Communicating with Contractors: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I’m trapped in a time warp. Every time I blink, several months have passed but it feels like only a day’s worth of progress has occurred. October marks a few milestones for us: my daughter turned two (!), I’ve been at Kirksey for 16 months, and our house has been under construction for 18 months (sigh). There have been lots of ups and downs with our (second) contractor, which I’ll share in part below.

Brick going up on the back

Progress on the house has been slow. It has been a learning process for our contractor, and most steps have to be done at least twice. Sub-contractors in the residential sector are notoriously unreliable, and I often find myself asking, “Why did I even do drawings if they don’t read them?”. It does bring up many practice questions that I think our industry needs to re-think, especially for the residential market.

For instance, if our contractor base is typically limited in knowledge, why don’t we approach more projects from a design-build stand point and partner with contractors early on? Why do we not structure our firms on this model? Why do we require architects to undergo such rigorous education and continuing education standards, and not hold the people that build the designs to the same standards? It is baffling, but gives us room to improve. What do you think?

I also have to question the way we produce drawings as an industry. The sub-contractors don’t typically speak the same language that the drawings are written in, and let’s be honest – even though we draw pictures, there are a LOT of words that go with them. What if we utilized more technology and integrated QR codes onto our drawings that linked to Youtube videos that showed techniques? Seeing is believing, right? I have sent my contractor more than my fair share of videos to illustrate how or why I want something done. It has been a life saver. Why don’t we do this from the beginning?

The lack of oversight from contractors and sub-contractors in a small residential job is another point of frustration. The typical client will be in the same situation as we are, except they will not have an architect following up on every step of the build to make sure it is executed correctly. Seeing the gaps between what I design and draw, what is (or isn’t) looked at in the field by the contractor, and ultimately what the subs execute make me cringe when I hear friends are not engaging an architect. There are too many gaps in the chain of command to ensure a quality product without constant oversight by a trained architect. So what can we do for the typical client that is buying houses without that quality control measure in place? My inclination is to require more rigorous standards from contractors, but that of course adds to up-front costs. What do you think would help solve this problem?

Brick going up on the side

As we helped muck out houses following hurricane Harvey, we saw so many older homes that were built incredibly poor. It was frightening to see the obvious misses; Homes with no sheathing, no brick ties, insulation with gaps all over the place, and more. Obviously older homes would not have had today’s building science or technology, but it goes to show how we need to be on top of the latest science and implement it correctly.

Even with better products, we have to find ways to streamline and control the actual construction process. It can’t just be for commercial buildings – we need the same quality for residences, too!

We are hoping to be done with our house by year’s end, but given our track record, I don’t make any promises. I just hope to keep stress levels low and be patient with the contractor and sub-contractors as we go through the process. Hopefully they will come out with more knowledge to use with future crews and clients.



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