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Postgreen Standard Project Supplemental Construction Documentation

by Chad Ludeman on February 27, 2009 · 17 comments

in Design,Development,documentation

This first project has been a real learning experience for us in the process of building a home. We’ve done pretty well considering we’re using a crew that has never built with SIPs, never built a green home (let alone LEED Platinum) and never built a modern style home that lacks things like soffits. We’ve remained on budget despite countless changes, but our original timeline slipped from the intended 3 months to an actual 6 months.

One thing we have learned in this process, is that simple construction documents are not enough to quickly build a “hybrid-prefab” home as we intend. As a result, I have drafted a list of theoretical documents that we hope to develop for the next project, which has already begun, and all subsequent projects. The basic idea is to eliminate any confusing at all as to what each sub is installing in the house. We need to get down to the nitty gritty details of how and exactly where everything will be installed as well. What products will we be using to flash windows and seal all air gaps. Every single detail needs to be spec’ed out. If we can accomplish this, we will greatly reduce both costs and time to build each home.

This is nothing new for larger production home builders, but for small guys like ourselves, this is relatively uncommon. The goal is to cost reduce our homes further, while delivering a higher quality product to our customers in a faster timeframe. If we can hit 10-12 weeks to build each home, we’ll be happy.

Postgreen / 100K Project Supplemental Documentation

These specs are to be supplements to the official Construction Drawings for the project to help clarify all aspects of the construction for all subcontractors involved.

  1. Postgreen Builder Manual – A general manual detailing all common materials, systems and methods to be employed on all Postgreen homes. Examples include how to flash all windows and how to ensure an airtight building envelope.
  2. Finish Spec Sheet - This list will be generated by Postgreen or a specific buyer using the new website. It will include things like flooring, cabinet and plumbing fixture choices for each home.
  3. Foundation Penetration Schematic - This document will list each item that will penetrate the slab along with the exact location of each item. This is meant to assist the plumbing and electrical subs and ensure proper fit with all future wall and casework placements.
  4. Roof Penetration Schematic – This document will list each item that will penetrate the roof along with the exact location of each item. The intent is to allow all roof penetrations to be made when the initial roof is installed to reduce roofing labor and dry-in the house ASAP. All permanent connections will be made at a later date and line up correctly if this plan is followed.
  5. Plumbing Layout – This layout will be created with the help of the Master Plumber and show exactly where all plumbing runs and connections will be made. This will ensure that there are no surprises with structural members or complicated runs that could delay the install. It will also allow the plumber to more accurately prep materials and manpower needed for the job.
  6. Electrical / Automation Layout – This layout will be created with the help of the Electrician and will include all details needed for the rough and finish electrical installations. This will also include any home automation, A/V or security systems spec’ed out on the home.
  7. HVAC Layout – All HVAC and ventilation components listed along with detailed layout of equipment and ductwork.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 darin February 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm

You guys have certainly learned a lot on your first project. Not only gone through the motions, but been able to accurately pinpoint many of the typical short comings associated with building modern architecture. I might recommend implementing BIM (Building Information Modeling) into your document process. My firm is very small, but we started out using BIM from the first day we hung out our shingle. We haven’t yet gone as far as draw the plumbing or HVAC, but we’re planning on it with our current projects. We have used it to draw all the framing. Many of our structures can be tricky and it’s simply too difficult to adequately translate a sophisticated framing detail to an un-sophisticated trade and expect it to turn out correctly the first time. Being able to bring a laptop to the job site and show the trades what the finished framing or rough-in should look like is invaluable. You can see an example for one of our projects we’ve started to show framing on:

BIM can help you document everything you’re talking about in items 3-7. Don’t be fooled by nay sayers…they typically don’t use BIM exclusively for all their work so they don’t know what they’re missing.

2 eikoh February 27, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Good call Darin..I was going to mention the same thing. I don’t use it but have heard it described as a fantastic tool for what Chad describes. In their book, Marmol Radziner discusses the ability that BIM software gives them, especially in their prefab work, to lay out structural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical so that they can coordinate these systems from the very beginning. However, it’s quite an investment for the “small guys,” from cost of the software to the steep learning curve…

3 Kevin D February 28, 2009 at 2:19 am
4 chad February 28, 2009 at 11:28 am

Sometimes I really love this blog. Thanks for the advice on BIM and Revit. I will definitely look into both.

