Cooling Off

How do you cool yourself off on a hot summer day? Try a cup of hot coffee! I never thought that would be the answer but according to a recent study, a hot beverage can actually help you cool off. The article I read stated that it works only under certain conditions such as low humidity but it was tested in a lab. So the next time you are hot after going out to a site visit, try a hot cup of coffee or tea to cool off instead of a pop or ice tea.

The article can be found here.

I thought it was interesting but I think I will have a hard time trying to drink a cup of coffee when I’m already hot.

Risk Free – Three Estimates by Richard Byfield

Our guest blogger is Richard Byfield, offering us his perspective from a different angle, to hopefully, cause us to think and ponder. Let me know what you think – Justin.

Project Management is all about managing risks. No matter the project size, the ability to complete a project successfully is about identifying the issues that need to be addressed to facilitate everyone’s ability to perform efficiently, and thereby reduce risk. For me, project success is: to always to be on time, to be within budget, provide the highest value/quality, and when possible, complete the job without having change orders. Having no change orders is another subject that I will address in a future article.

How can risk issues become known, and therefore better managed, reduced or even eliminated? Full knowledge of a project comes from our training, our experience and most importantly from vital communication with the owner. As it has often been stated, the real issue becomes identifying what the information or plans do not show. Even more critically, do we know the correct questions to ask to get the right answers?

The next element is to know what the possible outcomes are, and therefore to have recovery plans already in place. Experience has taught me that you need to have risks identified, and recovery strategies in place to have successful projects.

Let me suggest strategies to aid project managers starting with the front end development of a project, the scope, or the divisions of work to be included within the project. While one could wished have all information available on any given project, which is my primary objective, one must also acknowledge the quality of information and input available. This will allow the project manager to control and reduce risk. If the project manager is brought in later during construction phase, and he does not become fully aware or appreciative of all the elements associated with the scope of the project, he may not achieve a successful result

To improve a project during the design phase, I have learned to develop a written scope with three estimates, prepared in different formats, yields the best level of information by which successful design can proceed. My reason is to have all three estimates arrive at the same total projected project costs. When you have only one estimate, you often miss the strengths and weaknesses within the project. Having three different estimates permits you to evaluate each project from several perspectives.

So what are the three methods? First is the traditional square footage takeoff. The second is functional use area information (FUA), which is related to a specific purpose such as a kitchen area, lobby area and so forth. The third method is a Construction Specification Institute (SCI) structure to define the elements with the project.

This really benefits a project when using these three estimates continuously during the design process. Using these three formats yields the designer information about every facet of the project. Thus, the final design is closer to the real number because every element of the project becomes more accurate.

This is in comparison to today’s approach of having an estimate prepared at 95% completion of working drawings. Translation: so what does the estimator truly know? More importantly, what is then added to the drawings to achieve 100%? For example: when the use of stainless steel handrails was added to a recent project, the budget was exceeded.

My experience is that quality of design needs to be addressed throughout the entire design process. This will allow correct choices to be made and the project can be delivered within scope and budget. You can see that to have limited information during design process introduces more risks.

Lastly, what I have found to be more profound is that better communication with the owner regarding design elements and costs improves a project while reducing risks. This approach permits a great conversation regarding first costs vs operating costs for which the owner, who is now in full control of all elements of the project.

Risks cover so many elements related to delivering successful projects. The more you define each element and the risks associated with them, the better control you will have, with great results and reduced risk.

Philosophically, my goal is to deliver the project with savings to permit the owner to have funds available for the next project. I am always looking to earn the next project, and who better to select because?

A New View In Construction

I came across this article from the Wall Street Journal.

I have had the opportunity to hang over the edge of a building here in Omaha.  There is nothing like getting an up close look at the building.  I was helping out with a fundraiser where people were able to rappel down the second tallest building in Nebraska.  The building manager asked the crew that ran the event if they could inspect the building while they were there because he couldn’t get a good look at the building any other way.

Now my only question is how can I combine climbing and estimating?! Any suggestions?

On the Ropes: Seeing New York City Up Close

by Kathleen Lucadamo

ropes blog

Dangling from ropes, Berta de Miguel looks perfectly at ease climbing high on the exterior of Manhattan’s Municipal Building, a 40-story structure across the street from City Hall.

But even while hanging more than 500 feet above ground, she isn’t a daredevil—she is an architect and skilled rock climber surveying the landmark building’s aging facade.

“As a human being up this high, it is natural to be nervous but when I’m on the rope, I’m not nervous,” said Ms. de Miguel, her waist in an apparatus that connects to sturdy ropes.

Ms. de Miguel, 31 years old, is part of a team of professional ropers with Vertical Access LLC, a company commissioned by engineers and architects to survey the exteriors of usually-tall buildings throughout New York City.

Checking buildings while hanging from ropes is considered an efficient way to examine trouble spots and is often a more cost-effective first step than scaffolding, although that is frequently needed later for construction work and repairs.

“I wish I was Spider-Man and could just climb up a building and look at something. Of course, I can’t but this is the closest thing to it,” said Robert Silman of Robert Silman Associates, an engineering company with offices in New York that has hired Vertical Access for work on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan.

