New Construction – What You Need to Know

Hot topics when starting a NEW CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

I have been involved with several, new commercial projects, that start off like gangbusters, and simply fizzle, as the various ” Hot Topics ” required, prior to the starting of a commercial project, are encountered which stall the project. There is a tendency for many amateur builders and contractors to jump, with all of their enthusiasm and ambition, into agreeing with a developer, architect or owner, that they will be capable of completing the project for whatever budget is available, and within any schedule demanded by the project.

We want and need this project, the contractor will say anything to get it, and think, they will figure it out as they go along. I have heard this many times, and I have never seen this scenario turn into anything but a disaster!

NO / STOP and think about all of the HOT TOPICS that are required, to properly construct a new project.

I will summarize most of the basics that must be considered, analyzed and deciphered, prior to properly and professionally starting a project.

1.) Geo-physical properties of the site. The proper physical characteristics of the site and the property to be developed, must be analyzed, designed and approved. These items include;

a.) Type of soil conditions. Is there rock, sand, silt, clay, muck, on the site, that will eventually support the foundations of the new project? Each of these conditions will require special engineering applications to properly construct the project. It is vitally important to the successful estimating of a project to fully understand the site conditions. Will this structure require piles, will it require special drainage, etc. The soil conditions will translate directly to the overall cost of the project.

b.) Water conditions. Where is the water table and what is the drainage considerations on the property? Water, is a basic problem that occurs on most of the remaining available sites for development. How will the water be handled as the project advances, and what is the final site plan for water retention as well as storm management? Water management, like the type of soils on the project, is also a major factor in the proper pricing of the structure and the overall project. The control of runoff as well as the additional surface drainage caused by asphalt, roof decks, hard-scapes on the project, will increase the water management responsibilities. This issue must be addressed immediately to ensure that the water conditions are manageable and approved by all local agencies.

c.) Soil bearing capacity. This consideration goes hand in hand with the geo physical properties of the site. What type of structure is being constructed on the site, and what are the various types of foundations that will be used. Will the site require special piles, either driven or helical, will there be spread footing and piers that need to be constructed, is there possibly a full pressure slab required due to the high water table? These are all considerations that must be identified, prior to foundation development and construction. Of course each one of these issues will determine the cost of the project as well as the necessary time of construction. No pricing of the project, other than very initial guesstimates should be made, prior to the identification of the foundation required for the project.

2.) Zoning challenges. There will always be zoning challenges that will need to be solved and finalized.

a.) Proper zoning of the property, is the property allowed in accordance with the zoning regulations already in place and do they support the type of construction project being proposed. The zoning reviews and approvals are an essential aspect of securing permission to construct the project. Zoning in each municipality has a very strong influence on the success of failure of proposed new construction projects.

b.) Set back infringement. Are there any zoning setbacks that are required, that will be encroached upon when constructing the project? If so, then a variance for the property will be necessary to construct the project. Variance approval is normally a very lengthy process and this time must be incorporated in the overall construction schedule of the project. In some cases, if a variance is required and challenges are mounted from neighbors or others, the variance approvals can take years to straighten out.

c.) Special considerations. Are there any special considerations that will need to be constructed, such as additional sidewalks, walkways, traffic signals, etc. that will be required to secure zoning approval. In many instances the local officials will take full advantage of the opportunity to insist on sidewalk improvements, traffic revisions, traffic signal improvements, or any other sort of adjacent improvements that can be obtained as a special stipulation for approving the project. Obviously all of these issues will cost the contractor money and must be determined, prior to any of the final pricing on the project.

d.) Special site access requirements. What will be the specific required access requirements to the site. How many curb cuts are required and permitted, what is the access for utilities, are there easements that are necessary to properly allow this piece of property to be developed? Access to a specific site is an important element of the success of the project. Whether it is access for delivery trucks, customer, or utility access, the analysis of special site access is an important and critical entity to proper and successful site development.

