How Involved Should I be in My Construction Project? 


If you are asking this question, you have made a number of decisions already. You have decided what type of construction project best suits your needs, you have decided on a contractor and you are ready to move forward. Dependent upon the reasoning for your question the answer may be different. Do you feel uncomfortable or unsure of your contractor? Are there special elements of the project that you feel a unique ability to convey special instructions about? Do you have a developed skill level beyond the contractor’s skilled labor force?

I think it makes sense to summarize the history of ownership involvement, with the construction process prior to attempting an answer to this question.

Years ago, the majority of the population was involved with any construction process involving themselves or their families. The normal involvement was in many cases 100%, basically, the homeowner was performing the work, and therefore the involvement was 100%. I can remember the construction projects around my home when my Dad was in-charge. Basically, he did everything, and if he was hesitant to try something new, he did not hire a subcontractor, no, he simply went to a friend, that knew more than him, about the activity in question, and either bartered the assistance or simply asked for it. Society in the days after World War II was a society of assisting your neighbor, with the understanding that this was a two way street, and that mutual assistance could be obtained with just a conversation over the backyard fence.

As time moved on, the economy improved, specialty occupations and skills developed among the veterans of WWII, subcontractors evolved. The individual, who excelled in assisting his neighbors with electrical issues around the home, started an electrical business. The person, who loved to solve the leaky pipe dilemma of so many of his neighbors, became the plumber. Individuals who had farmer based skills at cutting and hammering wood became the framers, etc. This creation of individual skill levels and abilities, as well as the acknowledgement that subcontractors specializing in the basic disciplines and could make a living, caused the separation of the “ all performing “to a selective conditioning of the homeowner into performing only the general work, and not the specialty work. The homeowner now understood that to expect the bartered or free assistance from a skilled individual, by interceding into the way the person made his living, was no longer acceptable. Therefore the hiring of subcontractors and specialty contractors developed.

Once the aspect of total responsibility for the project started to lessen from the homeowner to specialty contractors, the need for a management and supervision position became obvious. Society improved, conditions improved, individuals had various skill levels, in different ventures, and the need for the General Contractor developed. In years gone by, the General Contractor was an occupation only the rich and famous could afford. Now the economy and society was mandating the development of the General Contractor for the general public, not just the rich and famous.

The General Contractor started to become a popular method for conducting a construction project, whether it is a new structure, an addition, or the renovation of an existing structure. Commercial buildings became a source of revenue for Developers, and buildings were now being constructed on spec. Meaning, the building was constructed, and the developer hoped to either sell or rent the space for his profit on the project. Churches, medical facilities, industrial complexes, were now all about the architect, the engineer and the General Contractor.

The shifting from total immersion in the construction process by the owner, to more and more the expectation that there were professionals better suited for this work, became established. Once this concept became popular, the General Contractor and his subcontractors became the accepted method of involvement within a construction project. The owner simply dictated their needs and requirements to the architect and engineers, they in-turn developed the packages to present to contractors for pricing, the competitive market took over and the rest became history.

For years the elements of construction knowledge and experience was in the hands of the contractors and specialty subcontractors. There, of course, were books to read and lectures to attend, but who really had the time. The economy was developing, manufacturing and industry were expanding, and there were countless other opportunities for income and means of making a living. The construction process was for the individuals experienced and professional in the construction field, and their knowledge took precedence over the assumed knowledge of the homeowner, do it yourselfers, etc.

Then the internet became reality!

The internet hit the masses, “Do it yourself” shows became so prevalent on television and the internet, that normally there are several to choose from within a given hour. Young, good looking individuals, males, females took over the construction process and the renovation marketplace. All of a sudden, if you are not into the do it yourself culture, there is definitely something wrong with you. It has now become fashionable to renovate yourself. Everyone is talking about it, there are magazines that identify the simple life, always at a cost, and there is You Tube videos explaining every process involved in a construction project. Everyone is exposed, everyone has a better idea, and the big box construction product stores are forgetting the contractors, doubling the price, and selling to the young families to improve their lifestyle and homes. All focus is on the homeowner, their education, their products, the simplicity of the construction industry, and the thousands of dollars to be saved by the Do it yourself culture.

We have run full circle, from construction project being performed by the owner due to economic reasons and lack of specialty companies, to a construction process that basically removed the owner from the process and used the professional builders to perform the work, back to a culture that believes they know every process, or can simply “ goggle “ the techniques necessary to achieve construction satisfaction? This is where the industry is at the present moment.

HOW INVOLVED SHOULD I BE WITH MY CONSTRUCTION PROJECT ? still remains the question

The answer lies in the person that you want to be? What do I mean by that statement?   We live in a society where every technique, procedure, process or trick can be researched on the internet with countless descriptions of the proper instructions on them, and anything else you may want to know.

The use of the internet and the cell phone has allowed everyone to critique the workman, as he installs the tile or the trim, or the electrician wires a plug and switch. Every technique can, and will be addressed, criticized and someone will have a better idea or method.

What is the danger of this knowledge; it is the lack of understanding, experience and hands on learning that performing the operation gives to the craftsman. We can search the web to find out the procedures, the layout and the setting techniques, used by the European masons on the magnificent homes in Newport RI, or other places around the world. The procedures and techniques for boat building that were and are incorporated around the world in places like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Block Island, etc. can be watched on You Tube and clearly identified on the internet. Every technique used in the completion of your construction process is also shown, in detail, on the internet, there are multiple weekly seminars at the local big box lumber yards and the television will show you how to perform every function, every evening.

