Window Review Blog
Reflections on 2016
Jan. 06, 2017
I think that almost everyone would agree with me that 2016 was a crazy year on many counts. We were bombarded with bizarre events in sports, industry, human relations, and entertainment. This past year will be remembered for some time to come. In the wake of all of this tumult, the construction industry has trudged along under the radar. Both commercial and residential construction have grown to levels not seen for eight years. Construction-related employment has correspondingly advanced at almost twice the rate of conventional job growth. One thing I don’t like about the consistent and plodding growth we have experienced is that it tends to numb your motivation. So in an effort to keep myself alert, I looked at some key events from the past year that might provide inspirational lessons on how to make the most of 2017.
Your Strengths Can Cover UP Weakness
I am not a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA), but I am a student of success, and have found Ronda Rousey’s story to be an interesting example for any business. Rousey
went from working three jobs to support herself to putting a women’s sport on the map. She was dominant in the ring, eliminating many opponents in less than 30 seconds. Unfortunately, her dominance became her Achilles heel because it was based upon doing only one thing very well. As her opponents became stronger in other methods of fighting, Rousey ignored this trend and continued to do what she did best. This strategy eventually led to a first loss in 2015 and an embarrassing defeat last Friday.
Most successful businesses achieve greatness by doing a few things very well. Amazon has done it in logistics, Apple in technical design, and Costco in retailing to serve as a few examples. Rousey shows us that it is time to look at whether our strengths are clouding our judgement. Are your competitors making strategic changes that threaten your business? Are companies from other industries entering your marketplace for the first time? Are there subtle shifts in your marketplace that are not visible because you are too busy with your nose to your grindstone? The time is right for a little strategic introspection before someone punches you in the face.
The Chicago Cubs are the best example this past year of an outfit that struggled for the past century to meet their goals and finally came through with a World Series victory 108 years later. This unprecedented Series drought is the longest recorded by any major American sports team. Although the Cubs made it to the Series seven times during this period of famine, they always came up short. People were beginning to believe that a curse levied by the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in 1945 was real. In 2016 the Cubs were able to shake the curse and ascend to the top of Major League Baseball.
Every business has its challenges whether they are minor or critical to survival. I think most people spend their efforts pursuing their dreams rather than basking in the glory of their achievements. And as is typical, our dreams are confronted, derailed, or undermined on a regular basis. At times one can wonder if attainment of a desired goal is even possible. At these times of despair, it is good to remember stories like the Cubs scripted in 2016. Anything is possible if you never give up.
I remember reading about the problems facing the Rio Olympics during the nine months preceding the games. When you combine delays in construction, construction defects, safety concerns, water & air pollution, failed infrastructure, and the Zika virus, it is amazing that the games weren’t cancelled. Given insurmountable odds of having their country ready to host, Rio came through in the end with a lot of hard work and some good ole fashioned luck.
Businesses often find themselves in overwhelming circumstances where the task at hand is daunting. Whether you have challenges in fueling unprecedented growth, developing a new product line or service, opening a new office, or struggling to stay afloat, achieving one’s goals can often appear impossible. If you ever find yourself wondering how you will make it to the finish line, remember Rio. The Olympics show us that anything is possible no matter how frightening the challenge.
I’m sure there are many other lessons to be learned from 2016, but these are a few that stood out to me. Since success in business can be fleeting, it helps to reflect upon lessons learned from external events so our strategies have a chance to continue to serve us well. May 2017 be your best year ever!
Sep. 22, 2016
One of Re-View’s strengths is its ability to work on historic windows for very large and complex National Register landmarks. Currently, we are working on four State Capitols at the same time. Each one has a unique set of challenges that makes our business fascinating. We are doing the following scope of work on these projects:
- Minnesota State Capitol: Re-View is finishing up its work on this project. We restored the historic exterior doors applying faux finishes on the interior. We removed existing aluminum replacement windows, restored the original wood window frames and fabricated and installed replica wood window sash into each opening. This brought the Capitol back to its original look.
- Colorado State Capitol: Re-View is performing wood window restoration on the existing window openings. We are removing the sash and bringing them back for a complete overhaul and restoring the frames in the field. When we are done with this work, the windows will be ready to perform for another 100+ years.
- Wyoming State Capitol: Re-View is removing existing aluminum replacement windows and restoring the original wood frames. We are then going to fabricate historically accurate wood window sash to match the originals. To top it off, we are applying custom extruded aluminum on the exterior to match the profiles of the frames, brickmould, and sash.
- Oklahoma State Capitol: Re-View is restoring the 472 original steel windows and installing aluminum storm windows on the interior to upgrade the efficiency of the window system.
Just The Fax
Jun. 22, 2016
I spent this week looking at a new phone system for the business and given the rapid changes in the telecommunications industry, there is a lot to consider. One development that has taken ten years to become a reliable option is Voice Over Internet Protocol
. Under this technology, phone calls are made using an Internet or private network connection. As I was considering changing my well-seasoned, hardwired system to this more flexible and less expensive alternative, I was confronted with what I should do with the fax line. I felt very uncomfortable in pulling the plug on this old-school warrior. It wasn’t long ago that the fax line was the lifeline for many construction-related businesses. Although today it is used primarily as a clearing house for discounted vacations, everyone still prints their fax number on their business cards. This made me wonder why we have become so attached to old technologies and habits when they no longer serve us and ponder other opportunities for change in the construction industry.
It wasn’t long ago that the fax machine was the best thing since sliced bread for business. Instead of using the US mail system, we could now receive bid invites, send out bids and communications, and even sign contracts via this wonderful machine. Written communication with the fax machine was virtually instantaneous, or at least much faster than the US mail or FedEx options. With the universal usage of e-mail, however, the trusty fax machine has been retired to the same pasture as the buggy whip and video rental stores. Why would you mess with a fax when you can command the transfer of information, documents, and pictures right from your desktop? What are some of the other technologies that are rendering our current practices obsolete?
It is amazing how bogged down our industry was in managing the masses of paperwork in the past. Now, cloud-based applications and online use of construction data has revolutionized how we communicate in the industry. The growth of online plan rooms to publicize projects that are bidding and to relay the construction documents and addenda has cut costs, increased exposure, and reduced the time it takes to bid a job. Programs like Textura
that provide an array of programs that facilitate project communication, subcontractor qualification process, and invoice payment do a great deal to streamline what was once a cumbersome process of communication. And online banking has contributed immensely to the faster flow of funds to all parties. For those of us who have embraced these technological tools, life is so much more productive and easier to manage.
Building Information Modeling (BIM
) has been a major breakthrough for how projects are designed and constructed. In the past, architects, contractors, and subcontractors worked as separate entities, only coming together when the building was being constructed. With BIM as the platform, now the design and construction team can work together more effectively to design, estimate, construct, and problem solve. This technology is creating an entirely new way of looking at the construction process. The benefits are lower costs, faster delivery, and fewer errors.
Advances in technological hardware have changed the way we work in construction. Jobsite computer systems and tablet computers enable the team to be equipped with the latest information on the project. New developments in Google Glass
virtual reality technology will most likely offer benefits to our current work processes. Another technology that is quickly gaining acceptance is 3D laser scanning
. Architectural and engineering firms are using this developing technology to map out existing facilities with incredible precision or to serve as quality control of installed elements. Re-View has used laser mapping equipment to determine existing window sizes and shapes in historic structures. This has enabled us to manufacture historic window replicas with incredible precision.
What we are talking about here is changing the tools of the trade. Just as carpenters have put down hand saws and screw drivers for power tools, the entire industry needs to change to more powerful technological tools. I may love my old framing hammer, but it doesn’t hold up to modern nailers. So in that spirit, I think I’ll finally remove my fax number from my business card.
Historic Train Stations
Jun. 08, 2016
Back in the day when the railroad industry dominated travel in the United States, every town of size had a railroad station. These structures were often architecturally significant and ornate. In fact, some of the finest architecture in our country can be found in historic train stations.
