Building a quality home demands detailed planning, rigorous vetting and careful execution. But even if you have all of those, the unexpected can always find its way into the job. This will often have to do with the quality of communication during the project. To help reduce these kinds of problems, here are 5 communication tips that could be useful to architects, builders and structural engineers alike.
1. Always keep a Structural Engineer or the Architect in the loop
It often happens that the home owner has no clue about structural engineering. That’s to be expected. But it might surprise you to know that some builders aren’t fully knowledgeable about it either.
I once worked with a builder that accommodated a customer’s request during construction to enlarge a room on the upper floor of their house. Instead of asking for a redesign of the support structure and validation from a structural engineer, the builder went ahead and added a row of 2 foot 2 x 12s by nailing them to the end of the joists, right over the supporting wall. Had construction continued, there would have been some serious deflection happening on that side of the house.
Of course, the builder should have replaced the joists by longer ones to create a proper cantilevered structure. He didn’t want to do that either. Instead, we worked out another solution. He attached much longer 2 x 12s to the joists, deep into the floor system. It was then vetted by the structural engineer.
2. Call out the reinforcements in the plan
Framers can miss reinforcements that aren’t called out. This is important for special loads or a bearing wall directly over a joist, for example.
3. Make sure someone communicates the changes to the builder
Sounds silly but, yes, it does take someone designated to communicate plan changes to the builder. If the builder has worked with the designer or architect before, he will likely have good communication with them and get the changes as they are decided. Otherwise, someone has to be designated to relay changes to the builder. This is important. Some projects can have 10 or 20 changes before the design is settled. Neither the architect nor the structural engineer will expect (and will probably not accept) such a responsibility. Unless the builder can be proactive, the homeowner will have to be the liaison.
4. Make sure the distributor stays involved
Changes in the plan will also cause a change in materials. Involving the distributor will add another set of eyes looking at the plans and another chance to catch measurement or load calculation mistakes. It is in their best interest to keep you supplied with the appropriate material.
5. Don’t calculate by hand, use 3D design software
Nowadays, Designers get training on 3D software. Still, there are some designers and architects that still draw up plans in AutoCAD and calculate loads by hand. Modelling in a 3D design software automates the calculations and makes them more accurate. Modelling in 3D also gives anyone looking at the plan a much more realistic feel for the finished product.
If you can imagine it, I once received a plan where the Structural Engineer didn’t even include load calculations!
Communication tips, in conclusion
Construction in large urban centers and for high-end homes will almost always have a structural engineer involved, so there’s always that additional safety. However, if you are working in more rural municipalities, if your plans are off the internet, or if you are working in tract-housing, make sure to keep these communication tips in mind.
And keep those lines of communication open throughout your project!