Top 10 Zen Zingers for Peace of Mind Construction

by Bart Mendel on January 6, 2017

Disaster stories in construction abound: unfinished homes and buildings, blown budgets, lawsuits and contractors fleeing the state.  True story: a potential client came to me after receiving an anonymous packet on their front doorstep after they had hired a contractor, containing 200 pages of his nefarious crimes: his restraining orders, lawsuits and judgments – why he even hooked his pickup truck to an old client’s electrical service and ripped it out. I have had 40 years both as a Buddhist teacher and construction professional counseling others on how to avoid disputes and disasters in construction – here are a few tips to maintain your sanity:
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  1. Seek Wisdom in All the Right Places. Hire the best professionals within your means for design, building and construction management (CM). Going cheap may cost you in the long run, sending your peace of mind right out the window. Retain experts and rely on their opinions. King Solomon wrote: “Listen to wise advice and follow it closely.” Maybe he learned this from building his temple.
  2. Deconstructing the Construction Team. Get to know the players before they’re hired.  Don’t just check licenses and the references they provide to you. Talk to former clients, their vendors and people outside their reference list for true enlightenment.
  3. Take a Big View on Time and Budget. Manage your expectations. Remember that quality, cost and time are competing parameters — don’t expect the best work will be the cheapest and fastest. Carefully think through what you can afford, and then allow a substantial contingency – 10-15% or more. Expect to spend every penny of it and you won’t be disappointed.
  4. Hire a Master and Let Go. Professional construction managers are essential to keep large projects on time, on budget and risk managed. The money invested will end up saving you substantially, often more than the CM’s own fees. A CM will coordinate relationships, budgets, schedules and contracts and keep all the players on the same page. Let go and let them do their job so that the project doesn’t take over your life.
  5. Plan, Plan, Plan. Prepare a preconstruction plan based on real information from your professional team, or best have a CM do it. Seek contractor input early, way before bidding, and pay for estimating services (in this way you won’t feel obliged to hire them if they aren’t competitive later). Demand full design and coordinated engineering drawings – this will save on expensive change orders later. Planning represents a very small cost of the project and is an opportunity to save real time and money in construction where 90% of the cost and all the liability occur.
  6. Value Real Value. Don’t automatically pick the lowest bid – pick the one that gives you the most value. You get what you pay for, and if you pay too little, you often get even less. Pick general and trade contractors, architects, engineers and consultants based on relevant experience and value, not just price.
  7. Be Omniscient. Remember the initial price from your architect or contractor is not the same as the final price. Carefully define their services and seek inclusivity. A low price that doesn’t include the entire scope of the project is meaningless – throw it out and get bids that provide a realistic budget for everything you want or may need from the very beginning.
  8. Say No to Stress. Know and manage your stress and risk tolerance. Stay within your means and don’t take on a bigger project than you can handle. Embrace change – learn to accept chaos and dust as progress. Expect the inevitable problems – after all, this is a construction project. Develop patience, meditate each morning and maintain a sense of humor.
  9. You Don’t Have to be a Hobbit to Go Green. All projects can benefit from green opportunities. Focus on ways to reduce energy and water consumption first, as this is easier than generating energy through solar, geothermal or wind power. Site your building to take advantage of passive solar. Improve the efficiency of your exterior walls and roof to reduce energy for heating and cooling. Use low flow water fixtures and drought tolerant landscaping or collect roof water for irrigation. Focus on ideas with a return on investment of less than 7 years for best economic value. Enjoy the peace of mind that comes from reducing energy consumption and sustaining the environment.
  10. Positive People Power. Buildings are designed and built by people so clear, calm communication is your essential survival tool. Mistakes and disputes generally come down to poor communication, unrealistic expectations, or an ineffective team member. Foster good relationships with your team and work together to solve problems. Offer praise regularly. Studies have invariably shown that job satisfaction is more important than compensation. Show the team you appreciate their efforts and they will give you their very best. After all, they are building your home.

People often undervalue the knowledge required to design and build successfully. You may own a hammer and a cordless drill, but the odds are construction professionals know more than you do. Evaluate them, hire them, trust them and let them build you a great home.

Originally published in Buildings.com 1/27/2012.

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