Contracting has significantly changed since I started in the industry over 35 years ago. In the early 1970s, plan and specification construction was the delivery method of choice on most high profile projects. Today, the industry is faced with many challenges created by an industry evolution.

Regulatory requirements, environmental concerns, lower labor productivity, and the availability of qualified craftsmen have led to high project overheads, less profit for contractors, and most significantly an inability of the architectural and engineering firms to produce quality buildable drawings in a timely manner. The required reviews and approvals needed to start a project have crippled many developers' ability to finish projects on time and realize the returns that they expect for their investment and risk.

To overcome these obstacles, mechanical contractors have taken steps to minimize the effects. Most notably, major mechanicals have:

  • Adjusted their operations to reduce field hours by increasing their shop fabrication capabilities
  • Re-tooled their detailing operations to take advantage of CAD and 3D technology
  • Increased their field overhead to deal with regulatory, scheduling, environmental issues, and added administrative requirements
  • Increased design and build capabilities to help control the process.

While plan and specification, Design/Build, and design assist projects are all still common, none of them are the complete answer to our construction dilemma. The goal of the owner, and all design and construction professionals, remains the same: to give the owner what he has paid for in a timely manner. While this can be accomplished by any of those three methods, they often fall short because constructability is not taken into consideration.

The most successful projects are those that use the Design/Build method with an emphasis on constructability. While plan and specification, and design assist projects can also be successful, and sometimes are the preferred method of delivery, they often do not have the mechanical contractor leading the team. Only when the mechanical contractor leads his team of in-house or outside design engineers, under contract to him, can all the savings and gains of the constructability process be realized.

Constructability
We all know what Design/Build means, but how does constructability fit into play? Constructability is NOT the:

Ability to construct

  • Act or process of constructing
  • Way in which something is put together
  • Drawing that meets a specific requirement
  • Verification that something can be constructed.

Constructability is: an understanding and coordination of the construction process, and the client's needs and wishes, to ensure they are planned, scheduled, and incorporated to enable construction according to the best practices without re-work delays, disruptions, or unexpected costs.

To take full advantage, the contractor should be brought in to address constructability issues in the early stages of scheduling and budgeting. The later the Design/Build contractor is brought into the process, the more constructability advantages are lost.

Major Issues
The following are some of the major constructability issues that can save overall project costs and increase the quality of the project.

Selection Of Equipment: A Design/Build contractor knows what the cost will be before incorporating the equipment into the project, and also has the ability to incorporate labor saving ideas into the equipment selection. He also has enough experience with the equipment that he can inform the owner, general contractor, and architect of warranty and start-up issued that they are risking with certain selections.

Selection of Construction Materials: A Design/Build contractor knows what materials are less expensive and what selections that can save installation labor. He also knows the labor force in the project area, as well as which materials that labor force may have experienced difficulty with before.

Selection of Sleeves, Shafts and Racks: A Design/Build contractor works with the architect to select sleeve location, common shafts, and distribution racks that promote duplication, ease of installation, and pre-fabrication. He develops systems that avoid jurisdictional districts while saving labor and staying ahead of the schedule.

Detailing and Layouts: A Design/Build contractor can incorporate detailing into the engineering layout process, which can save up to 50% of the detailing time and cost, while allowing for immediate downloads to shop equipment. This also increases shop fabrication opportunities for both piping and sheet metal.

Space Limitations: A Design/Build contractor addresses space limitations during design, avoiding RFIs and trade conflicts that can add cost to the project and seriously impact the schedule.

Inserts & Seismic Bracing: On projects where regulatory review is required, the location of inserts, sleeves, and miscellaneous metal for excessive loads are incorporated by a Design/Build contractor, avoiding stop notices, delays, and additional regulatory reviews.

Pricing: A Design/Build contractor has historic data to aide the owner in his selection, and can budget on an on going basis. This expedites the entire design process and avoids the re-work and delays that the value engineering process creates.

Purchasing: A Design/Build contractor has the ability to lock in prices at a stage much earlier in the process, creating savings for the owner and protecting against unforeseen inflation movement.

Future Consideration: A Design/Build contractor can make recommendations as to what will be needed to facilitate future concerns, such as placing strategic values, fees, and pads to minimize future labor and maintenance costs.

Insurance: A Design/Build contractor typically has more insurance coverage than a design professional. And by having the contractor responsible for either doing or overseeing (contracting for) the engineering there is never an issue of who is responsible.

Agency Requirements: A Design/Build contractor designs to avoid problems with agencies; problems they have learned through their construction experience.

Pitfalls
Of course, there will be some pitfalls along the way when selling Design/Build constructability to building owners. This is most likely a new concept to them, and they may be uneasy as they tread out into unfamiliar water. As a Design/Build contractor, you have the advantage of being in it with them from the begining — you must be in it from the start.

Never — and I mean never — let the general contractor or the owner try to control the engineer. That can lead to misdirection and confusion on the jobsite.

By using constructability as a Design/Build contractor, you will be able to take on projects that will earn you a fair profit, and you will have better cash flow and a happy client.

If you follow these guidlines, you'll have formed sound relationships, which will lead to repeat business. But most of all, you'll start to enjoy your job again.

This article is based on the presentation, Constructability: The Key to Design/Build, which Larry Nejasmich gave at the 2005 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, held in Scottsdale, AZ, Oct. 25-26. The Commercial Contracting Roundtable, which also incorporates the Design/Build Seminar, is co-sponsored by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Contracting Business magazine. In 2005, the Roundtable presented 16 business management and technical sessions specifically tailored for commercial HVAC and Design/Build contractors. For more information about the 2006 Commercial Contracting Roundtable, which will be held Oct. 25-26 in Atlanta, contact Richard Ware atACCA, 703/824-8843.