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Quality Control

Punch List


punch list heading

We begin to see the completion of an important project Has every right to be dignified by a natural grieving process. Something that required the best of us has ended. We will miss it. - Ann Wilson Schaef

A "can do" spirit will help the Owner to persevere and overcome obstacles during the Design/Build experience but there is always room for improvement. A standard of zero defects may seem impossible to attain; however, the ideal presents a measure for Trade Contractor and Supplier performance. A PUNCH LIST organizes and states those details which remain incomplete, broken, lacking parts, or requiring your review. To a great extent, if an installation or product does not maintain a standard of zero defects, it becomes a line item on your Punch List. A Punch List is the road to zero defects.

The Punch List begins as a single note written on a scrap of paper, a simple reminder to call a Supplier requesting two screws to replace the one's missing in the installation package. By the end of a construction project, a scrap of paper may evolve into a two page document with over fifty items in need of final attention. If this happens, you will be required to dedicate several weeks at the end of your project to complete the Punch List. In other words, the Punch List becomes a proverbial nuisance: a source of procrastination and aggravation.

To minimize this source of aggravation, Owners are advised to incorporate a few TRICKS OF THE TRADE. By using the techniques suggested here, one's Punch List can be kept to a short list of items but you don't wait until the end of the job to start your Punch List. Action is taken on incomplete tasks and activities when they occur by constant vigilance and persistence. What follows are descriptions of five techniques to assist project coordination. Use them to control lengthy and bothersome Punch Lists.

  1. STORYBOARD or a DESIGN/BUILD COLLAGE. Find a large wall in a designated area of your current residence to act as a huge bulletin board. Separate the wall area into two sections: one for interior Design/Build package, and another for exterior Design/Build package. On the first day you begin the decision making process of the Design/Build experience, begin hanging pictures, colors, samples, sketches, newspaper excerpts, magazine pages, or photographs with stick pins to the wall. Add to or subtract from this AESTHETIC COLLAGE on a daily, weekly, monthly basis changing your mind as you improve your preferences for YOUR life and home style. Since these are approximations of your end result, don't get bogged down in details. This is ART WITH A PURPOSE.

  2. BANKER BOX HANGING FOLDERS WITH FILES. Purchase a banker's box with dimensions of approximately 12" wide by 15" long. Purchase a box of hanging folders and a box of manila files with third-cut tabs. Place manila files into the hanging folders then place the hanging folders inside the banker's box labeling each file according to the major cost categories of the "Construction Cost Breakdown." Consider this activity a natural extension of the files you previously created for the "Design/Build Matrix." More than pictorial representation, your filing system will be for technical information, product guides, proposals from Trade Contractors and Suppliers, contract documents from principal players, and official building plans and permits. Eventually, this banker's box becomes a place for warranties, installation instructions, and information sheets for future reference or turn-over to the next homeowner.

  3. ACTIVITY FLOW CHART. Purchase a Week-At-A-Glance Appointment Book and several felt tip marking pens in different colors. Open the Appointment Book to today's date so both pages represent a full week's worth of work, and write across the top of the pages what your short term goals are for that week. If you're in the Schema Phase of your project, you'll be considering your options. If you're doing Design Development, you'll be refining choices for all your components. Your timeline will vary depending on the size and complexity of your project. Refer to the "Design/Build Matrix" to determine what should be happening during each phase of work. When you talk with Architects, Designers, Trade Contractors, Suppliers, and your Building Department there will be supplemental information to add to your Appointment Book to support each activity. Key ideas and support activities can be written in different colors throughout the sequence of events that reference the Ownerbuilder to critical points in work flow from week to week. Begin developing your flow chart at the very beginning of your project to better understand how activities relate to one another and keep your appointment schedule up-to-date.

  4. JOB DIARY. Purchase an inexpensive Business Card Index, an Incoming/Outgoing Message Register, and a pad of Memo Forms with duplicate sheets attached. Dedicate these items to the Design/Build process noting all contacts, meetings, letters, phone calls, conversations, and changes which occur from beginning to end of your home building project. Business cards will never get lost and always reside in the same place. A thorough phone record will accurately describe all communications and become a source to refresh memories and maintain order. Use the Memo Forms to put into written form all verbal agreements; be factual, honest, and accurate in your written communications; place copies in respective files of each Trade Contractor and Supplier. Remember the old builder's adage: Hard Copy Cures Amnesia.

  5. COST LEDGER. In addition to using your Check Register/Job Cost Journal to track expenditures, keep a Cost Ledger to anticipate your Budget Estimate and do a Cost Analysis while you're thinking about your options and refining possible choices. Breakdown your cost ledger into five parallel columns labeled: budget estimate, contingencies, bid proposals, actual payments, and extra costs. At the outset your project, you'll get an overview of how easily your costs can soar and fly away. For each cost item there will be immediate indication for what you estimated the cost would be, any additional contingencies for which you may need to make an allowance, and what the Trade Contractor's proposal indicated the cost to be VERSUS what actually will actually be paid for the product or service and any extra costs which you may incur. Attention should be given to cost items that seem volatile and capable of soaring out of control.

These five techniques will assist in controlling your PUNCH LIST before it becomes a burdensome list of items in need of further attention. The idea is to anticipate your Punch List.

Best results occur if you're able to note questions or concerns BEFORE the item becomes incomplete or incorrect. The value of your "Storyboard" and "Activity Flow Chart" is to anticipate problems and their solutions. Next to each item of concern write name and phone number of contact person and pertinent identification or model numbers for immediate referral. Your "Banker's Box Hanging Folders/Files," "Job Diary," and "Cost Ledger" will also be useful to anticipate key information. Use the Phone Message Register to record dates, times, and content of all phone communications.

