With the start of the second half of 2010, it appears that experts were correct in predicting that recovery from the current recession would be a long, slow climb rather than a quick leap.
Declines in project starts, which started four years ago, have created a murky marketplace complete with bidding frenzies, razor-thin profit margins and an unemployment rate over 20%.
But, along with the bad, there is some good coming out of the current recession. The editors of Mountain States Construction magazine have compiled a list of 10 things that are getting better in 2010.
We Built This City: New Construction Technologies Boost the Bottom Line
The number of firms using building information modeling and other new construction technology has skyrocketed over the past few years, a welcome trend for the industry at a time when fewer people are doing more work.
Contractors, in particular, have discovered that using BIM is better for their bottom line. Many companies have found ways to shave schedules and save dollars. A 2008 McGraw-Hill Construction survey of AGC BIM Forum members found that among BIM users actively tracking returns on investment, one-third report a return on investment of greater than 100%.
In light of such results, the technology is gaining traction. According to an August 2009 McGraw-Hill Construction survey, 23% of contractors reported using BIM on at least 60% of their projects during the previous year. In 2009, 38% used it at that level, making contractors the fastest-growing user segment in the BIM world.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in construction technology,” says Rick Khan, integrated construction manager at Denver’s Mortenson Construction. “Today’s buildings and structures are far more complicated than any other time in history, and they require the implementation of new technology and process improvements.”
Leading the long list of technologies are laser GPS systems, 3D and 4D virtual project simulations, increased use of prefabricated materials, digital scanners and jobsite notebooks and data-sharing systems that bring project teams more in sync than ever before.
These technologies enhance processes like integrated project delivery and change the way that various team members interact. Data sharing between different firms helps reap greater rewards with BIM, prompting expanded collaboration among team members who have traditionally preferred to hand off work. This means better communication with designers, subs and suppliers, and virtual planning of structures all the way through to their operation and maintenance, which some BIM advocates call 6D construction.
“There is no doubt that BIM has changed the way we do business. Over the last few years, the game has changed, and we see BIM gaining traction faster than ever before,” Khan says. “There is significant opportunity for firms that are committed to change and innovation, but it takes commitment and perseverance. It is not easy. “
Great Expectations: Staying in Step with Sustainability
It’s too easy to say that the industry-wide push for sustainability has been a good thing in recent years, but it is a movement that has transcended the recession and the recent low-bid mentality.
The green express was initially led by designers, who were keenly aware of how much energy is sapped by the built environment. But more recently, contractors have felt the need to adapt to green-building requirements, as more sustainable buildings have been constructed, and more owners are insisting upon some level of sustainability—from the GSA to school districts and universities. The single biggest change in sustainable construction is collaboration, say designers and contractors. Contractors are no longer being left out of the design phase.
“They have to understand why something is being done and why it is important. They play a big part and they have to be on board for us to accomplish our goals,” says Beth Manguso, a green building consultant in Fair Hope, Ala.
More and more successful sustainable projects have demonstrated that if GCs and key subs are on board early in a project, they can make sure the specifications and drawings are clear. They also have a better idea of what their responsibilities are for the green documentation of a project.
The USGBC’s LEED version 3.0, put into place last year, has helped project teams with the burden of paperwork and documentation to meet LEED requirements. LEED v3.0 was “not a tear down and rebuild” of the existing systems, but an attempt by the USGBC to make them better, more cohesive and more in tune with advancements in the science behind green building and online technology. And most sustainability coordinators say that has worked.
The goal now is to gather data on how LEED buildings perform after completion, to help understand why some buildings continue to perform at a high level and others do not. Dangers include increased litigation when buildings fail to meet green criteria or do not perform according to their contractual promises of sustainability.
“People involved in sustainable projects today should keep in mind what construction attorneys are telling us, that ‘LEED is the new mold,’” says McGraw-Hill BIM guru Steve Jones. “Like the mold lawsuits of the past decade, sustainable building and performance is fast becoming one of the most litigated areas of the industry.”
In short, go green, but be sure to get there.