Over the past 20 years, there has been a movement to invest in the restoration of these valuable artistic facilities. Many still function as rail hubs while others have been repurposed as museums, event space, offices, and unique retail centers.
Re-View has worked on the historic windows of some very distinctive train stations. We have restored historic wood and steel windows, preserving every element to its original state. We have also manufactured historically accurate wood window replicas to match the original windows. The following pictures capture some of our work over the years.
Building on Leadership
May. 16, 2016
I was recently asked what I thought were the best books on the topic of leadership, which is a difficult question to answer. It is almost as difficult to answer as what is my favorite album of all time. There are so many good ones; how does one pick a favorite? To assist me in my answer, I thought I would search the Internet for other lists of top works on leadership and compare the search results to books I’ve put in that category. What I discovered was very surprising. There were several classics on the list that one would expect, like Man’s Search for Meaning
and How to Win Friends and Influence People
. However one book kept coming up on people’s lists that I wouldn’t have classified as a source for the fine art of leadership. Alfred Lansing’s book, Endurance,
was on most of the lists as a top ten consideration. How does a book about a failed Antarctic expedition capture the essence of leadership? And how could people in the construction industry benefit from this story?
I read Endurance
many years ago because I appreciate works that document the human struggle through adversity. Books like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
, Into Thin Air
, and Unbroken
provide me with solace that things could always be worse and that putting up a good fight can often be worth it. The book Endurance
is about a 1914 expedition lead by Sir Ernest Shackleton where 27 men under his command attempted to become the first to cross the Antarctic continent. The expedition failed miserably, with the ship getting engulfed in massive ice floes early in the trip, changing the mission to one of survival. The book elegantly documents a 20-month struggle to find food, shelter, safety, and eventual rescue. So what are the leadership lessons to be gleaned from this work? There are many, and I think that architects, contractors, developers, and owners in the construction industry should practice the main principles in this book as basic business practices.
Choose Your People Wisely
Earnest Shackleton took a great deal of time in selecting his crew to join him on the expedition. Although he placed a great deal of emphasis on technical qualifications, he was more interested in the quality of the character than the skill set. Shackleton knew that a grueling expedition would require a group that could function as a team, had high integrity, and could be trusted. These same principles determine success in business today. Hiring managers are learning that work ethic and integrity will get you much farther than expertise. It’s more common these days to see sports teams base their recruiting on quality of character rather than the pursuit of the superstar. The best companies in the construction industry are those that are capable of attracting talent that can work together effectively, eliminate drama, embrace a challenge, and have fun while doing it.
Throughout the story of Endurance, Shackleton is focused on making decisions that will save his crew from their devastating circumstances. Every decision he makes is in the best interests of the group. He had to make many personal sacrifices and risk his life throughout the mission to accomplish this feat. Shackleton knew that his motivation and influence on the group’s welfare was not just necessary for survival, but more importantly, it served as a good example for everyone involved. The only way to gain commitment from the team is to show commitment yourself. If your people feel that you care for their well being and success, they are much more likely to display the same care for their work associates. The essence of “we are all in this together” is a powerful force for any business.
Flexibility is Essential for Success
From the very start of the expedition, Shackleton had to change his goals depending upon changes in circumstances. He had to adapt to losing the ship, finding secure refuge, securing food and water, and searching for rescue. He also had to communicate the constantly changing plans to the team so they would cooperate on working toward the tasks at hand. The construction industry is ripe with change. During the latest recession many companies were thrown into survival mode similar to the Endurance
team. Changes in the economy, design tastes, market movements, availability of financing, etc., require the construction industry to keep on its toes and adapt to the new challenges. Your ability to change gears in the construction industry can make all the difference in the world.
Maintain Optimism in the Face of Adversity
I am sure that Shackleton questioned many times during the group’s travails whether the crew would make it home safely, but he never let anyone know that he doubted their success. He knew that if he displayed any indication of hopelessness, the team would quit the fight, disband, or even mutiny. A realistic optimism is essential to survive in business or to grow into new arenas. The construction industry is littered with challenges; legal issues, safety concerns, and labor matters to name a few. Maintaining optimism from the top is essential if it is going to permeate throughout the ranks. Everyone needs to believe that no matter how daunting the challenge, the team is capable of achieving the progress needed to meet their goals.
I still find it amazing that an expedition that occurred over 100 years ago would serve as a guideline for effective business leadership today. Although I certainly don’t practice all of these principles as effectively as I would like in my daily activities, the voyage of a small crew of adventurers gives me hope to continue the struggle for success. I think that all of us in the construction industry would benefit from reading this book and adopting some of the principles in our day-to-day practices.
FDR Presidential Library & Museum
May. 11, 2016
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is the first presidential library in the United States. Built under the personal direction of FDR in 1940, he thought that the vast quantities of documents during his four terms should be accessible to US citizens. Prior to the construction of the museum, presidential documents remained in the families of the past presidents and hopefully made it to the national archives. Roosevelt was the first to make his documents available to the public and even donated the 16 acres where the museum sits.
Re-View manufactured historically accurate wood window replicas to match the design of the originals. Every detail was meticulously matched to maintain the accuracy of the original architecture. All joinery was mortise and tenon and we used mahogany wood to make sure the windows will last another 75+ years. In addition to manufacturing precise wood window replicas for treasured landmarks, Re-View also restores historic wood and steel windows.
FDR Library & Museum
The Price is Right
Apr. 12, 2016
Last month we were bidding a large, multi-year project in Washington DC when our proposals started to come in for our subcontractor bids. It isn’t uncommon to have a wide variance in bid price for various bid packages, but this project had incredibly large swings in prices. This made me think about why this phenomenon occurs during the bidding process, what it means, and how to make the best sense of it. It is our goal in the construction industry to select the lowest possible price for qualified bids that best meet the scope of work, encompass the desired level of quality, and meet the schedule. Unfortunately, wide variances during bid date can be a red flag that one or more of these goals will not be met. How does one determine whether an abnormally low price is real?
It isn’t uncommon to have price variations in the American economy. Just run a simple Google search on a basic retail commodity you are interested in purchasing and you will find prices that fluctuate by as much as 20%. In the city limits of Kansas City alone you will find gasoline prices varying from $1.74 to $1.99. Purchasing the construction of an office building or the restoration of a historic landmark, however, is slightly more complicated than filling a tank of gas. When we get a low bid for a project, we call on our internal Spanish Inquisition to determine the proposal’s validity.
A loose specification will open the door for lowball pricing. If the construction documents fail to define materials, means, and methods with precision, the opportunity for interpretation can create unhealthy deviations. Failing to specify explicit materials by listed manufacturers, including performance criteria, is critical. It is also important to have a substitution process to be approved by the architect rather than allowing unapproved equals. If we get a low bid on a scope of work, we will drill the bidder on all of the details to be certain he has included all the important components. It is often discovered during this interrogation that non-complying materials have been submitted, or that the bidder missed quantities. We often uncover bidders who disregard serious elements of a proposal because they didn’t spend the time to review the specifications and assemble a meaningful bid. In some cases we have found unscrupulous bidders attempting to manipulate the specification in their quest for a low price.
Low prices are often a result of misinterpretation of the desired level of quality for a project. Although the owner, design team, and contractor have a clear understanding of the quality intent, subcontractors might not invest in understanding the critical factors of their bid. After they are awarded a contract, they might deviate in ways that can go unnoticed by the construction team. For example, using different primers might result in paint failure, changing sources for aggregate can alter masonry performance, and abbreviating labor processes can adversely affect installations. There are numerous examples of construction travesties out there that were a result of a subcontractor substituting an inferior material such as an altered installation clip. A thorough post-bid interrogation as well as ongoing quality control checks and balances throughout the construction of the building can prevent this from happening.