However I guarantee that even with all of this information in front of us, neither you or I will be capable of the coming close to the quality and beauty of the homes in Newport, the yachts of Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket or Block Island, and we will not be able to coming close to the scheduling and construction ability of the contractor you have hired.

The choice ends up being totally yours; however it is important that the following thoughts are entertained and contemplated, as you try to answer the question of, HOW INVOLVED SHOULD I BE WITH MY CONSTRUCTION PROJECT?

  • As in any profession, for example, the profession of motherhood or the profession of a stay at home husband, there are thousands of bits of information and videos to tell you how to perform your job. This information is no different, than the information available regarding construction processes.
  • The hands on experience of the craftsmen, just as it could not be taught, merely by reading books, cannot be taught by research on the internet and watching You Tube videos.
  • The bruised thumb experienced when hammering a nail, the kick back from a table saw, the wrenching torque of a drill in your hands, are only a few of the many sensations experienced on a daily basis by the craftsmen in the construction field.
  • The depth of an excavation can be read about and studied on the internet, the feeling of being in a trench that is unstable and too deep, without shoring, is a feeling that cannot be read about.
  • The fear of losing your balance as you attempt to install a 4 X 12 foot piece of drywall over your head, on a scaffold, 20 feet in the air, cannot be read about.
  • The constant dribble of water from a leaky deck, down into the basement, is never noted on the internet, or the solution identified on a You- tube video.
  • When the internet informs you that the roof shingles should not be applied in full sunlight, you will never feel the frustration of sliding down the hot shingled roof, and ripping the tabs off of several shingles directly in the middle of a completed roof.
  • When the internet says that it is essential that there is water in the hot water tank prior to turning it on, it doesn’t quite have the same meaning, as not filling the tank in the field, turning it on, having it burn out, and then having to order another hot water tank, to replace the one you just destroyed.
  • When the You Tube video nicely shows the installation of bath tiles as well as the allegedly easily trimmed corners of each piece, as they nicely and expertly fits around the drain pipe, it does not show the multiple takes of the same cut on several tiles, until by luck, the cut is perfect, the tile doesn’t break on installation and all is great in the world.
  • When the You Tube video shows the installation of the wall fiberglass batt insulation, you do not have the sensation of thousands of beetles running over your entire exposed body, due to fiberglass fibers over sweat, the experience is not the same.
  • When the Do it Yourself show has every grade of sandpaper, installed on separate orbital sanders ready to go, you don’t have the need to change the sandpaper on the same piece of equipment each time you change the sanding process, trust m, reality is not the same.
  • When the Do it Yourself show never has any waste on the ground, or the area is constantly cleaned up, or the dumpster is always empty, or no one ever has to use the Porto John, etc.
  • When the alleged craftsmen on the show are in perfect physical condition, hair has been professionally groomed and their uniforms or very stylish and clothes are perfectly clean.
  • Or the craftsman has used the same process for several years with tremendous results and the latest in internet information claims a new and better product. You don’t have the feelings of frustration when the use of this new and improved product doesn’t perform close to the old fashion method and the entire process must be repeated.
  • Or the wonderful beauty of skillfully hand crafting a perfect multi-angles miter on a hard, tough piece of oak being minimized by some actor on a do it yourself show, using a new market jig, who has allegedly produced a similarly crafted product, never knowing if the actual video is real, or simply a manifestation of Hollywood effect?

These examples, comments and thoughts, are only a very minimum of the feelings, sensations, and experiences that a skilled construction craftsman is involved with, on a daily basis. Each construction project has a special place in the true heart of these craftsmen, and like myself, we will remember every project performed.

It is my opinion that the extent of involvement on a project should be guided by the following simple rules;

  • The Contractor was hired by you, the owner, due to their ability, experience, knowledge and reputation. These qualities should be allowed to guide your involvement.
  • The Contractor will acknowledge the fact that there are several new and developing techniques, processes, etc. being formulated for each and every product being used on the construction project.
  • The Contractor was hired to use the most qualified subcontractors and material suppliers, therefore any new or developing techniques will be intelligently incorporated, if they have been tested by time and experience.
  • There are countless situations where processes, manufacturing techniques, construction methods were incorporated too early in the process of their development, causing severe future hardships on construction projects.
  • The Contractor was hired due to their repeated experiences with similar products, techniques and construction methods. Their time spent devoted to the construction process should be acknowledged and treated with fairness, and the respect it deserves.
  • The Contractor should be presumed right in the construction process. As with the legal system, presumed innocent until proven guilty, the contractor should be provided the same courtesy.

Obviously there will be several readers of this discussion that will disagree with my general analysis of the situation. I am sure that the influence of the internet, You Tube and the Do –it – Yourself shows have convinced individuals that they know more than their contractors. I am positive, that as I write this response to the question of involvement on the construction project, there are multiple individuals, walking their sites, inspecting their workmen, criticizing the work, criticizing the techniques, as well as the processes. All I ask, is that you consider whatever you do for a living, and compare your inspection prowess against how you would feel if the same critique was placed on your daily work?

It is my opinion that a contractor, selected in accordance with several discussions we have had on this website, basically by researching history, experience, reputation, etc. is much better left alone, than to constantly critique their efforts. I feel that the end result will be a project more on schedule with less change orders and definitely less drama, than a project that has been constantly scrutinized, evaluated and critiqued on a daily basis.

Heh, I’m a Contractor, what did you expect me to say??

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