• Jess

The Cost of Standard Details

Most, if not all, architects and engineers utilize “standard details and notes” in some regards on the construction documents they produce. Standard details or notes, for the purposes of this blog, are predefined drawing detail templates that are part of a library to be used over and over from job to job. From an architect’s or engineer’s perspective, standard details make a lot of sense. Develop a detail drawing once and use it over and over again on every project that needs it for one’s career. It’s efficient and allows architects and engineers to produce content under immense downward pressure on pricing and margins. Sounds like it’s a win-win for the architect and engineer and their customer.

Those standard details have migrated to standard pages that includes all the details they use. In recent weeks I’ve seen plans showing eave details when the structure has parapets around the entire structure. I’ve also seen i-joist details with 100% floor truss floor systems. These are just a couple of the obvious examples of blatant miss-representations between the structure and the accompanying details in the plan sets. But what happens when the inclusions are not so obvious?

Every person who views the plans downstream, whether to bid, build, or estimate, is responsible for their scope of work for their portion of the structure. When extra, unused details are included in the construction documents it waste’s valuable time for every person who views the plans downstream from the architect or engineer. As an example of this, I recently performed a take off on a set of plans for a national homebuilder. The plans were dialed in with multiple options and versions of the plans that gave the homebuilder ultimate flexibility in delivering what their customers want. However, in doing so, the standard notes and details included a lot of information that wasn’t relevant to the particular set of plans I was working on.

I was performing a take off for framing materials outside of the scope of the truss manufacturer on a tri-plex. It was utilizing floor trusses for its floor system but included a note [F3] for 2x8 joists at 16” OC and another [F4] for 2x10 joists at 16” OC. Upon seeing this note I returned to the structural and feverishly looked over the plans thinking I missed something. I spent roughly 10 minutes flipping between pages, levels, and options before returning to my initial conclusion, there were no conventional floor joists on this project.

This happens. ALL. THE. TIME. I wasn’t upset, I was just happy to be moving on to the next stage of the take off and progressing through the set of plans. However, the thought struck me, how many other people would go through the same exact process, with this particular detail, on this set of plans? How many other instances on this plan set, on this project are the same and how much wasted time is built into everyone’s down stream effort? How much time was this engineer wasting downstream from his involvement by trying to include this standard detail/note key versus how much time did it save him to simply copy/paste out of his library and not remove or strike [F3] and [F4]?

My guess that the time wasted is significantly more that the time saved, especially when you apply the hourly rate of the engineer versus the sum of the hourly rates of those effected by the inclusion. Everyone in construction seems to be talking about “efficiency” and “streamlining” processes in the field and employing techniques like “off site construction”, but until we are able to streamline what we put on paper (or the screen), how are we ever going to streamline what is built?

This is an example of what prevents any synergies in construction between various stakeholders. Everyone is looking out for their own scope of work and how to streamline it for efficiencies, downstream users be damned. In general, the sum of the most cost-effective solutions has been sufficient, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be the end goal for construction. This is why “all in one” solutions like Katerra feel like they can have an impact on construction, but in reality, coordinating all of a project’s stakeholders as teammates where one person is willing to sacrifice 5 minutes of their time to benefit everyone else on the team, saving hours, eliminating mistakes and providing the best solution to the ultimate customer will overcome the threat of an “all in one” solution.

Now, there are a couple ways to solve this issue. One is the engineer, or one of their assistants, taking a few minutes to review their plans and eliminate any unused details or notes. The other, and the one I’m particularly in favor of, is to utilize software better and in a way that only includes what is used and omits what is not. Whether this feature set currently exists, I have no idea. If it does, I’m guessing many architects and engineers don’t know about it or don’t value it enough to fork over the money for it. Whether you call this Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, or a standard feature of Revit or similar CAD/BIM software, it’s quite obvious it has a ton of value to builders, framers, estimators and people like me trying to add efficiency to the construction industry!