Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
Volume 44, Issue 6 July/August 2005
A Dealer's Perspective
Close Encounters of the Third Party Kind
How Do You Define TPI?
by R. Mark Reasbeck
One of the advantages of living five decades is that you acquire lots of experience that has, supposedly, brought to you greater amounts of wisdom. What you do with that wisdom determines if you will gain more experience by making mistakes that provides more wisdom, or apply the above mentioned wisdom so you can get less experience at making mistakes, thus creating harmony and balance in the universe. Are you tracking with me? Probably not. This is how I felt when I recently dealt with third party inspectors, affectionately known as TPIs.
Just as The Jefferson’s was a “spin-off” of All in the Family, TPIs are a spin-off result of the barrage of construction defect lawsuits. In our section of the planet, builders are now seeking out TPIs to come in and monitor the jobsites with documentation and extensive digital camera files. The reason is that when the lawyers sue, the builder already has a vault full of evidence and the lawyer’s cause for destructive testing will be ambushed. The TPIs inspect the jobs with a larger magnifying glass than the local municipal or county inspectors and by raising the standards they, hopefully, lower the lawsuits.
Party On … Dude
My original encounter with TPIs happened, of course, while I was taking over a job in mid-stream with a new builder. Las Vegas is a relative newcomer to the “installed” market. Only in the last 18 months has installation by the window supplier been a standard practice. Taking over a job behind another supplier is sometimes difficult. We assume we will do our job just as we always do and the builder assumes we will do our job like the previous subcontractor (only better). Assuming always means a future jobsite meeting.
Two o’clock is always the hottest part of the day here in the desert and a great time to resolve jobsite problems. I was on time as usual and as I was talking to the superintendent my eyes were diverted to focus on the three TPIs. I knew I was in trouble when I saw their hard hats. Big ol’ airbrushed American eagles, flags, stars and stripes, and looking like gas tanks from the Orange County Choppers. It may have been the heat, but it looked as though they were walking in slow motion and I swear I heard “I’m proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood in the background. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me that day.
One of the practices of TPIs is to call attention to “areas with issues” (there’s that word again) by spraying a pink dot on the affected area. When they were done, our installs looked as if they had measles.
The guy with the biggest eagle on his hat stated that we were not complying with AAMA Installation Manual # … and that they use the 21 page guide as their standard.
“Which method?” I asked.
“The method in the book,” he replied.
I reminded him there were several methods of installation and asked again, “Which one?”
Without providing an answer, he moved on to the fact we were using an “unapproved” sealant.
“OK, which one is approved?” was my next obvious question.
“Can’t tell you that.”
“What about brand ‘X?’” I asked.
“Can’t recommend a specific brand,” he said.
“OK, if we use Brand ‘X’ will you accept it?”
“Only if it‘s on the ‘approved’ list.” (Is it just me or …)
We then moved onto the other problems. We didn’t have enough nails and had too many staples, we had not enough “ooze” and we had too much “ooze,” plus we set the windows on the sills. That’s when my installer jumped in and said that the TPI on the job, Missing Eagle, had told him to do it that way.
“Impossible” said the guy with the next smallest eagle on his hat. He hadn’t been at the window-on-the-sill meeting, so Third Eagle called Missing Eagle on his cell phone and somewhere in the conversation we heard the words, “What do you mean you thought these were vinyl windows, they’re aluminum. You don’t set aluminum windows on the sills.”
Maybe you’re thinking now what I was thinking: if he can’t distinguish vinyl from aluminum, we’re in trouble.
The Third Degree
The other phrase that kept surfacing was “best practice,” which is the abbreviation for the phrase “in a perfect world.” Both Eagle One and Eagle Two kept saying that they would accept certain practices, but “best practice would be …” and then added all kinds of things “they would like to see.”
About this time I was really over the double-speak, and said, “Look, I’m a subcontractor. I can think of many ways to install windows with overkill methods. My problem, I have to be competitive with my pricing, so could you please just tell us the minimum requirements that you will accept and let the builder decide if he wants to pay me for ‘best practice’ methods.”
Now that’s where wisdom comes in handy. With that, the hot desert afternoon meeting was adjourned and we came away with a new respect for hard hats with American eagles on them.
Second to Last Words
Someone made the comment that my writing is a little “edgy.” I assume she meant “cutting edg-y.” So I do need to add that I think the third party inspectors are a good idea. It keeps everyone within the boundaries of their scope of work. But, the flip side of that is that TPIs could also write up things that are unnecessary to justify their presence on the job. This is where the builder should be a part of setting the acceptable standards.
The Last Word
My search for a salesperson is over. I found her in my own office. She had been doing window orders and pricing for several years, and is very people-oriented. The missing ingredient: plan take-offs. After spending some time with her passing on my “wisdom,” she picked up blueprint reading like a ten-year veteran. Life is good.
After writing this I just remembered I need to pick up some TP on the way home.
R. Mark Reasbeck is owner of Legend Windows for the West.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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