Red neck Philosopher's View of Residential Construction
A cursory glance at the changes that have taken place in the construction industry shows that in at least one respect, it is no different from any manufacturing industry.
Every facet of construction has moved toward increased specialization and standardizaton. Enormous companies now crank out windows, doors, flooring, wall coverings, lumber and so on. Building a new home today could almost be more appropriately described as “installing” a new home.
From this viewpoint, it is obvious that “scheduling” is the single most important factor in the construction of a new home, pertaining to both material logistics and subcontract labor. It goes beyond the obvious – such as the drywall can’t go on before the plumbing is run. With this increased specialization comes a commensurate dependence upon scheduling to keep financing costs down. If just one sub’s time allotment is missed, this can cause a tidal wave of repecussions.
But what can a GC do about it aside from threatening his subs and rant and rave? Possibly sit back and think for a minute what exactly is happening; and what he can do to reduce or at least minimize his dependence on time allotments and “scheduling”.
What is actually happening when a millwork shop builds a kitchen off site is not only that the kitchen is being built by specialists who do nothing but that; and are, therefore, presumably both more efficient and better at it than we. Nor is it simply that the finished kitchen can then be installed in Phoebe Fopp’s house in a couple days, thereby cutting construction loan expenses, rental expenses for Phoebe and so on.
What has really happened , looking at it from a scheduling perspective, is that the time envelope for those actually constructing the kitchen has been extended far beyond what would have been economically feasible had it been built on site – the way it would have been 70 years ago or less in many areas. But the key here is not the “where” it is built, but rather the “how much time do I have to build it”.
When the kitchen is being built within a generous time envelope, if the face frame man gets sick, or the material doesn’t show up on the truck, or the table saw motor burns up, the men can work on another job using other equipment without affecting progress at Phoebe’s or their own incomes. Furthermore, you can bet Phoebe won’t be allowed in the shop (insurance, Ma’am) on a daily basis to interfere with the project, to instruct the cabinetmakers where she wants each piece of cherry to be used, and to make continuous design changes the way she will if it is constructed on her own site.
In all phases of building, this has been
going on. So what more can we do?
Take electrical “rough in” where electrical outlets are going into the baseboard. Standard proceedure has the electrician first stringing his wire. Since the boxes must be positioned horizontally to fit into the baseboard, he must then nail scrap 2x’s to fasten the boxes to before running his wiring. Those boxes have to be positioned accurately or Phoebe will have a phitt after the house is done, so the electrician has to take his time doing this. The drywallers must then cut out for each box, and the trim men must carefully measure to make their cuts in the baseboard
But what if the electrician simply runs his wires wild after stapling them to the 2x4 shoe and then gets out from under foot very quickly?
What effect has that one simple change had? For one, it has eliminated the need for him to touch a saw, wood, nails or tape measure in the installation of many dozens of outlets in a high end home. But it has also stretched his time envelope so that he doesn’t even need to come back to finish up till after the baseboard has been painted if he doesn’t want to.
Further, if he does wait that long, he can sit on a mud bucket, screw his old work box into the perfectly level holes in solid baseboard with a cordless drill (without having to add box extensions), cut his wire and make up his outlets then put the cover plates on – all in one sitting, presuming he has a cordial relationship with the electrical inspector. But of course then Phoebe Phlopp will make him sweep up all the insulation, packaging and his other garbage because the trim men won’t be around to pick up after him. Give him hell for all of us, Phoebe.
So it has extended the electrician’s time envelope to complete the job. But it has also let the drywallers start sooner on an easier quicker job. Without outlet boxes down near the floor, they don’t need to break out the super bee or bend down to cut out around the boxes. All they have to do is smash out a small hole with their hammers to accommodate the wires. No measurements necessary for that, the base board will cover it. The drywallers will be done sooner. The insulators will also be done sooner as well.
If he’s not good enough to hit the right bay, he can carry a drill and some wire staples around with him. If he’s from Alabama, he doesn’t even need a tape measure – he can use a ball of twine and tie knots in it at the center of the cut outs.