Finally, a low bid can be an indicator that the schedule will be at risk. Low bidders often arrive at their price because they have missed something. That something is often the project schedule. We include scheduling as part of the post-bid interview. We ask in detail, how the subcontractor intends to meet the schedule. We want to know the total labor hours, broken down by month, and broken down further by individual dedicated to the project. If it is a complicated discipline, we might ask for backgrounds of the people dedicated to the job. We also want to know about other projects the subcontractor will be working on at the same time to identify capacity conflicts. If the subcontractor has weak answers to any of these questions, the schedule will be in jeopardy.
The bidding process doesn’t need to be a game of Russian roulette. I am amused by the cartoon of the astronauts on the space shuttle talking prior to takeoff saying, “Do you realize we are about to take off in a rocket that was built by the low bidder?” If you want your project to take off and land smoothly, you might want to invest the time upfront asking the tough questions before you get into bed with an unqualified subcontractor.
Re-View is Known for Courting Business
Apr. 07, 2016
Re-View has an impressive portfolio of work on courthouses in the United States, working on projects from Arizona to Washington DC. The traditional county courthouse is often the most impressive architectural structure in its region. We are always amazed at the distinct architectural styles and how these iconic buildings define a community.
One aspect of the architecture of the typical county courthouse that always stands out is the windows. Architects used the fenestration to make these buildings truly magnificent. We have worked on massive monumental windows, triple-hung units, frames and sash that are bent on a radius, and artistic stained and leaded glass. The associated woodwork and trim on a typical courthouse window is often incredibly detailed and integrates with interior woodworking. Window hardware on these courthouses is frequently a highly custom design with unique finishes. We have seen locks and lifts that look like jewelry for the window.
Most of these projects are grand in scope, involving hundreds of windows. Re-View is uniquely qualified to perform custom window restoration and replication on large projects. We specialize in the restoration of both wood and steel units, and are one of the largest manufacturers of totally custom wood window replicas. We also have a great deal of experience in improving the energy performance of historic windows by using weather stripping, changes in glazing technology, or implementing secondary glazing.
One of the reasons Re-View enjoys working on county courthouses is that every project is unique. No two projects have been alike. Whether we are working on wood or steel windows, every courthouse has a distinct set of challenges that makes our business exciting.
Oct. 28, 2015
Make a Success of your Failures
I have always had a proclivity for dwelling on the positive. It is probably some “half-full” mentality that was drilled in my head as a child. Or maybe it is a deep-seated need to impress that was a result of trying to gain my parents’ attention in a family of five kids. So when someone asks how about the state of my business, I can recite all of the great things that are going on at Re-View with an upbeat flair. I was thinking about this behavior last week as I was on a project site correcting a product failure. You haven’t spent much time in the construction industry if you’ve never had a failure, and if you have tenure and still profess total success, you’re probably lying to yourself. I am a firm believer that the way a company manages a failure makes all the difference in how they will succeed in the future. Let’s take a look at how the construction industry can utilize failures as opportunities to grow.
Re-View has had its fair share of missteps over the past 22 years. It sometimes seems that every new venture is loaded with hoops to jump through and landmines to avoid. Many of our setbacks cost the company a great deal of money. When we dove into this business over 20 years ago, there was very little information on the proper protocol for restoring historic windows. There also wasn’t much guidance on how to manufacture custom wood window replicas on a large scale, so we had to forge through the learning curve. We’re still learning today. Our most recent challenge had to do with capillary tubes not functioning properly on insulated glass sent to a high altitude project. Our company’s philosophy has always been to look at these costly challenges as opportunities to learn. We quickly figure out a correction, implement the remedy, and proceed onward as a stronger company that will avoid such mistakes in the future. Failures are merely a cost of education.
What are some of the landmines for the construction industry today?
There are a host of new technologies emerging for the construction industry: new developments in drone surveying
, 3D printing
, netzero construction
, smart helmets
, and 3D building scanning
to name just a few. It is very common to lose a great deal of money and productivity when applying a new technology because of the time it takes to learn, train, and adopt the new way of doing business. The implementation of new technologies is burdened with setbacks. Think back on how long it took to take advantage of CAD, computerization, and communications. It wasn’t too long ago that it was rare to find someone who had an e-mail address. Technology is a necessary struggle for all construction related companies. The important thing is to be on the leading rather than the bleeding edge of technology.
New product developments can also be fraught with potential failures. Not only does a revolutionary material not have a proven track record, but the installation methods are also untested. That is a double jeopardy. Many new products are put through a battery of accelerated laboratory testing to determine whether they can perform as intended. Unfortunately, Mother Nature often does not act in the same manner as the lab tests conducted by scientists. Depending upon the product, it might require experienced installation techniques that can take a subcontractor many years to perfect. The industry is full of great products that failed due to improper installation. Do you really want to be the guinea pig for such ventures?
Selecting who is to be on the project team is also a potential landmine. If you have a design firm that doesn’t have experience in a particular line of work, the project gets off on the wrong foot and everyone has to struggle through the details. Also, you don’t want a general contractor to cut his teeth on a building that has features that are foreign to his background. And let’s not forget all of those hungry subcontractors who will take a job regardless of their expertise. I can tell you stories of the hundreds of woodworkers who claim to be window manufacturers, but in reality have no such training. In addition to experience, the company’s background in the same size of project is almost as important. Factors such as financing, bonding, and capacity can crater many efficient companies that are out of their league on a mega project. As a result, I am seeing more stringent prequalification standards for special projects and a growth in Integrated Project Delivery where architects, contractors, and subcontractors form a team at the design stage.
Finally, let’s not forget the human element that is responsible for Murphy’s Law. Having a lax safety program will create problems on a project, cause delays, and increase costs. The good companies are learning from their injuries to avoid them in the future. The best companies are anticipating potential hazards before they happen and developing procedures to eliminate the possibility of an injury. Quality of work is another human element that can be perfected by inspecting failures. If one takes the time to dissect a punch list and develop procedures to avoid mistakes in the future, everyone is happy. The best companies are working towards a zero punch list mentality where work quality is built into the system.
I like the quote from Winston Churchill that says, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” If you are able to ingrain that attitude in your company culture, you will be a success in the construction industry. It may also make the situation a little more tolerable when you have to hunker down and make things right on a project that has gone wrong.
Sep. 23, 2015
If you’ve been in the construction industry for long, you are no stranger to attending a convention. It seems like most associations that have a significant presence will assemble the loyal following once a year to learn more about surviving in the industry. I have been to large conventions like AIA
as well as smaller niche gatherings like state or national preservation conferences. They are often a good source of education and entertainment as well as an excellent opportunity to network with others. So with that as a backdrop, I attended the Window Preservation Standards Collaborative (WPSC
) Summit last week to speak on the topic of the business of window preservation. The summit hosted 50-60 preservationists to the Campbell Center
in Mount Carroll, Illinois for four days of seminars on the science of window restoration. Although this assembly pales by comparison to the thousands that attend an AIA convention, it amazes me what can happen when a small group of passionate people connect.
The members of the WPSC remind me of Martin Luther King’s following as they marched across the bridge in Selma, Alabama. Here is a small group of craftsmen and artisans who have assembled to conduct battle with the mega-corporations of the window industry. Instead of using massive advertising budgets to promote the message of window restoration, this collection of skilled preservationists rely on a grassroots effort of educating the industry on the economics and common sense of restoring historic windows. On one end of the bridge you have this small group of craftsmen armed with the proven science of historic window construction. On the other end you have the massive juggernaut of the window industry promulgating the illusory economics of window replacement. When one takes the time to study the facts, the truth of restoration prevails.
This assembly was more like Woodstock than a national convention, and like Woodstock there were some of the best practitioners of the trade represented. During the four days, attendees were exposed to the finer details of wood and steel window restoration, storm window manufacturing, business practices, and testing of restored windows. After spending four days at the program one would definitely come to the conclusion that window restoration makes sense because historic wood and steel windows are built to last for centuries. The evidence proves that the act of replacing a window with an expected lifespan of 300 years with a 20-year replacement is irresponsible behavior. Since replacement windows are not designed to be repaired, the collaborative has aptly renamed them “disposable” windows.
