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December 12, 2011

Job Site Photos: How to Take the Important Ones and Find them When You Need Them

When a problem occurs on a construction project that can’t be resolved by those on the site, documentation becomes essential. If an off-site person must approve a change order or pay an insurance claim, that person will need to understand the reality on the job site (even though  that situation seems so very obvious to those currently on the site).  Photos and video help bridge that gap.

I’ve wanted to take more job site photos for years, but never seem to have my camera when I need it. The smart phone really helps resolve that problem. I’m taking more photos now, which can help me in many ways.

Of course, the photos don’t serve any purpose unless they can be found when needed. There are many ways to deal with photo storage, but I just save often by date. That way I have a decent idea of where to find a critical photo.

Knowing which photos may be important in the future, though, gets tricky. In the case of an obvious SNAFU, lots of photos and video should be shot and saved to a specially named file. For the typical photos, though, you probably won’t know what will be helpful to you until it is. Therefore, just get in the habit of taking lots of pictures.

As you snap away, there will be times you wish you could zoom in or get more detail for a closeup. These lens for smart phones seem worthwhile. I’m just purchasing them now, so I’ll let you know more when I test them.

The three small yet powerful lenses: the Fisheye, Telephoto, and Macro/Wide Angle Cell Phone Lenses are available as shown below.

Buy the Fisheye, Macro, Wide Angle and Telephoto Phone Lenses at the Photojojo Store!

Another option is the rubber band with an attached lens. If you’ve tried any of these, we’d all appreciate your comments.

Buy the Macro Cell Lens Band at the Photojojo Store!


July 16, 2011

Church Demo Days
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

We are working on a two large church projects and started both with a bunch of volunteer labor. Years ago I was told that the days of using volunteers in construction were over. Since most people are so busy, they’d rather give money than time was the one sentiment. Everything is too complicated (especially building codes) to use volunteers was the other.

But we completed a project with this church a few years ago and volunteers helped with the select building demolition and with the daily and final clean-up. Not only did we save some costs, but the church developed some more committed folks and leaders emerged.

So we decided to try it again. Today we completed the 3rd of the 4 Demo Days we’ve scheduled and we love the results! We typically have about 80 volunteers working a Saturday from 7am till noon. We pay the Project Superintendent to direct and watch safety. We also pay an electrician to make the disconnections and do all the little electrical things that are unexpected but essential.  I wander the site trying to make sure everyone has all the tools, direction and encouragement to work a productive morning.

I’ve been on too many volunteer projects where the volunteers stand around and feel stupid for not knowing what to do or how to do it.  We want our volunteers to have a hard-working, productive day that makes them tired and happy. We want our folks exhilarated, not exasperated.

The results have been fantastic. We consistently get more work done than we expect. Folks smile through the dust, sweat and grime. When it’s done, they stand around and talk and talk. This week, a wonderful family volunteered to bring lunch for all the workers, which made the experience even nicer. We’re loving Church  Demo Days.


May 24, 2011

Snakes Canoodling: Further Adventures of a Carpenter Gone Primitive
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

Randy’s been watching snakes lately. He called us over for a gander. The photo below shows six water snakes lounging on a section of fence at our meadow. Randy explained that the big female (top right) is already bred, because the males crawl right over her and don’t stop to canoodle. Randy watched them mate a while ago. The female in the fence post on the left, though, seems to be the primary source of interest for the scrawny males.  Randy knows them all.

You may recall that Randy closed his one man construction business over a year ago, partly due to the economy and partly because he wanted a change. He’s morphed his amazing carpentry skills into animal husbandry and natural man. His stress level plummeted, though the wet winter and spring have upset his plans, which causes a different kind of stress.

So he’s out of the rat race, but still watching snakes. I guess that makes sense on some level. He lives a simple life with few needs. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but seems to suit him. It’s good to know there are options.


January 22, 2011

Construction Superintendent’s Checklists: Helpful or Useless?
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m planning a re-write of Knowledge Database info and I need your help.

Have you ever used them or found the The Construction Superintendent’s Checklists helpful? I’ve been adding to them for 25 years, but wonder if anyone actually uses them. Please post a comment or send me an email if you ever use the Super’s checklists.

Don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings, I’ve boondoggled before. When you try new things and partake in adventures, sometimes lots of work swirls down the drain. That’s ok, because the things that do work compensate. And at least life isn’t boring.


December 23, 2010

The Importance of Managing Construction Labor
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

Dereck Hench, the construction supervisor I generally work with, achieves amazing labor productivity on his jobs. I’ve watched him get better and better over the years. I’ve seen a few trends:

  1. He understands the work to be done and has the right materials, tools and equipment on hand.
  2. He expects high productivity while using humor to keep the mood light.
  3. When people on the jobsite act badly, he confronts them directly and forcefully…he yells at them.
  4. He helps others on the jobsite, even if it’s not in his scope, and builds tremendous teamwork and camaraderie.
  5. He addresses poor productivity of subs because it affects job costs and schedule.

