Construction Administration

Buiding Tall with Big Builders

One of the themes of my career has been to understand the economic forces that shape the building products industry and drive the investment in new building products and technologies. The fragmented nature of the construction industry means that most new products have to be launched slowly, making relatively modest investments to seed demand and then increasing capacity as more people embrace the new technology.

Yet there are also mechanisms that can justify large scale investments to launch major new building products fully formed. A major builder, for example, can through its support behind a new product by offering the prospect of big sales right out of the gate.

I thought of this while reading Building Tall: My Life and the Invention of Construction Management, the autobiography of John L. Tishman, published 2011 by The University of Michigan Press.

The author rose through the ranks of the Tishman family's real estate development business to head its construction division. Since the family built for its own portfolio, it had an incentive to make design and construction decisions based upon total cost of ownership instead of construction first costs, and to experiment with construction innovations that would be too risky for a bottom-line driven general contractor. When the construction division started offering its unique perspective as a professional service to other companies, it became an independent business - Tishman Construction - a pioneer in the field of construction management.

The author reminisces that,
 "I have become convinced that successful design and construction innovations could have been effectively conceived and tried out only by an 'owner/builder.' A general contractor cannot afford to make or even to suggest radical innovations because his job is simpy to execute from existing plans and not to deviate from them; neither can an owner/developer whose company does not closely and personally oversee the actual job site construction. Only those deeply involved in the design and construction aspects of the project, and who have the benefit - and the needs - of being the owner/builder, or acting on behalf of an owner/builder, can do so. The Tishman Company as owner/buider could accept the risk of experimenting with new processes and materials -- because we were in a position to to bear the costs if something went wrong and to reap the benefits if the new methods or materials worked well." (Page 37). 
To expedite innovations, the firm created the Tishman Research Corporation, which partnered with various industrial manufacturers and trade subcontractors to do research on materials and systems. "...we were able to induce materials manufacturers to become more innovative by holding out the certainty that if the new product was good enough, Tishman Realty would buy and use it in a real-life, million-square-foot office building. Knowing that the product could be sold in quantity was enough of an enticement for a materials company to make the costly decision to refit a production line so that it could turn out new configurations of flooring or ceiling modules or of exterior panels. Without such a promise of sales in the offing, a manufacturer would be reluctant to invest in revamping its tools and procedures to manufacture a new or radically different product." (page 38)

Among the building product innovations the author discusses are:
  • One of the first buildings with only self-service elevators: Not only was this bold from a property owner's perspective, but "we immediately realized that the elevator cabs, since there wold be no operator present, would be vulnerable to vandalism and graffiti. I helped to come up with an answer to that problem." (Page 33) The solution was to make the control panels accessible from the interior of the cab where they could be easily maintained instead of installing them on the outside of the cab. (Page 41)
  • Panelized facades: "I had been working with Alcoa, and we had come up with a way to use their aluminum for the facade instead of bricks or stone and mortar. To put on bricks and mortar was a process that often took weeks, Alcoa's aluminum facade for...a building of twenty-seven stories, with the aluminum wrapping around three sides, was going to be installed in just five days." (Page 33 and 42) The firm staged the speedy installation as a PR event. Later, Tishman worked with Alcoa to develop aluminum alloys for improved, more corrosion resistant anodized aluminum.
  •  Increasing the size of ceiling tiles to the now standard 2 x 4 foot module in order to get more efficiency from fluorescent lamps. (Page 39)
  • Concrete structures left exposed as the finished surface. (Page 47)
  • Encapsulating venetian blinds between two panes of glass to reduce maintenance costs. (Page 47)
  • With LOF, a new way to temper glass to reduce the breakage being experienced by glass spandrel panels. (Page 50)
  • With U.S. Gypsum, the now standard gypsum board shaft wall system that eliminated weight and saved time in the construction of elevator shafts. (Page 55)
  • Demountable partition systems. (Page 56).
  • A rationalization of hotel bathroom construction by using pre-fabricated components such as wall-to-wall vanities and a one-handle faucet instead of separate hot and cold knobs. (Page 57)
  • Motion-detector light switches to conserve energy. (Page 58)
There are other owner/builders that have had and continue to play similar roles in the construction product industry -- setting the standards for product performance and encouraging investment through their purchasing power. For example, McDonalds Corporation breathed life into the quarry tile industry by selecting it as its low-maintenance choice for flooring. More recently, WalMart has done the same with polished concrete floors.