What amazed me the most about the summit was the subtle message that many of our construction practices of the past have undisputed validity in modern means and methods. The construction industry is constantly being tempted by new technologies that promise performance and no maintenance, only to prove to have spurious lifespans and overstated performance. Disasters such as EIFS
, aluminum wiring
, plastic plumbing pipes
, synthetic slate roofs
, and Chinese drywall
are just a few examples of failed products that were once paraded as technological breakthroughs. Maybe we just need to pay more attention to the proven methods of the past and accept the fact that the simplicity tested over time may be the most revolutionary solution for current construction challenges.
Re-View Project Highlight: Knox County Courthouse
Aug. 25, 2015
The Knox County Courthouse in Knoxville, TN was built in 1885 and continues to serve as an office for several county departments. Tennessee's first governor is buried on the courthouse lawn.
Re-View was contracted to restore the historic wood windows. Our craftsmen removed the window sash and shipped them back to the Re-View restoration plant to be restored. We restored the frames in situ, refinished the frames, and installed new perimeter sealants. All of the finishes were removed from the sash to permit a complete restoration of the wood. Re-View fabricated replica sash for units that had been replaced with inaccurate replacements. Our craftsmen installed the restored sash into the refurbished frames and installed exterior storm windows for energy efficiency.
Pictures of the Building
Photos from the Plant
Is LEED Dying
Jul. 16, 2015
The LEED Program's Green is Beginning to Turn Brown
As I was riding my bike to work this morning in 82 degree temperatures, I thought about how silly it was that you could get an extra point towards a LEED
certification for having a bike rack. I didn’t need a bike rack when I arrived at my plant, I needed a shower. Or shall I say, my employees needed for me to take a shower. This made me reflect upon how little I have seen LEED related projects on the drawing boards for new projects. What was once the great movement that was touted by all in the construction industry as a revolutionary way to consider construction, is now becoming a waning fad just like granite counter tops and brightly colored Croc shoes. How has the LEED program met with such a precipitous decline?
I wrote a post
over two years ago about how the construction industry needed to wake up and see that the LEED program was adding very little value to the construction process. At the time, LEED was very popular and I felt like I was being heretical to oppose such a venerable institution. I certainly wouldn’t want to be perceived to be an irresponsible capitalist who scoffs at construction stewardship. Back in 2012, the LEED program was having a profound effect on realigning priorities in the construction industry and changing the way we looked at energy consumption and resource utilization. Architects were standing in line to gain certification and building owners were jumping through hoops to achieve a platinum level certification. I felt that the program had grown to the point where the costs were beginning to exceed the benefits. Here we are in 2015 and all that hype has dissipated because of a number of factors.
After you suffer through a LEED certified project, you have a better understanding of what costs
are associated with achieving such a designation. The costs of registering the project are just the beginning. Most people
who are experienced with the certification complain about the massive administrative costs associated with documenting compliance. Other costs such as increased design expenses, energy modeling, installation of monitoring devices, and testing that has become part of LEED’s latest version
add a substantial amount to the project. Finally, we have the cost of construction which is amplified by demanding features such as FSC-certified wood and local sources for building materials that restrict one’s ability to source equal products at a lower cost. Some estimate that pursuing a LEED certification can increase the total cost of construction by over $1 per square foot.
The administrative burden is another reason that LEED has lost popularity. Everyone in the construction process from the owner, designer, contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers spend thousands of hours to research alternatives and provide documentation in an effort to meet the requirements. The last thing our industry needs right now is another reason to delay construction. For instance, our company has to spend one complete day per year to undergo a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
certification to be able to provide the required FSC wood for a LEED project. It became such an exercise in nonsense, I recently told FSC we would pass on the renewal this year. If we run into a LEED project that demands FSC wood in the future, I will apply any associated fees to the costs of the project.
Let’s face it, from 2000 to 2012 it was exciting to get on the LEED bandwagon. The construction industry was in the dumps and everyone was looking for something to distinguish their company in a desperate attempt to generate revenues. Building owners were willing to pay more to brand their structure as LEED certified. Developers could charge more per square foot, corporations could benefit from positive public relations, and suppliers could charge more for certified materials. LEED gave the industry new hope during a lethal recession. We find ourselves in a different position today. Since there are over 50,000 buildings that have been certified over the years, the panache associated with a gold or platinum level certification has significantly diminished. The survivors of the poor economy have climbed out of the recessionary doldrums and are back to work. The last thing we are looking for now is a program that offers additional cost with little benefit.
In an attempt to keep growing in popularity and become more than just a passing fad, LEED attempted to justify its program by producing a biased study of the benefits of certification. The New Building Institute (NBI)
produced a study documenting the difference in energy consumption between LEED-certified buildings and existing construction stock. NBI concluded that LEED buildings were 25-30% more energy efficient relative to conventional buildings. Very few people are aware that NBI is a non-profit largely funded by the USGBC
which is responsible for LEED, or that the board of directors of NBI has members from the USGBC, When the study was evaluated by independent agencies
, they concluded that there are no significant reductions in LEED buildings compared to similar structures. So why go through the pain of certification if there is no real benefit?
In conclusion, I think the LEED program will be looked at as that moment of excitement when the industry was reeling from one of the worst recessions in history. The stockholders of the USGBC will retire with their millions generated from the program, and architects will have to print new business cards without the LEED professional certification. Hopefully the industry will remember some of the valuable principles outlined in the program so we can continue to construct outstanding buildings.
I think it’s time for a shower. The flies are starting to take over my office and people are avoiding me.
The Replacement Treadmill
Jul. 09, 2015
Re-View worked on this project 17 years ago where we restored the existing steel windows. Several openings had louvers and needed a new window installed so the construction team specified a wood replacement window to fill these openings. We installed what is known as one of the best wood replacement windows in the industry.
The industry has a negative impression of historic steel windows. They can be costly to restore and most often contain lead paint. They are also poor performers from modern energy efficiency standards. The glass is single pane and is clear so the R Values and shading coefficient ratings fail to compare to modern replacements. As a result, many of these windows are replaced. The industry has interpreted "Green" to mean high energy efficiency ratings rather than durable products.
The industry fails to recognize the true value of historic steel windows. They are designed to perform for hundreds of years with little maintenance required. But since the industry is focused on energy efficiency, they are replaced with energy efficient replacement windows that need to be replaced every 20 years. The picture below documents the condition of the wood replacement window compared to a restored steel window.
When you evaluate whether you want to restore or replace a historic window, ask yourself if you really want to get on the replacement treadmill?
Jun. 01, 2015
Last weekend, I was hanging out on the porch of preservationist Bob Yapp’s 1859 mansion in Hannibal, Missouri which he has meticulously restored into the Belvedere Inn Bed and Breakfast
. Bob and I were sharing a number of war stories about the preservation business and he told me a great story about his father. His father was a weekend warrior who worked on his 1907 Craftsman style home. One day he said to young Bob, “We don’t own this home.” Bob became alarmed that the family was moving so his father clarified his statement. “Yes, we bought this home, but we are stewards of this house. Being a good steward means every time we fix something we must do good work that lasts so the next family can enjoy it as much as we have.” That interaction had a life changing impact on young Yapp and made me think about how few people in the construction business truly embrace the role of being a good steward.
Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of all resources. It can be applied to many practices like the environment, business, economics, government, theology, etc. This principle, essentially, is the guiding force to do what’s right for the long term. Most often that involves short-term sacrifices. Unfortunately, the American culture has become more driven by immediate satisfaction. We devour fast food, demand a rising stock market, have instant access to information, pop pills for quick remedies, and require prompt returns on real estate transactions. I am concerned that our obsession for immediacy is making us become poor stewards of our resources.
