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July 22, 2020
Professional Advice for Private Clients—Part 1: Contractor Quality

As a firm of engineers and architects specializing in exterior restoration (including Local Law 11, or FISP repairs), SUPERSTRUCTURES has become the go-to choice of innumerable “professional” clients—large city, state, and federal agencies with design and construction professionals in-house.

But we also work with many private, residential clients represented by co-op or condo boards. Such boards have special relationships to their properties because they personally invest and live in them. SUPERSTRUCTURES understands this relationship because our founding principals have served as the presidents of their own co-op and condo boards of significant Manhattan buildings. We know that selecting and working with contractors for exterior restoration projects can be a challenge for such boards, whether or not they happen to have design professionals or contractors in their ranks.

SUPERSTRUCTURES has worked with hundreds of contractors in our nearly four decades providing professional architecture and engineering services.  Based on this extensive experience, we offer the following guidance to help residential clients raise the bar when securing contractors—a primer on acting as professional clients in their own interest.

The quality of any final restoration product relies heavily on the quality of the chosen contractor. In theory, any contractor who bids on a project is proposing a fixed price to deliver exactly the work that is delineated in the construction documents (CDs) prepared by the engineer or architect. The means and methods by which a contractor achieves the finished product (staffing, rigging, sequencing, etc.) are the responsibility of that contractor. All else being equal, all bidding contractors should produce the same final result. But that’s in a perfect world. In this one, contractors come in a full spectrum of quality.

At the low end of the spectrum is the nightmare contractor, one who completely disregards the CDs, substitutes inferior materials for those specified, and performs improper work—e.g. installs a new roof membrane without removing the old one to be replaced, provides two layers of roofing membrane when three are specified, or does not include components like masonry anchors that will be hidden in the final installation, and therefore not subject to inspection.

A low-end contractor ignores the project for days at a time because its staff is doing catch-up work on other projects. A low-end contractor is concerned only with the short-term bottom line, not with establishing a reputation, and views contracting as a money-making opportunity, not a calling.

A mid-range contractor will complete the project as designed and close to schedule. There might be a few complaints about imperfect clean up at the end of the day, or a less-than-immaculate work site. A mid-range contractor might propose some less expensive substitutions that are ultimately accepted or rejected by the design professional, but will ultimately respect the professional’s decision. Contractors at the lower end of the mid range might require a greater site presence by the engineer or architect during construction. Often, the additional professional fees are more than offset by the savings in the contractor’s price.

The perfect contractor—the most desirable for any client—completes the project on time, exactly as specified in the CDs. If a particular condition is not shown on the CDs, they extrapolate properly from the details that are shown. They maintain an immaculate work site, minimizing disturbance to building occupants. They might know of a preferred product for certain purpose, but do not substitute the product without approval of the engineer. Paper work— submittals, invoicing, etc.—is timely and correct. They maintain internal quality control and select their employees carefully.

Subsequent posts in this series will offer insights on contractor price, change orders, and construction observation. Stay tuned.

SUPERSTRUCTURES Engineers + Architects

14 Wall Street, 25th Floor, New York, NY 10005
(212) 505 1133


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