5 darin February 28, 2009 at 11:55 am

I know you can run windows on a mac – but I don’t. Because I refuse to use a PC, we’ve been using ArchiCAD for BIM

6 Mike February 28, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I have been using Revit on a Mac through Boot Camp for a couple months now. I has worked flawlessly. Revit is a fairly easy program to learn, much more intuitive than Autocad. You can download a free trial of Revit from Autodesks website.

7 lavardera February 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

I’ll disent a little bit on that. I think the last thing a good carpenter needs is an architect that thinks they have to tell them where every stud and joist goes. I’ve never met an archictect that knew framing, and the specific code requirements affecting it, as well as a good master carpenter.

Good documentation respects these boundaries and lets the carpenter do what they know best. Furthermore its a rare owner that is willing to pay an architect to model every stud, and a foolish architect that does it without getting paid to create detail at that level.

8 Kevin D February 28, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Greg, you’ve been through the build process many times, and you’re right about the most efficient documentation for the status quo.

As an industrial engineer, Chad’s trying to get closer to a factory situation. Factory methods reduce cost even if mass production quantities are low.

9 lavardera February 28, 2009 at 9:22 pm

The things Chad has listed as supplemental documentation is completely simpatico with the way I think about it. Chad’s outlined the areas where things typically go miscoordinated on a project. The only documentation on the list that will really create more design expense is preparing the detailed layout of HVAC.

10 Rob March 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I disagree with the statement that Architects should not layout each stud. In my mind, a good architect designs everything, including the placement of each stud. This is especially important when trying to be sustainable in doing something like advanced framing. In addition finding a “master” carpenter in today’s word is getting increasingly difficult, let alone one who is familiar with the newer, greener building techniques.

As for BIM, it definitely has the potential to provide the information that Chad is looking for. BIM basicly allows the designer to construct the building digitally, working out all (or at least most) of the kinks prior to the actual construction. It may, however, be a bit of overkill for such a small project.

On the subject of BIM

11 lavardera March 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

And that is precisely the fallacy of BIM taken too far. If you are building a house in a factory, like a car – sure you layout every stud and every nail, and its built thousands of times in a production line.

But if you layout every stud on a set of drawings going into the field, and you are going to expect and hold the carpenter to that – that means he is going to have to refer to the drawings for every move his makes. How is he going to price out that job? What kind of penalty are you going to pay for that vanity, the architect placing every stud? Why on earth would you think you could do that better than a carpenter, not a master carpenter – even an average carpenter? Do you think you know more than even an average carpenter about framing?

Maybe there are some architects that have spent a few summers in the field with a hammer on their belt, and they know their way around. Or maybe after 20 years of working on projects this scale you know it pretty well. But that should teach you what conditions you need to point out – what are the special situations that you need to highlight. Not over-document by showing every stud. This is not manufacturing.

12 darin March 2, 2009 at 2:30 am

I think you all have some excellent points. You can certainly take BIM a little too far and I’m sure you don’t need to go all the way with every project. It’s a tool that you can fine tune from a wide focus down to a pinpoint.

We recently had a situation on a job site where the HVAC sub was on their last day of rough-in. They realized they absolutely had to run some duct through a steel beam. It took the structural engineer a day to respond to the issue, almost a week for the steel fabricator to leave the job he was on to come back and cut a hole in the beam, and another week to get the HVAC sub back on site to finish up – which pushed our drywall install out 2 weeks. This particular job runs about $6500 per month to run in terms of contractor management / fees. This 2 week delay in construction of “unforeseen conditions” translates to about $3,200. Either the contractor (us in this case) or the client has to pay for this. I would assume there are at least a half dozen items like this that happen on a typical custom single family residence. Knowing this, the 1-2 days it takes us to coordinate this information into our BIM model is much less expensive than only one field mishap. While we know we can’t avoid everything, we can at least make a significant reduction.