3.) EPA requirements. Current Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) requirements for water filtration during construction, final sediment basins and runoff control as well as other special provisions to protect the environment must be considered and constructed. On most large construction projects, the processing of concrete washout, the cleanliness of trucks entering and leaving the site as well as the elimination of dust from the site is an important aspect of EPA compliance. These types of requirements and costs must be evaluated and coordinated, prior to the finalization of both the project’s cost, as well as final schedule.

4.) FEMA requirements. The Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA) is in a current update of all floodplain locations. Does the property require special flood mitigation, or special flood insurances? This needs to be resolved prior to the application for a building permit. The current importance of FEMA regulations, especially since the occurrence of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy must be closely evaluated and analyzed to ensure that all flood plain requirements and obligations are included within the final pricing for the project. These requirements will only become more important as flooding requirements become more stringent.

5.) Traffic and Public Works approvals. Although the building application will require the approval of this agency within the jurisdiction of the project, it is both professional and much more efficient, to visit this department, prior to any of the applications being sought. The local Public Works department will educate you on the local requirements for the project in terms of roadways, curb cuts, utilities, etc. In addition to the specific requirements of the PWD of the local town, the overall impression of the project by the town officials will be much more positive, if all departments are introduced to the projects intent and construction details.

6.) Water Department. The project will require water, certainly domestic and in many cases sprinkler water. The water department must be contacted to review the project requirements and determine the accessibility of this utility to the project. In many instances the ability of the water department to provide a certain pressure and quantity of water is needed to properly address the engineering of the project. In some specific instances, the fire department will need to be consulted to identify their needs for fire protection and safety. I have been involved on projects that the insurance company providing the eventual insurance coverage will have specific requirements for fire protection. All of these elements must be considered, prior to the final engineering and development of the project. Water is an important utility and its presence, cannot be taken for granted. If there is not ample water for the required sprinkler systems, then a fire pump to add to the pressure as well as, possible holding tanks, might become a requirement to allow the project to gain approval. Each of these elements will influence the budget on the project, as well as the length of time required to complete the project.

7.) Gas Company. The local gas company must be contacted, to ensure that if the project is being designed with gas, there is an actual service to the property. In addition the coordination of the gas company is required, to ensure that the subcontractors are properly coordinated, when installing all of the utilities. The utility requirements for the designed mechanical systems regarding gas usage is required to allow the mechanical engineers the information to properly engineer the systems. This utility must be contacted very early in the project to determine capacity and service information to the project.

8.) Electrical Company. The local electric company must be contacted to ensure that the proper electrical service is available and coordinated, with the electrical engineers to provide electrical power to the project. As with the gas company, the electrical company will have a very important role in the design and electrical engineering of the project. What special provisions are required, by the local electrical company to properly coordinate and comply with all regulations. How much power is available will influence the final electrical designs and will determine both electrical costs as well as project scheduling requirements.

9.) Site engineer. A site engineer must be selected, to coordinate the geotechnical requirements, with the erosion control and the layout of the site utilities. The site engineer will design and engineer all of the storm drainage as well as storm water retention, as well as interact with all of the agencies, to ensure that the contract documents comply with all of the proper regulations and requirements. The site engineer will require the data from the soils engineer to properly coordinate the design of the entire site. With development properties displaying varied requirements and concerns the selection of the proper site engineer is crucial. It is recommended that the site engineer have a history of similar projects as well as experience within the local area.

10.) Structural engineer. The structural engineer is assigned to properly design, and engineer the actual structure of the project. Will the project be wood framed, structural steel, reinforced concrete, precast concrete, masonry, etc.? The structural engineer, together with the architect of record will decide on the proper structural applications to be used on the project. There are cost considerations as well as performance considerations that the structural engineer will need to evaluate to properly and efficiently design the structural components of the project. Together with the architect, mechanical and electrical engineers, the structural engineer will coordinate all of the requirements of the structure and design the most economical and efficient structural systems.

11.) Mechanical engineer. The mechanical engineer is assigned to design and engineer all of the mechanical systems, required to properly make the project function. This design and engineering will include all of the piping, heating and cooling systems as well as the specialty processes, such as gas line transmission and other mechanical requirements of the project. Together with the architect and the other engineering disciplines, the mechanical engineer will suggest and design the most efficient and economical methods of heating and cooling the project. In addition a good mechanical engineer will consider the economic factors regarding maintenance and fuel usage to present an overall mechanical plan to benefit the entire project.