Building Tall is a personal memoir and the author and co-author can be forgiven if they focus only on the Tishman's successes. It would be interesting to read a more in-depth probe into the dynamics between big builders and building product manufacturers. The World Trade Center illustrates, for example, both the positive and negative potential for a manufacturer working with a big builder.

Early in my career, I worked for Inryco, a metal panel manufacturer. Collaborating with Tishman -- the construction manager for the original WTC -- Inryco developed the long-span floor deck system that was used in the Twin Towers. The potential of an enormous order enabled Inryco to invest in the R&D, testing, and tooling for what became an important part of its product line.

More recently, I worked with Excend, a company funded by Hochtieff to commercialize an innovative type of micro-reinforced concrete. Excend believed their technology was a sure thing for use in the replacement WTC; it could produce stronger, lighter, and more blast resistant concrete than normally reinforced concrete. Moreover, Excend's parent company also owned Turner Construction, part of a joint venture with Tishman providing construction management services on the project.  After initial interest by the construction managers, however, Excend's technology was not accepted. Hochtief abandoned the venture despite (or because of) the significant investments it had already made.

The take away is that doing business with a big builder may be alluring, it is still business and not patronage. 

From the book publisher:
In this memoir, University of Michigan graduate John L. Tishman recounts the experiences and rationale that led him to create the entirely new profession now recognized and practiced as Construction Management. It evolved from his work as the construction leader of the "owner/builder" firm Tishman Realty & Construction, and his personal role as hands-on Construction Manager in the building of an astonishing array of some of the world's tallest and most complex projects.  These include
  • The world's first three 100-story towers—the original "twin towers" of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Hancock Tower in Chicago.              
  • The EPCOT Center at Disney World.
  • The Renaissance Center in Detroit.
  • New York's Madison Square Garden.
Tishman interweaves the stories behind the construction of these and many other important buildings and projects with personal reminiscences of his dealings with Henry Ford, Jr., Disney's Michael Eisner, casino magnate Steve Wynn, and many others into a practical history of the field of Construction Management, which he pioneered.

This book will be of interest not only to a general public intrigued by the stories and personalities behind many of the most iconic construction projects of the post–World War II period in the United States but to students of engineering and architecture and members of the new field of Construction Management.

Reliability and Safety

A new study suggests that the introduction of verification and checking procedures can improve structural safety and performance. While the article focuses on the role of engineers in assuring successful outcomes, building product manufacturers can apply the same principles by verifying the proper fabrication and installation of their materials and systems.

A reviewer has this to say about the study:
Engineer Franz Knoll of Nicolet Chartrand Knoll Ltd., based in Montreal, Quebec, writing in the International Journal of Reliability and Safety explains that faults and flaws in any industrial product almost always originate from human error, through lack of attention, communication, or competence.

Knoll points out that scientific testing and analysis are increasingly removing doubt as to what is to blame for problems and errors that arise. Natural events can be quantified and the probabilities of their occurrence predicted. While early-warning systems for earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunami and volcanic activity are in place, it is often human shortcomings that lead to the worst outcomes during and after such events.

When it comes to the construction of buildings and bridges, human failings are often most apparent. As Knoll says, in the construction industry, human shortcomings trickle so that inferiority ultimately leaks from the bottom, as workers endeavor to comply with strict budgets under pressure to perform well.

"In the pursuit of quality in building in the sense of an absence of serious flaws, a targeted strategy for the apprehension and correction of human errors is of the essence," Knoll says. In this context an absolute requirement is that at critical stages during construction, highly qualified and experienced engineers must attend to the task of checking for mistakes so that problems are not buried in concrete or plastered over only to resurface later. Such personnel being in short supply would suggest that directing them towards the details that matter, rather than encumbering them with administrative chores would be appropriate.
More information: "Of reality, quality and Murphy's law: strategies for eliminating human error and mitigating its effects" in Int. J. Reliability and Safety, 2012, 6, 3-14

A Multitude of Materials

The quantity of individual components in even a simple building is enormous. A recent TV (and online) commercial makes this explict, extracting each screw, shingle, framing member, and other building elements in a dramatic animation:

Imagining this animation in reverse suggests the complexity of the material culture necessary to support our era's buildings. I am in awe of the ingenuity and dedication of the folks in the building products industry that make this type of complex assemblage possible.

