Let’s raise the bar

Contractors, consumers and tradespeople need to expect more of each other

Ron Frederiksen
RSV Construction Services

Before you start to read this article, pause and look at your surroundings. Everything you see has been conceived, delivered, built, installed and maintained by people who work in the construction trades. Construction generates more than 4 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product.

Housing, commercial buildings and government facilities are vital to our survival as well as our standard of living. Yet for the most part the tradespeople who work in construction (to borrow the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield) "get no respect." Consumers, business owners and tradespeople themselves have created this situation, with serious long-term consequences for society. It came about for several reasons.

First, too many consumers want more than they can afford, and the only way to get it is by using the least expensive materials and labor. Ask a new homeowner about the size of his house and he’ll respond, "2,241 square feet and I paid $134.25 per square foot. Wasn’t that a great buy?"

Maybe, maybe not. But if you asked the same consumer how much they paid for their car per pound, they would look at you as if to say, "Who cares?" The point is, it doesn’t make a difference. A home or car should meet your needs, be within your budget and be of good quality so it will remain a great investment.

Construction company owners contribute to the problem. Yes, we must give consumers what they want, but we owe it to our customers to educate them regarding value, longevity and life-cycle costing.

Many construction companies hire tradespeople not based on their skills, but based on who will work for the lowest wage. As the quality of construction has slowly declined over the past 20 years, so has the general quality of the individual tradesperson. Many are in the position of having to work six or seven days a week to provide for their family, without insurance coverage or other benefits. Without the time, resources and reward to do a job you take pride in, you either don’t care and do consistently low quality work, or you pursue another career.

Many construction companies also don’t have highly skilled and experienced supervisors on the jobsite to ensure that all construction details come together properly. Many of the water intrusion, mold and mildew claims that insurance companies have spent millions of dollars dealing with could have been avoided had skilled supervisors communicated clearly and decisively with the trades to coordinate their efforts.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Consumers must demand good quality work, and not settle for less. They should insist that contractors educate them on the best way to do things, not the cheapest, so that they can make educated decisions about labor and materials. For example, whenever leakage and mold can be avoided by spending a few extra dollars, this is a wise investment.

Consumers also need to realize that construction is a service business, not a commodity. The same materials delivered to a jobsite can result in two different outcomes, depending on the skill level of the tradespeople using it. Don’t make decisions based on price. Factor in quality, service and maintenance issues.

Finally, contractors should focus on hiring the best, brightest and most skilled people they can find, not the least expensive. Good tradespeople attract others of similar skill, resulting in a company of trusted, professional workers. Theft, drug use and absenteeism become a thing of the past.

Will this affect a construction company’s pricing? Perhaps a little. But it is more than offset by the smoothness of the construction process, and the quality and longevity of the final product. Maintenance and life cycle costs are drastically reduced when they are incorporated into a project at the very beginning.

High quality clients understand this and want to make good long-term decisions based on high quality work. By raising the bar, and expecting the same of their contractor, they can look forward to the time the mortgage is paid off, and their building has created tremendous wealth for them and their family.

Ron Frederiksen is president of RSV Construction Services Inc., a Vancouver commercial and industrial design-build and remodeling firm. He can be reached at 360-693-8830.

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