Drawing Board: Contractors, Consultants and Architects: One View on How to Get Along
November 1, 2006
Disputes and conflicts occur in every phase of our lives. Resolutions are often difficult because they typically involve some form of compromise. Although we all make personal and professional compromises every day, our egos tend to get in the way when we are forced to accept anything less than “our way” in certain situations. This is often true in the case of differences that arise between roofing contractors and architects on remedial roofing projects, particularly when the parties assess the situation solely from their own point of view. Most of these differences can be resolved to the benefit of each side if the contractors, architects and consultants can agree to work together in the best interest of their mutual client - the owner.
Over the years, I have found that the team approach to project participation is vital to the success of the project and ultimately improves the relationships between contractors, architects and consultants. All of the participants’ roles should be clearly defined within the team concept. I end all pre-construction meetings with the phrase “Nobody wins unless everybody wins!”
I truly believe that all of the parties have the same goal, and that is to provide the building owner with a long-term, watertight roof system. If the project is deemed a failure, it reflects negatively on all of the project participants. Working together and placing success as the ultimate goal can help the project run more smoothly.
Communication is the key to the success of any relationship, and it is of critical importance on remedial roofing projects. The lines of communication should be established between all project participants, from the bidding phase through final project acceptance. Modes of communication should also be established to resolve all project-related conflicts and differences that may occur. In this respect, it is imperative that all project participants be notified of concerns as they arise so they can be resolved in a timely manner before they escalate. Conducting formal weekly project meetings for all project participants and informal daily meetings with on-site personnel can serve as the proper forum for communication.
Once there is acceptance of each participant’s role on the project and an open line of communication has been established, contractors and designers can successfully work together. Contractors, architects and consultants can be of benefit to each other - and the building owner - by further assisting each other in every phase of the project. This includes the bid phase, pre-construction phase and construction phase, as well as construction closeout. The major assistance will be in conducting all operations in a professional manner.
Consultants can be of benefit to contractors at the bid phase by limiting the number of bidders for the project to a reasonable number. This can be accomplished by conducting a thorough contractor pre-qualification process in the geographical area. This allows the contractors the opportunity to bid against fair competition and ensures the owner that a competent company will complete the work. It is also helpful to the contractors when the consultant provides a complete explanation of all sufficient design issues and details at the pre-bid walk-through. This includes explaining all requirements and providing an understandable and complete bid proposal form with inclusive bidding instructions.
Once the bids have been submitted, it is the consultant’s responsibility to properly review all bids - including unit costs - with the owner. After an impartial review has been completed, the contractors should be notified of bid results in a timely manner. The consultant should conduct a review with the low bidder to ensure that the company is comfortable with its proposal and to make certain that there are no errors or omissions in the bid. It could be detrimental to all of the concerned parties if the award bid does not sufficiently cover all project costs.
Contractors can assist consultants and architects in the bid phase by thoroughly reviewing all of the bid documents and by submitting their bids on the proper forms. The bids should be submitted on time.
Contractors could also help by notifying the consultant of any conditions that they discover in their review of the roof system that differ from those conveyed in the consultant’s documents. This will allow the consultant the opportunity to provide an addendum to all bidding contractors, ensuring that proper bids are received.
We used to work with a roofing contractor that employed an older estimator who would ask numerous questions at the pre-bid meetings and throughout the duration of the bidding process. While some participants found the questions frustrating, I appreciated every question because it proved to me that this gentleman had actually read the specifications and that he was working attentively to get the project. I was happy to answer all of his questions because it gave me the opportunity to provide my perspective on the design details. I also valued his vast experience and benefited from his knowledge on subsequent projects. My advice to contractors is that there are no bad questions, so ask as many as you want; a prepared consultant should be available to answer every one of them. The specifications should be clear and concise, and it is not the contractor’s job to try to divine what the consultant was thinking. An open dialogue in these instances will ultimately benefit the project.
