What are the Risks of Construction Projects?
You may have heard “horror stories” about a friend’s construction project. You probably don’t want to have any of your own to tell! Here we warn you of some risks inherent in construction… and if you work with Klopf Architecture, we’ll do our best to help you avoid them.
What is a risk in construction? Let’s say it’s anything that costs something for you or your family (above-and-beyond the regular cost of the project). Some people don’t think of these risks, and may try to handle a construction project on their own once… but after facing these risks the hard way (alone and uninformed) not too many people want to try it a second time.
Here are some of the most common risks:
What are some reasons construction can take longer than it’s supposed to? What can we do to avoid them?
Problem: Rain is delaying the project. The trenches for the foundation keep filling up with mud!
What this costs you: You lose time and money because the contractor will either have to stand by (potentially charging for the delay), or may have to re-build formwork and reinforcing steel that may have already been placed.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We advise our clients to be patient and start their projects during the correct season.
Problem: Long lead time items were not ordered on time.
What this costs you: You lose time and money, or freedom, because the contractor will either have to wait for the item to arrive (potentially charging for the delay if you chose the long lead-time item at the last minute), or you decide to go with a less suitable substitute in order NOT to lose time and money.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We offer to provide enough planning that we can coordinate and specify items before the project is sent out to bid. While it’s almost unheard of to specify 100% of the items up front, the more that are specified the better.
Problem: Despite good efforts made on the items above, the contractor is just not organized and can’t get the project completed.
What this costs you: You lose time, money, and sanity because the inability to move back in and use your house costs more and creates stress.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We advise our clients to avoid a low-bidder (in most cases). We also advise our clients to make sure any contractor who’s bidding your project has built projects of a similar size, complexity, and style before. If it’s a contractor we’ve worked with, we’ll know what they’ve done in the past. In certain cases, a financial incentive plan may be put into place to promote on-time performance.
Why do costs go seem to go up during the project? Can this be prevented?
Problem: Our eyes were bigger than our stomach! We need to value engineer the project after bidding is completed.
What this costs you: You lose time and money because you have to pay for the design changes and delay the start of the project until a new round of bidding can be completed.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We distinguish between two types of value engineering: one type is making changes to parts of the project that the client was involved in and knowingly decided on. The other type is making changes to specifications that we decided without client input. We charge for the first type but not the second. Both types can be avoided if the client starts with a realistic budget in mind, and checks in with contractors about the costs during the design process.
Problem: Our project scope keeps on increasing and increasing! (the “while we’re at it” syndrome)
What this costs you: You lose money (but perhaps gain in value of the home).
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We cant stop clients from changing their minds and/or adding scope in the middle of a project. That said, we are clear up front about phasing projects and let our clients know that the best time to do everything is now, all at once. We’ll do what we can to help you avoid this syndrome, but sometimes it’s not curable!
Problem: Our project scope isn’t increasing at all — why is it getting more and more expensive?
What this costs you: You lose money and sanity because not only are you paying more than you might’ve paid otherwise, you have lost control over the spending. It’s now unpredictable what the project will cost, and all you can do is hope it won’t be that bad.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We offer to provide enough planning so that our clients get a bid, not a budget, from bidding contractors. A budget means “based on the little information I have to work with, I’m stabbing in the dark at a dollar amount that you might spend. But as the project goes forward and details are worked out… you’ll spend more. No one can tell you now how much more it will be… or how long the project will really take.” Whereas a “bid” means: “this is the cost for your project, unless there’s a change.” With almost everything specified and lots of details drawn, you get three things:
- The contractor can give a “bid” price for the job because he/she has enough information. Of course there are always minor changes, but as long as it’s only a few percentage points of the construction cost, it’s easily handled by a 10% contingency.
- You don’t have to worry about making every decision on the fly during construction when it may be stressful or inconvenient. And,
- The contractor will be able to better schedule the work, and will know when to order things with long lead times (so construction will go much smoother).
Problem: The contractor found dry-rot, substandard construction, dangerous electrical conditions, etc. when he/she started demolition. In mid-century modern / Eichler houses one common discovery is that the 50+ year-old plumbing waste lines have to be completely replaced.
What this costs you: You lose time and money because you’ll have to increase the scope of your project and pay for the additional work required to remedy the situation.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We can’t prevent this for you. We can tell our clients about it up front (like what we just told you about your plumbing) and recommend that our clients establish a contingency fund for this eventuality.
Problem: There are surprise costs after you thought everything was paid for (special inspections, school district fees, construction site visits by various engineers, etc.)
What this costs you: You lose money and sanity because you may be at the end of your bank account when you have to pay these unknown costs.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We can’t prevent the need to pay for these items, but we can help our clients plan for them. While we’re coming to an agreement for services we give our clients a spreadsheet containing as many possible costs as we can think of for their project.