“You can crane your head out a window, you can use binoculars, but it’s not the same thing as being inches away from something that may be a hairline crack or confirm there is not a crack,” said Mr. Silman.

Kent Diebolt, 61, started Vertical Access in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1992, after using ropes to inspect buildings in England. Even though he was “scared to death” with the work initially, the Cornell University-educated contractor loves being up close to the skin of a building, particularly in New York City with all its historic structures. Article Continued

Scheduling 201

Here is the second infograph I created to show, at a basic level, how a schedule works. If you find it useful, pass it on! If you missed the first one you can find it here.

scehdule infograph 2









Just Coincidences?

I happened across two articles discussing safety in NYC. The first article talked about how the chisel from a jackhammer crashed through a window, injuring one person. Apparently, the chisel was being used as a wedge for lifting a “manhole tube”. The second article reported that a safety firm got caught in a scam for hiring unqualified safety inspectors for construction projects. The “inspectors” were found through Craigslist. This article mentioned that some of the “inspectors” were musicians, hairdressers and hotel bellhops prior to being hired by this firm.

This is more than just a coincidence. In my opinion, there is a direct correlation to firms not taking safety seriously and ridiculously preventable accidents happening on construction sites!




Remember another recent story about a blade from a concrete saw flying down a sidewalk in NYC? Are accidents involving construction equipment “flying through the air”, a new trend NYC is trying to start? I sure hope not!

Oh by the way… The two articles I referenced above can be found at the following: Craigslist Construction and Construction Accident.


Bad Info = Bad Results

Just a couple of miles down the street from our office, two semi-trailers have struck the same bridge within days of each other. The problem is that it’s a pedestrian bridge right next to a side street, and it has a significant curve, so it goes up and down rather steeply. There is a sign that states the clearance on the bridge with an arrow to show what the height is at the curb. The trailers are striking the bridge while trying to turn right and angling into the lower portion of the bridge past the curb.

The media interviewed one of the drivers and he explained that he didn’t know until it was too late that there was a low bridge in his way. He thought there should be flashing lights and more signs prior to the bridge to give them more notice. Other media have reported that it may be a GPS update, set to take these drivers on the shortest route that is to blame. Whether it is a case of a design flaw in the bridge (the low clearances right next to a side road), or GPS leading the drivers awry, the drivers are still being held responsible for hitting the bridge.

There’s not much difference in the construction industry. If the contractor knows of a flaw with the design or an issue with missing information, they shouldn’t just say “oh well”, and build it as is. That would make the contractor as much at fault as the driver who didn’t recognize the problem soon enough, so he tried to make the turn anyway!

The Owner Who Knows What’s What

I recently had the pleasure of working with some owners to help set their budget for a planned renovation. The owners knew from the start that understanding the costs would be a large part of a successful project. Once they had their scope of work defined, they brought us in to perform a feasibility estimate. After we were done with the estimate, we sat down with the owners to walk them through the estimate, and to make sure that the estimate was a true reflection of the work that they were hoping to have done.

The owners were very happy to have this estimate to use as a tool to make decisions on how to proceed and also to define how much money they will need cover the scope of their project. The owners also want the estimate updated, once more design information is known, so they can make sure that they are staying on budget.

I really enjoy working with “in the know” owners who understand and appreciate what a valuable tool an estimate is! I can already see that their project will be a success!

chalk board key success


I was thinking about how we used to carry around school pictures of our kids in our wallets, so we could “show them off” to others. Now, almost everyone just whips out their phone and can show a whole array of pics of their kids in different candid photos. People don’t need a camera, and a wallet full of pictures anymore, they just use their phone.

I remember when I first started in construction. Disposable cameras were given to the guys in case a few photos were needed on the jobsite. No one would know for sure how the picture would come out until after it was developed. Now, with our digital cameras and phones, we can take a photo then review it right there to make sure it captured what we wanted. If it didn’t turn out, we can easily take another one (or 50), since we don’t have the limitations of rolls of film.



Oh by the way… This also really cuts out all those times when you needed to revisit a site when a picture didn’t come out as expected!

How Much Should A Professional Estimate Cost?

I had new contractor call me the other day, wanting an estimate for a project. After he explained a few details of the project, I gave him a rough ballpark of $1000 -3000. He nearly had a heart attack at the price. After I was certain that he didn’t need an ambulance called, I asked him how much he was hoping to spend on a professional estimate. He said about $100. For a professional estimate?!

I asked him how many hours it would take him to perform the estimate. He said he thought it would take 2 days, but admitted he himself did not comfortable with estimating this kind of work. For what he wanted to pay, and the level of effort that would be put into the project, you would actually come out at $6.25 per hour… that is not even minimum wage. Even quantity surveyors from India charge $12 per hour! When we figured this out over the phone, he realized that no professional would work for this amount. Certainly not himself!

His best bet would be to find someone that would be willing to be a mentor and help explain all that is needed for the estimate and how to successfully bid projects. So, I referred him to someone I knew in his geographical area.

Oh by the way… I receive calls like this every so often. Usually it is a smaller company, trying to break into another sector. What would you have done?

Happy Fourth of July!

Have a Happy Fourth of July!

Our blog will resume Monday July 7th.

fireworks Copyright


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