Match your sales approach to the project phase

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote almost twenty years ago. It is still applicable today.

My sales manager is urging me to make more architectural sales calls during the design phase. But experienced sales reps tell me I’m wasting my time if I make a call before the construction documents phase. What do they mean by project phases? And which phase is the best time to make sales calls?—J. P., sales trainee

Architects typically provide their services in a series of phases described in American Institute of Architects document B141: Owner-Architect Agreement. The sales assistance an architect needs may differ from one phase to another. Understanding the following seven phases will enable you to adjust your sales style to each.

1. The sales process begins even before a project is identified. The pre-design phase is not just for prospecting, it provides an opportunity to form relationships with architects and their staffs and to position yourself as a valuable resource. Ask about the firm’s experience with and attitude toward your product and have the staff explain their product selection process. These kinds of questions will put you in the role of a consultant and not merely a vendor.

Architects deal with thousands of products in a typical building. The pre-design phase is not the time to overload them with data that has no immediate use. Instead, concentrate on creating positive impressions of your product’s primary benefits. Give the architect enough background to make intelligent product decisions.
In-office lunch programs are an excellent way to do this. The lunch format reaches individuals in the back office who make many product decisions but whom you can’t call on individually. Rather than fill your presentation with product facts and figures, discuss areas of broader concern. If you sell waterproofing, for example, don’t talk about application technicalities. Discuss ways to construct a building that minimizes the potential for leaks.

2. During schematic design the architect establishes a building’s concept, size, appearance, overall quality, and budget. Decisions about major building systems may be made, such as whether a steel or concrete structure will be used. And “single line” drawings will be produced showing the building’s general layout.

Your goal at this time is not to sell your particular product, but to assure that your product type is the basis of the design. If you sell metal roofing, for example, pitch the aesthetic and functional benefits of sloped roofs compared with flat roofs. Become part of the design team by asking questions about design criteria, project schedule, and team members.

It is hard to find projects in schematic design because only a few people may be involved at this point and because many projects, particularly commercial ones, are kept quiet to give clients room to maneuver.

3. After schematic design demonstrates how the building will satisfy the owner’s needs, design development determines how the building will be put together. The design team becomes more complex as engineers and consultants get involved. Designers will refine floor plans, size the building systems, check building code requirements, and address coordination problems.

Many products are selected at this time, especially where the selection affects the design of other systems. Some brands may be specified, but most product decisions are still generic. For example, if brick was indicated in the schematic design, the architect will now determine whether the walls are thin brick cladding, brick veneer, or load-bearing masonry. If you have already established yourself as a resource, you may be invited to help make these decisions.

4. The construction documents phase completes the design and preparation of detailed drawings. Products are selected by brand or performance and specifications are written. The architect expends at least 40% of his effort is during this phase, and additional staff and consultants become part of the project team.

You must be able to speak to each team member in his own language. Discuss details with the job captain, pricing with the cost estimator, warranty and delivery with the project manager, energy efficiency with the mechanical engineer, finishes with the interior designer, and product performance with the spec writer.

5. The team that worked on the construction documents begins to break up as soon as a project enters the bidding or negotiation phase. The individuals who chose your product may be reassigned to new projects or even laid off. Just a core group remains to take questions from bidders and to prepare addenda. It is very important that these individuals understand how your product contributes to the job’s success because they are in a position to accept or reject substitutions proposed by bidders.

Bidders are now part of the design process and bring issues like pricing, delivery, and installer preference into sharp relief. I have seen salespeople struggle to get named in the specs but lose the sale because they neglected to sell the bidder. Be aware of the project’s bidding instructions regarding bid submittal, substitution procedures, and other requirements.

6. Contractors require your primary attention during construction contract administration because they can actually write an order. But do not forget the architect. He can still accept substitutions or negotiate your product out of the job should a budget overrun occur.

