A set of construction documents acts as the literal blueprint for a project, offering the details for how to construct a job. Those documents can be created through a team approach, with the owner, GC and subs trading ideas and knowledge to build the best building they can in the most efficient way possible. Or the plans can be handed down from an engineer’s office with little input from the construction world. Each project is different, and each owner’s motivation for building is different.
As a concrete contractor and expert in your industry, you might identify systems or products that could contribute to a better job, whether by speeding up the construction schedule, producing a better product, contributing to a safer jobsite, or saving someone money. Sometimes getting people to listen to your suggestions, especially after a set of plans has gone out for bid, is a challenge. Contractors agree that most engineers and specifiers are receptive to these suggestions and will at least consider changes even if they don’t accept them. But your success in getting changes made depends a lot on your approach and relationships with the parties involved. The contractors in this article share some of their experiences and advice on successful specification changes.
Identify the issues
As an expert in concrete construction, you are probably more knowledgeable about the current trends in the concrete industry than anyone else in the building process. Technology in construction is moving faster than standards. Because of that, you have the expertise to tell a client when you can do something differently, or better.
Aaron Long is president with Procon, Inc., Rocky Mount, Va., a company that specializes in commercial and industrial concrete construction. Part of his company’s pre-construction process is to review the job plans for any non-buildable specifications and get them corrected before construction begins. Some examples of non-buildable specifications he sees include FL (floor levelness) tolerances on slab on metal deck projects, a blanket “no cracking” clause that might read “all concrete on this project should be free of cracks,” and incompatibility with Division 3 and Division 9 specifications.
“Any time you see a non-buildable spec, you should bring it up. And the time to do that is before the job begins, as early as possible,” Long says.
Joe Neuber concurs. He is the president of Neuber Concrete, Kimberton, Pa., a concrete contractor specializing in high performance and superflat slabs on grade. “You need to be proactive. I’ve heard contractors say, ‘I can’t get the spec changed.’ But if that’s the way they bid it without any comments about an issue, it’s going to be more difficult to get it changed afterwards,” he says.
Neuber takes special care in looking for certain details of a project that can affect building efficiency and the owner’s intended use. Over-engineering issues, for example, might include a project where #6 rebar is specified when #4 rebar would be sufficient. Ensuring the end-use of a slab meets the design specification is another issue. “You need to make sure the function and floor design match,” Neuber says. “There are two parts to each design. One is loading requirements — whether the slab has a heavy industrial load or pedestrian traffic. But if it’s a gymnasium, an ice rink or a TV studio, even though it might have a light loading requirement, the floor needs flatness requirements. So I look for those details that have nothing to do with structural or loading requirements but are part of the design.”
Pete Reed is a senior estimator with Wm. Winkler Co., Spokane, Wash., an infrastructure, building and specialty flatwork contractor. He looks for generic specifications that might have been cut and pasted into plans, which often result in material and/or performance specifications that don’t fit a project. Furthermore, he tries to identify ways to improve a project. “It’s not just about saving money or schedule savings, it might also be related to life-cycle or maintenance issues for the owner,” Reed says. “When you can suggest a change that offers a performance advantage, clients are really interested in talking about it.”