Another point I’d like to make is our roll in a team – architect, builder and sub. An architect not respecting his team and their knowledge is always a receipt for disaster. An architect who sits in his office working completely disengaged from the subs who builds their work leads to the type of vanity Greg speaks of. Bringing our master carpenters into our office to ask their opinions on framing technique and tailoring our drawings to their advice ads a tremendous sense of ownership and pride for them. We have 15 carpenters in the field – 5 or so would be considered ‘masters’ and they love being involved early on. Granted – we’re not using this process on simple boxy buildings. We’re not allowing our carpenters to use every single piece of wood that is delivered to the site. I’ve seen carpenters frame 6×10 headers at every single door opening in a house because the material was sitting there at the site. This isn’t sustainable, so having a set of documents that shows design intent regarding using less lumber and removing thermal bridging is essential for complex envelopes. Most master carpenters are at least second generation and they know their craft well, but they typically don’t study building envelope science at night on the internet. We’re using the model as a visual tool with our carpenters to have a visual understanding of complex conditions and details, not the simple ones. I’m not going to walk through each stud in the field, but because I’m responsible for the energy performance of the building, I will be extremely picky with the framing on the exterior walls.

As an architect, I feel completely responsible to my clients for knowing how to build what I draw – we aren’t cheap and we should be worth every penny. I don’t consider myself a fool for this. I’ve worked for architects who make un-coordinating documents at best and take a nice fat fee from their clients…it just doesn’t feel right.

13 chad March 2, 2009 at 9:59 am

This is a great discussion. A couple points from our end.

First, the homes we are building are pretty simple, structurally. They are basically boxes. There’s really nothing that I could think of for a master carpenter to interpret on the job site. If we want studs on 24″ centers aligning with each other from the first to second floor, we have to do more than just spec it out. We have to meet with them and then follow up the first day they are framing.

Secondly, yes these projects are a bit small for full fledged BIM. That’s not the point though. We are trying to create high-quality models that can be reproduced over and over again in Philly. Maybe one day, even the rest of the country.

Taking that into consideration, it is important for us to continually cost reduce and fine tune every component for the most efficient installation. We think of our homes as pre-fab so that when we want to introduce more “hybrid pre-fab” components in the future, everything is in place to do so easily.

We may want to prefab bathrooms and closets offsite in the future. It becomes a lot harder if we haven’t already figured out exactly how all the ductwork and plumbing runs are going to be handled around and in those rooms.

Whether we use BIM or not, we will continue to fine tune and specify every single little aspect of our homes. If material leads times and delivery were not issues, we should be able to build one of these homes in less than 30 days in the future.

Our goals are not standard. They are much higher. We must do better…

14 Kevin D March 2, 2009 at 11:22 am

Homes and buildings are essentially the only things not manufactured in factories.

All the best factories have implemented ISO 9000, the primary goal being higher quality. Quality improvements always lead to more value for the customer, and in the long term reduce costs for the manufacturer.

ISO 9000 is just documentation. If processes are improved, they are documented.

15 lavardera March 2, 2009 at 11:25 am

Darin – what you are talking about is coordination and there is nothing over the top about the process you described. If you need to introduce a contractor to lintels with reduced thermal bridging, then you have to detail it. But thats a far cry from modeling every stud, or modeling that lintel detail at every opening for that matter.

16 lavardera March 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

Chad, I think you might have good cause for a well detailed set of prototype drawings if you continue to build similar houses. The problem with urban infill though is it always seems to throw you a curve ball that requires a significant update to the docs – whether its a changing party wall condition on the adjoining houses, or a changing solar orientation.

17 Rob March 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

First, I would never presume to know more than a master carpenter. But I would still draw everything, as Darin stated, to show “design intent”. I wouldnt dimension each stud, but I would want the carpenter to know what I was thinking when I designed that wall. And while I do not consider myself a carpenter, I have spent several years working construction (something I think every Architect/designer should do).

As for BIM, I think it has great potential. Having yet to complete a project with BIM I cannot say for certian how much it will help but it definitly has potential.

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