The architect’s contract administrator or construction observer may not have been a part of the design team until now and may not know why your product was selected or how it is expected to perform. Try to enlist him as an ally. Tell him what to watch for in the shop drawings and on the jobsite. Remember, too, that the draftsmen who detailed your product do not have many opportunities to see construction. Arrange jobsite visits so they can see and handle your product in person.

7. A satisfied customer is your best advertisement. So use the post-construction phase to consolidate your relationship with the architect and to lay the groundwork for future sales. Also, be sure the building owner or occupant understands how to use and maintain your product. Be responsive to complaints.

Do a six-month or one-year follow- up inspection and report your findings to the architect. Contact design team members who have lost touch with the project. They will appreciate learning about problems encountered during construction and how you helped solve them.

Take job photos and put them in your three-ring binder in the architect’s office. This will remind the staff that their firm has used the product in the past and can confidently consider it again.

As a project moves from phase to phase, the architectural personnel assigned to the project may change. Projects are often handed over with little communication or documentation about product selection decisions. You must be alert to these changes and make sure that new team members understand why your product has been considered. Be on guard, too, for fast-track construction or other scenarios that affect project phasing.

So when is the best time to make sales calls? There is no one best time. Each project phase presents sales opportunities. A useful exercise would be to analyze the types of decisions made in each phase and how they can affect your product. Get used to asking architects, “What phase of architectural service is this project in?”

It would be ideal if you could call on an architect before a project is identified and then shepherd your product through each phase. This may be practical if you can justify frequent contacts with a particular architectural firm, but most salespeople have to target more selectively.

Your strategy will depend on many factors, including your personal style, the opportunities at a particular architectural firm, and your company’s marketing plan. Some suppliers use salespeople just to answer questions or take orders. But others want them to establish stronger relationships with architects. By doing so, you can shape your prospects’ attitude towards your product and guide them through design and construction to assure a successful sale.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid, Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1992

The Computerized Jobsite

Contractors use metal containers to store their tools on a construction jobsite. This practice has been updated for use with the newest tools on the jobsite, computer and other digital communication tools.

For example, the BIM Kiosk from Modulus Consulting takes the computer out of the job trailer and puts it into the middle of the action. Instead of using large tables stacked high with a printed set of water stained and wind blown plans, the crew can refer directly to digitized versions of all the project documents and access all the resources on the web.

For the building product manufacturer, this is yet more evidence that your product literature, shop drawings, technical data submittals, Material Safety Data Sheets, and other information has to be ready for digital use in the field. For example, it becomes more practical then ever to use video instead of print for installation instructions, and for your customer service and technical advisers to use Skype instead of relying on phone calls.

I am the Victim of a Substitution

Is beauty just skin deep?
As an architect and a Certified Construction Specifier, I have spent most of my professional career trying to write clear and enforceable specifications. And as a consultant to building product manufacturers, I teach classes on how to avoid becoming the victim of substitution abuse – providing sales and engineering support to a designer only to see a competitor take the work with a product of inferior quality. Surely, with so much insight into the problem of substitutions, you might think I would be immune from them.

Think again.

I am writing this while sitting on my new bedroom floor. It is not the floor I specified, but it is the floor I have now bought.

Listen to my tale, and perhaps we can learn some lessons from it.

There is a stereotype that architects live in pristine homes that reflect good taste and a high sense of culture. But I count myself among members of my profession that have, shall we say, “different” standards. Perhaps it's because we can live vicariously through the award-winning projects we design for others. Or perhaps it's a profession that attracts individuals that are, shall we say, “different.” I really could be quite content to live in a cave. So long as the roof doesn’t leak and there are no immediate threats to life or property, my wife’s pleas to redecorate the house keep moving to the bottom of the list of how I want to spend my non-working hours and limited discretionary funds.

But she was insistent about this project. She was trying to refinance the house to get a lower interest rate, and after months of paperwork and negotiations, the lender finally sent an appraiser. The appraiser apparently did not notice that we still haven’t fixed the cracks from an earthquake fifteen years ago, or that the hillside on which we reside is rapidly succumbing to gravity. But we did get red tagged for not having flooring in the bedroom.

The caveman does not understand this because he thinks the douglas fir plywood and slab on grade – exposed seven years ago when we finally got rid of the cat-stained shag carpet from the 1960’s – is beautiful. My wife, the psychologist, suggests this has something to do with the unfinished starter home that was all my parents could afford when I was six years old, but to me cold pavement and splinters are some of the simple joys of life.

