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April 2014

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Contractor Tip of the Month

Provided by Damian Lang, President of Lang Masonry Contractors, Inc., and EZ Grout Corp.

“Proper planning prevents poor performance.” I am not sure who come up with this statement, but I love the expression. Lang Masonry Contractors recently experienced first-hand the issues that failing to plan can create.  

We are in the process of finishing the Convention Center Hilton High Rise hotel in downtown Columbus, and what an experience it has been. The building is 175 feet high with 500,000 bricks on the exterior that had to be laid in a stack bond pattern and substantially completed in six months. In order to meet the schedule, we had to scaffold the whole building and keep 30 to 50 people on site.

Even more challenging, the job would run right through the winter months, and sits right on downtown High Street Columbus – one of the busiest streets in town. Our people could not let even one brick fall off the scaffold. When you have a project like this on the line, you better plan really well up front, or you will lose your tail. I thought that after six months of foot work on the job, we had that plan in place. However, after we had the scaffolding built and arrived to start laying bricks, we got quite a surprise. Our lack of in-depth planning would cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It started when the architect came to the site and told us to stop work until we did a sample panel in the wall, presenting to him what the bricks and quality of work would look like after the bricks were made. Hell, we already had thousands of bricks on the project that we thought were approved, based on the original sample panel we laid. Now he tells us they may not be.

The lesson there was that you had better read the specifications, as the specifications read that we must have another sample panel done of the bricks, once they are made, and get a second approval. He also informed us that we never did a bond wrench test on the mortar, and that we could not proceed until we got the test done and approved.

In 27 years in this business, it was the first time I had ever heard of a bond wrench test. However, I can assure you, I know what one is now. Both of these were huge issues that would require time to perform before we started laying bricks, and the clock was ticking days off our schedule. We gave him what he specified and performed the test before starting the project. All of a sudden, we had burned six weeks off an already-tight schedule. I was furious that our managers never read the specifications more closely to insure we were fulfilling all the requirements!

What’s next? The construction manager said we were behind schedule (and rightfully so), due to our failure to plan, and that we must catch it up by working seven, 10-hour days a week. Since we created the issues ourselves, we would not be paid extra for the overtime work. Although we tried, we never had a leg to stand on in getting overtime paid, as we were catching the schedule up and not expediting it.

We did what the CM requested and brought the project in on time, but not on our budget. We basically had taken what should have been a highly profitable project to a break-even project, at best. I must give my current project manager, superintendent and foremen on the job a lot of credit as it looks great. (They were not involved in the original planning process.)

I hope this writing can someday help you avoid making the same mistakes (and wasting money) on your projects. You can avoid similar issues by assuring your people study the specifications, line item by line item. If they find something they don’t understand, such as a bond wrench test requirement, or something that is not normal procedure, they’d better learn what the architect wants in advance. Do it the way the specifications call out, or you could pay a huge price. Remember, proper planning prevents poor performance.


Damian Lang has a masonry contracting firm in southeast Ohio, along with three other companies. He is the author of the book “Rewarding and Challenging Employees for Profits in Masonry.” To order a copy of his book or to attend one of his seminars held specifically for mason contractors, call Sherry Wittekind at Lang Masonry, 740-749-3512.

Provided by Damian Lang, President of Lang Masonry Contractors, Inc., and EZ Grout Corp.