It Ain't Easy Being a Builder / by Josh Brincko

Since I have experience building just about everything, I can commiserate with builders as an architect. They have a TOUGH job. They have to actually build the stuff architects draw with a level of craftsmanship our clients will accept. As an architect, I only have to draw lines on a paper. Sure those lines can be complicated to figure out at times, but we get to sit at a heated, dry, cozy desk and draw those lines while a builder has to be out on a cold, muddy, rainy jobsite trying to figure out how to properly build those lines that architects drew.

Most of the time, the lines architects draw are not even completely figured out yet, and the builder still has to figure out how to build them properly. We also prefer to empower the builder to offer input on these items where appropriate since the person building the project is the one who truly knows best when it comes to methods of construction to achieve the design intent. It's also not possible to completely figure out how something should be built during the design phase since all of the concealed existing conditions, client decisions, code interpretations from the building department, pricing from the builder, and exact specifations are unknown at the time the plans are drawn. Much of that is left to be discovered during construction, and the architect and builder are left to figure it out at that time. All too often, the builder expects the architect to know these things ahead of time (a year in advance) when the plans were drawn. 

Since it's impossible to foresee all these conditions, the builder gets stuck reacting to the as-built conditions and trying to incorporate the intent of the drawings as closely as possible. This is rather difficult because the builder rarely knows the design intent. How could the builder? The architect invented it with the client's feedback over months and months of meetings, iterations, changes, and more changes. It's a moving target, and the builder is the only one who eventually holds the target in one place and takes a "shot" hoping the thing they build aligns with their interpretation of the design intent ambiguously portrayed in the drawings.

The best builders don't take long shots at moving targets. They understand the architect knows the big goal, so they take baby steps and ask lots of questions and provide further clarification to the architect about existing as-built conditions to get more feedback which only moves the target closer and makes it easier to hit it. The bad builders are the ones who don't ask questions and just build something. This is like closing your eyes and shooting at a target hoping you will hit it. This is a guess at the client's goals. There's a low likelihood of guessing right, so the failure rate is high. It's best to take the time to ask, get approvals, and build exactly what the client actually wants on the first try. (Ask where the target is before shooting at it).

Once builders get the appropriate feedback, they have even more challenges. They need to order materials and hope they are not discontinued from a year earlier when they were specified. They also hope the materials are not on backorder and can be delivered on time. They also need to make sure their staff is available to work when the materials are delivered to keep the project moving forward (and to prevent their business from remaining stagnant).  They also hope the weather cooperates. The right moisture level, temperature, and sunlight can be critical factors in installing many products. Builders also need to make sure they have the appropriate tools, the right sized drill bit, the battery charger for their drill, a long enough extension cord, the tube of caulk, etc. The absence of any one of these things throws everything off, requires a Home Depot run, and pushes progress behind.

The builder also needs to ensure they are being paid on time, so they can afford to buy all these materials on the client's behalf. Getting paid is also reliant on the quality of the workmanship. This is the hardest part. If there's one scratch, one misalignment, one wrong color selection, one thing the client doesn't accept, the client won't pay. This puts a lot of pressure on the builder to build exactly what the client wants.

Good craftsmanship is not easy. It takes tons of patience, dedication, time, and focus to pull off a perfectly built project. Most of the materials builders work with are expensive. One wrong cut or chipped corner has a huge financial impact.

The best builders out there take so much pride in their work, and this is why I have so much respect for them. It's a hard job, and they are the final step in bringing a client's dream into reality. It all rests on the builder's shoulders. 

I'm sure you know some builders. Take the time to encourage them. Let them know you appreciate their dedication, their backbreaking effort, their patience, and their sleepless nights planning for the next day on the job. They dig holes for you. They walk on slippery dangerous roofs for you. Think about it...You're sitting in a room right now. Who made that wall so flat? Who prevented water from leaking through that window? Who attached every single one of those floor boards together? Who cut that drywall, hung it, plastered the seams, sanded it, plastered it again, sanded it again, primed it, painted it, and painted it again? Someone did all of those steps for your enjoyment. Please thank your builders. They built the world we live in.