The Construction Office Trailer & Site 1

This chapter 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 of this chapter, however, 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 built high-end custom houses in the beach communities of Southern California.  He and his partner work alternate Saturdays on their construction projects and often use this time to secure new business, using their construction office trailer as a selling tool.

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

Their construction trailers each have a conference table, comfortable chairs, floor carpeting, bookshelves, a drafting table, and organized plans table, copy/fax machine, laptop computer, and isometric three-dimensional sketches of construction 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 their type of work because people thinking about building a new house drive around the area to look at what is actually being built…rather than go to a builder’s or general contractor’s business office.

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

The Construction Office Trailer                             

If construction loan interest on large projects amounts to hundreds of dollars per day…then the construction office trailer should not be something to be economized…but should be seen for what it is…a combat command center.

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.

Try placing the company president, the office receptionist, and an accounts payable accountant within one small room at the corporate office…and see how long that lasts.

A few years ago, I worked as a superintendent on a 282-unit, 22-building condominium project.  The size of our 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 foot 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 foot 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, have a comprehensive construction program in place and functioning so that field staff has clearly assigned tasks to perform daily, and have an organized overall operation in the field for between 8 to 10 hours per day on weekdays with no “catch-up” work occurring on weekends…no matter how much time is spent inside or outside the trailer by the builder’s field staff.

Door Casing Does Not Fit at Bedroom

The floor plan for this bedroom door has an unusual dimension-line from the face-of-stud at the left-hand side to face-of-stud on the inside of the bathroom wall at the bathtub…of 3’-8-1/2” or 44-1/2”.

In this particular example, the bedroom door was 2’-8” wide and the door casing was 3-1/2” wide.  This requires a minimum width from drywall-to-drywall of 39-3/4 inches as shown in Fig. 4.5.

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If the bathtub wall is 2×4 framing (3-1/2”)…then doing the math using ¾” thick drywall because of taping mud at the vertical inside wall corners…we have only 39-1/2 inches width when we need 39-3/4 inches…44-1/2” minus 3-1/2” minus 1-1/2” equals 39-1/2”.  This would then require ripping 1/4-inch off one of the vertical door casing sides.

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In this case, the width from drywall-to-drywall measured 37-1/2”.  Either the bathtub wall was framed 2×6 or the framing layout ended up on the wrong side of the chalked layout line.  The two drawings below illustrate both sides of the door casing cut to narrower widths in order to fit.

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Check There is Enough Width for door Casing to Fit

Figure 4.1 illustrates a generic floor plan for a secondary bathroom…where there is not enough width between the two walls for the bathroom door and the casing to fit.

For this particular house, all of the doors to the secondary bedrooms and bathrooms were 2’-8” wide (32”).  The exterior wall at the right side was 2×6 framing (5-1/2”).  The door casing trim is 3-1/2” wide…with a ¼” reveal the door jamb and 1/8” air space around the door.

The architectural dimensions are face-of-stud to face-of-stud.

I use ¾” instead of 5/8” at the inside wall corners for the thickness of the drywall…because the drywall taping mud adds an 1/8th of an inch thickness (to get 5/8” thickness at the inside wall corners, all of the ripped pieces of drywall must have the uncut recessed edges…which seldom happens).

Figure 4.2 shows the minimum width for this door and casing to fit…without having to rip to a narrower width one or both vertical side of the casing.

Figure 4.3 shows that the dimension on the plans of 2’-2” from face-of-stud on the exterior wall to the centerline of the door…and 1’-8” from the centerline of the door to face-of-stud at the left side of the door (looking at the bathroom door from the bedroom)…is not wide enough for 39-3/4 inches to fit.

In this particular case, both sides of the casing on the right-hand and on the left-hand had to be ripped to a narrower width to fit…spoiling the appearance of the side casing detail compared to the full-size header casing above.

In hindsight, the dimensions on the plans should have been 2’-4” and 1’-10”.  This would have provided a drywall reveal around both sides of the door casing.

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Minimize Design Plans Revisions

The builder should work hard during the design phase to secure a complete and accurate set of plans.

This process involves sketching posts and beams in three dimensions to see if everything aligns and fits…looking for dimensioning errors by adding up dimensions across a page…checking that mechanical items such as fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, and vent ducts all fit…checking stair headroom clearances…and analyzing the plans using the building company’s historical debugging checklist.

Plans that have not been analyzed beforehand from a construction point-of-view usually result in questions and design conflicts when the construction starts…which generates plans revisions.   Plans revisions and clarifications in the form of addenda, bulletins, answered RFIs, and cut-sheets become more and more disruptive to the construction as they increase in number.

A set of plans that requires numerous revisions can create an information accounting nightmare on the jobsite.  Each time an inaccurate but most current set of plans is given to a tradesperson (most applicable in the sales models construction and the first production units for multi-unit tract housing and condominiums)…the superintendent must consider which additional cut-sheet information must also be included to avoid an activity being done incorrectly.

Copies of each revision (amended detail or RFI answer) must be made, and a filing system devised for organizing the revisions so they may be quickly found when needed.  If excessive, plans revisions become an additional set of plans the jobsite superintendent must manage during the early construction…until the final revised set of plans is generated from the red-lined plans.

The closer the original set of plans is to the red-lined set of plans…thanks to employing the proactive approaches recommended in this book…leading to the final revised set of plans…the less paperwork hassle for the superintendent…and the less opportunity is baked into the system for mistakes, change orders, extras, and lost time.

Minimizing revisions on a set of working plans therefore can also limit the additional time required of the superintendent to monitor any extra work generated from loose plans.  With almost every architectural or engineering change to the plans…an extra goes to a subcontractor.  On a project with numerous plans revisions, the builder can quickly become buried in time-and-material extras.

If a building company creates check lists that describe standard problems to avoid…as well as specific historical problems from past and current projects…then some of the potential revision work can be identified and resolved before the construction starts…freeing the superintendent to spend more time on quality-control and production than plans revisions and monitoring extras during the construction.