MCAA Magazine

Jerry Painter  

Subject: Stay on the Level

Sometimes you just shouldn’t answer the phone. I had one of those moments the other day, I knew the caller was needing help but sometimes you just don’t feel like being aggravated. As some of you know, I have several pet peeves and this person called me about one. He was starting a new project and found what he believed was a problem. His material supplier suggested he give me a call for help and potential advice, boy did he get an ear full.

His company was starting a project that had a brick veneer that was just under 30’-0” high. His employees dropped lines from the top to set their corner pole to. Something was not right, the poles were not plumb. Using an old fashioned plumb bob, they found the building to be 3 inches out of plumb. Remember that when you build in or cover up others work you have accepted it as correct. He was hired to veneer the building, so what is he to do? My immediate and somewhat sarcastic answer was to load his equipment up and go home.

He then asked what he should tell the general contractor, whom the decision to leave was based on. It was then that I almost lost it. I know I said some things I possibly should not have said. But given the situation, I did not say anything that was not true or I would not have to apologize for. It took a moment but, I did return to rational thought and asked a few questions. The first thing you want to know in my position is what the general contractor thinks about the situation as well as what the architect or engineer said. The response I received was that he did not want to “bother” anyone else with it… say what? Did I just hear that the general contractor’s irresponsible supervision said he wants someone to cover up sub-standard work? Now, that is neither a novel or new idea.

My next question was: “How did the superintendent expect him to do the veneer?” Naturally, he wanted the masonry contractor to lay it up regardless and hide the mistake that was made during construction. Now is the opportunity for a realistic conversation that creates a learning moment as well as a positive solution.

First and foremost, anything that is required to do which deviates from the plans and/or specs, you must get in writing. While the veneer can be installed plumb, you will need to extend the veneer an additional 3 inches which is different from the drawings. Get it in writing! You can no longer use corrugated wall ties. You will have to use an engineered anchor. Get it in writing and get an additive change order. You cannot build the wall parallel to the frame as well as out of plumb without violating building codes. In TMS 602 the minimum distances for air space and the maximum air space for corrugated brick ties are given.

There are other ways of veneering this building, but they would require redesigning by the architect and include use of design options to hide any offsets used. Also any change to the brick returns at openings will be noticeable and will require a change from the architect. Along with an additive change order.

Now back to the original question: what should we do? Since you appear to be working for a contractor that is content with hiding their unacceptable work and supervision. Pack up your belongings and leave. Only come back when you can do beautiful masonry per plans, specs, and change orders if necessary. There is no reason you should risk your reputation to cover up substandard work by another subcontractor.

Stop talking to the general contractor and communicate, in writing, with a strong use of Request for Information (RFIs). If necessary and the architect or engineer to the distribution list. This will cause the GC or CM to have to respond in writing. By forcing this back into their court they can no longer hide the problem. Since we know they tried to hide the defective work they will likely take a vindictive attitude toward your people for the duration of the project. Don’t tell me they won’t. We pointed out a dimensional error and concrete columns out of line to the owner of the construction company doing the work. The superintendent then carried a level everyday checking our work for level and plumb. Unless they try a legitimate method to correct the problem with written addendums and change orders. But sometimes you just may need to pack up your stuff and go home.

And remember to “Raise the line and come on around the corner”.