Archive for February, 2011

I recently ran into an individual at a construction industry networking event who has been involved in lobbying efforts discouraging the Commonwealth of Virginia from enforcing Section R313 of the International Residential Code (IRC) which requires fire sprinklers in new homes.  His (and others’) main argument is that inclusion of fire sprinkler systems in single family residences will increase the cost of housing in the commonwealth.  Granted, there will be an initial cost increase, but as a percentage of construction cost, I would peg the increase at somewhere between ½% and ¾%.

 That said, the homeowner of such a house should recoup his/her costs over time through decreased insurance premiums.  There is also the fact that water damage is far easier to mitigate than major structural damage in the event of a fire.  Repairs of such damage can be accomplished in a matter of days rather than months.  Additionally, assuming that the occupants survive, temporary housing costs are reduced commensurate with the repair time.

Dollars and cents aside, who can put a value on human life?


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I recently found myself in a prolonged and difficult contract negotiation.  The potential client seemed to be having trouble with the contract we submitted, and it appeared that we would not come to a meeting of the minds.  The difficulty here is that both the client and our firm have the same goals for the project.  It was a matter of communication, or in this case, a lack thereof.

In order for communication to take place, the parties involved need to understand a common language.  Languages are dependent on a grammatical structure which Webster defines as a system of rules for writing or speaking a given language.  Without such a structure, during the course of a conversation, what is said by one party is not necessarily what is understood by the other.  In general, we grasp this concept by the time we reach middle school.

In the world of construction, it is necessary to communicate the owner’s intent to the contractor or builder who will be executing a project.  Typically, a designer (architect, engineer, or other design professional) interprets an owner’s program and ideas into a set of construction documents which guide the constructor (contractor or builder) on what to build to satisfy the owner’s needs.  Otherwise put, the design professional hears the owner’s needs and desires described verbally and translates them into written and graphic information for the contractor.

Because construction documents are a means of communication, they are by definition, a language.  As I’ve already stated, a language needs a grammatical structure to be understood.  In the language of construction, the ‘rules of grammar” are expressed in the various CSI formats.  By understanding MasterFormat™ and SectionFormat™, the constructor knows where to look to find a specific bit of information in a project manual, just as a grammarian knows where to find the direct object in a sentence.

That said, the best way for all of the parties to the construction process to understand this “grammar” that is embodied in the various CSI formats is to become a member of The Construction specifications Institute (CSI) and to hold the CDT Certificate.  Passing the CDT requires a basic knowledge of construction documents.  Possessing this body of knowledge enables a member of the construction team, whether designer or constructor, to perform their job more efficiently.  Imagine being able to communicate the owner’s wishes clearly, completely, concisely, and correctly on the first attempt.

The CDT is offered to members of CSI and non-members alike.  It is a great addition to an individual’s resume when they hit the street looking for that first job.  If all else is equal, holding the CDT can make the difference in a hire/no hire decision.  For this reason, taking the time to sit for the CDT while in school gives a student a leg up in the construction business upon graduation.

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