In the pre-construction phase, consultants and architects can assist contractors by conducting a comprehensive pre-construction meeting with all of the project participants in attendance. The meeting attendees should include the contractor’s project manager, superintendent, and foreman, the consultant’s project quality control inspector, the manufacturer’s technical representative, and the owner’s representatives. In this meeting, the consultant should clearly define all of the projects logistical requirements including hours of operations, staging issues, material storage sites, and any sensitive site issues. The project’s channels of communication should be clearly spelled out.
The consultant must also clearly define the contractual obligations of all of the project participants, especially the consultant and the contractor, and outline all payment procedures.
It is beneficial to the contractor that the consultant provides a clear list of all required material submittals and that they review them in a timely manner. The contractor should be immediately notified of any improper material submittals. It is also imperative that the parties define the process that is to be followed in the event of the discovery of conditions that require a change order. This will ensure that the contractor is properly paid for any work that is completed that is not in the original contract.
Architects and contractors can assist consultants at the pre-construction phase by attending the pre-construction meeting with all of the key project personnel. The main reason for the preconstruction meeting is to define project objectives, establish schedules and to discuss important project-related issues. If the proper personnel are not in attendance, the answers to key questions may not be provided. The contractor should be prepared to outline the proposed schedule and discuss any issues that may affect it, such as weather, material delays, holidays, etc. The contractor should also suggest the most effective and least disruptive methods for the staging of equipment and the storage of material. This will allow the owner the opportunity to notify all building occupants of parking and entrance issues that may be affected by the construction procedures. A line of communication must be established between all on site personnel to address all daily issues that will arise during the project, such as work schedules over occupied or sensitive areas.
The pre-construction meeting is extremely beneficial in clarifying project details. We always recommend that the manufacturer’s technical representative is present at these meetings in addition to the contractor. The manufacturers play a large role in the equation on warranted projects. The majority of the design projects that we get involved with initiate from failure investigations that we have conducted. Remedial roof design is predicated by our failure analysis, and we try to eliminate future problems through corrective actions in the design phase. This often leads to modifications of typical flashing or penetration details. On occasions, we have also modified the roof system to accommodate project or facility constraints.
Changes from “canned” system specifications or “generic” details have not always been embraced by the manufacturers, and this has led to some challenging moments in our relationship with them over the years. In these instances, I have found that the best remedy is open communication between us. Once we present our analytical findings to the manufacturer’s technical people in an open forum and inform them of how we came to our conclusions, they often agree with our detail assessments. This is due to the fact that in most instances we are the only party in the equation that has actually investigated the roof area. Even when they do not agree with us, for whatever reason, the dialogue is important.
Cooperation between consultants and contractors at the construction phase is critical to the success of the project. The most important contribution that a consultant can provide to a contractor in the construction phase is by providing a properly trained, experienced quality control monitor on the project. There is probably nothing more frustrating to a contractor than dealing with an inexperienced or unqualified project inspector. An experienced quality control inspector can point out improper conditions or make immediate decisions on as-built details, allowing work to continue without delay.
The inspector should point out all incorrect application procedures as they occur, so that corrections can be made immediately. The inspector must not interfere with the contractor’s management of personnel or project operations.
When to work and how much work to complete on a daily basis are decisions that must be made by the contractor.
The consultant can also be of benefit to the contractor in assisting with payment administration. The consultant should promptly issue written authorizations for change orders and provide prompt explanations when pay requests are not approved. The consultant should also review all requests for progress payments and follow up with the owner to see that all payments are issued in a timely manner.
Contractors can be of benefit to architects and consultants in the construction phase by providing skilled, properly trained and competent workers. The contractor should notify the consultant of any changes to the work schedule so that they can implement their personnel accordingly.
The crew should always be provided with a full set of specifications and project details, which should be reviewed prior to the onset of construction. Contractor provided project work orders are often incomplete and can lead to problems with compliance. It is the contractor’s responsibility to promptly notify the consultant and architect of any latent conditions they discover that were not previously identified. It is also the contractor’s responsibility to promptly correct any application deficiencies identified by the consultant during the course of construction.
