Plans Constructability Review: Why, When, and What?

May 29, 2018 | News, Professional Services, SJCC

Executive Summary: A constructability review of a plan set can greatly benefit the project. On the surface, it looks like it benefits primarily the Owner, but the benefits to the design team and contractor can also be significant. All project parties should encourage this service on their projects.

I’m only covering half here. A full constructability review includes plans and specifications (including contract), but for the purposes of keeping these articles short and sweet, I touch here only upon plans.

Why do a constructability review of the plans? Quite simply, spending a penny during the design phase can save a dollar during the construction phase.

It’s not just about the direct costs that can be saved (using plastic lumber versus wood, or mechanical joint restraint versus thrust blocks) – it’s about mitigating disputes caused by errors or omissions in the plan set.

Unless you’re an attorney, your company makes money by not having problems. Problems or ambiguities, whether they are simple RFIs or complex claim disputes, take employees away from their primary roles of building something efficiently. When there’s an error or omission during the construction phase the owner, engineer, and contractor must all take time to resolve the matter. Now, instead of during the design phase where we had a few engineers in a conference room with their laptops, we’ve got that plus an owner’s rep or four, plus a contractor staff and seven excavators, a crane, and four portable toilets (and the other hundred things on the job). All of these parties are billing their resources by the hour in some manner – and will be looking for the owner to reimburse for this.

When do a constructability review? Before the job bids. I explained this at the end of the previous paragraph. The math was simple: paying for a change when five people are in a room solving it is much cheaper than when a hundred people and/or pieces of equipment are on the job site are all outside the project office awaiting direction.

The other important side note here for the owners is that the issue leading to the RFI, or the larger dispute, may have been a service that should have been provided in the designer’s original scope. Now the owner is paying for the completion of the design as a change order to the designer’s scope and the contractor’s scope. Handling this matter during design would have cost that penny, not this dollar. [QR]

What is included in a constructability review of a plan set? A review should include, at a minimum:

  • Plan flip – a sheet-by-sheet review of the plans with a red pen and set of highlighters (or the on-screen equivalent)
  • Discipline coordination – do the civil, mechanical, architectural, electrical and all other discipline drawings, tie to each other?
  • Specification coordination – ensuring the plans and specifications are aligned by confirming proper reference to the specification
  • Construction efficiency – ensuring that drawings maximize ease of construction – simple and clear designs equate to a reduction in labor, and/or time, which means a reduction in project cost
  • Full dimension/elevation check – are there enough dimensions and elevations, and are they correct?
  • Material selection – can an alternate, and less expensive material, be used to satisfy the design intent?
  • Notes – are the notes, specific and general, applicable to this project or have they been partially carried over from other projects?
  • English – a check of grammar, spelling, and capitalization

My story. I’ve written many RFIs and been in too many disputes. From these experiences, I’ve been able to provide some great constructability reviews.

We’ve served the owner, the designer, and the construction manager. Each of these parties has seen the benefit of having a contractor look at their plans before going to bid in the hope that the number of RFIs will be lessened and the potential for large disputes can be eliminated.

Lastly, I once was an estimator on a large project on I-10 in Houston. The drawings were awful – they were sloppy and incomplete. As I was pulling out my hair, the District Manager was salivating: “we’re going to make a lot of money off of change orders!” he said to me.

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