Know Your Stuff: Quality Concerns Can Make or Break a Project

By Craig Carson

I hope that you’re all weathering this coronavirus slowdown safely. I’ve been reading how many of the world’s largest companies are finding that the stay-in-place or work-from-home orders will change how they conduct business after we’re all through this. I read where Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota Motors, has said that this restriction of travel has actually made Toyota more efficient. He is reviewing their procedures and is going to revise them to incorporate many of the changes that they made to be permanent. I hope that you, too, have found ways to become more efficient. I’d like to hear about what you’ve done. Email me and I will share what I can here.

Quality Control

Here’s a question: when did general contractors decide that quality control on jobsites includes everyone but them? While I’ve recently seen an increase in the quality of construction, I’ve seen a lack of knowledge in some of the operation teams. Some of this is due to rapid growth in construction the last few years and having to fill roles of project engineers and project managers with new or less experienced people.

We recently discovered that on one of our projects, which has a wide opening of over 100 feet, the head of the opening varies 2 inches. When we pointed this out to the general contractor, they gave us that “deer in the headlight look” and asked what we were going to do about it. We had to tell them we would not begin the installation until they corrected the opening. Frankly, if their quality control person was actually doing the job, we wouldn’t have had to delay our start and impact their schedule.

This really shows the need to check your openings before you start installing anything, as most contracts include a clause stating that you accept them once you begin installation. This may apply only to those who are doing projects that require guaranteed openings—the projects that cannot be field measured before fabrication. This is different than field verifying, which is what we did when we identified that the opening was not within tolerance. Be aware of the difference and get to know both the manufacturing and installation tolerances of the surrounding materials.

Caulking Concerns

How many of you have bid projects where the architect has drawn the window, storefront or curtainwall perimeter conditions with a small 3/8- or ½-inch caulk joint in a precast opening? Did you ever ask yourself why the caulk joint is this size, when the precast joint is a nominal ¾-inch? The precast has both production (+/- ¼-inch) and installation (+/- ½-inch) tolerances to consider. Now assume the worst case and the precast is at the maximum tolerance and the precast joint is at 3/8-inch. If you have to live with the architects called out 3 /8-inch caulk joint, you’d find yourself with 0 inches of caulking joint size.

This is a problem when you have to require guaranteed sizes. What’s often confusing is that general contractors don’t want to guarantee opening sizes. In reality, you’re asking them to guarantee the opening sizes with the construction tolerances of the surrounding materials considered. So, for the precast opening problem above, we would need ¾-inch caulk joints around the window, since you’re now dealing with the precast tolerances. When your joint size gets reduced, check your jamb deflection to be sure your caulking material is not outside of its operational tolerance. You may need to consider an even larger caulk joint to allow for this.

I’m not the first to say “the devil is in the details,” but it’s true. If you don’t pay attention to details it will cost you money and time.

Craig Carson is the director of preconstruction for Alliance Glazing Technologies Inc. in Littleton, Colo.

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