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Retail buildout

This job was located in Long Beach California. It was performed for an out of state contractor in a bug hurry.

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Although I am a general contractor I frequently am hired by other general contractors to do entire jobs. Especially retail from property managers back east. This was one of those jobs.

I was called in to give a bid on a project that was a last minute and needed to get done fast. It had a little bit of everything from framing a new partition wall. To installing underground electrical and low voltage and lots of odds and ends. They sent a superintendent from another state who was a great guy to work with. However the plans and lights were shipped from out of state so you know there is a good chance of title 24 issues.

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Also the primary contractor had a liquidated damages agreement. I sympathized but didn’t agree to a completion date because I don’t promise unless I can for sure deliver. We still made the date but I and worked hard to do it. But I won’t take on someone else’s stress at this point in my life. I have enough of my own!

This is always a good job for me because of my broad experience and great set up I can quickly work through multiple trades without downtime.

Right away we framed the walls. The wall was built under the suspended eiling with our overhead kickers at 4′ o.c. Screwing , drywall and taping no problem. This was a great example of using the taping banjo. Sorry I didn’t get pics!

We saw-cut and dug out our underground power supply chase as neatly as possible because there was ceramic tile down already. Installed and re poured very quickly.

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There was a vanilla shell existing so we only reworked lighting an controls. We were working long hours and very closely with the out of state superintendent who was doing the painting and millwork.

All together we built this retail out in two weeks flat. The key to success was being prepared and not having to wait around for different tradespeople and there schedules. Even now I see electrical companies dividing into two parts. The wire and fixture installers and the programmers. Luckily, being a computer programmer I can make quick work of the title 24 controls being used so I don’t have the burden of calling in a different team every single day.

Some jobs just can’t afford to be a day late!

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Concrete wall infill

2016-04-29 07.01.54

 

This job was in Torrance California. It was a concrete wall infill on a tilt up warehouse. I wish I had better pictures of this job. Even better I wish I had picture of the larger 10′ x 15′ openings I have closed in the past.

When doing a large permanent infill I typically form it an pour it. This is done by drilling, doweling and setting rebar reinforcement with epoxy. Embed depth and rebar size can vary from opening to opening but I recommend overdoing it because this concrete will be standing straight up and down and will weigh 150 lbs per cubic foot.

Next I form the wall area. This job used 1/2 plywood and 2×4 wood. On larger job I would use 3/4 plywood and 4×4 or even 4×6 lumber.

When pouring into plywood its best to have waxed forms. But often I will instead just spray water onto the plywood interior and order a high slump concrete. That along with the vibrator will leave your with only a very few 1/2 air bubbles in some if the tighter corners.

Because finishing is done after forming you can order the mic with an accelerator such as calcium chloride. This will allow you to build forms and pour the same day. Then you can come back the next day, remove the forms and begin finishing the concrete.

At this point the concrete will still be “green” meaning still curing significantly. It will not be fulled hardened and will be warm to the touch. However I will begin grinding and high spots and then sacking concrete to finish it. I don’t use a traditional sand and cement mixture for painted walls. Instead I will use a bag of “cement all” to fill large voids and “one pass” to finish the wall for paint.

One pass in nice because its a hydraulic cement product that binds like cement but dries quickly and can be sanded to give a great finish in less time. Most job are single infills and completing them in only two days is a major plus to the business owner who’s operations are never helped by on-site construction activities.

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Commercial door and window installation

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This job was a commercial door and window installation in Westminster. Having installed these doors and windows countless times I can assure you there is a right and wrong way to do the installation.

Firstly on any big job there will be countless pieces of frames and hardware. There is a significant chance that supplier will send you a wrong frame, that they will be labeled wrong or that a field installer may mistake one part of a frame for another and mix up multiple pieces from separate openings.

When installing these I always start by organizing the frames and pieces in front of each opening. If I am managing other installers I tell them to abandon an opening if the pieces don’t work. On jobs with 10+ doors when someone abandons an opening because the parts are wrong we usually find the parts on another opening farther down the line.

