5 Strategies for Successfully Constructing Multifamily Buildings
The U.S. multifamily building market is moving at a dizzying pace. The global real estate giant CBRE recently reported record-breaking growth in the 1 st quarter of 2022 with a year-over-year increase of 56%, and a record four-quarter absorption total of 695,100 units.
Multifamily grabbed the highest percentage of total commercial real estate investment volume in Q1 2022 at 37%, followed by office at 21%, and industrial at 20%.
However, with all the multifamily construction activity taking place, it takes a lot of skill, diligence, experience, and hard work to deliver a high quality, on-time, and on-budget project.
The following is a collection of five best practices from preconstruction all the way through close-out.
When beginning a multifamily building project, it is essential that submittals are in early and the materials are procured right away. With an increase in supply chain delays, this has become even more critical to keeping a project running on time. For example, electrical switchgear and some roofing products have longer lead times and this must be accounted for.
In pricing a job, Summit Design + Build Project Executive Ari Killian stresses the importance of understanding how the materials and labor break down in each subcontractor’s bid. That way if there is an escalation in materials, for example, the impact on budget will be clear.
In addition, Senior Project Manager Kevin Criner explains that the budget must be realistic with contingencies built in to account for unforeseen circumstances as a project proceeds. If the job is priced too low, the team will constantly struggle with value engineering, scope removal, and alternate products. Furthermore, the contractor will be tempted to bring in unqualified subcontractors.
Bottom line, says Criner, “the budget needs to be realistic with scoped, vetted, and capable subcontractors.”
Staying On Schedule
As the project proceeds, the project managers have weekly coordination meetings with their subcontractors to ensure a flow in construction. This means the carpenters do their work on the first floor and then move up to the next one. The mechanical trades then do their installation work and move up the building. Next is the insulation, then the drywall, followed by the flooring, and so forth.
To support this workflow, the general contractor must have clear agreements on the sequence and durations with all subcontractors, which they will be held accountable for.
However, even with this pre-planning, material delays can be unavoidable.
For the 7-story, 42 unit 1400 Monroe project, the flooring tiles were delayed and the schedule had to be restructured to accommodate this. While waiting for the tiles, the team installed the switch gear and fire pump early, and started working on the elevators relatively early. Once the flooring arrived, Summit increased its manpower and worked a few weekends to help mitigate the delay.
Located near 911 emergency dispatch centers in the city, Summit also had to carefully schedule any street closures and cranes during 1400 Monroe’s construction.
Generally speaking, Criner says, “it’s a constant adjustment of the schedule. If you fall behind, you develop a recovery schedule. If you get ahead, you find ways to capitalize off those successes.”
For example, with the 6-story 6145 N Broadway, in demolishing an existing single-story building, a shared foundation wall with a neighboring building was discovered and the contractors were able to re-use that wall.
At the same time, the team had to deal with a delay in cold form metal studs. In this case, the carpenter was the driving force on the project, so much effort was put into keep this critical path contractor moving forward while waiting for the metal to arrive.
Significantly factoring into performance, energy efficiencies, and the building’s longevity is how well the building envelope is detailed and sealed. Consequently, Killian says they encourage building owners to invest in bringing in third party building enclosure consultants to investigate and test all the work and components installed by the subcontractors. This includes flashing, air and water barriers. “This will save a lot of headaches down the line,” he explains.
“A failed water barrier can be the death of a good build,” adds Kriner. “Make sure that all details are finalized and anything unclear is addressed when sealing up the building envelope.”
Pre-Drywall Walk Through
Before putting up the drywall, there are a number of items that must be checked and verified. This includes making sure the:
- mechanicals are in the right location.
- plumbing lines are by the sinks.
- stack lines are where the toilets go.
- gas lines are located where they’re needed for the furnaces, hot water heaters, and stoves.
- electrical outlets and water lines are in place for the appliances
- low-voltage wiring is in place for the under-cabinet lighting.
“We usually take photos of each wall and room to document this because you don’t want to have to go back in and cut out drywall to re-work these connections,” says Killian.
Criner points out that the consequences of failing to do this can be dire if an outlet has been installed in the wrong place in all 100 units of a building, for example. “We do mock-ups of each unit to prevent this. You’re building 10 little houses and need to make sure you’re doing everything right on the first one,” he says.
Final Steps Before Close-Out
This part of the process involves going through the project’s punch list to verify that every aspect of the construction has been properly installed. To stay ahead of the game, Criner recommends addressing the punch list as the building is being constructed. This way the team won’t be faced with a long, comprehensive list at the project’s end.
For 6145 N Broadway, the project was just two weeks from completion in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Fortunately, the team had been working on the punch list all along. Working diligently, Summit was able to finish the final punch list within 30 days and deliver the building.
For 1400 Monroe, the team was able to keep the vertical flow of construction moving so smoothly that renters could start moving in on the bottom floors while work was finished off on the top floors.
For both projects, construction was completed on time and on budget, which are defining characteristics in a developer’s assessment of a job well done. Add in great quality and achieving the design vision, and the architects added on their stamp of approval as well.