How to Solve Common Construction Problems

by Dave Lupberger

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This articles exists to shed a little light thing that may, and often do, go wrong on a custom building or renovation project, and to provide possible solutions to these problems. In general, the Construction Agreement you have should provide answers to most problems. The General Construction Conditions should communicate the steps that should be followed in the event of a conflict between contract documents. The order of precedence generally recognizes more recent documents. Here is the order of precedence to follow:

1) Owner-approved Change Orders.
2) Construction Contract and Addendums as listed in the contract.
3) The Blue Prints as specified in your contract.

Problems due to discrepancies between documents are automatically solved by this order of precedence. Here are other common problems you may encounter:

PROBLEM 1: Incorrect custom orders

SOLUTION: The purpose of construction specifications is to define and clearly detail the materials you will order for your job. If you receive an incorrect order, comparing the project specifications and a copy of the custom order the contractor placed with the supplier should determine responsibility. If the custom order was not completed properly, you have a choice. You may accept what was delivered by mistake, avoiding delays in your construction project; or you may reorder to receive exactly what you desire, but you'll be forced to push back your completion date. You have to understand that acceptance of an improper custom order usually translates into some benefit for the homeowner—whether it's a discount from what they ordered or that the contractor is going to have to give something else in return for the homeowners accepting what they didn't order. The question is who is paying? If your supplier did not make the mistake, then it's your contractor's responsibility.

PROBLEM 2: Subcontractors mistakenly working off of an old set of blue prints:

SOLUTION: This is a problem for your contractor, and unfortunately it will delay your schedule. The best solution is to prevent it by ensuring that every set of drawings is dated, and that all subcontractors are working with the most recent plans. Dating eliminates any confusion about which set of plans is most current. The date of the final set of blue prints should be noted in your Construction Agreement and posted with the Ground Rules so everyone and every subcontractor on the site can check their plans to confirm that date is on their set of plans.

PROBLEM 3: Additional cost occurring in the course of construction. Unforeseen conditions, like bad soil, termite damage or dry rot, often are discovered during construction.

SOLUTION: If you encounter one of these problems, the only alternative to emergency spending is to stop the project. Unexpected cost is always a sore point. Your construction agreement already addresses unforeseen circumstances, and if extra work is required, your contractor is entitled to additional money. If, however, there is some doubt as to whether the circumstances were unforeseen, you deserve a full explanation. If your contractor overlooked some part of your job and consequently your estimate was low, they are responsible for this oversight. If necessary, a third party could help you resolve any dispute. Share the story with either your architect or an unrelated building official to get an objective opinion.

PROBLEM 4: Delays in construction. One of a homeowner's biggest fears is: "How can I guarantee this work will proceed as quickly as possible?"

SOLUTION: Ask for a production schedule with your construction contract so that you can monitor your contractor's progress. There are a number of acceptable reasons for delays, some of which were reviewed above. When there is a problem and there are delays, these delays need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Regardless of whose mistake it is, you and your contractor need to communicate regularly in regards to construction delays. What are the delays? What will the outcome be? The biggest sin with construction delays is not talking about the delays because it allows homeowner fears to manifest and grow. The more open the communication between homeowner and contractor, the better.

PROBLEM 5: Well-intentioned mistakes. There are times when a carpenter or a subcontractor believes he has a more efficient way to complete some part of your plan or feels he or she has an "improvement" you would really like. Unfortunately, in so doing, they may deviate from the blue prints, and you end up with an appearance different than you expected.

SOLUTION: The sooner you discover their mistake, the better. Fixing such a deviation may be as easy as moving a wall stud or repositioning a door or window. Whether or not it's an easy fix, try the following:

1) Find out why the alteration was made. There may be a good explanation. If there is neither a good explanation, nor is the problem easy to fix, see if you can spend a couple of days living with what was done. You may begin to like it.

2) Agree to accept the alteration in exchange for an "extra" you desire. If the subcontractor faces an out-of pocket expense, he may be willing to do a little bit of "horse trading." If the mistake was large enough, you may, for example, negotiate for the built-in bookcase you wanted in the den.

3) Your final option is always to tear out and rebuild the alteration according to plans.

PROBLEM 6: "I didn't know it would look this way. Upon the completion of framing or some other stage of construction, you may discover they don't like the results and want it rebuilt some other way.

SOLUTION: This is a common occurrence, and it is caused when homeowners are not able to imagine how 2-dimensional blue prints will translate into their real living space. As a homeowner, you may want to change some things. The degree or number of changes will probably be determined by your budget. As the price of your project goes up, you may decide there are certain imperfections you can live with. Remember, however, these are compromises that you will live with for the next 10 to 20 years. Make sure you feel secure in your choice. Otherwise, you may end up regretting your decision every time your eyes cross this "imperfection". That is not something you want to live with.