On this job however there was already a carpenter attempting to assemble the door frames for the owner and he had mistakenly assembled the pieces from different opening together.

I removed everything and started from scratch. I can teach a group of laymen how to install 100 doors faster than a team of carpenters any day. Moving at production speed is about getting every team member to do just one task fast and consistently accurate.

When installing the doors myself I always do frames and door leafs 100% with bare minimum of frame screwing. Then I come back double check my work and add casing, hardware etc.

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HVAC rooftop platfporms

2016-06-27 06.22.21

This was a job in Carson Ca. The warehouse was getting new offices and needed new heat pumps on the roof. These rooftop heat pumps are installed on metal factory curbs that must be level. We need to modify the roof to accept these curbs and hold them strong and level.

These installation are done by laying out installation locations with the HVAC installer. Typically the equipment installer will have a metal roof curb laid in the location the unit will need to be installed.

After we know our new rooftop location we drill a pilot hole and layout a platform that will be bigger than the supplied curb so we can land as much of platform support onto the roof framing structural.

We then layout or roof demo about 12″ beyond the the platform area and have some demo guys clear our roofing down to the wood. Using our pilot hole we layout the opening for our new plenums and cut the roof sheathing out. This plenum opening gives us access to above and below the roof from a scissor lift or scaffold below.

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These are two sets of roof platforms designs for the same job. The solid 4″ x 16″ is best when you are prepared and have the lead time to order it. Because it can be ripped and installed quicker than framing miniature parapet walls which will also need blocking etc.

After the platform side walls are framed and sheathed we install a variety of joists beam stiffeners etc to support the metal factory curb above. The top is also capped with plywood sheathing and the roof curb is left sitting on top.

The equipment installers will come and screw down the factory curb to the platform and then the roofers will come and roof the structure in. Sometimes roof crickets are needed and maybe installed by the carpenter or the roofing company.

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Temporarily Closing A Truck Dock

This job in Torrance California was a warehouse that needed to close 4 truck docks for a new tenant. However they wanted to keep the truck docks for future use after the tenant leaves. This poses a few challenges I have not encountered before.

Typically when closing a truck dock permanently we will demo the dock leveler and rolling door and infill both with concrete or a CMU as appropriate. But in th this case we needed to build something that would last 50 years if necessary but was still easy to remove later.

To start we rolled up the rolling door and simply disabled it by means iof the chain. The door rails were left in place because the interior wall was to be furred out and the entire door would be hidden anyways.

 

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Next the dock levelers were disabled by using a a stick or SMAW welded steel tab to prevent them from moving. These tabs were two inches long with two on each side. These can easily be cut and ground smooth if the dock leveler is needed. On the outside a galvanized steel box was manufactured to fit round the levelers front and create a more aesthetic appearance.

Inside we built a wood frame infill and coated it with a waterproof kraft paper similar to stucco construction. On top of this we add regular cement board. Water is diverted by a flashing on top which the paper is tucked under. Water flowing on top lands on the galvanized steel leveler cover which has a 1″ lip on the backside. With this the construction was waterproof and secure.

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To finish the outside we used a a layer of a product called cement all with a special mesh tape to fill in the major voids. After that we used to coats of a products called one pass to finish the exterior smooth. Then it was primed and painted. The reality of any painted concrete is that the paint itself is a very significant waterproofing. The kraft paper etc was just to be doubly sure.

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The inside was a bit trickier because although the dock leveler was not moving is still was a large metal plate with big gaps inside our future workshop area. To fix these we used a wire fed MIG welder and spot welded 20 gauge metal across the openings. Then we skim coated the entire surface with super-krete’s “gray bond kote” product. It was difficult to install because it was very sticky but so far it has adhered very well to the metal, which was the biggest concern, and after some practice finishing the material has produced a color and texture sufficient for th new ownership.

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Of course whenever I install anything I never promise perfection. Concrete color and texture especially. But my hand troweled bond kote was aesthetically pleasing and similar to the machine troweled concrete of 30 years plus.

