The days of open and direct communication between architect, general contractor, subcontractor and manufacturer representative are fading away. While methods of material and system installation are more complicated then ever, the individuals who ensure the proper application of those products or systems are not collaborating to discuss crucial issues before each project. As a result, problems occur, money is wasted, and completion of a project to everyone's satisfaction, including the owner, becomes less likely. We need to prevent these negative outcomes by rediscovering one crucial and highly effective vehicle for communication the pre-installation meeting.
Why are pre-installation meetings so crucial?
When I entered the construction industry ten years ago as a manufacturer's representative, all relevant parties gathered collectively prior to each job to discuss the proper installation of systems for projects. This pre-installation meeting allowed for the review of crucial information before the hectic pace of the project began. At these meetings, experts with unique experiences and perspectives shared their knowledge on construction. We discussed, face to face, how to deal with pressing issues, including the prevention of potential problems before the project began.
The crucial questions addressed during those meeting are still relevant for construction projects today. Is the recommended system appropriate for the project? Have unforeseen conditions changed the nature of the installation? Does the general contractor need to coordinate other trades around that installation? Is the subcontractor qualified to install such a system? What requirements must the contractor fulfill in order to receive the manufacturer's warranty? What are the temperature restrictions of the product or system? The contractor, manufacturer and architect must address these questions, among many others, to ensure the proper installation of any system and the uninterrupted schedule of any project.
Why are pre-installation meetings overlooked?
While many pre-installation meetings still take place today, the meetings are becoming less frequent and less of a concern due to many factors. One factor is time constraint. Architects and engineers are working overtime to effectively manage numerous projects, contractors are turning away good work to manage workload, and ironically, most manufacturers have been reluctant to expand their personnel to meet the needs of the busy construction cycle. In addition, due to legal concerns, many architects, engineers, manufacturer representatives and contractors are reluctant to participate in such pre-installation meetings in fear of making improper statements. Attorneys direct their clients to redirect decision-making to other parties of the construction team, rather than allow those professionals to make statements that will drive a problem-free project. These factors, along with the evolution of the design/build firm, have contributed to the lack of pre-installation meetings on today's construction projects. Moreover, all of these factors will continue to exist in the upcoming years.
How can we ensure that pre-installation meetings are taking place when needed?
Clearly, the intent of construction team is the timely and problem-free installation of products and systems. However, the burden falls upon architects, engineers and manufacturers to ensure the contractors' schedules include the necessary pre-installation meetings for each project. Architects and engineers should continue to require such meetings in their project specifications. Through their submittal requirements, they can even demand documentation of the pre-installation meetings to include minutes and attendance. In addition, the manufacturer can aid this effort by requiring a pre-installation meeting in order for contractors to receive a written warranty. Moreover, manufacturers need to have enough qualified sales personnel to attend these meetings. Most importantly, we all need to continue to communicate with each other. Design professionals should communicate with manufacturer representatives and share information on upcoming projects, in order for those representatives to ensure that pre-installation meetings actually occur and are properly attended.
Fortunately, I have yet to meet an architect or engineer who opposes the pre-installation meeting. However, we need to be reminded of its importance and its direct correlation to the quality of the installation of products and systems and the success of each project. The construction product market is continuously changing, as are contractors. In order to keep pace with these challenges and best ensure the proper installation of the products and systems that were so carefully researched and chosen by the design professional, we need to make sure the pre-installation meeting is not forgotten.
Mark R. Nelson is located in Chicago as manager of business development for the ChemRex/degussa line of products, including Sonneborn, Hydrozo, Thoro, ThoRoc, and Master Builder's Protection & Repair Products. He is currently the president-elect for the Chicago Chapter of the Construction Specification Institute, and, as a licensed attorney, sits on the construction law subcommittee of the Chicago Bar Association.
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