What Should I Expect During Construction?

Part of our collaborative approach to design and construction is making sure that everyone begins with realistic expectations. No two projects are the same, but here are some observations that often apply:

1. Expect to be surprised by something. Buildings are complex: it is impossible for anyone to foresee all of the problems that will need to be solved to build your project. As unexpected problems arise, know that it is a normal part of the building process.

2. Building is in part an exercise in communication. Concentrating on clear communication is the best way to ensure that the project is a positive experience for everyone.

3. All projects require that many decisions be made during construction. Making decisions in a timely manner helps keep a project on schedule. If most decisions have been made in advance of their deadline, the contractor has more flexibility to modify the schedule to accommodate changes, long lead time items, or unforeseen complications. If you know that you need lots of time to consider decisions, let your architect and contractor know so that they can accommodate that time in the scheduling process.

4. Many decisions will need to be made in a sequence that responds to the inherent logic of construction. For example, it might cost less to spray a first coat of paint immediately after the drywall is installed. The closer the first coat color is to the final color, the fewer coats will be needed during finish, thereby reducing the cost.

5. In construction, large amounts of money are spent several dollars at a time and costs rarely go down. Be sure that you and your construction team are speaking the same language and adding things up as you go so that you can avoid an unpleasant surprise when everything is tallied up. In evaluating a change, consider all of the implications and the full scope of the project so that you can spend money where it will yield the greatest value for you.

6. Costs lag behind apparent progress. Often the most time-consuming and expensive part of any trade or phase of construction is the end; consequently, when the bulk of the work appears done it does not necessarily mean that the bulk of the cost has been incurred.

7. Managing scope creep is the best way to manage project cost. “While we’re at it” can be the four most expensive words in construction.

8. Whenever someone says “just”—as in why don’t we “just” push that wall out two feet—picture it spelled with “JU$T” and the sound of a cash register ringing.

9. Your perception of the size of the project and the speed of work will change. Following are common perceptions of the speed and size, as well as how owners typically feel during different phases of construction.

Phase: Apparent speed: Apparent size: Owner’s mood:
excavation slow big excited
foundation slow smaller impatient
framing fast bigger excited
rough-in very slow same frustrated-overwhelmed
sheet rock fast small hopeful
finish slow bigger excited-tired
punchlist slowest just right frustrated
completion relieved-HAPPY!