The construction process is the exciting time when you watch your home get constructed right before your eyes. This section addresses important things to know as the dirt flies and nails are hammered. It’s not always smooth sailing so be prepared for some bumps.
To help prepare, you’ll want to understand the specific construction process your project will go through, the construction schedule, and the key players involved. These are all things your contractor will communicate to you, and if not, ask.
In this section we’ll cover those topics and also go over your roles/responsibilities and how to manage disputes should they arise. Emotions run high as this is a stressful and important time. Knowing how to effectively manage disagreements and communicate effectively will help ensure a smooth construction process.
An important note:
Depending on the project delivery method you selected in the Prepare Stage, you may have very little involvement or complete hands-on involvement in the construction process. If you have little involvement, it’s even more important that you have a design and construction team that is honest, trustworthy, and communicates effectively together.
OVERVIEW OF THE CONSTRUCTION PROCESS
First and foremost, before construction even begins, learn about the construction process for your specific project. There may be peculiarities about your site, your house design, your house’s construction method, or your circumstances that make the construction sequence different from the norm. Make sure you review the construction process with your contractor before beginning.
You should also review the construction schedule provided by your contractor to learn the specific sequence of events that will occur. Your contractor should have provided you with a construction schedule during the contract negotiations process. Understand who might make surprise visits to your site and what they will look for.
Here’s the typical sequence of a construction project to get you generally familiar with the process. Note that some activities happen concurrently with others and others won’t happen at all depending on your project.
- Pre-construction site work (staking site, setting elevations, etc)
- Clear site, grade, and excavate
- Dig trenches for foundations and underground utilities
- Place foundations
- Frame & sheath walls, floors, roof
- Install water-resistant membrane, windows, and exterior doors
- Install roofing
- Install rough HVAC, rough plumbing, & rough electrical
- Install insulation
- Install drywall
- Install exterior wall finish and paint
- Install cabinetry & millwork
- Install tile, countertops
- Install interior doors
- Install trim and finish carpentry
- Install plumbing fixtures, finish electrical, hardware, and accessories
- Install floor finish
- Clean all surfaces
- Install landscaping, decking, and any other exterior improvements
Note: If you’re building using non-traditional methods (pre-fab, SIPS), your sequence might be slightly different so confirm with your contractor to be sure.
There are 2 types of inspectors who will drop in to check on construction from time to time.
- Bank Inspector – If a bank is financing the construction cost, they will send a bank inspector to the site at regular intervals to determine how far along the construction is. They are responsible for confirming the project is far enough along to get you next disbursement of funds from the bank. These inspections occur at specific times during construction based on the draw schedule of your construction loan.
- Building Inspector – A building inspector determines if your project as constructed is meeting local codes. The local government determines the number of inspections required and at which points during construction. A list of inspections will be provided to you (or your contractor) when you pick up the building permit after your permit drawings have been approved. The contractor is usually responsible for calling and scheduling an inspection with the building inspector. If you’re managing the construction process yourself, you’ll be responsible for coordinating these visits yourself.
Because you have so much at stake in your custom home project, emotions can run high. Things can get heated and out of control, especially since we’re dealing with a lot of money. In worse cases, they can lead to full on disagreements and finger pointing.
Here’s some methods of addressing disagreements:
The role of your architect as initial decision-maker
In many cases, when architects provide construction administration services on projects, they act as your advisor and representative on the job site and administer the contract between you and your contractor. They observe construction making sure work is performed properly and in accordance with the construction drawings.
Depending on the terms of the contract with your architect and contractor, your architect may act as the decision maker on claims, disputes, and other matters. In these situations, your architect will assess the situation and make an unbiased determination on the matter at hand. Should you or the contractor wish to pursue the matter further, your contract will spell out further options which include mediation, arbitration, and litigation.
Note: You may feel skeptical about how an architect could act in your best interested as your representative during construction yet at the same time, interpret their own construction drawings in an impartial, unbiased way. But it does happen and it can work. When architects sign agreements with you, they are legally bound to perform those specific duties. If at any time they do not perform their duties as described in the agreement properly and there were questions as to the ethical nature of their interpretations, they could risk losing their license. No architect would want that, and therefore most strive to make fair judgments on matters that arise.
Mediation, Arbitration, Litigation
If you don’t use an architect, your contract will spell out other ways to resolve major conflicts. If an agreement can’t be reached between you and your contractor on site, you may have to resort to mediation, binding arbitration, or worse, litigation.
- Mediation – An interactive form of dispute resolution where parties can talk, discuss their issues and justifications, and where a neutral third party assists in resolving the conflict. Mediation usually takes much less time and costs much less than standard legal actions.
