Five Causes of Construction Rework and How to Avoid Them
Rework is a word no one wants to hear on a construction project. It typically means some portion of work has to be redone to fix a problem, often with adverse schedule and cost impacts. According to research published by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) in 2011, rework costs can range from 2 to 20 percent of a typical project’s contract value. While this research is more than a decade old, many of the same principles still apply today, and construction firms continue to search for ways to reduce rework. Here are five common causes and some possible remedies to avoid them.
Planning and Scheduling Problems
Schedule issues can lead to numerous problems on projects, one of which is rework. The CII research estimated that approximately 25 percent of all rework is related to scheduling issues. As projects fall behind schedule, hastily performed work may result in nonconforming work and other quality issues, ultimately dragging projects even further behind schedule.
Sequencing and coordination problems can also lead to rework. Work performed out of sequence may prevent subsequent work from being completed properly, leading to removal and reconstruction of previously installed items. Inadequate coordination of multiple crews or subcontractors is often at the root of out-of-sequence work.
Weather contributes to scheduling and quality problems, as work is impacted by precipitation, wind, temperature fluctuations and other factors. While improved weather forecasting technology has helped contractors better plan for weather events, the scenario of weather-related rework is still fairly common, along with the domino effect of weather-impacted schedules followed by hastily performed work—a vicious cycle if not managed properly.
Design-related rework issues include errors and omissions in design plans, as well as agreed-upon design changes. Errors and omissions are often beyond the control of construction contractors, but sometimes contractors can help identify these issues during bidding and plan review stages. When designers and constructors are teamed up front, as in design-build contracts, constructors often have more opportunities to identify design issues before construction begins.
Agreed-upon changes unrelated to design errors may be initiated by the owner, designer or contractor. They may occur due to scope changes or new information obtained after construction has started. Regardless of who initiates design changes and the reason for the change, design changes can lead to rework—particularly if changes are made after construction has progressed.
Rework is sometimes required simply due to improperly constructed work. This category itself has many sub-causes:
- Inexperience or inadequate training – workers build or install something incorrectly due to lack of experience or training.
- Insufficient supervision – Experienced supervisors are not present to oversee work.
- Inadequate quality management – Quality control (QC), quality assurance (QA) and monitoring are not sufficiently conducted to identify issues before rework is required.
- Misinterpretation of plans and specifications – work is not installed in accordance with construction documents, or documents may be not clear or current.
- Layout and location issues – Work is built in the wrong location due to survey or measurement errors.
- Budget constraints – Attempts to save money result in substandard work that must be redone.
- Other factors – Various other factors lead to construction errors and rework.
Material and Equipment Defects
Sometimes work is constructed properly, but materials do not meet specifications, triggering rework. Examples might include concrete that does not meet strength specifications, windows with the wrong type of glass or other substandard items that must be removed and replaced.
Equipment defects might include mechanical or electrical components that do not perform properly after installation, or construction equipment that malfunctions and damages work previously completed. In some cases, these situations also create safety issues.
Pre-fabricated components can provide huge time savings on construction projects, but if components arrive on the job site with problems, they can also add delays and potentially require rework. Contractors are often at the mercy of fabricators in such situations, but may ultimately be responsible for rework-related delays if the fabricator is hired by the contractor.
Amongst the myriad potential causes for rework, some common threads can help identify solutions to avoid future problems. Proper communication is key to avoiding many causes of rework. Areas such as planning and scheduling in particular, require clear, ongoing communication between all involved parties throughout the life of a project. Clear contracts are also key to establishing scope, schedule and budget and reducing the likelihood of miscommunication.
Design and fabrication issues can be mitigated when identified early in the project. Wise contractors identify and relay such issues to the owner and/or designer as soon as possible.
Impacts of construction errors can also be minimized if identified and handled as soon as possible. To reduce the likelihood of such errors, proper training and supervision are key, along with instilling high quality standards in workers. Age-old phrases such as “do it right the first time” and “measure twice, cut once” might seem trite, but still hold value in the industry.
Firms with established quality systems are generally better equipped to avoid rework and handle it more readily when it occurs. Many firms claim to have quality management systems in place, but when put to the test, might struggle to pass a routine quality audit. Basic components such as quality checklists and established, documented processes for QC and QA should be employed whenever possible.
Modern technology also provides tools and techniques to avoid rework. Building information modeling (BIM) and other software tools can help identify issues such as conflicts between structural and mechanical work before construction occurs. Project management software can help monitor schedules, budgets and related items throughout the course of a project. Emerging technology in robotics and artificial intelligence offer potential in completing repetitive tasks more efficiently than humans. But all of these are still tools, much like hammers and saws, that require skilled workers to be at the helm.
Rework may not be avoidable in construction, but it can be minimized and managed. With ongoing awareness and attention, these five causes – and others – can be kept at bay on the jobsite.
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Andrew Roe is a civil engineer and technical writer based in Minneapolis, MN. He is president of AGR Associates, Inc., and writes regularly for Fieldwire and various industry publications on construction, engineering, and other technology topics.