How to Reduce Costs and Improve Construction Quality

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Looking to understand building science at a deeper level? Want to create a plan for continuous improvement to help design and build homes that are safer, healthier, more comfortable, more durable and energy efficient? Look no further than some of the master education sessions held at the International Builders' Show (IBS). The Reducing Cost + Improving Construction Quality: Can You Have It Both Ways? interactive learning experience — one of the pre-show master workshops at IBS — encouraged the audience to think critically about building science issues and how to use low-cost techniques to improve construction quality. The robust discussion was spearheaded by Construction Instruction's Gord Cooke, Mark Laberte and Justin Wilson, as well as Sam Rashkin, author of "Retooling the U.S. Housing Industry" and former chief architect of the Building Technologies Office at the Dept. of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Examples of such techniques and best practices include:
  • Incorporating water management techniques early in the design phase to deflect (roof overhangs, cladding) and drain (siding, flashing, ground slopes) water to improve the durability of the building's materials at a very low (or no) cost. Using draining house wrap, furring strips, drainage matts and air spaces to allow materials to drain and dry are additional strategies that can be integrated early into the design. That way, builders can avoid fixing expensive mistakes such as water leakage from a window that’s too close to the roof line.
  • Collaborating amongst all contractors involved with a project. Although organizing planning meetings and putting in more design time upfront might seem daunting, the project can benefit from cost savings later. For instance, try connecting your window supplier with your HVAC designer; instead of assuming default numbers, this could result in smaller heating, cooling and ventilation systems.
  • Avoiding the cheapest house wrap (or any material for that matter) to save some money on hard costs. The end result could be multiple different house wraps in one area because they were initially cheap, but the labor to install might be much higher than it otherwise would be in the event a complete barrier isn't achieved. Re-working the same process can be costly.
  • Integrating features into the house as a system. Take plumbing, for example. One way to save money could be to strategically plan bathrooms close together and to have other water fixtures nearby. Plumbing compactness can allow for pipe, material and labor savings.
This three-hour education session at IBS encouraged participants to talk about their current building practices, and to think about how existing processes can sometimes lead to trades that are silo-ed. Through thoughtful planning and design practices, however, contractors can be encouraged to collaborate and participate as a team to design a lower-cost, higher-quality house. For more information about NAHB's sustainable and green building programs, contact Program Manager Anna Stern. And to stay current on the high-performance residential building sector, follow NAHB’s Sustainability and Green Building team on Twitter.

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