Quality assurance in construction is inherently difficult. Few other industries have to build their product in the rain, using dozens of individual companies, each of which in turn hires their own staff—often unskilled or untrained—to perform the work.
Add to this the cost constraints that rarely allow for adequate site management, and we have a potential recipe for disaster.
If GE built a refrigerator in your front yard, would you buy it? Consider the products we use daily—cars, appliances, and electronics. If we watched them being built in the rain over a period of months, would we even consider using them?
Unfortunately, consumer understanding of, and demand for, true high-quality construction is inconsistent because the industry has largely avoided developing effective quality assurance programs. Instead, developers respond to their customer’s ‘demands’—primarily large spaces, high-end finishes, preferred locations, and low prices. High-performance construction, including careful moisture management, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality, are low priorities for most purchasers, so they fall to the wayside for many builders as well.
Those builders who choose to do so will likely benefit long term and leave many of their competitors in their wake.
Quality is a team effort. High-performance construction can provide long-term benefits to builders including happier clients, fewer callbacks and warranty problems, and reduced legal liability, all leading to improved profitability. To achieve real quality in the field takes a commitment from the entire team. The numbers guys have to be willing to invest in the process and be confident that there will be a long-term payoff. Designers must work closely with the production team to avoid complex and expensive details that may fail prematurely or make energy efficiency difficult to achieve. Field superintendents must be better trained in all aspects of construction so they can inspect and evaluate trade contractor workmanship throughout the construction process.
Systems must be put in place to monitor every aspect of the construction process including building design, material and labor specification and procurement, and, most important, construction and installation in the field.
Modular homes are one way to achieve more predictable results, but short of that, we have little choice but to work under adverse conditions, so we must make the best of it and develop methods to raise the level of quality.
It is better to be in front of the curve than behind it. Fortunately there are a few existing systems that can be incorporated into anyone’s jobsite workflow, which I will go over in future posts. The learning curve may be a little steep at first, but it flattens out after a few houses, and those builders who get in front of the curve will find themselves with big advantages over their peers who choose to lag behind it.
This is the first installment in a series of articles on boosting quality without breaking the bank. If you can deliver a better house at the same cost (while charging more), why wouldn’t you do it?
If you have any questions you’d like me to address in this QA project management series, ask away. I’ll give short answers in the comments and address the good points in future articles.
—Carl Seville (www.skcollaborative.com) is recovering from a 25-year career in construction and remodeling. He now writes and teaches about, consults on, and certifies green single- and multifamily buildings. His blog, The Green Building Curmudgeon, can be found on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.