My wife got the name of someone that works cheap. He showed up with samples of a laminate floor that he said was Pergo, and gave us a great price “if you pay cash.” I know the Pergo brand and submitted to my wife’s insistence that the work proceed the very next day to meet the mortgage company deadline.

When Mr. Low Bid arrives, the boxes he carries in are labeled “Castle Material,” not Pergo. It took more than a little explaining before he understood that “Pergo” is a brand, not a generic term of laminate flooring. But he insists that it is “even better” than Pergo.

Pretending I know something about construction contract administration, I call Castle to ask for their performance data, which most emphatically is not on their website. The gentleman I spoke with at Castle agreed with Mr. Bid, “Oh yes, it's better than Pergo. It is class AC3.” To my continued prodding, he says the material is made somewhere in China, that he has no test data, and he doesn’t know who publishes the AC3 criteria or what they are. But he reassures me we should be able to get a 30 year warranty from the distributor.

I noted that the cartons have the logo of the National Hardwood Floor Association (NHFA), and decide to call them. I was not surprised to learn that Castle Flooring’s membership had lapsed, and that the NHFA only publishes standards for solid hardwood flooring, not for laminate flooring.

So I call the distributor. He concurs, “Oh yes, Castle is even better than Pergo,” but he does not have any test data or know what the criteria are for AC3. When asked about installation instructions, he says they are included inside each carton. (They weren't.) But he did fax a copy of the warranty to me – a NHFA form that has nothing to do with laminate flooring.

A bit of research online identifies that AC3 might refer to a standard published by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF). But their classification that best match the performance claimed by Castle, the distributor, and Mr. Bid is “23”, not “AC3”. I would feel comfortable with rating 23, which covers abrasion resistance, impact resistance, resistance to staining, resistance to cigarette burns, effect of a chair caster, and the thickness swelling of the flooring. But no one in the supply chain can tell me anything about these criteria.

Mr. Bid offers to take exchange the Castle Material for real Pergo at no upcharge. But I doubted this since I had already priced Pergo and knew that the wholesale price for materials is several times greater than the installed price he quoted. Delaying the project while he gets new materials also means we would lose his window of availability and we would miss the deadline for the appraiser’s return visit and jeopardize months of negotiation with the lender.

So like a good caveman, I grunt that I have to go to work, and capitulate to Mr. Bid. And I leave home without thinking to review how he was going to handle details at the steps in the room. (Big mistake on my part.)

So now I have a floor of questionable quality that emits odors that irritate my eyes. But my wife thinks it looks great and it is installed in time for the appraiser’s return visit.

As for me, I’ll just go back to my cave and wait for the hillside to collapse.

Lessons learned:

Have a written contract that includes things like cleaning up after the work.

Write a specification or use a data sheet that clearly establishes acceptable products and quality.

If you do not know the contractor’s craftsmanship, look at projects the firm has done or work out the details in advance.

Verify that the installer has a license and insurance.

Listen to your wife when she first says it is time to decorate.

Green Advantage: Coming to a Job Site Near You

Green Advantage (GA) is filling one of the missing links in sustainable construction. No matter how carefully a project is designed, environmental goals may be compromised if construction crews do not understand principles of sustainability nor how to best manage a jobsite to protect the environment.

To meet this challenge, Green Advantage offers a personnel certification program by which a builder can demonstrate competency in these areas. Chusid Associates is providing marketing and technical support to the organization.

While the Green Advantage program has been gaining adherents since its launch in 1998, I believe it will soon gain critical mass and become part of the construction mainstream. One reason for this optimism is that USGBC has determined that a LEED Innovation Credit can be earned if 30 percent of a project's field supervisory personnel are Green Advantage Certified Practitioners. The Green Advantage Field Personnel Standard can also be embraced by building owners, designers, and contractors that are not pursuing LEED certification.

