It’s All in the Prep! – Article by Bill Butler of PrimeCo Painting and Construction
Anyone who has painted a room or a part of their home knows that the preparation is the most important and the most time-consuming part of the job. When we think of prep, we conjure up thoughts of sanding, scraping, masking, covering things, moving stuff and priming. For some, those are not very pleasant thoughts.
In fact, those are the typical steps that are taken by homeowners and professionals alike. But when painting the exterior of a community, the preparation takes on a whole new meaning and scale. Many of the things that need to be addressed prior to paint actually being applied to the walls take a substantial amount of time and focus.
One of the most time-consuming processes that should happen prior to painting is an evaluation of the building’s surfaces. This is particularly true of buildings that have wood components. Stucco buildings generally do not have a tremendous amount of exterior damage unless they have been routinely hit by sprinklers. For the most part, minor stucco repairs are done as a part of the normal prep by a professional painter. Wood damage, on the other hand, is a frequent occurrence on buildings, even if it is only the fascia along the roof line.
While most folks are aware of termite or dry rot damage on their buildings, they frequently are not certain as to the extent of the damage. Their reserves may provide for wood replacement and often times, there is no real evaluation of the damage and board members just keep their fingers crossed and hope that their reserves cover it.
Obviously, there is a better way to provide the board and owners with a more accurate assessment of the damage and the cost to mitigate it; that is to have a professional contractor do a survey of all of the wood components. This provides not only an estimate of the cost of making repairs; it also creates a list of the damaged wood and a scope of work for other contractors to bid from. If I may use a tired cliché, it creates a platform for “apples-to-apples” proposals.
There are differences between doing a “visual” inspection versus a “physical” inspection. In the first scenario, the contractor will simply walk around the community, noting any very obvious defects in the wood. This type of inspection is generally offered for free and as a rule, it is worth every penny that it costs. There are a couple of huge pitfalls with doing this type of survey….either a lot of things are missed, because they “appear” sound, or conversely, things that appear rotted are only suffering from, weathered, peeling paint. In the first scenario, where things are missed, the board is presented with a false sense of the potential cost and then is later whacked with costly change orders. The visual survey is usually just done from the ground, occasionally with the use of binoculars, so there is no real opportunity to assess the damage. If you look at the images below, they are the same piece of wood. From the front, it appears sound. When you look at it from the side, you see that is just not the case. A visual inspection would have missed this.
A “physical” inspection is a much more effective means to assess the condition of the wood components. A trained technician will actually get up close and personal with the wood, using a probe to test the efficacy of the cellulose. This type of survey is something that the community would pay for, but it too is worth every penny that is paid for it. The data that it yields will be much more accurate and the board is provided with a much more meaningful budget number. In some instances, all or a part of the cost of the survey is applied to the actual work if the contract is awarded to the contractor who did the survey. This minimizes the true cost of doing the physical survey.
Anyone who has gone through a painting project in a homeowners association is very aware of the challenges that choosing colors pose. Choosing colors is a very important part of the preparation for painting and should be done well in advance of the anticipated start date. Having colors selected even prior to the bid process is very helpful because it improves the proposal process.
In the absence of knowing exactly what colors will be used and whether or not a different paint scheme will be utilized, (painting various sections of the building differently than they currently are) contractors will typically bid for one coat of paint. What this means is that you may get your bids in, choose a color palette and then discover that the colors selected may require two or even three coats of paint. Then, you’re faced with an unexpected expense when the contractor hits you for a change order for the additional time and material that it takes to apply the additional coats. Either that, or the board may have to request entirely new bids, causing a delay.
Since April of 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that residential structures such as condos and apartments (except Senior communities) built prior to 1978 be tested for lead-based paint prior to doing renovation work. The testing adds additional time to the process and if LPB is discovered, additional cost to the project. If testing is not done, contractors must assume that the buildings have LPB and all of the additional cost will automatically be added to the cost of the project.
The last thing that will be discussed, although there are several more, is qualification and interviewing. It is vitally important that potential contractors be screened for proper insurance, licensed and credentials. Most experienced community managers pre-qualify vendors before even asking them to submit a proposal, but everyone knows that insurances and licenses lapse. A vendor may represent that he has liability insurance but may not have the specific coverage for multi-family housing. A general contractor, with a “B” license may employ other subcontractors with a specialty “C” license, but not the other way around. Make certain that the vendors wanting to work for you hold the proper licenses and insurance.
It is truly amazing how many large-dollar decisions are made by boards without interviewing the potential contractors. It might be a compliment that a community manager has brought a qualified vendor to the table but if the board fails to interview all bidders they might end up selecting a contractor that it is really uncomfortable with. Remember, with a large project, you may be partnering up with a person or a company that is challenging to work with, for a number of months. You wouldn’t fail to interview contractors to do large projects around your home….don’t do it with your community!
All of these steps are critical to the preparation, planning and success of a large painting or renovation job. Failing to make them a part of the planning process will most likely lead to unpleasant surprises that cost the community time and money.
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