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Communicating Standards Through Industry Specifications

Paper will not refuse ink. What do I mean by that? Well, there is nothing more important in business than to represent yourself honestly and consistently, and ideally that is how your competition will address itself … and you. But this doesn’t always happen, whether by mistake, through lack of education, or sadly enough, sometimes on purpose.

Too often we take the written word as gospel, but is that truly smart? Do we know what, or who, stands behind the words we read? After all, as Bill Butler, who works with me at L&M Construction Chemicals, will remind you, paper will not refuse ink. Our industry is growing, and as the industry grows, so do the misrepresentations and misunderstandings.

Let’s evaluate some of the important foundations behind our industry’s growth and strengths as they pertain to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, other high-performance building initiatives, and specification writing. As we all learn, some of our misunderstandings are created by what we do or don’t include in our specifications.

As a concrete polishing contractor, your sales and marketing are increasingly focused on the requirements of groups, such as USGBC’s LEED Program, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (which began in California but has branched out to an additional seven states), the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California, and the EPA. When an owner, architect/specifier and general contractor look at polished concrete, they are not only looking at performance specifications, they are also looking at installation costs, final appearance, ways to gain financial incentives, and, of course, whether your process is environmentally friendly.

Performance specifications
What you are selling when you provide polished concrete is a high-performance floor that is functional, can be design-oriented, is sustainable and easily maintained, and delivers the lowest life-cycle cost of any floor coating or covering. But in order to contribute points to a LEED category, the process and product have to meet certain criteria. Criteria promised, but not met, can lead to cost overruns and hurdles to receiving expected credits toward LEED certification. It can also lead you toward losing the job or, at the very least, your reputation. Make sure that your testing methodology is not only the correct one, but that it is run correctly, preferably by an independent third party, such as the CTLGroup. For instance, the correct test for abrasion resistance is ASTM C779/C779M-05 Standard Test Method for Abrasion Resistance of Horizontal Concrete Surfaces. This measurement is the foundation for the strength and wearability of chemically densified and hardened concrete. Third-party testing and standardization lend to your and the industry’s credibility, but even then you need to make sure that you are using the correct test.

Installation costs
Your costs, and ultimately your customer’s costs, are going to vary depending on whether the floor is old or new, how it was finished, whether you have color to add, and when you are allowed to perform your work. Bottom line, your costs are directly related to how educated you and your crew are, and how well you have educated the GC and the owner.

Yours is a business that will fail, or at the least be less profitable, if you live by assumptions. For example, if you assume that the floor is soft when it is in fact hard, you misjudge your labor and tooling costs. Do a test! Are there bond breakers that will require deep cutting to remove, and yet at the same time, the customer wants only to see cream? Find out up front, or at least protect yourself in writing from unknowns … and do a test. When you write or accept a contract, don’t assume that the owner and GC are good guys, and that they will go with the flow when you are behind schedule or parts of the floor “look different” from other parts. Do your best to CYA in writing up front, and if change orders are required that are truly outside your job scope, work your hardest to receive a written change order before moving on. Ask questions up front, listen to the answers, do a test, and then make your bid. Ours is an industry that can be very litigious and unforgiving — protect yourself up front in writing, but in doing so, do it fairly.

Final appearance
The final appearance of the floor is your finished canvas. Can you go back and fix flaws? Sure, but it’s expensive. Be aware of what you promise. Will an acid stain be consistent? No, but does the customer know that? Dyes are monolithic, but just like acid stains, they are transparent. Will every dye application be the same from job to job? No, but do both you and your customer know that? What about patching, edge work and footings? Patching, edge work and footings represent a very small percentage of the job, but they are the most visible objections, ones that can keep you from getting paid. Is it the owner’s or GC’s fault if you didn’t both educate them and protect yourself in writing as to how you would approach those areas? There are jobs where these areas won’t be objectionable, but there is a greater percentage of them where they can be your downfall. Address these circumstances up front, show by example, and get the customer and GC to sign off before you start.

Financial incentives
Financial incentives go both ways. Looking back at the incentives on a LEED project, the owner who achieves one of the four levels of LEED certification, or meets local CHPS guidelines, can often gain monetary benefits. These benefits can range from quicker regulatory approval to tax rebates or actual payments. In New Hampshire, for example, schools that meet the regional CHPS guidelines can gain an additional 3 percent contribution from the state toward their construction budget. This equates to a 5-10 percent increase in state contributions. For the GC, the opportunity to make a bonus may rest on meeting certain timetables, so if you are one of the subcontractors on the project, you have two reasons to know what you’re committing to in writing. First, you need to know that you are capable of meeting the obligations that your contract calls for. Do you have enough capital to sustain yourself? Are your crews big enough and properly trained? Do you have the proper equipment? If you don’t, and yet you committed in writing to being prepared, then you have lied and deserve whatever you get. On the other hand, if you only commit to what you are capable of, and you deliver as promised, then having everything in writing will protect you in your battles with the GC if he falls behind and tries to push you outside the scope of your agreement.

For your continued growth and profitability, make sure that you understand what you read, that what you read is pertinent to your work, and that you yourself can stand behind what you put on paper.

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