The Problem with Wood Framing and How to Solve It
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 Issue of Building Dialogue
Wood framing is one of the riskiest scopes in construction. The fact that remarkably few wood framing Subcontractors can be bonded is proof of this. Even if they could, the problems that can result from poorly managed framing - including schedule and quality issues that cascade into other trades – can't really be fixed with a bonding Band-Aid. The good news is that the problem is simple, if not easy, to fix: someone must take ownership of the wood framing process.
Many entities have a piece of the puzzle, leading to this lack of ownership. One glaring example is truss design. Structural Engineers (who do not have truss software) rely on general design principles to complete framing plans. Truss company's bids are based on these plans and will bid them as drawn, right or wrong. They have no incentive other than winning the job. In addition, these companies generally do not evaluate the project holistically: meeting architectural intent with MEP, structural steel integration, etc. Eventually, problematic designs are passed to the Framing Subcontractor, whose only incentive is to finish fast and collect a check. When problems are caught, redesign can take weeks. This puts the whole project on hold if it’s early enough and leads to costly rework and associated delays if construction is underway.
To address these issues, a thorough preconstruction process is crucial. The first key to success is involving a General Contractor with in-depth framing knowledge and their key suppliers, especially truss fabricators, with the design team. This collaboration results in framing designs that meet architectural and structural intent, ensure constructability and seamless integration with other trades. The result is a project that can be built in budget, faster, and with simplicity that improves quality before construction starts.
A critical aspect of this is cultivating relationships with vendors and holding them to project specifications. This approach ensures quality and saves owners money – and not in a nebulous “preventing future issues” way. There are myriad efficiencies that can be built into the project at this stage. Pinkard’s recent efforts on Krisana Affordable Housing created a framing design that saved the Owner over $250,000.
Once the project is set up for success, experienced and attentive on-site supervision is crucial. A dedicated framing professional who leads the Framing Subcontractor and interfaces directly with the project superintendent can catch minor issues before they become major problems. This level of supervision ensures the project stays on track and all team members are held accountable for their work. Additionally, it allows for open communication between all parties involved and leads to a smoother and more efficient construction process. On-site framing supervisors must have the knowledge and authority to make quick decisions and adjustments, saving time and money.
Properly implemented, these strategies can be incredibly successful. Pinkard’s recent preconstruction efforts for Boulder County Housing Authority on Willoughby Corner – a multi-phased affordable community in Lafayette with 174 units in the first phase – illustrates this well. The initial design was a unique, modern design that required complex engineering. When Pinkard took the time and worked with the design team to understand the factors driving the design decisions, we developed solutions without sacrificing the overall look of the building.
Having a team who not only understands the wood framing process start to finish but also takes ownership and responsibility for its success is essential for ensuring that your wood frame project is delivered smoothly on schedule, competitively priced and is a quality build that will last you decades.