14 Oct 2014

SHH! - Is Silence Golden?

When I was growing up going to the movies, the AMC theater would always run an animated trailer about a character made of film (named Clip) who was sneaking around with a flashlight and got tripped up in a stack of film canisters, making all sorts of noise. At the end, he would shrug his shoulders with a sheepish look on his face, and across the screen the message would flash - "Silence is Golden".

Builder Communication

To a Lean Builder, however, such a motto would likely create unnecessary waste, stifle efficiency gains, and increase costs significantly. The reason is that open communication among the homeowner, architect, engineer, builder, suppliers and the trades (particularly at the design stage of a project) is critical in identifying ways to improve quality and save time and money.

Builder/Framer/Lumber Supplier. Framing up a house is perhaps the messiest stage of construction - where lumber budgets are uncertain, weather impacts quality and timing, and opportunities for efficiency and minimizing waste abound. Typically, the builder establishes his framing material budget based on his experience and an estimate from the lumberyard. Who is often missing from this equation? The framer, himself! Unfortunately, the guy who has direct control over how the framing materials are ordered, staged, protected, cut up and installed at the jobsite, often has no active role in preparing the estimate or accountability in the amount of material used on the job.

Planning Meeting. We recommend a pre-framing meeting among the builder, framer and supplier to confirm specs, floor systems, and budget and scheduling expectations. Without this builder-led communication, he is leaving a potential conflict of interest unaddressed and possibly thousands of dollars on the table. Many builders have not thought to instruct or incentivize the framer to save money on materials. Though he has negotiated a fixed price for the framing labor (to lock in those costs), he then gives the framer freedom to spend the builder’s money in other ways, such as:

  • Ordering excess lumber and not protecting it from weather for return credits.

  • Speed in framing often leads to wasted lumber – filling expensive dumpsters with cut-off pieces and requiring additional lumber orders (sometimes with hot-shot delivery charges).

  • Special order items, such as hangers or engineered lumber cannot be returned for credit if mistakenly ordered.

Conflict - Budget vs. Speed. A lumber salesman recognizes he often has two masters to serve – the builder who must meet budget to be profitable and the framer who must meet schedule to be profitable. There can be competition between the builder’s budget and quality goals and the framer’s speed goals, where too much speed can increase material costs and lower quality. At times even the lumber salesman can get caught in the middle of this conflict trying to please both parties. The builder pays for his livelihood, but the framer can make or break his reputation. How can all the parties win?

Good Builders Lead. Although Davis-Hawn tries very hard to encourage and facilitate teamwork and communication, it is ultimately up to the wise builder to lead – with clearly defined expectations and open communication throughout the framing process. Otherwise, conflicts of interest and miscommunications will fuel inefficiencies, waste, cost over-runs, delays and poor quality of work. Done correctly, builders, suppliers and framers can work together more efficiently and profitably for all.

Build to Last, Dave Reichert & the Davis-Hawn Team


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