Years ago I learned that normal construction productivity was way below optimum. I experienced the frustrations of wanting to do a good days work but not having the process in place to get that accomplished. As a flooring sub told me one time, “We have one rule. We never install any material that we don’t have.”

Matt Stevens, author of Managing a Construction Firm on just 24 Hours a Day, recently wrote an article for  Titled “The Most Important College Course not Taught“, Matt pushes for construction programs to teach classes about managing construction’s craft and labor. He writes:

The labor component of any construction project represents the largest opportunity to increase speed, lower cost, increase quality and improve safety. It is the line item on any job cost or profit/loss statement that determines meeting, beating or failing any project’s goals. However, it is not taught as a focused course in most college programs.

What I like about Matt’s writing is he understands that effectively managing construction labor requires understanding the trade as well as the people. Who do you know that’s great at managing construction labor? Terrible? Why? Please consider jotting down some comments below to share with others.


August 14, 2010

Another Construction Superintendent Hero
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

Construction Superintendents tend to be competent guys who get things done. When faced with crisis situations, they tend to be heroes. I think most of the guys I work with are filled with that hero-capacity.

Yesterday a woman in Tampa, FL fell asleep while driving at 5:30 am (after working a 17 hour shift) and drove into a canal. As her car filled with water, she banged on the side window, trying unsuccessfully to break it and escape the sinking car. Construction Superintendent Darryl Schriner was called by one of his men who saw the accident while placing a nearby concrete bridge column.

As Schriner watched the Hyundai sink and the woman panic, he jumped into the shoulder deep water. He grabbed a window breaker (with a stud on the end) prior to entering the water and broke out the rear passenger window and helped the woman escape the sinking car.

In true Construction Superintendent form, he took a shower and went back to work. You got to love that mix of competence, decisiveness and humility.


February 20, 2010

Construction Worker as Hero
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

Imagine yourself driving to work in the morning and seeing a small plane buzzing around a 7 story glass facade building. As you continue to glance at the plane, wondering what the heck it’s doing, you see it crash through that glass wall. What do you do?

Robin DeHaven, on his way to install glass at a building construction site, saw the situation pictured above and decided to help. He drove right to the firey building, got his ladder off his truck and extended it to the second floor, where people had their heads out the window to avoid the smoke.

He tried to instruct the people how to secure the ladder so they could safely climb down, but they were unable. So he climbed up the unsecured ladder (which slipped a bit as he was ascending) and crawled through the broken window and into the burning building.

With the aid of another man, he broke another window so they could tie off the ladder and have people climb out the window and down. In fact, he climbed down with each of the five people to give them support in case they slipped. They were all successfully rescued and not injured.

De Haven, who has a 3 year old son and served 6 years as a combat engineer for the US Army, acted with great character and courage. He also had the skills and knowledge to act appropriately in the situation.

If you find yourself in a catastrophe, how will you respond? To be effective, one needs courage and knowledge. Many of the topics I cover in will help you gain and expand your basic knowledge of how the physical world works. As for the courage, you’re on your own.


May 6, 2009

Last Chance to Win $100
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

I’ve gotten a few correct answers from my Super Tips Puzzler, but will wait a couple more days before I randomly draw a name and send them a $100 check. So the odds are fairly good, you might want to consider sending in your answer.

As for site growth, I was pleased to meet with the owners of Haller Enterprises, Inc (an MEP firm I often work with) and see the note they stuck in all their employees paycheck envelopes. The note explained that the ConstructionKnowledge website could be a great resource for them to continue to learn and grow. They further encouraged employees to log in to the Forum and begin interacting with others. I’ve been disappointed we can’t seem to get a steady stream of posts going on the Forum.  So I again encourage you to sign in, make a post, respond to someone else’s post.

I’m involved in some other forums for other topics and they really are fun and useful. I hope we can get this going…


April 20, 2009

Premier Edition of Super Tips Newsletter
Filed under: Construction Superintendents — Tags: — nedpelger

It’s taken me an inordinately long time to get this done, but here it is: the Premier Edition.

Super Tips Newsletter: Training Tips for Construction Supervisors

…Learning Leads to Advancement

Newsletter #1, April 2009

Welcome to the First Edition of Super Tips Newsletter: Training Tips for Construction Supervisors. I want to help you connect, learn and advance as a Construction Supervisor by improving your people skills, your technical skills and your trade skills. I love building things and helping others build better. This amazing construction business has been good to me and can reward you also if you’re willing to learn and grow.


People Skills: What’s the Secret of Success?

Ask Ned: An Advice Column for Construction Supervisors

Basic Technical Skills: Avoid Errors by Changing Inches to Decimal Feet

Trade Skills: Understand Soil Compaction Density and Proctor Tests

Super Tips Puzzler: Win $100

Super Humor

People Skills: What’s the Secret of Success? (see video here)

As a young man working in construction, I came across this concept of the secret of success. Over 25 years I’ve found it to be one of the most useful concepts I’ve ever learned. When I teach classes, I ask Construction Supervisors and wannabe Construction Supervisors, “What is the Secret of Success?”

How would you answer? Hard work? Choosing your parents carefully? Luck?

