Building without drawings / by Josh Brincko

It is amazing how often I see builders building without the drawings or the wrong drawings. Or often without clearly understanding the drawings. The best builders study the drawings very carefully and are obsessed with good administrative and filing protocols to ensure they are reading the current set of drawings that are accurately prepared by the architect and approved by the client. These good builders understand the drawings are a culmination of often years of decision-making and approvals from the client, and they respect that a ton of thought went into the drawings to arrive at a solution that functions well, is pleasing to the client, fits within their budget, fits within their schedule, meets building and land use code requirements, and employs the most practical construction techniques and materials as deemed necessary by the project team.

I recently worked on a project where the builder was working without the drawings. To be more specific, the builder did not want to spend the $30 to print the drawings, so they just decided to "wing it." They literally had no drawings other than a written description as to what the project was. Can you believe this? I still cannot, and I lived through it. How did this happen? It was a combination of a few factors: 1. The economy was so booming that there were literally no builders available to build. 2. My design work was just so enticing that the client could not bear to live another moment without getting the project started:) 3. The client decided to pick a non-recommended builder who turned out to be non-qualified. The builder was really just a roofing company trying to branch out with projects of more scope. It turned out the roofers should really only do roofing and leave the construction and coordination of other areas to the professionals who are experienced in those areas. 

For example, the builder removed a rotting roof which was supposed to be rebuilt in exactly the same way, but they forgot to document or investigate how it was originally constructed. When it came time to reframe the roof after demolition was complete, the builder had no idea how to rebuild it since they did not take the time to document the existing conditions necessary for the reconstruction. Also, they didn't have drawings to refer to. So, the builder framed the roof with the rafters spanning in the wrong orientation. This was against the calculations provided by the engineer. Without the drawings, they just guessed. As a result, the builder had to tear it down and start over. We had to tell them to just rebuild exactly what used to be there (to replace rotted materials) and add the additional pieces labeled on the drawings. This seems pretty clear. We even told them to print the drawings. There was even a 3D view that made it 100% clear. Moving forward, the builder tore down the framing, again, and reframed the roof, again. This time, they built the roof 5" too high. This was a big deal because a roof deck would later be built onto the new roof, and that roof deck would have therefor been 5" too high making it impossible to open the existing door out onto the roof deck. The door was already there! I mean, you could literally see it. One would think it would be simple enough to build a deck so you could obviously open a door and walk out onto it. Not these guys. They built the roof too high, and they were instructed to remove the roof, AGAIN! 

I had to figure out why this happened, again. I found out they did not print out the drawings, again. They were just winging it, again. Unbelievable. I had already previously coached them the last two times on how it is obligatory to print the drawings, read them, and build exactly what they dictate. I had to remind them that the drawings ARE the contract they were hired to complete. But no. They tried to save $30 (per their boss's request) by not printing the drawings, again! The drawings are the instructions on how to build a project, so they literally had no instructions. They also had no guidance since they were the laborers doing the work - not the salesman who originally reviewed the plans with the owner and architect.  

After the third time tearing down the roof (which they could have just left the original roof in place the whole time) , they actually printed the drawings and rebuilt it with the rafters in the right orientation and at the right height. There were still a lot of problems in other areas of construction, but it illustrates the problems that can occur if the current, approved drawings are not carefully consulted during construction. This did not cost the homeowner any extra money but certainly did cost them extra time, and it cost the builder 3 times the labor and materials. It also cost me many extra site visits and emergency panic calls from the client to ensure the project would get back on track before going too far off track. I mediated the problems quickly and came up with solutions, so the client would not be liable for damages caused by the inexperienced builder.