When a General Contractor walks through a house under construction, what s/he is performing is Quality Control per Specifications. The Specifications are rich with details derived from manufacturers' installation instructions, parts' lists, products' warranties, and written guarantees for performance. As an Ownerbuilder acting as a GC, these are the documents that will enrich the files in your Banker's Box. You are responsible to hold Trade Contractors and Suppliers accountable.

You want to minimize surprises and so do your Trade Contractors and Suppliers. You want to establish acceptable tolerances for materials and workmanship, and know in advance how repairs will be made. Set deadlines and place weekly phone calls to eliminate as many incomplete tasks as possible. It's vitally important to set standards and delegate responsibility to the individual or business that provided the product or service.

It's just as important in the Design phase to create a Punch List as it will be to create a Punch List in the Build phase. Holding Designers accountable for their scope of work is vital to defining the crucial issues for Trade Contractors and Suppliers' performance.

During the final week of construction activities, you'll call for a final inspection by your local Building Department. This will be their attempt to maintain a standard of zero defects by reviewing your project one last time. Keep in mind that any code requirements which may have been overlooked during the original plan review and did not get noted on the "Approved" Drawings will still apply to your project. For instance, most local jurisdictions require house numbers be placed prominently on a new home. You probably won't find this requirement written on the "Approved" Drawings but the first comment the field inspector will make as s/he arrives for final inspection is "Where's the house numbers?" Prepare yourself for these types of surprises!

If you thought by hiring an Architect or Designer these types of surprises would be entirely avoided, then think again. Standard language utilized by Architects and Designers is "If there is a conflict between Drawings/Specifications and Code, Code will govern." In other words, as construction professionals they strive to do their best work but sometimes rely on Plan Examiners to discover their design errors. Similarly, Plan Examiners may rely on Field Inspectors to catch any requirements they may have overlooked during their plan review. And, Field Inspectors expect each Trade Contractor and Supplier to be familiar with building requirements and code compliance whether or not noted on "Approved" Drawings. This is why your choice of Trade Contractors and Suppliers is crucial to project success and completion of Punch List items.

As a result of this final review, you may be required to "call-back" Trade Contractors and Suppliers who need to correct deficiencies in their work. If you were able to anticipate significant difficulties, you may have withheld 10% of the contract price from your payment. This will be a definite incentive to expedite correction of deficient or defective work; otherwise, repeated phone calls may be required to get the "call-back" completed. As a courtesy to Trade Contractors and Suppliers, make a Punch List identifying what will be required to finalize their work on your project. Don't ask for work to be done piecemeal. Provide each respective business with their Punch List to correct and complete all remaining work, and then be done with it. Don't become the customer from hell!

Rather than clean windows, floors, and cabinets during this final week of the project, there's a great convenience in engaging the services of a professional cleaning crew to put the polish to your new home. Your time may be better allocated toward the coordination of Punch List activities. Another factor to consider is the amount of effort dedicated to moving your furnishings from one residence to another. If you're busy cleaning, who's responsible for placing phone calls and making arrangements for logistics?

If your Punch List has been given its proper attention throughout the project, you'll enter the final week with your mind on what it takes to move-in. With good organization and control, this should be your situation.

punch list

It's not enough for Owners to make decisions sensibly and sequentially. It's a good beginning but it's not enough!

To really get a grip on managing a construction project, an individual must contend with the experience of simultaneous interaction of ideas and events. As one proceeds through the Design/Build process, there comes a time when you leave the comfort of the kitchen table and begin to relate ideas to actual events.

If something can go wrong, it will: if it's not inclement weather, it's a flat tire on the wheel barrel; if it's not a late delivery, it's the plumber with a bad knee from a recent ski accident. All the refined planning and organizing quickly becomes less relevant as you scramble to find another Trade Contractor or reschedule delivery with a new Supplier. What once was someone else's job may unexpectedly become your problem.

A sensible, rational approach to the sequence of events is the start but a more realistic and reliable track allows for the interdependent and unpredictable nature of construction activities.

We discover our endeavor to plan, organize, and control a residential construction project is both an art and a science. Although our preparations are decisive and rational, there's a chaotic side to the construction experience which demands we remain creative problem solvers.

Any attempt to give careful consideration to all aspects of building a home will only remove part of the uncertainty. In reality, a modest number of possible Design/Build solutions will be considered, and there's no way of telling whether our solution choices are the best because so many other possibilities go unexamined. The "unexamined possibilities" will become the surprises, the challenges, which test your character and ingenuity.

Providing leadership to your construction organization is an awesome responsibility. The weight of decision making must be fully acknowledged: site analysis, design choices, budget allowances, and work schedules become a significant investment in terms of time, money, and effort. Involving a General Contractor, Construction Manager, Architect, Lawyer, Accountant, Trade Contractors, and Suppliers may alleviate part of the decision making burden but the Owner must accept her/his position at the center of decisions. You can't make the assumption that someone else will identify or solve all Design/Build problems for you. You will rely on construction professionals for their advice and opinion, but ultimately the Owner's position is pivotal to the project team.

Nothing will replace your ability to think critically and analyze the unique circumstances surrounding your project. But more important is your capacity to let artistic and scientific energies combine to become the creative force of your Design/Build experience through collaboration with the entire Building Community.

"For genuine problem solving, reality itself is the true, creative medium."

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