Construction Administration: What to Expect From Your Design Team

What would make your construction project seamless? Staying on budget? Finishing on time? Avoiding design changes and getting the keys to the house you’ve always dreamed of?

None of these wishes are far-fetched. As the client, you should expect your builder to abide by the contract and deliver quality services. From the start of your project to the certificate of occupancy, your design team can provide Construction Administration (CA) support to ensure that this happens.

While this role entails countless responsibilities, the four critical duties of a Construction Administrator are RFI management, submittal review, substitution request review, and structural observations.

1. Request For Information (RFI) Management

RFIs act as a communication tool for the project’s stakeholders. Contractors use them to address unforeseen deficiencies and seek clarification. Should your builder send an RFI to seek clarity regarding a design element, your CA will walk you through the RFI and work with you to formulate a cost-efficient and constructible response.

Although they facilitate dialogue between the contractor and owner, RFIs should not serve as a means of substitution approval. If your contractor sends an RFI to suggest an alternate product or material, your CA will redirect the request into the proper channel to avoid an inadvertent approval of changes. Substitutions must follow a separate procedure and should be thoroughly documented to ensure that any changes are aligned with the project’s design intent.

2. Submittal Review

Shop drawings, product data, and samples show your contractor’s approach to complying with contract documents and your design intent. Vendors and subcontractors submit them to your builder for compliance review; the builder then sends them to the design team for approval.

In some cases, submittals introduce products and materials that do not match specifications. This isn’t always done in bad faith; a subcontractor may not carry a specified material and suggest a similar alternative to be used in its place. Unfortunately, even minor changes to specified materials can affect other elements of the project or even lead to design changes. To prevent this from happening, your CA should review submittals for general conformance with plans and specifications. If any deviations are found, your CA should direct your contractor to adhere to proper procedures for requesting a substitution.

Your CA’s independent review of shop drawings will benefit you in several ways. It will offer a second set of eyes to scan the submittals for general conformance with plans and specifications. It will also add neutrality to the review process. Finally, it will give you a chance to authorize changes before work gets underway.

3. Substitution Request Review

Your contractor can request a substitution for several reasons. The specified product or material may not be available or its long lead time may delay the schedule. In some cases, the contractor may have an alternative that performs better, results in costs savings for the project, or is otherwise superior to what’s specified.

Because of a construction project’s countless co-dependent elements, substitutions that don’t come under scrutiny from the design team can have a butterfly effect on the entire undertaking. That’s why it is vital to enforce formal substitution policies that allow your design team to weigh all such requests.

With that in mind, substitutions proposed via submittals should not be allowed. Instead, contractors should send their requests in writing. Your contract will stipulate the required supporting documents for substitution requests, but at a minimum, these requests should consist of the following:

• the manufacturer’s literature and drawings on the alternative product
• a detailed comparison between the specified and proposed alternate products
• necessary modifications to other elements of the construction project, if any
• impact on the construction schedule
• a cost comparison between the specified and alternative products

This information will help you and your CA determine the effects of the substitution on the design intent, schedule, and budget of your project.

4. Structural Observations

California Building Code defines a structural observation as a “visual observation of the structural system by a registered design professional for general conformance to the approved construction documents”. These observations may be performed by the engineer responsible for your structural design or delegated to another licensed engineer. They are conducted separately from the city’s inspections, and their aim is to supplement the work of the building officials. The Code requires structural observations to on structures that are:

• assigned to Seismic Design Categories (SDC) D, E or F and Risk Category III or IV
• assigned to SDC D, E or F and are 75’ or higher above the base
• assigned to SDC E and Risk Category I or II and are two stories or higher
• located where nominal design wind speed exceeds 110 and are classified in Risk Categories III or IV, or are higher than 75’ above the base

Your project’s engineer or your local building official can request structural observations even if the project does not meet the conditions noted above.

If your building requires structural observations, your CA should schedule them at stages that facilitate corrections of discovered deficiencies. These stages may align with the completion of individual structural elements, which the observation will assess:

• walls
• frame
• diaphragm
• any others identified by the engineer responsible for the design

After each observation, the inspecting engineer will prepare a report and share it with the local building inspector, you, and your contractor. After the completion of structural work, the engineer will perform a final observation to ensure that all prior deficiencies have been resolved.

How Design Everest Can Make Your Project Seamless

At Design Everest, we understand the significance of the CA role. We will help you keep your project on budget and spare you from unwanted changes and unnecessary delays. 14 years of experience and 3,000 successful projects shaped us into a team of professionals, and we are ready to step in and make your project seamless. Contact us now and we will provide you a FREE Consultation with a quote or call us at (877) 892-0288 to know more about us. We can also provide a virtual on-site and virtual consultation.

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