The neglect of the concept of stewardship is rampant in the construction industry. Most developers are in the business to earn a quick profit for their shareholders. They are not in the business of promoting the general welfare of the community. So it makes sense from their perspective that a city block needs to be razed to make way for the new office complex. The positive ROI they generate in a 20-year period far surpasses what could be generated from the existing structures. But where does this leave the community over the next 100 years? Many a city in the US has been carved up by misguided development that just doesn’t make sense over multiple generations. The Best Buy and Kohl’s stores will be long forgotten when the shells of their non-distinct buildings clutter the landscape.
We are also seeing a significant increase in the tearing down of established neighborhoods because the value of their land has increased to the point that it is desirable for constructing a modern McMansion. This movement called “mansionization”
has resulted in an estimated 32,000 homes being leveled across the country in 2014 so an owner can have 4 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms like one finds in suburban America. This clear-cutting of the vintage housing stock is obliterating the character of many a community. My old neighborhood where I lived in the mid 80’s in Dallas is totally unrecognizable today because of this phenomenon.
This isn’t to say there hasn’t been redevelopment of existing structures. Historic tax incentives and a rising appeal of classic architecture has sparked an interest in the restoration of historic buildings for use as loft apartments, offices, hotels, and specialty retail stores. Unfortunately, in an effort to achieve a quick ROI on this work, the construction team resorts to substandard materials and processes to reduce the cost of the restoration. Other projects are driven by unrealistic energy efficiency expectations, the naive desire to eliminate maintenance, or the achievement of LEED points. For example, the 75-year-old windows on these projects are often replaced with a system that has a useful life of 20 years. Instead of restoring an existing window that was designed to last for 100’s of years, they swap them with disposable replacements. Bob Yapp’s father would not be impressed.
The key to combating these disturbing trends is to embrace the concept of stewardship. When one understands how briefly we all occupy this land and accepts a responsibility to leave it in a better condition, stewardship will become second nature. I hope that someday this manner of living will become mainstream rather than an ethos shared by a radical minority.
Re-View Project Highlight: Vance Federal Courthouse
May. 14, 2015
Re-View manufactured historically correct wood window replicas for the Vance Federal Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. This Classical Revival building was constructed in 1921 and has been on the National Register since 1976. This U-shaped building occupies an entire city block.
The window replicas were made of mahogany and have laminated glass reinforced with aluminum muntin bars for safety and security reasons. The casements have unique hardware that lifts the sash so it can be hinged to the interior of the structure.
Apr. 30, 2015
It is Time to Vacate Occupied Construction
I am finishing up a three-month complete kitchen remodel at my house and have had my fill of the chaos, clutter, and disarray. If you have ever remodeled the most used room in your house, you know what I’m talking about. It got so bad the other night that I was accused of displaying male menopause behavior. While I have been complaining about the endless hours of work and the omnipresent dust, it made me think about the challenges we have in performing construction work on occupied buildings. I would submit that restoration work on occupied buildings is becoming increasingly more challenging for the construction team. What was once a common practice is now complicated by legal battles and exorbitant costs to accommodate the occupants. Unfortunately, I think our days of working on occupied commercial buildings are soon to come to an end.
Since Re-View specializes in restoring historic windows on national landmarks across the country, we have a great deal of background in working on occupied structures. Over the past ten years, we have seen a dramatic increase in conflict related to the work being performed. The construction process affects the atmosphere of an occupied environment. In addition to the noise and displacement associated with construction, occupants are subjected to dust resulting from activities like masonry restoration, demolition, and plaster repair. Fumes from new materials, finishes or adhesives also cause an invasion of foreign material. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
outlines the impacts of particulates, biological materials and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Terms like Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
are becoming commonplace. Other terms such as mesothelioma
are becoming known to the general population. The effects of mold
were well documented in the 90’s. Basically, advertising by attorneys and the proliferation of material on the internet has made the general public very well informed on all the dangers associated with occupied construction work.
It’s hard to find someone who is not familiar with the growth of all types of litigation over the past thirty years. Cases such as the McDonalds coffee lawsuit, tobacco litigation, and new forays into suing purveyors of junk food are universally known. Children are even suing their parents these days. One of the fastest growing segments in the advertising industry is the legal field. The proliferation of radio, television, and billboard advertising for legal services over the past ten years is staggering. What this means is that your construction project can easily become fodder for the next big legal revenue opportunity.
While the legal field has been ramping up its efforts to drum up business, there has been a change in mentality of the typical American. There is a growing segment of our population that has become conditioned to the concept of getting something for nothing. The rampant rise in gambling is a direct result of this shift in mentality. Opportunists see frequent examples of people scoring million dollar awards at the local casino and read about the latest Powerball or Mega Millions winners. This behavior has also given birth to what is called the legal lottery where people are using lawsuits to score their next windfall.
What does this mean to the construction industry? If you are an owner, architect, general contractor, or supplier you are in the cross hairs of this trend and it is only getting worse. There are things that can be done to mitigate exposure such as more efficient containment, training, testing, and stricter project management. New developments in low VOC finishes and materials are a positive development. If matters continue to get worse, however, the renovation of occupied spaces may become a thing of the past.
Re-View Project Highlight: Minnesota State Capitol
Apr. 17, 2015
The Minnesota State Capitol located in St. Paul, Minnesota was designed by Cass Gilbert and completed back in 1905. The original windows had been replaced with aluminum windows 30 years ago and something needed to be done since the replacements had exceeded their useful life. Re-View was selected to bring the windows back to their original state with some added features.
The aluminum replacements were removed revealing the original wood window frames. Re-View restored the wood frames using restoration epoxies and replicated wood parts. We used an original complete wood window that still remained in the building as the basis of design for replicating new wood sash. The sash were constructed from a wood called Accoya that is more durable than teak and has a 50 year warranty against wood rot. On the interior surface, Re-View laminated recovered 100+ year-old pine from the Idaho Lakes so the interior surfaces of the windows would match the existing woodwork in the building. Re-View glazed the sash with laminated insulated glass with Low E coatings to improve the energy efficiency, security, and sound transmission. The sash were connected to chains and balanced on new pulleys and lead counter weights.
Since some of the individual double hung windows were six feet wide by thirteen feet tall, the sash weighed in excess of 250 pounds. Re-View incorporated a combination of historic metal and modern weather stripping in order to seal the operating windows. Many of the installed windows were tested for air and water infiltration by an independent testing agency and it was determined that they were twice as tight as the published ratings for modern replacement windows. In the next phase of the project, Re-View will manufacture and install interior ballistic windows made of steel and ballistic glazing in high security sections of the Capitol.
Apr. 08, 2015
I read a couple of articles recently that serve as great examples of how our obsession with technology is compromising our ability to function properly. One is a boxing match on March 27th where a boxer had his cell phone fall out of his pants during a boxing match. See the video. Don't want to miss a call or a text message even if you are in the midst of a boxing match.
The other is the result of a recent Penn State study of 152 college students who admit to texting during class, while taking a shower, and even while having sex. The participants responded to a 70-question survey about their personal texting habits. Over 34% say they sent or receive more than 100 texts in a day and all of them check their phone every four minutes for text messages. See the article.
Mar. 26, 2015
The Negative Effects of Technology on the Construction Industry
Last week while I was enjoying a Spring Break vacation in Sarasota with my family, I was amazed to see my daughter swimming in the pool with her iPhone. Apparently she had purchased a special case that allows her to text while in the water. I can’t believe the way that smart phones have turned people into zombies. You see couples at dinner glued to their phones instead of talking, and groups of kids interacting with their handsets instead of playing together. Watching my daughter be unable to go for a swim without a phone made me sick. It also made me think about how technology has adversely affected business in general and the construction industry in particular. Although technology has been a boon to many facets of our industry, there are aspects of technological developments that have severe negative consequences.
