Project timelines & Decision making
Whichever contractor you are working with, bear in mind that any provisional timelines discussed are typically based on the initial scope of work as is agreed at that point in time. If the scope changes then it is highly likely that the timeline will change also … and usually the cost.
Adding elements to the workload usually increases the timeline, but what also needs to be considered is that (as an example) 10 extra man-days of work does not necessarily just add 10 days to the completion date. First off, for many reasons, it may not be possible to go straight into starting the extra tasks based on product availability, sub-trades availability, permits, engineering/design preparation, weather, shop time, etc.
In the vast majority of construction projects, there are changes made at some stage. They are either as a result of something forced upon us (eg. opening up a wall and discovering hidden electrical junctions or structural issues, etc) or as result of design changes (eg. cabinet layout alterations, different flooring finish, extra tile details). It is only natural to want to make tweaks as things develop, but to expect nothing to change in terms of the timeline is unrealistic. Quotes are based on estimated amounts of material and labour to complete … and sometimes these estimates are off. That is the risk we take in quoting on a fixed price basis. Every home is different and every home has its own characteristics which may add or detract from the time to complete a task. Even factors such as the location and style of your home can influence the timeline … compare the effort to renovate a kitchen in a detached house with a driveway versus a 10th-floor condo with restricted elevator access and reduced working hours. These elements definitely make a difference.
We always quote for a new project on a fixed price basis as we find the majority of clients like the reassurance that we are not going to drag things out just to make more on the labour. Provided the scope does not change at all & there are no obstacles in our way, then the risk is ours to complete within the estimated amount of labour. Any changes (whether there is a cost implication or not) are managed through a formal change-order process and the client has full visibility of both the total running cost and the total timeline.
Now how does decision making come into this?
Before any construction can begin we first of all need to agree on a design. So, taking a typical kitchen as an example, there will be conversations regarding overall layout (any doors, windows, walls, etc being moved/replaced/eliminated) as well as details of the cabinetry itself and of course all the nice stuff such as tile, counters, appliances, lighting, plumbing fixtures, etc. Before we apply for any necessary permits we have to have a somewhat concrete plan in place with full drawings showing the layout and including changes to plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and structure. However, at that stage, we don’t need to have picked out a stove or the countertop material or a specific fixture for over the island.
Although elements such as backsplash tile do not get installed until almost the end of the process, we need to ensure up front that it will work with the overall design aesthetic. With appliances, they will dictate part of the cabinetry layout even if it’s just basic things such as whether it will be a standard 24″ dishwasher or a fancier 30″ drawer-style dishwasher.
In short, with a typical kitchen renovation there will be at least 3-4 weeks ahead of time making lots of decisions, looking through lots of photos for inspiration (whether that be in magazines or on Houzz.com), probably some window shopping, and then looking at what we need to order and focusing in on any longer lead-time essential items to see what makes most sense in terms of a suitable start date. If you have the flexibility to allow the design and products to dictate the timeline as opposed to other external factors, then the chances are you will see fewer changes through the course of your project. If you have a hard deadline then any changes at all should be minimized unless you have already factored in a buffer. Some clients make lots of changes during a project and others make none. Most people are somewhere in the middle and most people have a rough timeframe available to do the work with at least a bit of buffer.
So where am I going with this … well we use an online system for the majority of our client-facing communications during a project (change orders are managed here also) and part of this is specifying all the product selections ie. all the various items you need to make a decision on. This also takes care of the formal approval which is required before we actually order or start to fabricate anything. The product selections exclude materials such as drywall, thinset for tile and framing lumber … because that stuff just has to be there and there is no decision required. It does, however, include all material finishes (flooring, cabinetry, tile, paint colour, etc), appliances, cabinetry door style & layout, countertops. Not only is it very important to decide on all these items ahead of time to minimize the likelihood of impacting the timeline, but there are certain items which typically have longer lead-times and/or are needed earlier in the schedule so need to be determined in a timely fashion. If deadlines for selecting products are missed then chances are they may not be available when they are needed on site and this can then have a knock-on effect on subsequent tasks. These deadlines come directly from the project schedule. Products do frequently go on back-order, shipments get missed, staff get sick, life happens … so for us, it is a constant juggling act of resources, product/materials, weather, and other factors which are all managed behind the scenes in our office to minimize delays wherever possible. We actually have as many staff working behind the scenes as you will typically see on your job site … this is where we create the designs, source product options & samples from a multitude of suppliers, schedule resources including sub-trades, build cabinets and fabricate custom mouldings & generally do everything that is required to keep a legally compliant business operating efficiently and churning out product.
With so much to factor in it is an essential part of any contracting business in today’s environment to rely to some extent on a scheduling system, whether that be manual or more technology-based. Given our passion for utilizing technology that is the direction we have taken and in many cases where we are working with remote-based clients this works extremely well as far as having them make decisions without needing to always meet in person. For those who are less computer save we can always print documents from the same system for sign-off.
In closing, I would just stress that any home renovation is going to eat up a certain amount of your time, regardless of whether you have a contractor on board or you are doing the work yourself. With the former, it is primarily making decisions on layout & product and then leaving the rest to happen … obviously, with the latter, it’s a whole lot more and that is just the start. If you are very detail orientated then you may need to be checking in on a more regular basis … and always, of course, say up front if you want a change made, rather than waiting until the work is done and then asking … we understand things happen, but as long as you understand the implications of a late decision in terms of cost and timeline everyone will be on the same page in terms of expectations.
Again we hope this is a useful insight into some of the aspects of timelines & decision making with regard to a typical home renovation project.