- Arbitration – An alternative to going to court where the two parties present their case to an independent arbitrator who reviews the situation and works to find an agreeable solution. It can save time and money over going to court.
- Litigation – This is a last resort and if you’ve gotten to this stage you must be prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars and possibly years of time before a resolution can be made.
Mechanic’s liens provide a means for contractors and subcontractors to receive payment of money owed to them on your project if they aren’t getting paid. Without mechanic’s liens, their only remedy would be to sue. In particular, because subcontractors don’t have a legal contract with you, they can’t easily sue you for not receiving payment. The mechanic’s lien was created to make it easier for them to receive their money.
Mechanics liens are attached to your property, not applied to you as a person. They guarantee the (sub)contractor will get paid before anyone else does when the house is sold. A contractor can file a mechanic’s lien anytime up to 90 days after the house is finished regardless of when the work was actually done.
Here’s a little more about the process:
Preliminary Notices – As each subcontractor and supplier starts working on your project, they may send you a preliminary notice. These preliminary notices give them the right to file a mechanic’s lien in the future if they need to. Because you may not know or be in contact with all the subcontractors or suppliers on your project, receiving a preliminary notice simply informs you of who is working on your project and who will be owed money whether by the general contractor or by you (however it is written in your contract). State codes vary, but usually, a preliminary notice must be filed within a few weeks of the start of each party’s work on your project.
Lien Release – To eliminate the risk of these preliminary notices turning into mechanic’s liens on your property, it’s important to obtain a lien release from each and every contractor and supplier on your project. Encourage your general contractor to get these lien releases throughout the process as each subcontractor finishes his/her specific part of the work and gets paid.
ROLES + RESPONSIBILITIES + EXPECTATIONS
Working with your contractor
To set your project up for success before construction even begins, set up a pre-construction meeting with your contractor (and design team if they are providing construction administration services). Set up ground rules and lay out the expectations for the project. Determine the frequency of site meetings, the best method of communication, working hours, the protocol for issues that arise during construction, and any other important topics you wish to address.
Regular site meetings
Regular meetings on the job site between you, the contractor, and the design team are a great way to keep everyone informed of progress and to address any issues that come up. Not only is monitoring construction important, it also gives each party the ability to ask questions, offer praise, and keep the construction schedule moving forward.
Open, effective communication
For communication to be effective, both sides need to be proactive and honest. If you notice things on the job site that you’re confused about or have issues with, bring them up with the contractor as soon as you notice them. Don’t be hostile or accusatory. Come from a place of curiosity and respect. Chances are, there’s an explanation or reason for how things are.
Make decisions in a timely manner
When issues arise or questions come up that need your attention, address them in a timely manner because your decision may be holding up other work. You don’t want the schedule to slip because you take a long time to make decisions. At the same time, the contractor should allow time in the schedule for you to make these important decisions and not force you to make them on the spot. Some decisions have large consequences and cost implications, so having the time to think about them and make the best decision may require you to sleep on it or discuss with your partner before giving your final decision.
Pay the contractor for work completed
Nothing stops work on the job site faster than no getting paid. It is your obligation to pay the contractor for work completed when he invoices you so long as the work is in accordance with the construction drawings, is meeting codes, and is of good quality. If you have issues with installed work, communicate them to the contractor or architect so they can be addressed. Good communication is key.
ACTION ITEMS FOR THIS SECTION
- Set up a pre-construction meeting with contractor (and design team if applicable).
- Attend scheduled site meetings.
- Communicate often.
- Make decisions when requested.
- Pay the contractor on time.
Need more help? Here are additional resources related to this section.
- 6 Important Considerations When Building a Home Addition
- Quality, Cost & Time: How To Choose Between Competing Project Constraints
- How to Choose the Right Construction Materials & Products For Your Home
All downloadable resources can be found in our Resource Library. Sign up to gain exclusive access.
- Guide to the Construction Process
- Guide to Construction Observation: What to Look For at Each Phase During Construction
- Sample Questions to Ask Your Contractor At the Beginning & During Construction
Over To You…
Your project is like a child. You’re familiar with it, you know the ins and outs of the design. You know the nuances of what will make it truly shine. And now, you know what the construction process is going to be like. Your contractor has explained the sequence, the timetable, the costs, and the commitment involved to make it all come together. You’ve also prepared yourself and learned what to expect and how to manage conflict.
Now, take a deep breathe and enjoy the construction process. You’ve been preparing for months. You’ve got this!