Builders need to rethink how the design plans are created in terms of the number of mistakes and problems that could be reduced during the construction, if certain things were illustrated better and included quality-control debugging information.

            The subcontracted and highly specialized nature of housing construction today could benefit from better architectural, mechanical, and engineering plans.  Plans should be the product of analyzing the construction in reverse, and then filling in the many gaps and questions that exist between the various trades.

            This requires knowing upfront the many questions and issues resolved by the superintendent and the tradespeople out in the field and proactively placing this information in the design plans.

            How to get a clothes dryer vent out through an exterior wall, or how to get a water heater vent through the various structural wood members to the roof, or the ceiling joist and beam layout to coordinate with can-lights, sound speakers, and other mechanicals for a coffered ceiling in a dining room, or how to get a kitchen range hood vent duct out to and through an exterior wall without having to frame a dropped soffit…these and hundreds of other questions could be pre-answered on the design plans, illustrated in three-dimensional views if necessary. 

Quality-Control versus Bugs

            Another aspect of reoccurring construction problems is found in confusing design and construction bugs with quality-control. 

            Debugging and quality-control…although closely related…are different.

            Craftsmanship can be defined in quantitative and qualitative terms…how plumb and straight are walls, how flat are floors are…free of humps and valleys, how many coats of paint achieve full coverage, etc. 

            These qualifications can be defined in fractions of inches or degrees of judgment, and can be controlled by making the adjustments of taking more time to do a better job or spending more money for better performing materials.

            Quality is therefore directly affected by effort, care, motivation, judgment, and intentional resolve.

            Bugs, on the other hand, occur regardless of best intentions or performance levels simply because they surface by surprise.

            Foreknowledge of mass-production assembly-line type construction bugs…is pure informational knowledge and has little to do with attitudes or motivation.

            When company owners and managers talk broadly about improving construction efficiency and quality…they miss the point entirely.  Technical issues cannot be resolved using a broad-brush management approach…at least not in manufacturing industries like building construction.

            Real debugging and quality-control starts at the nuts-and-bolts level…then goes up through the organization.  To be effective, the discussion must move from the general to the specific.

            Preventive problem-solving and debugging provides the housing development company owners and managers an opportunity to impact the efficiency and quality of the construction…without themselves being construction experts. 

            They can collect, process, organize, manage, and disseminate the debugging information so that the knowledge acquired…lessons-learned…on past jobs can be applied to present and future jobs.

            Housing development company owners and managers must initiate housing construction quality and efficiency for it to evolve beneficially. 

            As previously stated, they are the only individuals in a position to gather and maintain the required information…and budget the necessary time to analyze it. 

Construction Bugs

            Assembly-line bugs…by definition…are problems and mistakes that are difficult to anticipate ahead of time.

            Because no one person in construction knows everything…every person out in the field is at a different point on the uphill slope of the learning curve. 

            Some people know about and guard against certain construction problems, while other people know and guard against others.  The only way for everyone to be equally informed is to collect all the combined experience and knowledge from past projects and apply them as a whole to each new project.

            The first step toward achieving this goal is for company owners and managers to assign someone within the company this task.

            Over the years I have attended many construction meetings held in corporate main offices.  I have heard owners and managers plead, threaten, rant and rave, pound tables with their fists (an actual event I witnessed), and offer all sorts of incentive bonuses for faster construction and improved quality.

            It took me years to realize that what these owners and managers were asking for was within their reach all the time. 

            The basic research information…all of which is non-technical…to identify the bugs that cause schedule delays, budget overruns, nightmarish field problems, stressed-out jobsites, personnel turnover, and unhappy homebuyers…was all obtainable from the field at any time.

            They just needed to look.

            But why should company owners invest the time and resources upfront to discover and prevent design and construction bugs? 

            Why not wait until bugs materialize during the construction and then solve them case by case after-the-fact? 

            Isn’t resolving field problems in the reactive-mode the most economical approach?

            Isn’t that why field people are on the jobsite?  Isn’t that part of their job description?

            The answer to these questions is the same reason why so much effort is spent upfront debugging the traditional mass-production assembly-line.

            The debugging of an assembly-line before full-scale production begins…benefits each and every product assembled thereafter.  When the time, effort, and costs of the initial debugging operation are spread-out over a large number of the same identical products…then the costs of that debugging operation become lower per item.

            It makes economic sense to confine the discovery and elimination of bugs to the initial trial-run period of the mass-production assembly-line…because any remaining bugs slow down or temporarily stop each subsequent production cycle.

            Every time the same problem occurs on a multi-unit tract housing or condominium project…the development company owners and managers indirectly participate in the learning process.

            If the same mistake is repeated on five projects by five different people over a period of time…the company owners and managers are experiencing the ill effects of that same mistake five times instead of only once.

            It is more cost-effective to record the mistake the first time it happens and educate everyone to prevent the mistake from happening again…because “time is money” in building construction.

            No one in the field can be expected to anticipate every potential construction problem.  Mistakes and problems are part of housing construction.  From the perspective of the person in the field…a problem that is truly a bug is unexpected and unforeseeable…and therefore pardonable.

            But the housing development company owner or manager who knowingly or unknowingly participates in that same debugging event in the field four or five times over…is failing to recognize the leadership opportunity that exists here. 

            All owners and managers should be motivated to initiate a debugging process in an effort to prevent the relearning of the same housing construction lessons over and over.