"Hey, let’s save 20% and be general contractor for our project!"

One of most persistent building owners’ illusions who are about to build is that there are substantial savings in contracting it themselves. Otherwise smart people regularly leave common sense behind when thinking about this. Lawyers neglect contracts and insurance, while Doctors imagine that they will be obeyed by Joe the plumber. HGTV watchers are sure that it can’t be that hard. See

The selection of a good contractor is actually quite a challenge, especially if minimum expense is a priority. Our current recession has a lot of unemployed, poorly trained carpenters ready to work for too little. They think pick-up truck ownership and a trusting owner are the only things they need to make the leap to GC. The actual work of a GC is full of detail and scheduling among a network of satisfactory sub contractors (unless you are dealing with a novice, cut-rate contractor who will be hiring strangers based on how cheaply they will do the work). Only some owners who are active in the construction industry (architects, sub contractors, etc) have the knowledge base of reliable subcontractors and customary trade practice. Even this cannot ensure timely returned calls and seamless scheduling. This takes a great deal of dedicated time and attention, a fact over looked by the 20% hopefuls.

The owner/GC type will usually attempt to save architects’ fees by saying “You don’t need to come weekly. We’ll call you if there is a problem”. Inevitably, when (not, if) that call comes, it will be too late. Something that could have been detected earlier in the rough on weekly site visits will have hardened, been painted and become permanent. Faced with issues such as these the client GC/type usually then finds fault with the architect’s drawings that “didn’t show everything”…no drawings ever do.

Sooner or later I must mention the dark side of client/GC projects--injuries, accidents, third-party claims as well as, disputes with insolvent contractors (who have your money but have not finished the work). These regular occurrences vaporize any savings that may have accrued and become a black hole for emotional money that the owner/GC has to find for litigation and/or damages. An architect on the job during construction and a clear AIA contract can’t prevent these things but will serve as the structure for resolution. As curious as it may sound, under the AIA contracts the architect tho’ paid by the owner, serves as a neutral party to rule promptly on issues. When I’ve been active during construction all parties may not have walked away smiling but all are relieved that no escalation and wasted legal fees have sunk the project budget.

Think twice before becoming your own GC and if you still decide to do so, call me to talk you out of it!

Not everyone in the village can master every trade, and no one man or woman can master more than a few, but if people specialize, then collectively (they) have a hundred trades.

The Beak of the Finch
Jonathan Weiner


+ Thanks to all who sent comments regarding my recent BN ”Code Confusion” issue. Predictably, a code consultant mentioned even more recent revisions and updates than the half dozen I had cited. My friends at Design Search in Baltimore shared that in addition to the ever-changing state and national regulations, their regulations vary by county!

+ By popular demand I will share my Japan slide show at 7:30 pm on Monday, April 11th & repeat my Wooster Square tour at 1:00 pm Tuesday, May 17th. There is no charge but I have to give the host my guest list. 203-776-0798

+ Thigh deep in snow on a cold January night Jeff Page of Conservision Services wielded the infrared camera while I pestered him with questions to complete the conditions assessment of the Old Stone Church in East Haven. We found gremlins ranging from roof leaks to hidden gaps in the insulation.

+ I was asked for a proposal to plan the restoration of portions of Richard Upjohn’s early Victorian gothic masterpiece St. James Episcopal Church in New London. Later he designed the daring Connecticut state capitol building and magnificent Trinity Church in New York.

+ I enjoyed meeting with the owners of a handsome 19th C farmhouse in North Haven to consider how a new, old-looking, barnlike garage might provide not only car protection but also create a garden backdrop, place for a basketball hoop and screen a neighbor’s patio.

+It was fun picking a house-full of colors for New Haven for fearless, clients who wanted to repair and repaint the major rooms of their colonial revival home. Thanks to R. C. Morgan & Sons’ meticulous crew who finished in only three weeks!!!



Awesome!!! the primevil mystery of the Galapagos Islands. Weird fauna & volcanic landscapes float in warm seas under the vast equatorial sky.



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