The contractor can also help his own cause by submitting pay requests in a timely manner and by making certain that the requests have all of the required forms, such as lien waivers, insurance certificates, dump tickets, etc. Work change orders should be documented in accordance with agreed-upon procedures and completed only after written authorization has been given. Work completed without proper authorization is subject to non-payment and could become a point of contention between the contractor and the consultant.
The most challenging aspect of working with contractors is in having them complete the project in accordance with the design specifications. Architects and consultants typically provide more stringent specifications than the manufacturers, and we have found some contractors have had a difficult time adhering to our standards. This is often the case when we do not provide full-time quality assurance inspections on the project. I remember one instance in particular, when I was conducting a final inspection walkthrough with a contractor and we came across a wall flashing detail that was not completed in accordance to the specifications.
When I asked the contractor why he completed the flashing in the manner that he had, he stated it was the only way he could think of to do it. He then asked me how I would have completed the detail. I told him detail No. 5 in the specifications pretty much summed up my thoughts on the subject.
Construction Closeout Phase
In the final project phase, consultants should conduct a final inspection in the attendance of the contractor.
During the course of this inspection, the two sides should agree on all of the remaining punch-list items. The consul- tant should provide the list of mutually agreed upon punch-list items to the contractor in a timely manner. In turn, the contractor should properly complete the punch-list items in a timely manner. The completion of the punchlist items should be documented for the owner and a request for final payment, completed by the contractor and reviewed by the consultant, should be sent to the owner. All proper closeout documentation, including warranties and final lien waivers, should be submitted with the payment request.
It has been my experience that this can be the most frustrating phase of the project. Typically, production-oriented contractors complete 90 percent of the construction phase in a timely manner. The remaining 10 percent of detail work, punch-list items, sheet metal or site cleanup can often drag beyond total construction duration. We were recently involved with a project in which we identified over 30 punch list items. This is the most I have ever seen. Most of the items were for site repairs that could have been avoided other than for the carelessness of the roofing crew. Concrete walkways, asphalt parking lots, grass and trees were damaged on the site because the contractor refused to follow our advice in providing proper site protection.
There were other minor ancillary roofing issues that took five consecutive inspections to complete. In the end, project payment was delayed, and the owner developed a sour feeling about the contractor, who prior to that point had properly completed the project.
I know of some roofing contractors who have established crews who are solely designated to perform project closeout duties. These crews conduct site cleanup and complete all required punch-list items, which are typically minor items such as coating flashing seams or installing pitch pan covers or drain strainers. These crews are proficient at their work and are not under the same time constraints as the main production crew, allowing them ample opportunity to complete all of the intricate work. In this type of arrangement, workers can complete the punch-list items in a timely manner to the satisfaction of consultants and owners. This also expedites final payment. I would recommend more contractors consider utilizing this type of format.
In the nearly 20 years that I have been in this industry, I have witnessed a greater level of acceptance of the roles performed by architects, contractors and consultants. This change in attitude has greatly benefited the industry. It has been propagated by hard work and is due to heightened professionalism from all parties involved.
I am cognizant of the fact that as consultants, we are very dependent on the contractors, and to some extent judged by their performance. I believe that most contractors now view consultants favorably in helping them eliminate problems on projects, which ultimately results in fewer callbacks or warranty claims for them over the years.
When each party realizes - and accepts - the importance of each other’s roles, the probability of a successful project increases. This is not to say that there won’t be any problems or disagreements during the course of the project, because they will still occur.
However, in these instances the problems can be resolved as they arise and before they escalate. This can be accomplished through open lines of communication, teamwork, professionalism and compromise. Completion of a successful project increases the probability of working with the same owner and consultant in the future and decreases the likelihood of future problems, thereby benefiting the bottom line.