Early last month, I sent a note addressing the steep cost increase of lumber and other building materials, as well as the longer lead times and delays our industry is experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Like I mentioned, we will unfortunately continue to deal with these issues for months to come, but there are certain ways in which we can lessen impacts to ensure projects begin and finish on-time, stay within budget, and meet quality expectations.
One approach to consider, which is the focus of this article, involves steering more toward a non-proprietary system. This can be very effective, as it offers more flexibility (key in this environment) when controlling the project budget.
To understand why and how, I will start with a quick explanation on the difference between proprietary and non-proprietary systems, and then provide an example of how switching to a non-proprietary system greatly benefited one of Bozzuto Construction’s current projects.
Proprietary systems demand that only one specific product be used for a given installation. It is commonly utilized if the section of a project requires a certain performance that only one product can do. The downfall is that this type of system could ultimately drive-up project costs because of limited options in terms of materials, subcontractors, and manufacturers.
A non-proprietary system means the architect did not name specific suppliers or products, which allows for substitutions to be made by the contractor, in collaboration with ownership. Each decision is based on a set of standards that more than one manufacturer can meet, which opens the door to a variety of alternatives that can be submitted. So, for a project that has a demand for lumber, having the ability to explore ways to save costs is more beneficial for the general contractor and the designer overall.
Take Bozzuto’s efforts on Mattison Estate – a new senior living community under construction in Ambler, PA – as an example. The scope of this project includes a new composite building of wood (Type VA) construction for the independent living portion, and metal (Type IIA) construction for the assisted living and memory care side.
Because the Type IIA side is more intricate, it called for more specific materials. This combined with the user type’s code requirement is what drove the architect to make the building metal and call for an Eisen System – a proprietary load bearing, cold-formed metal framing system that incorporates all the structural elements of that specific portion of the building (both the load bearing walls and the floor assembly).
Because this system was proprietary, it eliminated our preconstruction team’s ability to bid the project out to more than just one subcontractor. And because the one subcontractor was based in Missouri, it meant there would be added costs for shipping the material, travel for the install crews, and longer lead times than there would be using a local subcontractor.
Our preconstruction team knew there must be a more efficient and cost-effective way to deliver the same product. Through their research and Value Engineering efforts, they were able to identify and provide options for selecting from a variety of materials outside of the system that could help save money overall. They also utilized our vendor relationships to gain additional information (as we often do) to figure out potential avenues to lessen the cost impact through the buyout process.
Upon completion of presenting their findings, our team was successful in convincing both the project designers and owners to switch to a non-proprietary system. This enabled us to price the walls with several local subcontractors. We were also able to explore multiple floor assembly options and bid them out to several installation subcontractors. Ultimately, we ended up using Hambro Floor Joists as part of the floor assembly, installed in conjunction with both a local wall framing subcontractor and local concrete subcontractor.
Thanks to our preconstruction team, switching systems saved the project well over $1.2 million, including any added design fees and changes to the existing drawings. And because of our operations teams’ proactive efforts to buyout the project well ahead-of-schedule, Mattison Estates, which was slated to break ground only five days prior to the March 2020 shutdown, got off to a great start with zero delays.
While it was important pre-pandemic, it is now more critical than ever for owners, designers, and construction teams to think outside of the box, consider alternate approaches, and do their best to make commitments as early on as possible – in terms of materials and all other aspects of the project – to help save costs and minimize delays.
Even once the current market eventually settles and the material issues that we are dealing with subside, I encourage us all to continue working in a creative and quick-thinking manner. For one, I think these efforts will help evolve our industry in a positive way. And two, we never know for certain what the future holds – so we should always be prepared.
Bozzuto Construction Company