We can agree hard work is a component of success, but we’ve all seen people that worked tremendously hard and weren’t successful.

Being born into a family that provides solid teaching, helps you develop good habits and creates connections for schooling and jobs certainly is a huge benefit, but lots of people with great families have disappointing lives.

Of course luck plays a role in success, but it’s not the central role.

The answer is surprisingly simple. (follow the link to find out)

Ask Ned: An Advice Column for Construction Supervisors

Dear Ned: I’m a 30 year old Construction Supervisor working mostly on office buildings. My background is carpentry and some concrete, but I find myself in the middle of lots of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) issues. What should my role be in managing MEP contractors when I barely understand what they do? Feeling Stupid in SC.

Dear FSSC: Many Construction Supervisors much more experienced than you struggle with this issue. The short answer is that you need to understand enough about the MEP work to effectively manage it. That means you need to have a good “Big Picture” understanding of what the systems are supposed to accomplish. You don’t need to understand exactly how to design or install the systems. Start with the drawings, even though you probably can’t really read them yet, and slowly go through and mark up what you can understand. Determine what the main system is and read about it in Wikipedia, or the manufacturer’s website. Jot down notes to help you remember how the system works. Then ask questions to the MEP foreman about reading the drawings. Learning takes time, but soon you’ll know how to manage the MEP work because you’ll understand the drawings, the systems and the work sequences.

Basic Technical Skills: Avoid Errors by Converting Inches to Decimal Feet (see video here)

Bud Caldwell, one of the best Superintendents I ever worked with, taught me the value of changing inches into decimal feet. We were reviewing a shop drawing for a piece of equipment with lots of anchor bolts, and everything was in feet, inches and fractions of an inch. In his head, he quickly converted the inches and fractions of an inch into decimal feet, so we could easily add and check dimensions. He showed me a wonderful little trick of the trade that I’ve used for over 25 years. The inches to decimal feet conversion table shows illustrates the information.

An example may help, follow the link for the example.

Trade Skills: Understand Soil Compaction Density and Proctor Tests (see video here)

A Construction Supervisor might say, “Soil engineering and Proctor Tests? I’m not an engineer and certainly not a geologist, why would I care about this stuff?” The practical uses for a basic understanding of soils engineering and geology might surprise that silly Construction Supervisor. For example, the placing of soil fill on a site generally requires testing the compaction. Most Construction Supervisors know that a “Proctor test” is used and that compaction usually has to be over 95%. But what does it really mean if well placed soil tests at 88% or even at 103%?

Unless the Construction Supervisor has a basic understanding of soil engineering, he can appear foolish. If the soil tests over 100% and he laughs at the impossibility of compaction over 100%, those that understand the test know that the Construction Supervisor doesn’t. It’s always best not to look like a fool…at least not too many times in one day.

To learn how a Proctor Test works, follow the link.

Super Tips Puzzler

Win $100 if you correctly answer the Super Tips Puzzler below. I’ll randomly select the winning entry from the correct answers that I receive. Make sure to include your contact information so I will know where to send the check.

Three tradesmen work on a jobsite, Bob is older than the redheaded guy, but younger than the electrician. Mike is younger than the blonde, while Joe is older than the dark haired guy. The carpenter is the ironworker’s younger brother. Can you give the hair color and job of each tradesmen in order of age?

Super Humor

A Construction Supervisor let the stress of the jobsite get to him and was committed to a mental institution. One day while out for a stroll, he saw through the fence a motorist changing a tire. The motorist, unnerved to discover a patient so near at hand, stepped on the hubcap containing his tire’s lug nuts, and watched in dismay as all four lugs clattered down a storm sewer inlet.

The Construction Supervisor cleared his throat. “Excuse me, sir. If you take one lug nut off each of the other three tires,” he said, “it will give you three extras to put on your spare. Then you could drive to a service station and get some more.”

The motorist was amazed. “That’s a wonderful idea! How did you ever think of that?”

“I’m here because I’m crazy”, replied the Construction Supervisor, “Not because I’m stupid.”


April 17, 2009

First Set of Training Videos Completed

After more struggles and failures than I care to remember, I’ve finally got the first three training videos posted on YouTube. Please do me a favor and click on each of the links below, watch and give a rating. I believe I’ve incorporated most of the suggestions from readers for improving the videos and am curious what you think.

Converting Inches to Decimal Feet for Construction Supervisors teaches one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learned. Did you find this video helpful? Any comments?

Next, I have Soil Density and Proctor Tests for Construction Supervisors which shows some practical basics about soils and compaction on site. As an aside, I remember when I first began learning about soils in engineering school. My professor was this French guy I could barely understand who taught the entire semester about LePlace Transformations. He was studying how these mathematical models could predict soil behavior. I never knew what he was talking about, except when he occasionally mentioned soils and that anyone can go to the US Navy Soils Manual and learn all the simple basics on their own. I tried to be more interesting and practical in my teaching and am interested in your thoughts about the soils video.

Finally, I have The Secret of Success for Construction Supervisors redone and much improved…I think. Please let me know what you think.

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