Entrance Gates

For large multi-unit projects having a construction duration of several years…when a chain-link fence is used for the jobsite enclosure with a swinging double gate for access into the project…the builder should consider something more substantial for the gate posts…in place of the standard round hollow tube poles driven into the ground.

Figure 5.1 shows a typical double gate for a chain-link fence.  If hollow tube poles are used as posts…after a few weeks or months of opening and closing the clamps holding the gates to the vertical fence posts often come loose…dropping to the point where the gates drag along the ground.

The fence posts can also lean inward toward the center of the entrance…succumbing to the downward weight of the gates…resulting in the ends of the gates resting upon the ground…rather than being suspended 4 to 6 inches above ground as intended.

The jobsite superintendent each morning must then lift and drag these gates over the ground to open up the jobsite…and then do the same thing at the end of the day.

On one particular project that had a 30-foot wide entrance opening with two 15-foot wide gates…the fence posts at each gate were so flimsy that the superintendent had to actually lift each gate to them to swing open or closed.

For a project with a duration of several months or years long, the builder should plan ahead and design posts for chain-link fence gates that can survive the length of the construction.  At the very least, the fence post uprights at the entrance gates should be set in concrete rather than merely driven into the ground.

On one project, we used steel I-beams set in concrete as the fence post uprights for a 30-foot wide opening…with two 15-foot chain-link gates.  We had steel hooks welded to the I-beams at the correct height so the clamps on the gates rested directly below the horizontal rails of the gates.  This approach prevented the clamps or the gate from slipping downward.  Both gates swung freely open and closed a uniform 6 inches above the ground for the entire duration of the three-year project.

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Keys to the 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 keys to 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 fiasco of not being able to start the work smoothly…because the subcontractor failed to communicate and 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 builder the expense of providing a temporary office trailer…but in both cases…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.

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…keeping 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 and 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…that getting by with less is commendable.

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 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

User-Friendly Design Plans

            As a construction superintendent or project manager…one of the activities I typically do at the start of a new project is to cut up an entire set of plans…make reduced copies of architectural and structural details…make reduced copies of door, window, shear panel, and other schedule tables…and then clear-tape them judiciously on the pages of another clean set of plans.

I also use colored pencils to color-code and highlight detail call-outs on the plans…such as anchor bolt spacing, hold-downs, post anchors, shear panel nailing, 3-inch thick mudsills, similar door sizes, similar window sizes, structural beams and posts, etc.

Finally, I sketch various parts of the building that I think are more clearly illustrated in three-dimensions…and clear-tape these illustrations on to the appropriate page of the working set of plans I am adding reduced details to and color highlighting.

I do this cut-and-paste operation at the start of a new project…because it prevents having to continually flip pages back and forth from the floor plans to the architectural and structural details…with the possibility of missing some important information.

This process of mine tells me that building design plans as traditionally formatted are not organized to provide the optimum clarity and ease of use for the people who count the most…the supervisors, forepersons, and tradespeople in the field who assemble the buildings.

At the start of every new project, many mistakes occur simply because someone did not follow the chain of information all the way through five or six different pages of the plans…and thus missed a particular detail or note.

If our goal is to improve the construction by minimizing potential construction mistakes…then the format and layout of building plans needs to become more user-friendly.

Considering the costs of correcting construction mistakes in terms of time and money…everything possible should be done to make building plans clear and easy to follow.  Why should assembly instructions for children’s $10 or $20 plastic model airplanes or battleships be better illustrated and more foolproof…than design plans for a $40 million tract housing project?