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Construction Quality Control

Owner builders often start the home building process thinking they will demand and get perfection . . . a perfect new home! This delusion may last through the planning stages, but when construction begins, reality sets in. That's where the "superintending" take over with the primary task being construction quality control.


checking materials qualityYOU WON’T GET PERFECTION
Let’s get one thing straight. You won’t get perfection. The question is, how far from perfect is acceptable?

Obviously, there is a possibility of some disagreement between you and your subcontractors on this key point.

This represents the historical conflict between buyers and builders.

Suppose you hire a builder to build you a home. During the time the home is being built, this home building project is the most important thing in your life. It consumes you. Every day you can’t wait to get off work so you can go by and see what has happened during the day.

Just let two or three days go by without any progress, and you really start to get antsy. You’re on the phone to the builder, “I thought the drywall was going to be hung today!”

You noticed some studs that weren’t perfectly straight. You point that out to the builder. You’re excited. You want everything to be perfect.

The builder knows it won’t be. He knows that your home is not being stamped out in a factory. It is being constructed from thousands of pieces of materials - materials that warp, and shrink, and crack like wood and concrete. And it’s being constructed by dozens of skilled and semi-skilled craftsmen and tradesmen. There will be some squeaks, and bumps, and warts.

The question is: How good is good enough? Builders think in terms of industry standards. Industry standards regarding construction quality controls are what is considered acceptable quality in your area.

These standards vary from place to place, and there is a wide range of quality in any area. If you don’t think so, just go out and look critically at the quality of construction in your area. You’ll find homes that are beautifully built. You’ll also find homes you can’t believe are passing inspections.

Many owner builders believe home building construction standards aren't what they used to be. Take a look at this article from Fine Homebuilding magazine on the subject. It’s sad to say, but the old saying is true: “The squeakiest wheel gets oiled.”

People who are willing to accept shoddy quality will probably receive just that. On the other hand, people who demand perfection will destroy any relationship they have with their subcontractors and will get an ulcer to boot.

So how do you, the owner builder, determine what’s acceptable? The National Association of Home Builders published a booklet in 1974 called Quality in Construction (now out-of-print). It attempted to set acceptable quality industry standards for residential construction.

The major home warranty companies have established approved quality standards. One word of caution: all of these standards were developed by builders or by people thinking about the possibility of paying claims for construction defects! Need we say more?


The best rule to follow is this: be reasonable. The fastest way to educate yourself is to look at other construction in your area. See what is possible. See what seems to be standard.

If what you are getting is substandard work, stand your ground. Do not accept or pay for it until it is up to acceptable standards. This will be an on-going process throughout the project.

Split Bottom PlateFor example, suppose you are under construction.

You go by the construction site and see something that doesn’t look quite right, but you aren’t quite sure.

Just go by some other construction sites and compare. If a subcontractor insists that, "everybody does it like this" or something similar, and you are not convinced, get another opinion.

Take a picture and compare the problem area to other construction. Show it to a trusted supplier or another sub. Here's a hint. Subs that normally do the work immediately before or after the work in question are familiar with what is "normal" or acceptable as an "industry standard."


General Insights About
Construction Quality control

As the owner builder in charge of construction management, particularly quality control, here are some basic ideas about construction quality control that you will find helpful on your daily visit to the job site.


All of the parts of the home work together as a unit. Nothing is isolated. Everything that is added or done to the home during the construction process is affected by the things that have happened before, and will directly affect the things that happen later.

For example, the framing may be out of level if the foundation is not correct. If the problem is not caught and corrected at the framing stage, it will continue on to affect the finish walls, trim, cabinets, etc.

The lesson here is that when you're involved in construction quality control and you find something that is obviously out-of-whack, look at everything that is connected to it. You may find ancillary defects up and down the line!


Several things can be said about every step of the process. Although we’ll show each in the check list as they apply, we’ll say them once here - knowing that they apply all the way through the construction process.

1. Make sure that what is happening in the field on your home is what you had anticipated in the plans and specifications, and is what your subs agreed to in their contracts. Check all materials to see that they are what you specified and ordered, that they are of acceptable quality, and that they are installed in the correct locations.

2. Check all measurements.

3. Check the quality of craftsmanship - straight cuts, tight joints, plumb, level, etc.

In the home building business, you’ll learn something new every day. Just try to be loose and in control. When others obviously know more than you, use their knowledge (being ever careful of the con artist).

To paraphrase Ford Motor Company, construction quality control is job one!

What you don’t know, you can easily find out. Our goal is to help you feel comfortable with what will be happening in the field during construction - what you can expect to see, levels of acceptable quality, and so forth. Again, here is where you’ll learn what to look at and what to look for.


Your most important tools as the construction manager/superintendent will be a good tape measure, a large carpenters’ square, a five or six foot level.

You might also want to take your laptop computer (keeping estimates, quotes, contracts, etc. in one place), and a digital camera to document your progress and any problems.

Keep them in your car and use them often. Do not be ashamed to let the subs see that you are checking their work carefully. It will put them on notice that you are expecting, and will demand, that the work is up to snuff.

Moving On

Other areas of responsibility in Construction Management are Purchasing, Scheduling, Inspections, Cost Control, and Cost Accounting. Click here to go back to Construction Management.


For additional insight into Quality Control,
see Lessons Thirteen , Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen
of our online course
Successful Home Contracting

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