Construction Problems-Identify, Solve, Prevent

Construction Problem Identification

The only good thing about bad construction problems during the building process is being able to use the problems as learning experiences. Construction problems occur every day. Estimation, bidding, permitting, and each phase of the build out fail from time to time. Construction personnel find multiple and frequent opportunities for error. Inaccuracy, omissions, miscalculation, misunderstanding, oversight, misinterpretation, ignorance, arrogance, carelessness and/or “care less”ness lurk on every project.

I will use this “fails” column to illustrate the many ways mistakes can occur across any and all facets of construction. I might give examples of how a single problem can snowball out of control. In addition, I’ll attempt to analyze these problems retrospectively to illustrate underlying causes. The ultimate purpose of “Norm’s Nos” is to create awareness of problem potential and to use the awareness to help solve and, even better, prevent problems.

The following is an example.

Construction Problems-An Example

Very early in my construction career, my job as a laborer on a particular day was to sweep out the second floor of an apartment building under construction. The building was completely framed and the plumbers had started on the first floor. I could hear the drilling and banging beneath me when suddenly a large drill bit popped through the living room floor of the apartment I was sweeping. Being a rookie construction guy I took little notice.  I did wonder what the chances might be that another drill bit might come through the floor and impale me.  A five-foot section of three-inch pipe was then pushed through the floor.  As a result, even this rookie was convinced that something was amiss.

I went downstairs to tell the plumbers and they went upstairs to check. Then I told the superintendent. I followed him back and joined the plumbers and super as they went up then down the stairs a number of times. As each subsequent apartment was visited the voices got louder and the words more profane. I was then sent to fetch the blueprints and the owner of the framing subcontractor company. Once they all got together and checked the plans the cussing rose to a fever pitch. It seems that the first floor was framed facing the correct direction while the second floor and the third were framed facing the opposite and wrong direction.

Construction Problems-The Blame Game

When something like this happens there is usually some sort of investigation in order to assess blame and to determine who will pay what, when, and how for the mistake. In the above case, it could have been a blueprint error that caused the problem.  Since the framer’s layout man was gone the following day I guessed it was his mistake.

So the framing subcontractor paid out of pocket over the next few weeks around $2000. Note that amount is about $12000 in 2017 dollars. The layout man paid with his job.

More can be learned than solving the “Who did it?” and making them pay. It very well could have been a blueprint error. In this case, it was due to the layout man’s carelessness. The question then becomes why did he make this mistake.  How can such a mistake be prevented? Did the layout man have proper training in floor plan layout? How much experience did he have in this type of job? Could he read blueprints? Could he even read a tape? Did anyone check his work?

Construction Problems-The Solution

The owner had to ask such questions of his foreman and himself. It turned out that the layout man was the framing foreman’s nephew. He had little layout experience. The owner did not know much about the local market and allowed the foreman to staff the job. Let’s call him Foreman Smith. The layout guy was a Smith, as was the cut man, several carpenters, and their helpers. Several others on the framing crew weren’t Smiths yet their mothers were.

So the investigation of one problem uncovered another.

Fewer Smith’s staffed the job the week after the layout mistake. The owner hired a carpenter with extensive supervisory and layout experience to fill the layout position. In addition, he hired me to apprentice and be trained as a layout man.  We double-checked each other’s work and we were given layout responsibility across several jobs.

There is never a shortage of problems on a construction job site. Therefore, there is never a shortage of solutions to be discovered.

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