12.) Electrical engineer. The electrical engineer is assigned to design and engineer all of the electrical components of the project, and to ensure that all of the electrical power, lighting and data communication is properly designed for the project. Together with the architect and the other engineering disciplines, the electrical engineer will suggest and design the most efficient and economical methods of electrical usage for the project. In addition a good electrical engineer will consider the economic factors regarding maintenance and fuel usage to present an overall electrical plan to benefit the entire project. Options such as solar or wind energy will be considered by a good electrical engineer and their guidance will allow the project to be electrically designed in the most efficient manner possible.

13.) Landscape engineer / architect . The landscape engineer will ensure that the sitework is properly planted and that all trees, bushes, etc and properly and accurately placed on the site. The landscape engineer will coordinate the need for erosion control, overall landscaping visual effects as well as any type of landscape barriers that might be required. A good landscape engineer will select the types of plants and materials that will provide a permanent, affordable and easily maintained exterior environment for the project.

14.) Sprinkler design. Although on some projects, a separate engineer is assigned to design the sprinkler layout on a project, it is normally a function of the selected sprinkler subcontractor, to provide the engineering and design documents required to properly sprinkle the structure. The sprinkler design will accommodate the fire safety issues required by the insurance companies as well as coordinate the amount of water available by the water company to properly design the systems. If specialty fire suppression systems such as ansul systems are required, this engineer will accommodate these requirements.

15.) The architect. I placed the architect at the end of the HOT TOPICS because I am a builder as well as the author of this webpage, and prefer to keep the architect at the end of the requirements. In reality the architect, in many cases, is the driver of the project, and is the first to be considered and employed. The architect will be the catalyst that will coordinate all of the other HOT TOPICS to ensure that they are properly communicated with and properly coordinated. The architect is the KEY element to a successful project and they will be charged with the overall success of the project.

These are the fundamental HOT TOPICS, or responsibilities that will be encountered on any new commercial project, however, depending upon the location of the project, as well as the functionality of the project, there could be a host of other situations and concerns, namely;

1.) Flood mitigation. Dependent upon the location of the project, the FEMA flood maps may place the project within the flood plains and flood zones. If this is the case, then the incorporation of specialty flood professionals, such as National Flood Protection, may be required to adequately design the structure to comply with flood mitigation requirements.

2.) Special erosion control and slope stabilization requirements. Dependent upon the topography of the project site, the need for specialty storm water and erosion control specialties, may be required. If this is the situation, specialty engineers that are focused on the newest, and most advanced technology required to control the storm water and erosion on the site, may be needed.

3.) Limited setbacks. If the project has limited setbacks, and is adjacent to other structures, specialty design and engineering may be required to comply with the fire safety requirements of the structure. Special fire shutters or fire breaks may needed to be specially designed and engineered by fire safety engineers to ensure that all regulations are complied with .

4.) Acoustical specialties. Dependent upon the use of the structure, as well as the placement of the structure, specialty applications to enhance or reduce acoustical qualities may be required. Specialty acoustical engineers may be required to properly and professionally design, and engineer the different acoustical treatments within the project.

5.) Other specialties such as auditorium lighting, sound systems, lighting systems, special security provisions, special air cleanliness accommodations, interior sound protection, security shutters, etc. must all be considered and are all influenced by the functionality of the project.

To summarize this webpage, there are several HOT TOPICS that must be considered, evaluated and acknowledged prior to the jumping to conclusions. These conclusions include the price as well as the schedule of the project. No matter how anxious you are, how demanding the developers, owners or architects are, it will always make sense to only provide very basic construction budgets and general time tables for the anticipated project, prior to fully engineered documents.

I have witnessed countless projects ” go south ” due to over anxious contractors that must make the first requisition, are so anxious for the cash flow to commence, that they have left out of the budget millions of dollars of legitimate costs and have not anticipated the scheduling of the project, close to what it will require to properly construct the project.



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