Now let me preface this post by explaining how fascinated I have been with technology for the past 35 years. I am not a technophobe who is making Orwellian predictions, and I have never referenced the movie 2001: The Space Odyssey
. I used to love to program in BASIC back in my college days. I purchased a $4,000 IBM XT for my home back in 1984 and lugged a 20-pound Compaq computer around to conduct business when portable computing wasn't even on the map. My businesses have invested in the latest hardware, software, and computer controlled manufacturing equipment. I currently own three different smart watches and Apple hasn't even released its iWatch yet. So on the technology spectrum, I run pretty close to the bleeding edge. So why would I post a criticism of technology’s negative effect on the construction industry?
I am concerned that technology is distracting our attention from what is important. While high-tech tools can make our lives easier, they can also become a permanent crutch that diverts our attention from critical factors. We become so addicted to the convenience, we forget how to do the tasks that technology is performing on our behalf. Just as we have forgotten phone numbers of loved ones with the advent of a contact database, we've forgotten how to do basic things that are critical to business. We spend more time in front of our computers than we do engaging with associates and customers.
Technology also has a habit of forcing us to become slaves to the high-tech monster. We now spend hours scanning data, inputting information, and reading irrelevant documents. Just think of the time you spend wading through mounds of daily e-mail messages. Add to that the depletion of employee productivity while they scan Facebook and shop on eBay while work needs to be performed. And top it off with the millions of dollars businesses spend on IT work to keep the monster healthy and protected from cyber-attacks. Our dedication and commitment to technology has become frightening.
So how does this affect the construction industry?
Architects were early adopters of technology, primarily through the use of computer aided design. On one hand, CAD has been one of the most incredible software tools to be developed, allowing amazing precision and reducing drafting time. On the other hand, CAD also provides a platform where one can create designs without having a solid understanding of whether the rendering will be structurally feasible. Back in the day when architects produced drawings by hand, they had to have a broad understanding of construction means and methods as well as structural elements. I have seen many a frustrated general contractor who has been forced to make sense of construction documents that have been hastily assembled by inexperienced CAD practitioners. Although CAD is a great tool, it can’t make up for a lack of understanding of basic construction principles.
The use of word processing software for the creation of specifications has also been a boon to the design community. The time it takes to pull together a 500-page project manual has been dramatically reduced since it’s so much simpler to collect detailed product specifications from manufacturers and from agencies like CSI. Unfortunately, this ease of spec assembly also makes it very easy to cut and paste incorrect data. It is very common to see finished specifications that reference an element copied from another source that has no relevance to the project at hand. Specifications slapped together with the help of Microsoft Word can create more problems than they solve.
Technology also creates challenges for contractors. Although tools like cell phones, tablet computers, lasers, estimating software, and spreadsheets have made everyone’s life easier, they also create problems. New means of communicating such as texting, e-mail, and cell phones can create a flood of information that becomes overwhelming. It is not uncommon to have to wade through a couple of hours of correspondence in a typical day. Estimating software and spreadsheets make it very simple to manage a complex network of numbers. Conversely, they also increase the risk of making a simple error that can mean the difference in making or losing money on a contract. Contractors are also having a more difficult time finding labor to perform the work since our labor pool is more interested sitting in front of a computer than swinging a hammer.
Manufacturers and distributors have benefited from having an online platform for storing technical product data. This enables a typical manufacturer to post detailed information on product details, drawing files, performance data, and installation instructions. In the past, this information was communicated directly to customers by a salesperson who had extensive training and served as a technical consultant to architects and contractors. Now manufacturers hire salespeople and train them on where to direct customers for the technical data. They have sparse background on the particulars of their product offering. Gone are the days where the sales consultant would train architects on product design, structural issues, finishes, and general construction practices. This information is now gleaned from accessing the internet. Architects have reduced their direct contact with manufacturers to AIA approved CES presentations that are bland overviews of the product segment. The main source of construction information has transferred from the trained consultant to Google.
I’m not the only one who fears the direction technology is taking us in. Steve Wozniak
, Elon Musk
, and Bill Gates
have all been recently quoted on their concerns for the negative effects of our high-tech explosion. Musk was recently quoted as saying, “Artificial Intelligence is the biggest existential threat to mankind.” Gates was quoted as saying, “It’s a scenario that doesn't bode well for our future as a species.” I don’t know if I think the current challenges we struggle with today are that monumental, but it is something to think about for the next couple of decades. My immediate concern for now, however, is that I have a daughter who lives her life in a small box called an iPhone.
Feb. 19, 2015
My company is currently in the process of restoring over 1,600 window sash for a large historic project in Buffalo, NY. As I recently walked through our plant and saw the thousands of windows in various stages of repair, I reflected upon how we were repairing windows that are over 135 years old. This made me think about the current state of the construction industry and what our expectations are for the life of a building structure and the components that make up that structure. Over the past ten years, there has been a great deal of talk about Green Buildings and sustainability, but how many of these “Green” commercial or residential buildings are designed or constructed to last for centuries? When will the life cycle of the structure and the construction materials themselves become factors in the sustainability criteria? It seems to me that more effort is placed on whether a material is recyclable than whether it can perform over the long haul. It is time that the design community, manufacturers, and construction processes begin to consider the life of the building if we are truly going to incorporate sustainability in our industry. Back in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED green building rating system as a way to guide building owners to be environmentally accountable and to use resources responsibly. The LEED system has had a profound effect upon the design community by motivating advancements in energy efficiency, use of recyclable materials, incorporation of natural daylight, and reuse of water. The LEED program made the word “sustainability” a household term over the past ten years, but has it truly redefined sustainable design? I would submit that LEED has been most successful in motivating changes in how structures consume natural resources and how the structure can be recycled at the end of its useful life. Very little emphasis has been put on designing a structure and using component materials that will last for many generations. I like the definition of sustainability from author and professor Geir B. Asheim. “Sustainability is defined as a requirement of our generation to manage the resource base such that the average quality of life that we ensure ourselves can potentially be shared by all future generations.” I would submit that true sustainability in the construction industry implies that we construct edifices that can be used for many generations. It does not mean that we build a structure that has to have its major components replaced every 20 years. Take windows for example. The major window manufacturers have developed designs that require the replacement of the entire window once the insulated glass seal has failed. Although the window is made of materials that can be recycled, it isn’t designed for multi-generational, long-term use. Changes in the glazing details that would facilitate glass replacement could dramatically extend the lifespan of these products. Other manufacturers use inexpensive materials such as vinyl for major structural members that have spurious life expectancy. Ask any window manufacturer for the life expectancy of their products and they will refer to their 10 year product and 20 year glass warranties. Is it unreasonable to expect a window to last for more than 20 years? I don’t think so.
Other products such as appliances, finishes, roofing, HVAC, lighting, siding, etc. also have very limited life expectancies. Some promote lifetime warranties that are so burdened with legalese they are rendered useless. By limiting the warranty to the original purchaser, prorating the warranty every year, and limiting exposure, the warranty actually protects the manufacturer more than the purchaser. American manufacturers have become more concerned with cutting costs than building better products. If manufacturers made changes in designs and the base materials used in fabrication, they could dramatically improve the expected years of service. Although many of the changes in materials will increase prices, there is a market for more durable products.
It’s time that the construction industry begins to take the life cycle of our new structures more seriously. We need to make advances in the quality of our construction designs and materials for the industry to truly become driven by sustainability. We should view our work as a testament for future generations rather than a disposable structure that will eventually be long forgotten.
Re-View Project Highlight: Provo City Center Temple
Jan. 23, 2015
In December of 2010, the Provo Tabernacle succumbed to a fire, leaving only a masonry shell. Over the past two years the site has been under construction where the construction team excavated 40 feet below the Temple to build two levels beneath the surface. This mammoth undertaking also involves a historic restoration of the original Tabernacle.
