1. Before I create a construction schedule with my builder, what are the top three secrets of coming up with a schedule that actually works?
The first secret of scheduling success won’t cost you a dime: Talk with someone who has recently had a custom home built for his family. Ask him what he’d do differently and when his greatest surprises came. Look for sample construction schedules in project-management software and online. Finally, talk with builders who are experienced with log home construction.
When thinking about your initial schedule, work either forward or backward and consider "critical-path" items on your checklist—tasks that must be completed to move to the next step. For example, foundation walls must be erected before the subfloor can be installed. Before foundation walls can be built, footings must be poured, and before that can be done, the foundation and footings must be excavated. Items such as the septic system typically aren’t part of the critical path because your builder has a fairly wide window of opportunity to install them. Once you and your builder have figured out critical-path items for your final home-building checklist, plug in the non-critical items (from HVAC to gutters) at the earliest possible date they can be scheduled and completed.
One good tool is called a Gantt chart. Activities are listed in sequence down the left side of the chart, and dates from beginning to end are listed across the top. The time required for each activity is shown as a horizontal bar on the appropriate line; the correct dates and locations correspond with what you’ve already discussed and agreed to with your building team.
If you’re using a general contractor, the schedule may show only site preparation, foundation work, completion of a dried-in shell, completion of mechanical rough-ins and finish work. If you’ll serve as your home’s GC, your schedule will have to include a lot more. Under the heading "foundation," for example, you may have included: excavation, excavating footings, pouring footings, forming and pouring foundation walls, installing drain tile and insulation, waterproofing, backfilling and termite pre-treatment. If you’re using a full-service foundation subcontractor, you may be able to abbreviate this list to show only excavation, foundation walls, backfilling, basement slab and termite treatment, since the other tasks will be included with the foundation-wall task by your subcontractor.
Some changes are easy to overcome. But others, such as design modifications, can wreak havoc on a construction schedule. That’s why it’s best to make every effort to have your design finalized before construction starts. Unanticipated changes may not only double the time required for building, they also may double the cost. If there’s a single thing that most home owners fail to appreciate it’s the cost in time and money of making changes to their design during construction.
There isn’t a good way to accurately judge the time lost to weather, but adding a cushion of one to two days for each five days of anticipated construction time may cover this. As you might guess, weather-related delays can vary greatly with each season. Site preparation and foundation work during the hot, dry months of July and August may proceed quickly. A construction start in September or October may push outside activities into a season where an entire week or more at a time may be lost to upcoming winter weather.
One way to keep your project on track is to pay only after work is completed or when milestones are reached. If you always pay your contractor just after invoices come due, he’ll have the incentive to return to your job. Also, never pay a contractor the final payment until all of the home inspections are complete.
Construction scheduling is part art and part science. The art comes into play when you’re building a working relationship with your builder and assessing how realistic the schedule is. Then science comes into play as you ask the right questions, talk to home owners who’ve already built their masterpiece and read everything you can about homebuilding. Hey, you’ve already begun tackling the last part of this equation.