It’s happened to nearly every architect and builder: products are specified, plans are made, and months later directives are overlooked or overruled by the contractor on the jobsite. Perhaps its habit or preference, perhaps something is overlooked.
Some product swaps result in zero risk, but in other cases specified materials are crucial for meeting code requirements, achieving desired design goals, or maintaining tight budgets. For example, specifying LP® FlameBlock® Fire-Rated OSB Sheathing to achieve fire-rated assemblies shifts the makeup of the rest of a wall assembly, so switching the sheathing on the fly can impact code approvals, lead to cost overruns, or, ultimately, potentially affect the safety of building occupants.
Here are a few strategies for improving communication with subcontractors and framers to ensure that design and product specifications are met:
- Bring the contractor in early: “I try to have a contractor involved earlier in the project, sometime around design/development phase so they become privy to the products early on and so they can get familiar with materials intended,” says Greensburg, Pennsylvania -based architect Lee Calisti, AIA. What’s more, having the contractor on board early means he’s not competing or negotiating; when it’s time to build he knows exactly what’s expected.
- Be proactive: Similarly, “Every problem on a jobsite is generally communication related more than anything else,” Calisti notes. “At the very beginning, architects can be proactive and walk through the project with the contractor, letting them know ‘We’re specifying these products, so please be aware and plan ahead.’”
- Ensure the contractor is proactive: The same goes for the contractor, who should review the documents and specs early on and come back to the architect with any supply or installation concerns.
- Plan ahead: Sometimes product swaps happen because the contractor didn’t realize that a material had a longer lead time, so he turns to what is familiar and in stock instead.
- Work with contractors you trust: Don Ferrier, president of Ferrier Builders in Ft. Worth, Texas, builds energy-efficient, sustainable structures, so following spec is key to achieving designed efficiency goals. As such, Ferrier relies on a small group of subs as much as possible, who he knows will follow instructions and who are open to discussion if called for.
- Provide education: Another driver of product changes on sight are simply familiarity and tradition—an installer is comfortable with a certain type or brand of product. In these cases, not only will architects need to insist on the spec, but engage with the manufacturer to provide education and training to increase the sub’s comfort level with the product and its installation attributes. Get the manufacturer on your side and have them follow up with the contractor to offer support in the procurement of materials. Such instruction is also key to ensuring materials perform as they should, Ferrier notes, and therefore will achieve performance and efficiency goals.
- Get the client on your side: The client is trusting your expertise in specifying products, notes Calisti. “The client has to insist that they’re not going to accept substitutes.”
- Be the bad cop: Sometimes, Calisti notes, you just have to play hardball, even if it means creating a delay.
- Don’t focus on price: More often than not you get what you pay for, and that includes quality of build and willingness to stick to spec. “I tell the subcontractors when they’re first starting, ‘I’m interested in a competitive price, but you don’t have to be the low price. I want you to do the job right, and hopefully the first time,’” Ferrier explains.
- Inspect, inspect, inspect: Ensure project managers are inspecting work during and after the process to ensure specified materials are being used and, more importantly, are being installed properly to ensure long-term performance.