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New concrete footings for stairway

This was a job in Torrance California where a new staircase was being installed and the plans called for new concrete footings. The footings had already been excavated by someone else.

 

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This was a small job and only took two days. We drilled our concrete, blew with air and set a number 5 rebar into our epoxy. When installing narrow concrete like this with existing all around I screed the top with my wood bull float as I go. Its easier on the back and knees. But when the concrete is deeper like this I always allow the float to sit a little higher. This leaves my fresh concrete about 3/8 higher, or “proud” as they say, because the concrete tends to compress and sink in the footing even after its vibrated.

After a good hour or two I can screed with my mag bull float and the then hand finish an hour or so later. Working indoors extends the finishing time by some degree and on this installation I probably could have added concrete accelerator but chose not too. So there was a fair amount of sitting around.

 

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Demoing a gym wall

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This job was in Irvine California. After offering a proposal to construct this gyms demising wall the went with another bidder. Unfortunately this didn’t work out as the project ran way over schedule and was un-permitted so the city required them to hire me and remove the wall.

I’m never pleased when a customer hires someone else to do their work un-nsuccefully. I am always pleased when a customer can find someone who can do the work cheaper and better because I can then add that contractor to my vendor list as well.

In this situation the customer was running a business and the business was negatively affected by the half finished construction project so time was critical.

Our demo was mostly done the first day. Day two we were just mopping up and doing touch up paint when we were signed off.

 

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Building a Clean Room

This job was the installation of finishes in two clean rooms. The construction of the walls, floors and all the rough mechanical had been done by others. The walls were drywall and ready for finish.

The job was located in signal hill California. The room would be used to manufacture food products so the installation of finishes was more than aesthetics. It had to be sanitary.

 

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To start we scraped clean two of the existing walls in each room to remove any existing paint or concrete with a weak bond. The concrete walls were then patched with either a cement mixture for spalls or an elastic acrylic crack sealant.

Both the concrete and drywall was primed with a high quality primer to insure good adhesion. In this installation Fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) would be install to 10′ high on the drywall to add durability at the working level. So the paint only need to be applied to the ceiling and the walls down to about 9′ 6″ above the floor. We used a white high gloss epoxy paint. This would create the toughest most washable surface.

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From 10′ to the floor we installed a smooth FRP. The FRP was cut 5 1/2″ above the floor so the sanitary tile could be applied directly to the drywall. One of the rooms required a 6″ concrete curb around the entire room supporting the walls. In these areas the FRP could simply be timed under the wall and caulked.

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However in one area the concrete curb was too narrow. The designer had not anticipated this problem and we had a 1/2 overhang. We ended up installing a covered piece of FRP to fill the area and seal it completely. All the FRP was sealed with a high quality white silicon.

 

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Construction Partnership Pitfalls

If your going into business with someone else there are a few thing you should consider that are very important. Often times when starting a business,  joining a business or bringing in new people to an existing business there is a great deal of excitement. There can also be a tendency for partners to overlook minor details in the name of building trust and goodwill. Additionally , sometimes these details can be overlooked due to simple inexperience. Other times there can be malicious intent.

However small these details seem at first, trust me they are not. Relationships, both business and personal grow and evolve. Business partnership typically fail due to extreme difference in opinion. After all working together as a team we are stronger, smarter and better. But when one partner does all the work and one partner spends all the money it is easy to see how the situation can explode.

 

 

Who has the license and where does the buck stop?

In the state of California contractors are required to obtain a license. This means that someone is ultimately responsible. Either partner, a corporation or even an employee can hold the license. The person holding that license has a special responsibility.

Imagine if you are the license holder in a partnership and your partner is incorrectly performing work. After the work is performed you are sued by the customer. Both of you would be on the hook financially however you as the license holder could lose your license because of someone else’s mistakes.

Its important for all parties to understand and accept that the licensee(s) can stop work on any project within the organization without permission from the other partners to ensure that work meets the legal requirements set by the CSLB and building codes.