There are several ways by which building product manufacturers can take advantage of the Green Advantage program:
  • Employees that go onto jobsites can become GA Certified Practitioners. This credential will enhance their professional stature and help establish their credibility.
  • Having GA certified employees reinforces your brand's commitment to sustainable construction.
  • GA certification can also be a criterion in the award of subcontracts since the 30 percent standard also applies to subcontractor personnel that provide services on the jobsite.
Consider getting GA certification for all members of your field crew. Liz Boastfield, Director of Communications at Green Advantage, can help you arrange for training and testing for your organization. Call her at +1 540 822 9449 x105 or email

Finally, Green Advantage is a non-profit organization and needs corporate financial support to supplement its income from certifications. Support of the organization can provide PR and other benefits to your company. I encourage you to contact Liz to discuss this opportunity.

Putting the Brakes on Substitutions

This is an encore of an article Michael Chusid wrote nearly 20 years ago. Substitutions remain an issue, and the article is still relevant.

Be involved in the entire specification process, and you'll increase the chances that the specs will be followed.

The only people who benefit from substitutions are the subcontractors and suppliers who win bids from competitors and then boost their profits by supplying lower-cost materials than those specified. Everybody else loses. This means that building product manufacturers have something in common with the specifier, general contractor, and building owner: You all want the project delivered as designed and specified.

So, instead of seeing yourself as the hapless victim of substitutions, act as an ally to the design team. From this position, you can influence the design and contracting procedures to help avoid or control substitutions.

Why specs go astray
Substitutions occur throughout the design process. You know the scenario: An architect calls and asks for assistance evaluating your product for a job. After a long discussion, you agree on details and specifications, and the architect says it's just the solution he's been looking for. But when the project appears in the plan rooms, the spec is based on your competitor's product, and you aren't even named as an acceptable manufacturer. What happened?

First, many layers of decision makers are involved on all but the simplest projects. Designers, draftsmen, project managers, specification writers, general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and building owners all play a role in product selection and substitutions. One of your toughest jobs is to identify everyone who influences the sale. You must provide each with the information they need to understand how your product contributes to the project's overall success. You should also help the design team as a whole develop a shared understanding of, and commitment to, your product.

Even after your product is specified, however, you must continue your sales effort. At each project phase, responsibilities may pass to new team members. These newcomers may not share their predecessors' understanding of your product, or they may have new criteria for the project. Promote your product with information appropriate to the phase: aesthetic or functional information during design, technical information during the construction document phase, quotes during bidding, and field support during and after construction.

Once the design team is committed to your product, they will welcome your input to assure they get what they want on the project. When this happens, you can use your understanding of construction documentation and the contracting process to steer the project to your cause.

Begin by helping the specifier prepare a tight specification. In my experience, most substitutions occur because the specs are not specific enough to keep out undesirable materials. Poorly written specs are difficult to enforce or to use as a basis for evaluating proposed substitutions. Offer designers complete and accurate technical data about your product, and help them specify it correctly.

When an architect or engineer still won't limit the bidding to your product alone, offer to recommend qualified competitors. Assured that the specification allows price competition among several reliable producers, the specifier should be willing to limit the spec to the named suppliers without employing the dreaded "or-equal" clause. It is to your advantage to bid against competitors with similar pricing and capabilities than to bid against unknown "or-equals."

Another approach is to encourage specifiers to write a firm "base bid" spec for your product and an alternate for other products. By doing so, the specifier will be expressing a preference for your product a preference that will usually prevail.

Assist with cost control
Design professionals may also need your assistance with budgeting and cost control. Many sales reps make a mistake by not bringing up cost during sales presentations because they fear designers will reject their product as too expensive. But architectural design is somewhat removed from market costs, so designers tend to specify quality over economy.

This creates a perfect opportunity for substitutions later, because the reality of costs will no doubt become an issue.  It is better for you to deal with it while you are still in a position to affect the outcome. If the product  cost is over budget, try to help the designer find savings elsewhere in the project. If that doesn't work, suggest a substitution within your own product line.

Discussing costs upfront can also alleviate the designer's fear that limiting a spec to one source may eliminate competition and inflate prices. Overcome this resistance by making written price commitments based on design documents. This is especially effective with big-ticket items. With a major chunk of the budget fixed, the designer can predict total project costs more accurately.

If appropriate, negotiate a contract directly with the building owner or as an owner-selected subcontractor. If the owner has an ongoing maintenance program, try to establish a corporate purchasing program where you become the preferred supplier in exchange for a discount or improved level of service.