This Project is Stressing Me Out!
Does a construction project have to be unpleasant and all-consuming? Or is there another way?
Problem: The contractor wants me to make all these decisions
What this costs you: You lose time away from work and family, and have to spend your energy on researching and deciding under a strict deadline (because if you delay, it will delay the construction and that’s a monetary cost).
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We offer to provide enough planning up front that the lion’s share of the decisions have already been made. When you’re in construction and there are still some decisions to be made, remember: it could’ve been a lot worse if we hadn’t planned! More importantly, we offer to work with our clients during the bidding process and all the way through to the end of construction. We act as your representative, reject work that is not in conformance with the drawing set, and answer the technical questions for you so that you can go about your daily life.
Problem: I’m always fighting with my contractor, and it’s no fun.
What this costs you: You lose energy and your sanity because every issue has become a struggle.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We have dealt with plenty of contractors on plenty of projects. With a few exceptions, we have had good relationships with the contractors. The exceptions have been contractors who are not interested in working with architects, but prefer to work only with homeowners. Sure, there will be some disagreements in most projects, but we prefer to focus on planning for problems before they occur and (if a problem occurs) solving problems expediently in a way that preserves the design intent. Our clients can let us be the “bad guy” when something has clearly been built wrong and the contractor has to be persuaded to re-do it. And our clients can come to us for advice, discussion, a sounding-board, etc. throughout the process.
Problem: I think my contractor may be taking advantage of me.
What this costs you: You lose money and sanity, and maybe time because the contractor is finding “technical” problems that were “unexpected” and wants you to pay more and/or extend the project. You lay awake at night worrying about the lost time and money, and if you’re being suckered.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: During the bidding process we offer to review bids from contractors, compare them, and discuss with the contractors what is included or not included in their bids. This gives our clients an “apples-to-apples” comparison for making decisions, and also serves as safe-guard against items being tacked on later by an unscrupulous contractor. Also, during construction we use our professional experience to mediate between client and contractor over the technical issues and can help judge whether or not “unexpected” work really qualifies as additional work or not.
My Project isn’t Turning Out the Way I Wanted it to
You just spent a lot of money, time, and energy. You have sacrificed time away from family and/or work. You’ve put up with a lot of stress. And now the project isn’t even what you had expected. Can this be avoided?
Problem: My design is unsatisfactory
What this costs you: You forego satisfaction, or you lose time and money hiring a new architect.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We want out clients to make sure to choose their architect carefully. If you have a mid-century modern or Eichler home, we especially recommend working with an architect like Klopf Architecture who specializes in that style of design.
Problem: I didn’t think it would look like this.
What this costs you: You will be disappointed with the outcome and forced to live with the results.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: Collaborative design and communication are our specialties. Our design process includes 3-D visualization, collaborative discussions, and detailed plans and specifications that will give contractors a lot of information to build with. During construction we interpret the documents, problem solve, and check work in the field to see that the vision we’ve agreed on is carried out. This is not to say there can’t be surprises when the paper drawings are built in real life. But surprises can are minimized through our process.
Problem: The Quality of Construction isn’t Good Enough
What this costs you: You forego satisfaction because at this point it’s going to be too expensive to re-build the project.
What Klopf Architecture does to prevent this: We offer to provide enough planning that a qualified contractor can build the project to the appropriate level of quality. We also advise people that their budgets DO make a difference, and that hiring the appropriate “level” of contractor will have better results. We can provide names and numbers of contractors to our clients as a starting point for finding an appropriate contractor (for instance, some who know mid-century modern / Eichler-style construction, and also happens to pay attention to the drawings).
There are Some Risks We Can’t Mitigate
Construction, especially when dealing with an older structure in some way, is inherently risky. Clients of ours have ended up paying for asbestos removal, lead paint clean-up, and re-framing portions of buildings that were supposed to be retained because (especially with older houses) sometimes there is no choice. Other clients have changed their minds during construction, and incurred costs related to upgrades, swap-outs, and changes in project scope.
People in Mid-Century Modern and Eichler houses have extra risks to consider as well: leaking radiant floor heating systems, shorted-out electrical branch circuits, corroded plumbing waste lines, ancient tar and gravel roofs, poorly waterproofed concrete slabs, the lack of attic in most cases, and the (shall we say) “expedient” construction methods employed in the 50s and 60s. All of these can often lead to unwanted expenditures during construction projects.
With all that said, most additional costs are owner changes during construction or the “while we’re at it” syndrome, but some of it can be plain old functional necessity.
While we can warn our clients about these risks, we can’t change facts: old houses plus construction equals some unavoidable risk. So let Klopf Architecture help you manage the risks we can avoid. Contact us to talk about your project.