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Off-site 101: Lessons Learned

12 months ago I had no clue about building & manufacturing. I didn’t know what framing was, when plumbing and electrical needed to be installed. I also had zero knowledge of the legal checks such as building permits, stamped drawings, zoning requirements, fire marshall inspectors, and modular building plates. But as life goes you just need to jump into the deep end. So after four months of working for an Atlanta-based modular manufacture, I jumped founded BOXY with my brother.

While my experience is with off-site construction I think some lessons apply to forms of construction.

Lesson 1. LABOR BIDS: Find a reference number online for the trade you’re bidding out I,e(Drywall installation costs $1.50 to $3.50 per square foot) and present that to the subcontractor to take initiative and not let him control the pricing. He will typically counteroffer with slightly higher so keep that in mind.

Lesson 2. MATERIAL BIDS: All prices are negotiable from distributors. Call many and compare, and then ask for lower.

Lesson 3. LOCALIZE YOUR CIVIL ENGINEER: Find a local engineer to design your foundation. We used an engineer from New Hampshire for a building in Louisiana, the result was an over-designed foundation.

Lesson 4. QC WHILE RUNNING PRODUCTION: Watch subs closely towards the end of their work. You should have a paper floor plan and mark off fixtures as you see them finished. You want to catch mistakes before they leave. It will save your timeline.

Lesson 5. OPEN-MINDED PROBLEM SOLVING FOR INCORRECT WORK: Mistakes will always happen, be open to solutions other than demoing and rework. Our electrician installed outlets on the wrong side of the wall. For a solution, we used motion-detecting outlets instead of having our electricians rework them.

Lesson 6. LEARN FROM SUBS: Ask subs for their advice and opinions but ultimately think for yourself. There are many skilled people out there who will impart wisdom to you. However off-site is more of a manufacturing process than a stick-built construction one and it requires a shifted mindset. So look to the future and technology and combine them with experienced tradesmen.

Lesson 7. FRAMING QC: Used a level on all surfaces to QC framing. I was concerned about my beams leaning in and checked that level many times. However, they were leaning in the other axes. I’ll be sure to put my level on all surfaces next time as well as using lasers.

Lesson 8. MATERIAL PLACEMENT: This is critical in a warehouse as you need to maximize working space. Materials should be placed in order of their usage and not in the way of working space. This will save you and subcontractors a lot of time.

Lesson 9. DOCUMENTATION: Use a Matterport and photos to document things before they’re covered up. You will be able to quickly reference where the conduit and pipes are run.

Lesson 10. SAFETY: Set up a good working area with minimal trip hazards. Also have safety signs. This is important if an insurance claim arises. Unfortunately, people often look for ways to make an accident as they know that Commerical contractors have large insurance policies.

My experience construction friends. Please share any other wisdom!


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