Re-View is fabricating and installing custom mahogany windows with custom art glass for the original building. Each window has to be manufactured to fit a uniquely shaped window opening including very complex curves and angles. The laminated, insulated, art glass is extremely heavy, making some of the units weigh close to 1,000 pounds. The following pictures are of Re-View's work in our plant and in the field:
Reflections on 2014
Jan. 06, 2015
As I sit at my desk during the final week of the year, I am always amazed at how business comes to a screeching halt during the holidays. One good thing about the receding pace of work is that it gives me time to reflect on the business. The past year has been an exciting one for many in the construction industry. The leading economic indicators for commercial and residential construction are all showing steady increases. Architects are hiring again, contractors are more optimistic, developers are taking risks, and manufacturers are investing for the future. But just as is always the case, there are many challenges for us in the upcoming year. Here are a few of the things I have learned in 2014.
Make Hay While the Sun Shines
Although the construction industry is far from achieving a high growth phase, we have been steadily moving forward for the past couple of years. Housing starts are slowly recovering and employment in the sector has made steady gains. The value of construction by segment reflects past growth and points to a more predictable future. Although these statistics do not indicate a boom year for the industry, there will be more opportunities for all in the year ahead. What is key about this steady growth scenario is that the players who have survived the recession are in great shape to capitalize on stable growth. Manufacturers are much leaner, architects have pruned deadwood, and contractors are staffed to meet current market demands. Weak competitors have also been culled from the marketplace, making for a more promising climate to conduct business. Now is the time to start your engines and leverage the changes that were dealt by the great recession. Don’t miss out on the opportunities that 2015 will bring by staying in that familiar hunkered-down posture of the last seven years.
Don’t Count on the Government
Maybe I have become jaded over the decades, but I have come to the conclusion that you cannot run a business based upon what may happen in the State or Federal government. We do a great deal of preservation work on governmental buildings and my first-hand view of the waste of governmental funds is nauseating. Although I have often been the recipient of this largess, it is a shame our leaders are not better stewards with our tax dollars. I have also had the pleasure of battling agencies like OSHA and have seen chalk boards in their offices with targeted penalty dollars to be assessed to local businesses. Add to that the 27 percent increase in health care costs for our business and one can quickly lose faith. I don’t have a solution for the fiasco; politics is just politics.
On the other side of ineptitude of governmental decision making, our industry just received an early Christmas present from Congress. Two weeks ago, they voted to allow businesses to depreciate up to $500,000 in machinery/equipment purchases for 2014. This move is intended to provide manufacturers the incentive to make investments in plant and equipment. It’s is a good program to motivate investment to drive the economy. Unfortunately Congress waited until the last week of the year to approve the move so it became a windfall for companies like mine that have already made such investments. These days I just sit back and see what craziness comes from Washington. I’ve found that a good strategy to employ is to take the lumps when lumps are served and take the money and run when the wind blows your way.
Good People are Harder to Find
One would think that given our high unemployment rate for the past five years, it would be easy to find people who are qualified and want to work. I haven’t found that to be the case. I believe there is a diminished pool of talented people who want to perform the physical labor associated with construction activity. I don’t know if it has something to do with the millennial generation, an aging workforce, the rise in obesity, or just a gradual degradation of our work ethic. It might have something to do with all of the above. I like this video
from Mike Rowe of the show Dirty Jobs expressing his concern for the diminished interest in occupations requiring hard work. Regardless of the cause, the industry is going to have to work harder at finding people willing and able to work. In addition to spending more effort to sift through the rank and file, we are going to have to be willing to pay more for people who want to work and learn the trade.
Invest in Yourself
There has been a great deal of news recently about unrest in the United States around race, authority, and governmental responsibility. It is time that we stop looking outside of ourselves for change. Real change happens from within. If you invest in yourself, your faith, your family, your friends, and your company, you will discover the quickest route to positive change. We are becoming a country of spectators who are waiting for someone else to lead us to satisfaction. Wealth is not to be found in the next lottery ticket. Break this trend by becoming a personal change agent. Take the individual responsibility to engage yourself in personal improvement and you will see the world change around you.
Believe in Miracles
Last October, I watched with the rest of the country as a baseball team surprised the world with its performance in pursuit of the World Series. The Kansas City Royals came out of nowhere as a remote Wild Card entry to come within one game of winning it all. They were successful by believing the impossible was possible and by not giving credence to the naysayers. All of a sudden a group of kids who love the game of baseball were making history. It is time to begin believing in miracles and believing in yourself. As my teenage daughter said, miracles are like pimples; once you look for them you find them everywhere.
So I tip my hat to 2014 and head into 2015 with hope, excitement, and confidence. Although our path will still be littered with challenges, there are exciting opportunities ahead for those who are brave enough to embrace them.
Oct. 23, 2014
For some reason, I find myself gravitating more to old Bob Dylan music than usual. I am particularly fond of the song, “The Times They are A-Changin’ ”.I guess I find this song comforting as I navigate changes in the construction industry. As a business owner, the changes in health insurance are on the top of my list.
Professionals in the construction industry are quite familiar with how insurance affects our industry since we contend with all types of coverage in many different aspects of the business. Coverage such as bonding, general liability, workers compensation, OCIP, CCIP, and others are just a part of doing business. Health insurance, on the other hand, has become a major challenge whether you are the owner of the business or the guy swinging a hammer in the field.
Of all of the political changes that have emerged from Washington over the past 50 years, I would have to say that the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) back in 2010 surpasses them all in creating controversy. The new law has created discontent from rich to poor and everyone in between because it involves significant changes for all. This post is not another bitch session on the unconstitutionality of Affordable Care, or a politically charged diatribe. I just want to outline the challenges that confront many of us in the construction industry.
According to the Census Bureau
, 53.9% of the total population is covered by an employer based health plan. A very high percentage of architects, general contractors, owners, subcontractors, and union members are beneficiaries of this type of coverage. The average cost
of such health benefits is $2.70 per hour or 8.5% of total average compensation. So we’re talking about significant costs that will dramatically impact this type of coverage in the future as these costs increase.
I wasn’t the only one who found the provisions in the ACA to be complicated as it was being considered on Capitol Hill, signed into law, and contested at the Supreme Court. The original documents were said to be over 10,000 pages long and many people in Congress even admitted that they didn’t fully understand its implications. The law itself is 2,409 pages long. The program went into effect on January 2014 and all of its effects on healthcare in the United States have yet to be seen.
Our company decided to grandfather our existing program back in December 2013 so we could provide the same level of coverage to our employees for the current year. Over the past decade, we have become familiar with double-digit increases in health insurance costs and have changed from one insurer to another in an attempt to purchase the best deal available in the marketplace. We are now in a position where we have to pay the new rates that are a result of the implementation of the ACA. Currently we are confronting a 52% increase to renew our coverage for 2015. Yes, you heard that correctly. Fifty-two percent!
So what’s a company that is confronting such an explosion in overhead cost do when it already is one of the single largest line items on the financial statement? We really only have the following options:
- Absorb the entire increase as a company and increase our prices in the marketplace to cover the difference. This will result in our customers paying for the added cost of insurance, or will drive the company out of business if we fail to remain competitive.
- Switch to a self-insurance alternative where the company assumes the risk that our employment base will not suffer catastrophic costs. My company is in the historic window business; we are not actuarial experts who can effectively gamble on future health outcomes. We also have fewer than 30 employees, making this option highly risky.
- Change the coverage of our current plans to new plans where there are higher deductibles, increases in co-pay amounts, reductions in total coverage, and decreases in prescription coverage. These changes reduce the premiums, but effectively transfer the health costs to the employee who has to fork over more money for every procedure.
- Change the amount the company contributes to the individual and family plans. This results in lower corporate costs, but transfers increases in coverage to the employee.
- Eliminate all coverage and ask everyone to purchase their own insurance on the exchanges. Who knows what this would mean for our employees?
Our company will probably choose some combination of the above alternatives to meet the challenge. So in essence, the burden of the costs associated with ACA will be shouldered jointly by the company and by our employees. This wouldn’t be an issue if the company was flush with cash and our employees were paid like investment bankers. But that’s not the case at Re-View, nor is it the case for most companies engaged in the construction industry.
