The Importance of Planning and Designing Buildable Structures

Design to the delight and approval of your tradesmen and your end product will have a happy ending
By Andy Stauffer

As a builder, I interface with a broad cross-section of participants when taking a building project from concept to completion. While the homeowner (the client) is a major participant, today I’m only speaking to the design and production roles. Specifically, I’d like to stress the importance of producing a design that is well-received by those who are actually in the field, constructing the home or building.

After all, as a builder, it’s safe to say the majority of my daily exchanges are with the design and production team rather than the client. I endeavor, with the help of my architect, to please our team of tradesmen to the greatest extent possible, by offering designs that are sensitive to the real world “buildability” of a structure.

If you’re not tracking with me, let me describe what I mean as a sort of “movie screenplay” in my mind: picture yourself walking onto one of your bustling job sites in the afternoon with your architect at your side. Today is that magical point in the project when a wide variety of trades are all on site: framers, plumbers, tinners, electricians, masons, and roofers, all diligently performing the work that you and your architect produced. Imagine the veritable chorus of job site music: nailing, cutting, drilling and clanging – all coming to a stop, replaced with the rising sound of applause from each and every appreciative worker. On each of their faces spreads a smile and a knowing look that says, “Thank you. You know me. You get me. You make my job easier.”

A bit dramatic? Perhaps, but I suspect you know exactly what I’m talking about. Ask a tradesman which companies he likes to work with most, and he’ll likely rattle off a list of builders, architects, and engineers whose plans and processes make for a smooth installation. He’ll also be able to tell just as quickly which companies DON’T make for an easy build. The distillation of what I’m talking about here comes down to a single word: buildability.

The importance of planning and designing buildable structures cannot be overemphasized. At its heart, buildability is as much about process as it is about final product. To illustrate, I need only ask readers to recall a project in their own careers that came together in the end in spite of innumerable hurdles, RFIs, ASIs, change orders, cost overruns, and pain and gnashing of teeth. All of these small negatives add up, ultimately, to one big negative – lost profits.
A builder’s job often includes being a moderator of multiple—and sometimes competing—interests. What is best for the framer is not necessarily best for the plumber. It is the job of the builder, architect and engineers to inventory and overlay each trade’s path of best practice, then apply these paths to a plan, executed according to a program, to arrive at a product. Simple in theory, right?
Don’t forget, though, that while I have my little screenplay of my life, so do all my trades. Zach the plumber, Sam and his crew of merry framers, Alan the trim guy – they all have their own productions they’re starring in, complete with cast members, bookkeepers, bills, phone calls to return and to-do lists (which probably include things like “pick up milk and diapers on the way home”).
Builders collect bids from these folks that are based on plans that we’ve created. For our production to achieve acclaim (read: customer satisfaction and builder profit) we all need to be reading from the same script, responding to the same cues, and hitting the same high notes.

Every time I oversee a plan that I put in their hands which requires field changes that could have been prevented by a more thoughtful design, I feel a pang of guilt (as I should) that admonishes, “C’mon Andy… do your job.” And it’s narrated in my voice, which is even more convicting than Vincent Price.

This is how it should be. The builder should understand the business of his or her tradesmen: all the nomenclature, all the materials, all the methods. Shall I go on? You’ve got to know the tools, the purpose, the alternatives, the requirements, the costs, and the profit behind it all.

To execute properly maximizes our chances of success. If you’re like me, this success translates to a healthy, profitable company, a maintainable lifestyle, the children’s college expenses getting paid, and a little something stashed away for our next downturn and retirement beyond that.
Go make good choices. And design great structures!

Andy Stauffer is the President and owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction. He may be reached at www.staufferandsons.com.

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