Stress-free remodeling: Using trade walkthroughs

The more details that can be discussed, clarified and understood before signing a construction contract, the better it is for both the homeowner and the contractor.

February 04, 2011

The more details that can be discussed, clarified and understood before signing a construction contract, the better it is for both the homeowner and the contractor.
It is one thing to know what details such as cabinetry and finishes are in a remodeling project; it is another to understand what the completed project is going to cost prior to the work starting. A contract without a trade walkthrough can be a disaster, for either party involved.
We started doing trade walkthroughs many years ago with our design/build process — after the project’s preliminary design is done, prior to a construction contract signing. The information that often comes from them reconfirms why there should be no exceptions to this step.
A typical team for the trade walk through for us is:  design consultant (sales and estimating), designer, purchasing agent and a production manager or project manager. Prior to the trade walk through there are “RFPs” created for each trade with the scope and any options identified.
A plan set of the project that consists of the as-built and proposed renovations are prepared for each member on our team and for each trade that is invited. Typically, the designer walks the entire team around the project for the first 30 minutes and asks questions from production on certain framing or structural issues. After the initial tour, each trade is scheduled every half-hour (this varies by the size of the job), given a set of the plans, and a tour of the jobsite by the designer.
The cardinal rule is the entire team stays together. We want everyone to ask questions and hear any concerns and questions about the project. If another trade shows up early, the urge is often for someone to “entertain” them or start showing them around. We want everyone to stay together so we can be on the same page with the details.
We will often cut small holes in bulkheads in the ceiling or walls to see if there are any mechanicals that would have to be modified if we want to remove them. This is important for understanding upfront what could affect the final plans and costs. If we are adding additional space we also require energy calculations to see if the current HVAC system is able to handle the heating and cooling requirements.  
Here is a partial list of some of the benefits, items we look for, and why.

1. To minimize surprises and change orders after deconstruction has been done
• Electrical panel upgrade required or sub panel
• Plumbing issues, such as a plumbing vent in the wall where a door is to go
•  Plumbing, electrical or duct work in bulk heads that you want to remove in the kitchen
• Verifying the bath exhaust vents go to the exterior of the house
• Verify the framing in the affected areas meets current code
• Verify other current code requirements, such as smoke detectors, egress for basements or bedrooms, GFI outlets in bathrooms and kitchens, window tempering requirements and existing deck ledger attachments
• Assess the existing HVAC systems for heating and cooling, see how the renovation affects it and provide upfront costs for required modifications and options
• We look for things that can alter the costs such as stucco siding, plaster walls or atypical construction methods
• We have underground utilities marked and look for conflicts from cable, phone, electric, gas and other utilities whether overhead or underground
• We look for things such as alarm and special security systems, proprietary gutter cover systems, buried drain lines, or other things that will require additional costs

2. To verify the accuracy of drawings and existing conditions
This is a great time for the team to check critical measurements. We want everyone to challenge the plans for accuracy and trouble shoot. At this stage it is only on paper and can easily be changed.
• In a kitchen remodel we check for widths and measurements to door and window trims.  We also want to check finished floor to ceiling heights and if there are any bulkheads and depth. These are all important to assure a seamless cabinet installation (often the longest lead times)
• For an addition we might check the existing house floor to floor heights and egress windows above the addition for their sill heights. We also want to confirm the existing and proposed roof pitches for the tie in.  
• For a basement we might check steel column placements, existing stairs, mechanical systems and overall measurements. We will also want to verify bulkhead sizes for beams, duct work and other mechanicals.
• We want to review how we are to access the site and any site modifications such as removing fencing or structures to allow for access. Also to discuss how we can leave the site and/or silt fence or preventing root damage to adjacent trees.
• A preliminary plan for dust, weather and floor protections are made at this time. Many of our clients live in their home during construction and we want to minimize our impact on their lives.

3. Lastly, we are looking for details of the existing home for a seamless integration
We want a seamless integration from the existing house and the new remodel.
• For interior work we want to verify all the types of trim, door styles, hardware, etc.
• For the exterior we want to look for fascia, soffit, rake and frieze boards; gutter size, color and style; siding material, reveal and finish; foundation details, exterior window trim and surround; window material, brand and style; shingle material, style and color, etc. If the fascia and soffit of the existing house are wrapped, we want the same detail on the addition.
• We also want to review the condition of the driveway, the foundation and anything that might either be preventative maintenance for the home or something that might be a red flag.
After the walk through, the trades are given typically three to five days to return their quote to the purchasing agent. They will review it for accuracy against the original RFP and any changes that were made at the trade walk through.They then gather all the notes from the trade walk and all the comments from each person present. These notes are then reviewed at the in-house estimate review.
Sound like a lot of work? Sounds expensive to you? We have been able to catch and prevent many things from happening at these trade walks that have prevented weeks in delays and saved the homeowners and Sun Design thousands of dollars.In the long run these save everyone involved money, time and headaches and often can be completed in a few hours.

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