What are you going to do? Here is what the esteemed management consultant Bob Dylan would do:
“Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin’”
I Need Some Help
Sep. 18, 2014
I was having lunch the other day with a friend of mine who works in one of the large law firms in town when the topic of hiring new employees came up. Although the type of employee one hires for a law firm is quite different from the people I hire for our manufacturing plant, the similarities of our frustrations were incredible. Our biggest complaint was how difficult it is to find employees who have a passion for work. Given the fact that the unemployment rate in the United States is around 6.2%, one would think that there are a lot of people out there who are very hungry for employment. That has not been my experience. The biggest challenge my company faces right now is finding good employees. This made me wonder what’s going on in this country that is driving a general malaise in the workforce.
I tend to use a lot of sports analogies in running a business. One of my favorites is the example of how a successful company must attract the best people in the same way a championship team selects the best players. It is also critically important to have the right people in the right positions. You won’t make it very far in the NFL by having your wide receiver play on the offensive line. Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”
emphasizes the importance of effective staff placement. Since the team is of critical importance, this applies more pressure to hiring the right people. The days of hiring based upon whether someone can fog a mirror are gone forever.
Last year, I attended a preservation conference where RudyChristian
spoke on the serious decline of people trained in the traditional building trades. The general lack of interest from the youth of America in the trades has caused many schools to discontinue offering these degrees. We experienced this phenomena 15 years ago when it became increasingly difficult to find talented craftsmen. As a result, Re-View began to invest in automated equipment that enabled us to manufacture period work without relying on master carpenters for every process. These investments allowed the company to grow despite the dearth of experienced talent. Now we are having a major challenge just finding people who want to work in general, never mind finding someone with experience in their trade. If the people who are protesting raising the minimum wage to $15 applied the same amount of energy to showing up for work and applying themselves every day, I have a $15+ job available for them right now.
This made me wonder whether we are dealing with a generational trend. Is there something about the psyche of the Millennial generation that contributes to my challenges in finding people with a strong work ethic? Millennials
are defined as people in the United States who are 18 to 35 years old. William Strauss and Neil Howe
wrote several books on the Millennials and generational theory, and they state we are in a period of generational crisis where the current generation is demanding change. This crisis is largely a result of 9-11, the economic downturn, and the stagnation in government. Some of the prominent traits of this generation are a sense of entitlement and a narcissistic demeanor. Jean Twenge
wrote a book about the Millennials titled “Generation Me”
where she concluded that narcissism is markedly higher in the Millennials than previous generations. I think I’m on to something.
So let’s take a look at how these generational trends affect a business. Millennials have a distrust of the country’s institutions, which includes companies like mine. They don’t think in terms of what they can do for the company as much as what the company can do for them. Their work is a means to engage in other endeavors rather than as an opportunity to create a career. Millennials expect to get paid well and move up the corporate ladder as part of the deal, not as a result of expending the extra work to improve your ability and standing. It’s better to get something for nothing than have to work hard to earn it. Sitting behind a computer terminal is much more desirable than labor intensive occupations. Instead of being lucky to have a good job, they feel their employers are lucky to have them show up for work. After that depressing profile, I am starting to agree with Twenge that we are truly in a crisis right now!
Although I generalize profusely about millions of people above, these trends are having a dramatic effect on businesses’ ability to find people who want to work in either the trades or manufacturing. Companies are going to have to pay more and have better benefits while they receive reduced output. There will also be fewer people in the marketplace looking for work that involves sweating for eight hours a day. If you want someone to work on weekends or extra hours, you had better be willing to compensate them well for the effort. Team building consultants will no longer be able to use the term “There is no I in the word TEAM” since the employment base is primarily concerned with themselves. It’s a new world, baby.
I guess we baby boomers have nobody to blame but ourselves. From the start we spoiled our kids with lavish birthday parties, organized sports for every season, the latest in fashion, personal automobiles, etc. Helicopter parents were always there to swoop in and take care of any problem no matter how big or small. Kids were too busy in the summer with their organized activities to hold down a job. I guess I never should have provided trophies for the losing hockey team back when I coached because I was just encouraging that sense of entitlement. Essentially, we got what we asked for.
So what is a business to do? Last week, as I dropped my daughter off at college, I told her not to worry about the fact that her art college was 60% female and that a high percentage of the males were gay. I told her she was more than capable of overcoming the statistical odds if she were serious about finding someone to date. My advice was to embrace the challenge. I think that advice also works for businesses that are trying to attract talent during these challenging times. There are good people out there. It is just going to take more effort and a strong dose of patience to find them.
Back to School
Jul. 17, 2014
Over the past two years, I have enjoyed watching my daughter go through the process of selecting a college. In addition to the typical criteria of the reputation of the school, curriculum, teacher/student ratios, and chances of employment after graduation, I was surprised to discover the extent to which the school’s facilities influenced her decision. For example, the top school in the country in her field of study got the ax because of the lack of investment in classrooms and the cinder block 225-square-foot dormitory rooms. Her final selection of the Savannah College of Art and Design was largely based upon the overall energy of the campus.
This made me think about the role that facilities play in the academic experience and the associated opportunities for the construction industry. The schools that will thrive over the next 50 years will be the ones that have invested in the atmosphere of the campus. This experience is greatly defined by the architecture. The investment in the restoration of traditional historic structures and the development of new vibrant buildings is going to be a critical success factor for both public and private educational institutions.
I submit that the post-high school educational sector is currently at a turning point. Schools are facing more challenges right now than ever before in history. Tuition rates have risen 1,120% since the 1970’s and over 50% of graduates are either jobless or underemployed. For the first time I can remember, people are seriously debating about whether a college education is worth the investment. Add to this depressing statistic that fact that enrollment in higher education has declined over the past ten years and will remain stagnant through 2024. These serious collegiate challenges have inspired a new documentary on America’s struggling colleges titled, “Ivory Tower
,” that was recently released.
Some might think that the best strategy under these threatening times would be to hunker down, cut faculty, and eliminate programs to survive the financial strains. Many schools have resorted to these strategies just to stop the bleeding. Although this strategy might provide temporary relief for the bottom line, it won’t be successful in staving off other educational competition. The specter of online educational programs is growing by leaps and bounds. In a study from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, an estimated 14 percent of students are enrolled in fully online programs, while 30 percent of all college students take at least one online class. If the bricks and mortar campuses don’t take a proactive approach to the future, they might be joining the likes of Borders Bookstoresand Blockbuster.
So how does all of this affect the construction industry? I see a big opportunity for schools, architects, and general contractors to join forces to enhance the physical environment of higher education. This can be done by restoring and re-purposing the traditional structures on campus that carry the heritage of the institution. Landmark buildings are in need of restoration, and more modern interior amenities should be incorporated in the design. Enhancements can also be accomplished by sensitive development of new facilities that complement or even redefine the essence of the particular community. Although it has suffered from leaks, the Stata Center
on the MIT campus serves as a good example of innovative academic design.
Re-View is very active in the restoration of landmark buildings on college campuses. We are currently working on projects at the College of William and Mary
. We are manufacturing historically correct wood window replicas that exactly match the existing window systems except for the inclusion of insulated glass for energy efficiency. These changes enable the colleges to achieve LEED designation while they respect the historic design of the buildings. The work on the exterior of these buildings must be done very meticulously in order to restore the traditional look of the buildings. On the interior, the building systems and layouts are being redefined to provide a more comfortable lifestyle for the college dormitory experience.
The next decade will be challenging for colleges and universities across the country. The winners are going to be the ones that make investments in their facilities. It should prove to be an exciting time for the construction industry. As my second daughter starts through the college selection process this next year, I’ll be watching to see if I detect changes being made on the campuses we visit. I’m sure the environment on the campus will play as large a part in the selection process as it did for her sister. I only hope she chooses a college that also has a strong curriculum to match..