Decorative concrete contractors who get heartburn dealing with architects may want to look at the bright side: Doing all those mock-ups is good practice.
All joking aside, the designer-contractor experience very often does prove to be positive and stimulating. But contractors can have hopes and dreams for a world where they are more in sync with designers.
After conversations with a number of accomplished decorative concrete contractors, we’ve distilled some of these desires into a list of five.
1. Know more about decorative concrete materials.
“I’d like to see architects understand coloring systems,” says Rick Ogden, owner of Ogden Construction in Pryor, Oklahoma. “They will specify a color, and won’t say if it’s a stain, dye or whatever.”
The decorative concrete contractor needs to know if the color source will be a dye, an integral color, or a stain (water-based or chemical). Therefore, the architect must have the knowledge — or acquire it — on what kind of coloring is best suited for the specific project and application.
“How exactly do they want me to color it?” Ogden asks. “If they pick a color, how do they want to get there?”
The same goes for sealers, the mix design and other materials and processes. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I see repeated failures because people don’t really know these things,” he says.
Cory Hanneman, owner of Element7 Concrete in Marble Falls, Texas, says both architects and contractors would benefit in particular from greater knowledge of color hardeners and how they are used.
2. Be a careful, thorough communicator.
“The GC (general contractor) is between us, and if you are not talking with me I cannot figure out what you really want,” says Chad Gill, owner of Concreate Inc., Midlothian, Virginia. “The result is you getting what you asked for rather than what you wanted.”
Huh? Gill explains: The architect may have “cut and pasted” specification language from two different references, or has otherwise specified materials or processes that are incorrect or even contradictory. She has asked for something she didn’t want.
“One time we had a client specify brown polished concrete, shotblasted and sealed. You would never shotblast that. It makes no sense.”
The ease and proliferation of modern technology should make communication among all parties a snap, Ogden notes. Communication “takes the mystery and guesswork out of the equation. It allows the contractor to be specific with the architect and the architect to be specific with the contractor. Communication allows information and decisions to be made quickly and starts the process for a ‘customer satisfied’ job,” he says.
The GC may say “do what’s in the document whether it makes sense or not,” but for Gill that’s not the right answer.
“It’s very frustrating to me,” he says. “You’re hiring me for my skill and knowledge and experience,” but when the designer does not consult the contractor, that expertise goes untapped.
3. Allow the contractor to be an integral part of the team.
Sounds simple, right? Search out a contractor who has the skills and the track record, etc. etc. But that’s only part of the deal.
Chad Gill’s wish is that architects understood that they don’t have to be the ranking decorative concrete expert. “Select a contractor who is reputable and has the knowledge and the skill, then make him or her part of the process.”
Not all contractors are “shady and looking to take advantage of the owner,” Gill says. “Reward the ones you trust by dealing openly and honestly with them and likewise keep from working with the ones who are not.”
4. Get real on cost.
Decorative concrete contracting isn’t the same as selling Harleys or haircuts, where the price is calculated on known cost and profit metrics. The DC contractor can’t absorb repeated financial hits due to designer whim.
“A contractor cannot run their business on a 10 percent overhead-and-profit markup,” Gill says. “Use unit pricing and negotiate change-order costs before they occur, (and) understand that contracting is different from design.”
5. Tap into the contractor information network.
Designers should take advantage of the information-resource role contractors can serve. This is particularly important in exploring the potential of new decorative treatments and applications, says Hanneman.
He mentions the emergence of gray as a “super hot” color in solvent-based dyes, with L.M. Scofield Co., AmeriPolish and H&C offering interesting new entries. Contractors are exploring these new frontiers and can find new creative uses in collaboration with designers.
Contractors also are pushing the envelope with techniques such as the use of shotcrete for decorative applications, where imaginative shapes are possible. Designers who interact with decorative concrete contractors, asking about the latest developments from the field, can get the inside track on emerging methods and materials, he says.