 

How are profits and losses divided?

This is probably the biggest issue people think about. Is everyone paid a salary, is everyone issued dividends or pay based on performance. Because your company may grow, shrink and change over time its best to start right from the beginning with a fully scale- able.

How are wages decided? Imagine two partners go into business. One is a CPA and the other a licensed general contractor. The CPA manages the office and the contractor finds leads and generates proposals. Who is more valuable? How should pay be decided?

Besides pay how should profit be decided? In this situation the office manager is barely working 6 hours a day while the partner who does the estimating is working 10 hours a day and has produced a profit of close to $500,000 for the year on top of the normal wages. Should the profit be split equally?

Another situation is a company where two partners are both licensed. They both find leads and producing estimates. One partner’s projects made a profit of $200,00 above his pay and the other partner made a profit of $325 above his pay. Should this profit be paid equally in stock dividends to both partners?

Solution – If the partner is an estimator they should be paid estimator wages. If the partner in the business is a CPA they should be paid CPA wages.These wages shouldn’t be made up numbers. If someone else can be hired to do the work for less than the wages should reflect that.  Partners should receive performance pay for working within the company. In most construction companies the lead generation, estimating and project management aspect of the job are the most intensive and skill oriented. All projects should pay a percentage of the profit to the the lead generator, the estimator and the project manager.

How much will be re-invested?How will you settle disagreements on investing or not investing money into the company and what to invest in?

So the company has profited $100,000 for the year and you need to decide how to spend the money. One partner is late on his mortgage and needs the money desperately because of poor financial planning. One partner would like to re-invest the money into equipment and an investment property.

In another similar situation the company has profited $100,000 and both partners have decided to split $50,000 between them and reinvest the other $50,000. One partner want to re-invest in a new vehicle and dislikes updating his familiar computer systems. The other partner wants to invest in new software and marketing.

 

Solution – Partners must decide on a set payment plan up front. Bad financial planning by one person shouldn’t affect the whole company as in the first scenario. It’s also best to prevent anyone from borrowing money from the company or taking early payment. Its best to plan on extracting payment in full unless a mutually agreed investment amount is decided upon. If the investment decision cannot be decided upon each party should be able to choose their investment decided by portion.

 

What is your obligation to pay overhead costs?

In the course of running a business one partner has made a tremendous amount of money on a windfall profit. Fortunately the partner had a great partnership agreement and he kept his hard earned profit. Now he spends more time planning his next vacation than working. However the building mortgage is due, the accountant needs a paycheck and the lights are still on. Should partner shoulder the expense of running business while the other partner is barely working?

In another turn of events while the partner is spending their windfall profits on a tropical vacation another one of their jobs they left to a project manager looses $20,000. Where does that money come from? Can the partner still working claw any of those profits back?

Solution – Both partners should maintain a liquid balance of profits not yet paid to them. This amount of money should be left in place to cover losses on future jobs. Also there should be an agreement that certain overhead costs are split and paid from profits equally by all parties.

 

How will you decide to meet special needs of partners?

Your business partner wants to bring his idiot son or daughter on board and pay them double the going rate.

Your business partner has been using the gas card for their company vehicle to fill his wife and children’s car.

Your business partner needs the kitchen remodeled because they prefer to prepare their own meals.

 

Solution – Business should never make special arrangements for a partner. It’s a special form of payment being made to that partner at the loss of the other partners. Ask yourself if you would make the same concessions for your best employee. If the answer is no then they should not be made for the partner. If they are made then a special cash value payment should also be made to the other partners in compensation.

 

What are the consequences of embezzling 1 million dollars. What are the consequences of embezzling 100 dollars?

What would you do if you find out your partner has been skimming money from jobs? Or asking your employees to work at their house and record another job address on their time cards? What if their is $100,000 missing due to accounting fraud? What if they are running jobs under the company license for cash on the side?

These are examples of big losses. But most embezzlement and fraud starts small and grows as the thief becomes confident and dependent on the income. What will you do if you find out they are filling up personal vehicles with the company gas card? What if you find out they are taking office supplies.

