Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Forms, Concrete, Oops (I told you so!)

For the most part, this house project has been a positive and rewarding experience. And when we've had minor issues, I've kept a positive tone (well, most of the time). This post isn't one of those times.

The subcontractor whose crew made and stacked the TerraBricks has been challenging to work with (I'm being polite right now). When the owner of the company is there, the crew works quickly, efficiently, effectively. The second he turns his back or leaves the job site, they're the slowest, least motivated people in the entire world! When we all were on-site filming for Renovation Nation on Thursday, they got a ton of work done -- more than three times the amount of work they got done on Wednesday and on Friday put together. The difference? The owner was there and our contractor was there.

For the most part, their quality of work has not been an issue, it's just the speed of their work (or lack thereof) that's been the challenge. That, combined with rain over several days, now has us about two weeks behind schedule. There's a lot of work to do yet on the concrete and TerraBricks before the framers can come back and install the roof, frame the interior of the first floor, and then install the windows and doors.

I wrote above, "For the most part, their quality of work has not been an issue...". Well, on Saturday it became an issue. The crew was late to work in the morning. They were supposed to be on-site by 7:30 to complete their work on the concrete forms. They didn't come until after 8:30 and then several of the guys ate their breakfast before unloading the tools and ramping up to work. The concrete was scheduled to arrive at 9:00am. So they put everything behind schedule. To make up for it, one of the geniuses on the crew decided to take a short-cut with a column and did not use the required wire reinforcement to hold the column forms together. He trusted his 2'x4' external supports that were still resting in settling back-filled clay dirt that people were walking around.

You can just guess what happened! The weight of the concrete busted the form, the supports fell away, and the concrete went all over the outside of the back of the house. They got it cleaned up (in a half-assed sort of way) and now they have to do that work over again. Ugh. It wouldn't be such a big issue, except that puts us further behind schedule and we had a long conversation with the owner of the company about our expectations on the concrete forms and he assured us everything would be done to the highest standard. We knew something like this was going to happen, and it did. While I generally like being right, I would rather have been wrong on this. It's a good thing the work crew was still there when this happened, and it's a good thing the Renovation Nation video crew was not still there, or the end result would have been even messier! You'll see the fouled form in the last pic below.

The crew was able to get most of the concrete work done, but not all of it. They still had some window headers to form and three columns to form, then more concrete to pour.
The only reason they got as far as they did is that Andreas worked his tail off carrying extremely heavy buckets of concrete from the concrete mixer truck to the various parts of the house where the concrete had to be poured. He carried at least 100 buckets - that likely was more than any of the paid crew!

There are several other jobs this crew could do for us on our house, but they won't be given the opportunity. I'm counting the days until they complete their work so we can be gone with them!


  1. Obviously, this crew is being paid by the hour.

    Have you spoken to the owner of the company about this? I would hope that if the owner is visiting your site periodically and keeping track of the schedule, he has to be wondering why it's taking so long. Still, you are suffering because you're behind schedule, which impact all your other subcontractors. The owner really needs to know about the shortcut with the cement support and the subsequent fail, as well as his slow, negligent workers. He has a lot invested in his company and a reputation to uphold - he should want to know.

    But concern for his business aside, this is YOUR HOUSE, that you are paying a lot of money for, and that you hope to live in for many years to come. You have a right to expect quality workmanship, ethical workers, and performance to schedule.

  2. We just finished renovating a house not far from you. So many things went wrong, only to be caught after the fact. We were almost five months behind schedule. Now, we have a punch list a mile long.

    When it comes to your house, you have to look out for yourself because construction workers, general contractors, architects, etc. will take shortcuts if given the chance.

  3. Jazz (Dave) & Kathleen - we've talked to the owner on multiple occasions, as has our overall project contractor, and the owner thinks his crew is the best in the world. He does drop in on the site regularly, but the second he leaves, they're slow working again. When he's there for a full day, they're pretty darn productive.

    Fortunately, I re-wrote the proposed contract with this company so it now has a maximum price, clarification that any problems must be fixed at their expense, as well as penalties if the quality is not exactly where we need it to be (defined as our 100% satisfaction). So the crew's laziness simply means the owner will make little or no money on this project. If I were the owner, I'd be on-site every single day, all day, to ensure they're working hard to get this done. We certainly want the project to move forward quickly since delays cost us (carrying costs for the loan, other projects not getting completed in a timely manner, etc.)

  4. Oh no. Mike, Andreas , I'm sorry to hear that happened.

    For the other readers, just to be clear :) ... the problems with the above grade forms that were an issues was not work that Bartley Corporation constructed (we did however do the excavation, footing, basement walls and basment slab) which overall went well.

    We may have to look into doing the forming work next time to make sure it does not become an issue for other homeowners.

  5. Andy's correct - the contractor I wrote about was NOT the Bartley Corporation!

    I have strongly encouraged the Sustainable Design Group to find another company to do the forms and I'll let them know that might be something you would be interested in doing.

    We definitely would have been more comfortable with your team at Bartley Corporation on that part of the job!