But in addition, he only needs to make one good cut-out. That, of course, will be his router template for every outlet in the house. With that template, every outlet will be perfectly level and every hole will be exactly the right dimensions and positioned exactly the same distance down from the bottom of the base cap.
And when the home is finished Phoebe will need a loupe to find fault with them. She won’t have to look at ugly black cords running up the walls from her designer floor lamps either. And her maid won’t crack half the outlet plates in the house plugging in the vacuum cleaner. Whattaya mean central vac? OK then, her 5 amp automatic duster- how’s that? Everyone wins.
Modern chop saws, good carbide saw blades, biscuits, modern glue and clamps and other tools have eased the load on many trim carpenters by, once again, extending the envelope.
The manufacture of doors and windows in factories (where it is actually much easier to make all components identical than to make them all slightly different) has helped the trim man who thinks from the neck up.
If a particular door shop makes all it’s 2’6” jambs at 2’6 ¼” ID, then only one measurement need be taken to cut all the head casings for 2’6” doors. This can be done from stops on the chop saw fence. The legs will be close but not close enough due to irregularities in the floor. So the doors will have to be hung first before the casing legs are cut. Wrong! The miters can be cut, slotted for biscuits and left an inch or so long and simply whacked square once the heights are known. All that’s needed initially is to know whether they are 6’8” , 7’0” or 8’0” doors.
And if the trim sub is a good enough salesman, he can talk the checkbook holder into a “minimal” upcharge and use plinth blocks under the casing legs. That way he won’t even have to measure the legs. He can cut them all from stops at identical lengths, glue and clamp the casings together (on or off the job) and install them as soon as the doors are hung. His baseboard guy (or gal or other creature) can install the plinths either after the legs are shot on, or before.
So what has this cost him? Four running feet of 6/4 per door and one setup charge (and maybe not) minus the cost of four running feet of 4/4 casing per door. And I’ll be playing Dixie with my toes before you can convince me you can get two legs out of a 14 footer on a 6’8” door with 3 ½” casing and have it look decent. Moldings without snipe, checked or swelled ends are a myth perpetuated by Weinig, Wadkins and the Ku Klux Klan.
What you have gained once again is vastly extending the envelope on casing the doors (whether prefabricated on or off the job). But that’s not all. You’ve allowed the base to go in before the casing goes up (in the event Murphy strikes the casing operation), by being able to install the plinths to the jambs first. Additionally, you’ve eliminated having to measure casing legs. You’ve also eliminated having to back cut the ends of your shoe molding since it will now die into the plinths.
Personally, I don’t even like shoe molding because it clacks so much people stare at me when I walk down the isle at church.
Just kidding, I don’t go to church. I probably should though because church puts me to sleep instantly. Too bad more politicians don’t go to church. Maybe then they would be awake enough during house and senate hearings to know when to start booing.
The net result is a much more flexible approach to trim, and a job that looks better, for which you have made more money. You might even make it off the second floor before the painter’s spies show up.
The Copemaster, a tool that has recently come on the market (which was invented by a friend , the man I used to buy all my millwork from by the way, a completely honest man- except in matters involving end snipe, of course), is another example of the inevitable direction towards extending the envelope.
Coping large 45 degree crown molding
two years ago required a skilled carpenter with strong hands and good
eyes probably 4- 6 minutes per cope, and on some moldings the chances
of cutting through to the face were probably 15%, unless I was doing it
personally – but we won’t talk about those percentages.
There is unfortunately a basic sequence that must be adhered to when building a home, and that sequence is dependent totally on scheduling.
Since Murphy continually attacks the scheduling aspect of construction, and since there is nothing we can do to totally eliminate that end of it, it’s obvious that whatever we can do to diminish, even a little, the importance of that sequence is to our advantage. The objective is to be able to bend and twist the sequence wherever we can so that when Murphy does strike our crew is able to get off the bus and onto another one with a bare minimum of down time. And the trick to do this, I think, is to extend that envelope.
With modern materials, saws, clamps, glues and tools – everything is in place to be able to do this. It’s no longer like the old days when, if the horse stepped in a woodchuk hole, the bent went down, the mortises broke, and all the farmers got drunk, went home, and came back next spring.