So now it’s time to get the builder involved in your green project. In Part One of this episode, we shared the views of the design team; but what do the builders think? How would they like to get involved? To find out, Phil and I asked three prominent builders to join us in a a round of “Three Questions.” Let’s meet our contestants.
Paul Eldrenkamp is the owner of Byggmeister Design Build in Boston. Established in 1983, his company places a high value on the customer relationship and sustainable design / build methods.
Dan Kolbert is the owner of Kolbert Building in Portland, Maine, where, for over twenty years, he has been moving his company and the market toward sustainable construction.
Phil and I both really appreciate their participation and want to convey our thanks. Are you ready to play? Come on down!
The transcript below includes the answers provided by Chandler, Eldrenkamp, and Kolbert. To hear our reactions to their answers, be sure to listen to the Podcast.
1) In a perfect world, how and when, should the builder/owner/architect relationship start, and is it any different for a “green” project than a “typical” project?
Chandler: Preferably the builder and architect would have a preexisting relationship from having built several homes together in a collaborative relationship.
The builder should be brought in to run a preliminary estimate as soon as the preliminary space planning and concept drawings are done and before the working drawings have been started. With a green project, the main difference is the documentation of the collaboration and input from all team partners as part of the green certification process.
It’s also helpful to identify green best practices that are already standard for the builder so that unfamiliar green practices can be elaborated on the plans, specs, and tear sheets.
Kolbert: I think either the architect gets to the concept, or the contractor gets to some rough parameters (size, budget, basic design), and then it’s time to bring in the other party. This is especially important in green projects because:
- If “green” means energy efficient, critical details have to be thought out carefully, and there can be design or construction details that the builder or architect needs to think through from the start.
- Also, the builder needs to be on board for these details, and the best way to do that is to have the builder be part of the team that develops them.
- If “green” means products, they have to be products (everything from doors and windows to paints and caulks) that the contractor is comfortable using and the architect is comfortable with the look of.
- In general, this is a much better way to make sure the design and construction align and come in on budget.
Eldrenkamp: I think the relationship should start as early in the project planning process as can be arranged; if it’s a green project, I think it’s all the more important to do so.
I think it’s very difficult to achieve the key green characteristics of long-term durability and resource efficiency by trying to specify them in the construction documents. Regardless of what’s in the specs, the construction team needs to understand and buy into those goals from the very beginning, and it’s going to be easier to get that understanding and buy-in if the builder is involved in the process from very early on. I also think it’s a mistake not to take advantage of the builder’s experience and expertise from the very beginning.
In my 30 years in construction, I have learned from a lot of mistakes — many of which the architect at the table has yet to make (I am proud to say). I can help the team avoid those mistakes if I have opportunity to provide input from the beginning, before too many design ideas have become entrenched in the plans.
2) As the project continues, how should this relationship evolve or be maintained? And is it any different for a “green” project than a “typical” project?
Chandler: As the project continues there will inevitably be minor changes in the plans and specs. It is critical to have updated plans on site and online that reflect these changes.
It is also helpful for the designer and builder to share information on what elements of the project went smoothly — or not (reliability of internet suppliers, new product assessment) — and where more information on the plans might be helpful (reverse lapping stucco lath, mid-set window details, etc.).
Kolbert: This needs to be thought about carefully. The continued involvement of the designer should be largely devoted to making sure that green goals are being met or improved.
Just as a contractor is mostly serving a support role during the design, the architect needs to be in a support role during construction: helping to think through construction details, helping to resolve contradictions or conflicts that may be discovered, etc.
Design changes after construction starts often can come at the expense of efficiency goals (and that, by the way, is bad). I don’t think this is dramatically different in green or non-green projects; it’s a challenge on all projects.
Eldrenkamp: Regardless of whether the project is green (and just why are we making that optional? haven’t we all learned that “typical” doesn’t work?), I think there should be consensus on what the project goals, budget, and schedule are.
I think that if someone on the team sees a problem with achieving any of those objectives at any point, they should say something right away. The client should not be in charge of the project; if the client is in charge of the project, the project is almost certainly doomed.
If the architect wants to be in charge, then the architect should be organized, responsible, and realistic — should really be in charge, in other words. Sometimes the contractor should be in charge, though, and the architect should be able to let this happen if it serves the client better.
Whoever is in charge, there should be clear milestones tied to a calendar, and clear deliverables for each milestone. And someone on the team needs to have a self-deprecating sense of humor that can ease the tension at some meetings — for there will be tension. If no one has a sense of humor, the project is even more doomed than if the client is in charge.
3) In your opinion, what is the best way for the owner to be assured that he/she is getting the best price from you, the builder, particularly in a non-competitive pricing situation?
Chandler: Take the time to set a clear scope of work and establish a willingness to communicate and seek collaborative solutions.
Kolbert: Again, my JLC article goes into boring detail on my opinions on this matter. The short answer is they can’t, but the notion that competitive bidding provides more assurance is hooey in my opinion. I think the most important thing for a client to feel confident about is: Can the design/build team bring a project in on budget? And that’s a question that can presumably be answered by talking to prior clients.
Eldrenkamp: The best way for the owner to be assured that he/she is getting the best price is for him/her to hire six contractors to do the same identical project. After 20 years, he/she should be able to evaluate the up-front costs, the repair and maintenance costs over the 20 years, the warranty follow-up, the resource efficiency, and the overall durability delivered by each of the 6 contractors, and then he/she will know with great certainty which one provided him/her the best price.
Bonus question: On a scale of 9-10, how much more awesome is it to work on a project that has an architect than on one that doesn’t?
Chandler: I’m married to my architect, so clearly that’s a ten plus. (Love the scale, though).
Kolbert: If you guys don’t know why architects suck by now, I can’t help you out. 🙂
Eldrenkamp: I would say a 10. Because if there’s no official architect, then either I’m the de facto architect, which would be a real laugh riot, or the client is the de facto architect, which would not be a real laugh riot.
Usually Phil and I share a “Six Digit Idea” or a “Hot Zigg,” but for this episode we want to give special congratulations to our fellow Mainers at G.O. Logic for their Greenbuild Award.
And of course, no episode of the Green Architects’ Lounge would be complete with out a song selection from Phil. this time it’s “Utopia” from Yacht on their album Shangri-La.
Thanks for tuning in. Cheers.