How can an owner be sure construction produces the quality the owner desires? There is likely no way to be absolutely certain. But specifiers rely on several techniques to help ensure work results meets the owner's project requirements.
Note: Ensuring construction quality does not mean striving for the highest quality possible. It does mean achieving the quality standard meeting the owner's expectations. Three-star hotels need not meet five-star standards.
Here are six traditional methods and one emerging trend for ensuring construction quality.
Mockups when used to demonstrate the final construction result rather than final color and texture selection are an effect means to ensure construction quality. The approved mockups will remain as the basis for comparison and acceptance of the constructed work.
Mockups are typically built early and out of normal construction sequence. The craftsmen building the mockups may not be those constructing the work. The key is to monitor the initial production work to ensure compliance with the mockup.
Specifiers often rely industry installation reference standards such as those published by ASTM to set the acceptable practices and end results. These are normally consensus standards agreed by the standards proponents to be the minimum industry requirements. Some standards are written to define multiple quality level within the same standard. The specifier must choose the quality level suitable for a particular project.
Just because a standard set a minimum does not mean the specifier must specify only the minimum. Reference standards can be used as a starting point. Additional requirements, tighter tolerances, and higher quality may be specified for a single aspect of the work or for the entire work.
A common, expedient way to attempt to specify installation quality is to require the installer to have a minimum number of years experience. Be careful of these statements. For public work in some states, like Virginia, years experience requirements are illegal.
Besides, many years experience does not mean it was good experience. All that past experience may not be remotely relevant to the current project. So the specification must set out the type of experience needed when experience is used to qualify installers.
Manufacturer Certification and Training
Some manufacturers certify contractors as factory trained or approved to install the manufacturer's materials. There are many manufacturers and many more contractors. Specifiers that require manufacturer certification and training restrict the competition to those contractors that are likely the manufacturer's best customers. They may not be the best installers.
This level of manufacturer commitment is seen for field constructed products such as roofing systems. The manufacturer may be required to issue a full system warranty including installation workmanship. To limit the manufacturer's potential liability, the contractor pool will be limited to those with better installation records.
Manufacturer certification may be limited to the company and not extend to individual craftsmen. The training may be limited to foremen or crew chiefs. And when the specification allow for product competition, the certification and training by one manufacturer may be entirely different from the other acceptable manufacturers.
Testing and Inspecting Agencies
Sure specifiers can require contractors or owners to hire testing and inspecting agencies. These agencies have no authority except to report results. When the report is written, the quality may have already suffered and may be irreparable - or costly to correct.
Reactive quality control measures do not by themselves improve the process and construction result, except by the threat of rework to correct failed tests. Testing and inspecting simply promotes the need for more testing and inspecting when difficulties are discovered.
A/E Construction Observation
Architects and engineers are required to observe the construction progress, except when the owner chooses to exclude the service. The contracts are careful to point out that these observations are not extensive to ensure strict compliance with the contract documents. These are general observations of the progress and quality of the work. Because the observations are occasional, work may be concealed before it can be observed. So quality issues may be discovered only for work remaining visible in the completed construction.
Full time site observation from the A/E can be required, for a price of course. But with dozens of trades and hundreds of craftsmen on a project at any given time, a single observer may not be enough - a bevy of observers may be required.
An emerging trend toward independent certification - both for contractors and craftsmen - offers a new hope as an efficient, expedient way to specify consistent construction quality, regardless other influences. Refreshingly, independent certification is a industry proactive response to preserve the reputation of the best contractors and craftsmen and to raise the bar for the entire industry, simultaneously.
Independent certification ensures that no particular interest or entity benefits from the certification. Independence ensures the certification is open to anyone capable of demonstrating consensus core competencies.
Certified competencies can be enforceable under a construction contract. If contractor and craftsmen certification is required, the expectation will be to perform in accordance with the certification. Then the specifications must only address additional requirements and greater quality.
Requiring independent certification is the best means of ensuring the work is done right the first time, especially if poor performance risks continued certification and therefore future employment for both the contractor and the craftsman.