When Saving $25k on a Subcontractor Costs You $100k

Posted by Michael Leonard on Jan 31, 2019 2:04:57 PM

Roofing Rain Protection

My years as a Project Manager taught me many things. How to prepare for a pre-con, how to manage people, how to streamline a project to meet projected goals, to name a few. Every project was different yet the same in so many respects.

In 2011, we were awarded a contract to replace the roof on a school. It was a sizable job, 750 sq (75,000 sq ft) of vented nail base with new asphalt shingles and 100 sq (10,000 sq ft) of PVC flat roofing. If you’ve ever done vented nail base on a roof (panels of 4” ISO, 1” air gap, 5/8” CDX) you know it can present challenges from a work force perspective. I may have lots of roofers, but are those roofers good enough carpenters to lay down the nail base efficiently? I had a similar concern with our carpenters. Are they comfortable enough walking a 12 pitch roof to lay the nail base efficiently?

There was also a logistical challenge to consider. The vented nail base and asphalt shingle roofing tied up our best roofers —  including our flat roof crew, who were also slated to install the 100 sq of PVC flat roofing. You may ask, why didn’t we just finish the sloped roofing and then move on to the flat roofing? Well, this was a school, and we had a hard finish date of one week before school reopened later that summer. So, we had to sub out the flat roof work in order to meet the project deadline.

I got prices from two subs for the work. One was $25K cheaper than the other. At the time I remember attributing the cost difference to a sub that was busy during the summer, and simply threw a high number at it. We went with the lower number sub. Work began a week later and things were going smoothly, no issues.

As work progressed, they were temping in any open roofing at the end of the day for rain protection. With rain coming one Thursday night, the crew and foreman were directed to ensure the roof was properly protected. That night, a co-worker and I attended a Red Sox game. As we were watching the game, we discussed ongoing projects. We had three large projects going on that summer in addition to our smaller projects. He joked to me that “It was smooth sailing from here on out, nothing could go wrong now.” I told him he was going to jinx us and we had a laugh about it.  

At 1 am that night, my phone rang. It was a representative from the school telling me the temporary protection the subcontractors installed had failed and there was water in the building. It was bad. The temping had been done right over the electrical room for the school. The damage was extensive.

I spent the rest of that night on the phone with damage restoration companies trying to get someone out there ASAP. The same with my electrician. They made us replace anything that got wet. In addition to the electrical wiring replacements, we had to do extensive testing on all of the CAT 6 data and voice cabling. Had to get all the water out, dry everything, mold testing, etc. It was an absolute nightmare. At the same time, work had to progress on both roofs. In the end, it cost us in excess of $100K.

Later, in the fall of that year, I was chatting with the other roofer I had gotten a price from for that roof. I told him why we didn’t take his number. He then started walking me through his price and how he had gotten to that figure. I was surprised that he had a line item for temporary protection. He had a cost built right into his price for it. This told me that he knew the value of proper temporary protection, and I came to recognize he had a lot of other items in his number that proved he knew what he was doing, and was a true pro.

A roofing sub can just throw a tarp over the roof and call it a day or they can look carefully at the forecast and make a determination that a more sturdy solution is necessary, perhaps even purchasing and installing membrane temporarily. Either way, as a GC, you’re the one that will have to answer for it.

Not taking into account the many variables included in a cost difference — variables that can have a huge downstream impact — is a $100k lesson I learned the hard way, and is one I will never forget.

Topics: exterior remodeling, project management, rain protection, subcontractors

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