Owners and developers are investors in a construction project, and as investors, they are entitled to information about the building process. Just as an investor in a startup wouldn’t blindly trust the executive team to make great decisions, a building owner can’t just defer to an architect or general contractor and hope everything goes to plan. They must take responsibility for their building during construction.
The mechanisms by which owners and developers can protect their investments are called construction monitoring services. These services come from a range of providers and take many forms, but they all serve the purpose of verifying that construction work is being done correctly.
Choosing the best construction monitoring services is an important component of any successful project. We’ve put together a brief rundown of different construction monitoring options, and ways for owners and developers to make sure they’re choosing the best firms and personnel for the job.
Sometimes referred to as contract administration, this service is offered by architecture firms after plans have been finalized and handed off to the general contractor. The architect then becomes an observer, periodically visiting a job site to ensure their plans are being followed accurately.
For an owner, construction administration is an indispensable component of the building process. No one knows how a building is meant to come together better than the person or team that designed it. Having their presence on-site can help owners and developers ensure that the contractor is completing their duties exactly as described by the initial plans.
When choosing an architect, it’s important to consider how they’ll serve the project after the plans are complete. Unfortunately, even architects with solid construction administration services may only visit the job site once every few weeks. Other construction monitoring services are generally needed to fill in the gaps. Not every architect offers construction administration, and not every firm that offers this service has clear protocols for how to perform it. Choosing a firm that is committed to ensuring quality can help owners and developers protect their investment.
A commissioning agent is a contractor from a third-party company whose job is to ensure that a building’s subsystems, such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC, are properly installed and function as intended. These agents are typically hired by the owner in order to ensure objectivity.
Like the architect, a commissioning agent will walk the site periodically during construction to review the subsystems within their purview, make sure everything is going to plan, and make reports and recommendations for changes as needed.
When choosing a commissioning agent, most owners rely on referrals. Experience with the type of construction being done is key, as systems will vary greatly between an office building and a stadium, for example.
Commissioning services are vital to the creation of a successful building, but commissioning agents are only responsible for the quality of certain systems. Other services are required to truly provide comprehensive monitoring.
CONTRACTOR QUALITY CONTROL
GCs are typically required by owners and developers to perform regular quality observations. Like the architect and commissioning agent, this will involve someone from the general contractor’s organization walking the site and performing inspections to ensure work is being done to the owners’ specifications.
It’s important to choose a general contractor that has strong quality control procedures in place, and has demonstrated a commitment to conducting thorough quality observations in the past. However, it’s also important that owners and developers don’t exclusively rely on contractors. Contractors have a vested interest in getting work done quickly, so hiring an unbiased third party is critical.
VISUAL DOCUMENTATION SERVICES
Visual documentation services, like Multivista, dispatch photographers to a job site to capture key elements of the building process during construction milestones. In Multivista’s case, the photos are then matched to an interactive online version of the building’s plans, allowing stakeholders to track progress on any part of their job site from anywhere in just a few clicks.
In addition to photographs, webcams have become a popular option for owners seeking to improve their construction monitoring. These cameras can be placed around a job site, and provide owners and developers with live-streaming remote visibility into construction activities.
Visual documentation services won’t replace on-site reviews by professionals, but they can improve the effectiveness of those reviews. An architect walking a job site might be able to scan 5-10% of the building for flaws, but visual documentation photographers can comprehensively capture each component of a building, often for a fraction of the cost.
These photographs will allow the architect, contractor, or commissioning agent to review the entire project in a far less time than it takes to walk a whole site, identifying problem areas and proactively resolving issues without the need for destructive discovery.
Architects are most involved in pre-construction processes. Contractors are most concerned with the building phase. Commissioning agents stay involved long enough to ensure systems are functioning properly. But only the owner is concerned with the life of the building 30, 40, or 50 years in the future. Therefore, it is the owner’s responsibility to monitor construction and ensure everything is going smoothly, to minimize their risk and prevent problems from popping up down the line.
The best construction monitoring approach combines all four of the above categories. No single construction monitoring service is complete enough on its own to truly give an owner peace of mind. However, an owner, architect, commissioning agent, and contractor operating as a team with good communication and strong visual documentation can certainly do just that.