A well-written project manual spells out procedures for proposing substitutions in an orderly way during the bidding or negotiating phase. Proposed changes, if acceptable to the designer and owner, are added to the bidding documents and become part of the construction contract. Any changes that take place after the execution of the contract should be formalized with a procedure called a change order. Change orders are usually reviewed by the designer, owner, and contractor since they are legally binding and can change the contract requirements and price.

Despite the change-order process, many substitutions occur informally during the submittal process. Specification frequently require suppliers to submit shop drawings, product samples, or other information about the materials. Often, a product not complying with specifications is submitted and is then considered as an acceptable "or-equal" if the contractor or architect does not specifically object.

When such changes result in building failure, the architect and contractor often accuse each other of inadequate review of the submittals. The entire construction industry benefits when changes are documented with a formal change order instead of a casual submittal.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?
Send an email to 

By Michael Chusid. Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, ©1994

Maybe your sales rep shouldn't be local?

New research suggests that you may be more successful if you conduct your negotiations over long distance rather than nearby. If further research validates the findings and shows broader applicability, it could suggest new strategies for conducting sales negotiations. For example, it may be better negotiate via long distance instead of from across town.

Note that this research does not compare distance negotiations to face-to-face negotiations. However digital technologies are increasing the amount of negotiation done at a distance. 

According to a press release from The University of Texas:
Adding physical distance between people during negotiations may lead to more mutually beneficial outcomes...  Psychologist Marlone Henderson examined how negotiations that don't take place in person may be affected by distance. He compared distant negotiators (several thousand feet away) with those who are nearby (a few feet away) in three separate studies. While much work has examined the consequences of different forms of non-face-to-face communication, previous research has not examined the effects of physical distance between negotiators independent of other factors. 
"People tend to concentrate on higher priority items when there is more distance between them by looking at issues in a more abstract way," says Henderson. "They go beyond just thinking about their pursuit of the options presented to them and consider higher-level motives driving their priorities."
Stay tuned for more developments.

GreenWizard - Free Directory Listing

"GreenWizard is the only data-driven marketing solution that brings green building products and green building materials face to face with decision makers in the design and construction community actively engaged in projects."
The basic functionality of GreenWizard is to allow a designer or builder to search for a product by potential LEED credits associated with the product. As an online marketing channel, it provides FREE listings for building product manufacturers. The price is right, and I recommend you take advantage of the offer.
They also have a Pro version that offers more features that may appeal to some manufacturers. For example, once a contractor finds a product that meets the LEED requirements, the contractor can place an order for the material from within GreenWizard. The fee for this service is two percent of the sales price. This makes the website a cost effective "sales rep" for products that can be purchased off-the-shelf.

Like most new products, GreenWizard is still trying to work out kinks in its system. My associate, Vivian Volz, RA CCS LEED-AP reports that the firm was responsive when she called to report a concern.

Contact Michael Chusid if you would like help discussing how to use GreenWizard in your business. Call 818-774-0003 or email

10 Tips For Producing “LEED” Specs

What can you do to make it easier for your customers to understand and specify green building products?  The following is advice from CSI's Sustainability Practice Group. It is a good guide for building product manufacturers to study when preparing any "green" marketing literature.

1. There is no absolute difference between a “LEED” spec and a normal spec. You can write a spec for a sustainable building and never use the words “sustainable,” “green,” or “LEED” in it. If the spec is written in a clear, concise, correct and complete manner, sustainability can be built in.

2. BUT you should state your goal for a spec in Division 01 - General Requirements. Is your project to be “LEED Certified” or “LEED Certifiable”? Knowing the design intent of the owner and architect helps the contractor.

3. A list of LEED requirements is not a spec. If the instructions to the contractor are unclear, you’ll pay for them to guess. Product selection and code compliance are the designer’s responsibility.

4. Do the legwork before you open bidding. Do not spec products that cannot meet your sustainable design requirements. You’ll pay for that, too.

5. Know what level of “Green” the owner wants. If the owner wants LEED certification, don’t waste time and money requiring floormats that are made of recyclable material as they don’t contribute a thing to your LEED goal.

