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When we say “Lean Framer”, we’re not talking about Slim over there who disappears when he turns sideways.  We’re talking about the framing carpenter who understands and practices “lean building practices.”  “Lean” is the elimination of waste, in all forms (material, energy, time). Framers have a tremendous impact not only on the quality and structural integrity of the home, but also on one of the largest expense line items in the builder’s budget – framing lumber.

It is curious to me why builders often spend so much time negotiating down a framer’s labor bid, and then completely hand over their checkbook to them regarding lumber ordering and jobsite management.  Sure, fifty cents per foot in labor can add up on an 8,000 sq. ft. home ($4,000).  That’s an easy savings number to enter into the budget.  However, once that price is struck, the framer’s two primary goals become: finishing the job and getting green tags – not efficient use of materials.  Builders sometimes forget what impact that framer has on other expense line items:

1. Lumber Usage – Reduce lumber use by only 5% and you save $4,000 (based on $10 per sq. ft. lumber estimate).   Most waste is related to speed or inattention – inefficient use of lengths (cutoffs in dumpster); improper stacking and no covers increase warpage and weather damage; all bracing and scaffolds should be re-used; over-ordering results in waste; mis-ordered special orders are non-returnable, etc.
2. Delivery Expenses – proper planning ahead on material orders reduces need for hot-shot deliveries, schedule delays and delivery charges.  Those excess deliveries all cost money, whether itemized or not, and are included in your suppliers’ costs.
3. Schedule Delays – hurts cycle time on the house and incurs opportunity costs to the builder (instead of starting that next project, still finishing this one).
4. Waste Hauling Fees – Seems crazy to pay to bring material to jobsite and then pay again to haul it away.  Analyze that waste – what could have been re-used?  Use low sided or smaller dumpsters to more easily view.  Reducing number of dumps can save you hundreds of dollars.
5. Follow-up Trades – You don’t know how good of a framer you have until you talk to the drywall, trim and cabinet guys.  Plumb, level and straight show up later, and in their absence your follow-up trades’ jobs are much harder, don’t look as good and are delayed. (see 3 above)
6. Safety and Liability Concerns – an organized and clean jobsite is a safer jobsite.  An organized framer reduces waste and trip hazards and also increases speed and efficiency.

So how can you incentivize your framing carpenter to “go lean”?  How can he save more money or make more money by framing lean?  Where is the win-win relationship for both the builder and the framer?  A good and profitable builder must analyze and determine the actual total cost of doing business with his framer (not just the cheap initial bid), and he may be surprised at how expensive a wasteful and inefficient framer can be!