Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Reading Construction Documents


Top 10 Employee Training Tools: Reading Construction Documents

Slow & steady wins the race

The component industry is full of complex documentation, from blueprints and truss design drawings to bids and contracts. Reading these documents effectively and knowing what to look for can make the difference between a profitable job and a huge headache. This article will discuss some of the easy mistakes that can be made and advise on processes that can help reduce the chance they occur.

Most people probably find reading through a set of blueprints for a commercial project daunting, but sometimes looking at a sketch given to you by a home builder can be just as challenging. The first step for anyone to have confidence is methodically making good decisions during review. Everyone who has been in this industry any length of time probably has a story about when a detail was missed, a note indicating something needed to be provided wasn’t read, a plan changed from the bid set wasn’t caught, or an elevation detail wasn’t incorporated. The list of mistakes is endless, and most can be avoided if the plans are reviewed methodically.

Set Aside Time & Tools

The first step is setting aside sufficient time to review all the documents. Each blueprint or set of bid documents can differ in the amount of detail provided or excluded. However, taking the same approach to reviewing every document will eliminate many of the errors that commonly occur. Plans and bid documents always threaten to give users information overload. 

Some helpful tools to have on hand while reviewing documents include: a pad of paper to make notes, highlighters to define pertinent details and a scaled ruler for when the architect scaled the drawing. For those of us getting older, it’s probably also a good idea to have a pair of glasses or a magnifying glass for that set of plans that went from D scale to 8½" x 11". Fortunately, many of the new computerized takeoff programs allow the user to zoom in and out. Regardless of whether you go the pen and paper or the computerized route, have a consistent approach. Start in the top left corner of the document and work across the page left to right until you reach the bottom of the page.

Understand the Nomenclature of Plans

It’s vital for anyone who reviews plans to understand how they are labelled, and in the case of blueprints, organized by discipline. For instance, if a sheet/page number states “S1.07,” the reader should know that “S” indicates it is a structural drawing, usually provided by the Engineer of Record. The “1” is the sheet type or plan (2 is elevations, 3 is sections, etc.), and the “.07” is the sequence, in this case, the seventh page in the section. One good resource that covers all of this is the United States National CAD Standard, which can also be used as a helpful toolbox talk with design technicians. 

In instances where only the “A” (architectural) set of plans or the “S” (structural) set is received and the customer indicates it is the only set they have, there are two options: call the Architect of Record and ask for the additional set, or be very specific in the bid proposal that the bid is based solely on the set of plans received (see box below for more information on why this is a good idea). In some cases, it may even be a good idea to list out the pages provided in generating the bid. 

ANSI/TPI 1 states clearly the following terms and conditions that should be a part of your bid and contract thought process:

“The Truss Manufacturer shall be permitted to rely on the accuracy and completeness of information furnished in the Construction Documents or otherwise furnished in writing by the Registered Design Professional for the Building and/or Contractor.”

"Where required by the Construction Documents or Contract, Legal Requirements or the Building Official, the Truss Manufacturer shall provide the appropriate Truss Submittal Package to one or more of the following: Building Official; Registered Design Professional for the Building and/or Contractor for review and/or approval per Section,” which says:

a.“The Contractor, after reviewing and/or approving the Truss Submittal Package, shall forward the Truss Submittal Package for review by the Registered Design Professional for the Building.”

It is the role of a registered design professional or building designer to coordinate and review certain aspects of the project for compatibility with the design of the building or structure. This includes the coordination and review of submittal documents prepared by others, deferred submittal documents and phased submittal documents. Only the building designer has an overall feel for the design concepts and anticipated load paths for which design is needed.

Read Through Everything

After initial review of the plans, read the Project Specifications, General Conditions, Special Conditions and Construction Contracts. Each one of these sections of the bid documents or blueprints are not only critical, but provide essential information on what a bid/proposal needs to include. During review of these documents, highlight the sections pertinent to component manufacturing operations. Many times, hidden details like the requirement for 2x6 top chords, SFI/FSC lumber, a minimum grade of material, or a special loading requirement can be found here. 

Unfortunately, these important details are not always found on a plan page that applies to the roof, floor or wall. Consequently, headaches can be avoided by reading these notes and sections of the plan documents. For further information, a source for reading construction documents is provided by the Construction Specifications Institute.

Just like a book, the cover page(s) contains a lot of vital information, including the project name, location and owner; the name of the architect and architectural firm (if applicable); the name of the structural engineers (if applicable); and in a separate box, the design criteria, building data and symbol legend. It’s important to note that all the design criteria are not always presented in this box. Often information on the cover page is boilerplate information. More detailed information is typically found within the plan or on specific pages. What is important is to be thorough and highlight everything that is pertinent to your scope of work.

Think Plan, Elevation & Section

It may sound simple, but when looking at a set of blueprints, it is good to know specifically what is being shown in a particular illustration. For instance, a “plan view” is a downward look at the object or section of a building. In contrast, an “elevation view” looks sideways at the object, usually from each cardinal direction. Finally, a “section view” is a cut-through view of the object that shows how something should be built. One way to keep them straight during review is to use different colored highlighters. Use a yellow highlighter for details related to the layout or profile of a component, and a green highlighter for items related to the design of the truss, EWP or wall. This approach to plan review can give a good idea what the architect or engineer was trying to convey. It’s also possible to uncover information gaps that need to be answered through a subsequent request for information (RFI).

Review All Call Outs

There are times when the architect or engineer will use a symbol to call out a detail from the other set of drawings, or refer to a specific page where more detailed information can be found. It can be helpful to highlight these symbols and then go to that page to review what has been called out. Many times, this is where hidden items that apply to components can be found. For example, the architect or engineer might refer to the mechanical pages where HVAC is called out to run through the floor trusses, and it specifies where a chase run needs to be placed for the ductwork. In commercial buildings, for instance, it may call out for a sprinkler run that is going to hang off the bottom chord of a truss.

In the absence of complete information, don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume that an architect’s called out dimensions are going to close the building. It is not unheard of that, when inputting the dimensions of a building into the layout software, it becomes clear the architect did not close the walls. Fortunately, newer software versions used by architects no longer allow this, particularly when they move a wall or change a dimension for the owner, but it still happens on occasion. Generally, a phone call or RFI can resolve the discrepancy. After the phone call, document on the plan the date, time and who you talked to, as well as a summary of the information gathered. Finally, don’t forget to let the customer (the framer, the general contractor, the builder, etc.) know of any necessary changes, so that everyone makes the same change to the building plan.

Truss Design Drawings

When it comes to reading truss design drawings and/or truss placement diagrams, everyone uses the same general format, with each plate company providing a boilerplate that calls out the various pieces of information on a drawing. One idea to consider is that, when you send out your jobsite package, send these call outs as well. This can have two advantages: one, it adds an extra layer of protection to the company; and two, it provides good training information for the customer. Just as an architect and engineer may provide critical information on their blueprints and documents, our industry can do the same for our customers. By highlighting the information, we help ensure they know that what was designed was based on a given set of drawings.

Again, this can be a daunting task for someone who doesn’t do this often, or hasn’t done it in the past. However, by following these best practices, it is not difficult to be successful. Unroll those plans, take a breath and be methodical!

Ben Hershey is Past President of SBCA and a Lean Management & Manufacturing Expert with 4Ward Consulting Group. The topic of Quality Control will be covered in the December issue.