6. There is no “maybe” in a contractor’s vocabulary. “Maybe” in a LEED Scorecard will be translated as “no.” Either you’re pursuing a credit or not. Tell the contractor what must be done, not what could be done.

7. Make data collection important. Contractors put off unimportant paperwork. If data for LEED credits must be handed in with Applications for Payment, it’ll get done.

8. Don’t overwork -- and thus overpay – the contractor. Limiting contractors to collecting and recording data for a few products also limits the time and resources they need to do the work. Target the products that will get you the credits you want.

9. Explain, explain, explain. Budget for site visits and meetings where you’ll explain what you’re doing to the contractor, the subcontractors and the facility managers.

10. Let CSI show you how to manage your construction documentation:
  • Join CSI’s Sustainability Practice Group – It’s FREE! The next meeting is scheduled for December 21, and the group will be discussing Sustainable products, standards and guidelines.
  • Post questions in CSI’s Sustainability Forum.
  • Learn to use CSI’s GreenFormat, a format for structuring product data.

Cost to Correct Errors in Construction Documents

This graph illustrates that the cost of correcting defects in design and specifications can quickly escalate if not mitigated early in a project.

For building product manufacturers, this suggests the benefits of having a proactive sales force during a project's design phase, and of reviewing bidding documents carefully prior to entering into a contract. If you can help an architect, engineer, or other specifier to use your product correctly during the design phase, there will be less economic risk during construction.

Graph is from "Using Spec Writers Properly" by Derek B. McCowan, PE in the June 2010 issue of Consulting-Specifying Engineer.

Construction Industry Confidence Index Up 7 Points in 3 Months

Reposted from AWCI Members Only Online
Construction professionals expect the industry recession to start to turnaround by the end of the year, according to an ENR Construction Industry Confidence Index (CICI) survey for the second quarter of 2010. The survey shows that construction and design firm executives believe the worst may soon be over, according to Engineering News-Record.

The Q2-2010 CICI, which measures industry sentiment for market sectors and trends, is 41 on a scale of 100, where a value of 50 indicates a stable market and a value from 51 to 100 reflects the belief that the market is improving. While still below an index of 50, the index shows a dramatic improvement over last quarter (up seven points from 34 in Q1-2010) and last year (up 16 points from 25 in Q1-2009). The index is based on 555 responses to surveys sent to more than 2,000 domestic firms on ENR’s lists of leading contractors and engineering firms.

When assessing the construction market, 53 percent of respondents say the current construction market is still in decline, 36 percent believe it has stabilized, and 11 percent believe it is improving. However, survey respondents expect the picture to be different in 12 to 18 months, with 50 percent believing the construction market will be improving and another 39 percent believing it will stabilize in 2011.

The CICI survey also asked participants about the ease of obtaining project financing and found that securing financing continues to be a challenge, although the responses were slightly more positive than last quarter. Still, 39.3 percent say obtaining project financing is tougher than six months ago (vs. 50.7 percent who answered this way in Q1), and 13.0 percent say project financing is getting easier, compared to 7.2 percent in Q1. The industry is also worried about inflationary pressures once the market turns around, but half of respondents said they have seen little or no upward pressure on prices.

The next quarterly survey results will be available in September 2010. For more information and methodology, click here.

Substitution Story - Sand Between Coats

A sales rep working for a major paint producer, recently told me this story:
Our Company was not named in the project specs. The contractor submitted a substitution request to use our products, and our brand's reputation made it easy to get a change approved by the architect.

A few months later, the contractor called asking for help. The spec said to sand surfaces lightly between coats. This is a reasonable requirement with most brands of paint since sanding typically improves adhesion.

However, the contractor was using our newly introduced line that was especially formulated to adhere without sanding, and we had plenty of test data to substantiate the claim. In fact, our product literature recommends against sanding. The spec clearly said to follow the manufacturer's application instructions, yet the owner's rep still insisted on sanding between coats as specified.

The contractor had paid a premium for a labor saving product, but still had the expense of sanding.
The sales rep felt the owner's inspector was being unreasonable. The conflict could have been avoided if the request for substitution had disclosed how the proposed product affected all the specification requirements. Too often, a substitution request deals with Part 2 - Products requirements, without addressing Part 1 - General and Part 3 - Execution of a spec section.