Solution – No matter how trustworthy your business partner appears you must always protect the company from theft. A partnership agreement should provide a repayment and penalty clause for any small theft and should also allow you to cut off access the financial accounts in the case of something big. In a worst case scenario you would need an injunction from a judge to stop your partner from withdrawing money. Having a crystal clear partnership agreement will help.

 

What is your partners obligation to you if you become sick or injured?

In a horrible scenario your partner is in a head on car collision. You are the CPA running the office and your partner in the hospital ran the jobs and did the estimating. Worse the doctors say no recovery is possible. These types of situations can play out and often no one is prepared. In this situation without help the remaining business partner could end up loosing money n the project and going into debt. His comatose business partner and family would also be responsible for this debt.

Solution – Its important to have insurance not only for the partners family but also for the business. This allows the business to unwind by hiring emergency help to finish up project that are underway.

 

How would you go about separating the business?

After 20 of running a successful business you are ready to go your own way. This is a major problem because rarely do people plan for after. Whats the value of the company stock? Will the company still function without the partner? Will it still be as profitable, less profitable or more profitable? If someone offers to buy your shares can you sell them? Can you sell them if your old partner wont agree to the reasonable term of the new partner?

Solution – Its important from the start to make sure that the companies tangible assets, business support system and client accounts are valued properly from the start. It should also be as easy as possible for either party to leave and take their equity with them

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Construction Profit and Markup

It is your moral responsibility to charge your customers the absolute highest amount possible and to always accept the highest paying work.

Your time is valuable. You are a smart and talented individual working to make sure that California’s homes and businesses are up to snuff and meeting the demands of the users. If you don’t charge enough how will you pay for your equipment, material and and labor? But charging whats necessary to get by isn’t enough. You need to charge the maximum because your time is valuable and special. You have earned that money through your own experience and hard work. You should be reinvesting that money to better yourself. If you aren’t taking those profits and using them for your own benefit then you are hurting everyone else in the economy by reducing your future potential to be of service or merely missing out on your earned right to some relaxation. Nobody is more qualified than you to spend that money!!

Even more important it’s always best to accept the highest paying work. The person who offers the most money earned that money by helping other people. This good Samaritan, laden with money, has been working hard to offer their services to others and relying on the fact that in turn someone would be there to help them in their time of need. If you are out helping someone at a reduced rate your hurting yourself, your hurting the economy and your unjustly enriching the poor person who doesn’t have any money because they are too selfish and lazy to help anyone else!

Remember.

It is your moral responsibility to charge your customers the absolute highest amount possible and to always accept the highest paying work.

 

But how should you figure your profit and overhead?

It depends on the job and the type of company you are involved with for example;

 

With a larger company you typically charge set rates based on time/material or unit pricing. If for example you or another employee goes out to run and meet the customer a few extra times its really not a big deal as long as the company pays you your wages and the company makes the minimum percentage for the job.

Large companies typically aim for profit percentages. For example they may sign an 5 million dollar contract with a goal of a 5% profit margin after all expenses and overhead are paid. Now if that same company bids a $5,000.00 job they might aim for $2,000.00 profit. With a smaller company profits must be higher and more secure. If the larger company that normally does multi-million dollar work does a job for $30,000.00 and accidentally only makes $3,000.00 there is no real effect on anyone personal life. If a small contractor works all month only to make $3,000.00 he might find himself in a very bad position.

When it comes to material markup I don’t use a fixed percentage. Why? Because sure enough someone will ask me to go pick up a $5 item and expect me to mark it up a certain amount. This would work at a big company where these transaction are all washed together but for a small contractor spending 3 hours driving back and forth for a quarter doesn’t make sense. Its always best to give combo bids including both materials and labor or to charge for time plus material.

As a general rule of thumb I always charge the going market rate or more so no matter what I can have someone else fill in for me in case I can’t complete the work for some emergency reason.

 

 

 

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