Poor Communications in Construction Processes can lead to quality control problems on building sites
November 30, 2017

There’s a game I played, like many others when I was a kid, called  ‘Telephone’. You know, where you stand in a line with all the other people at the birthday party, and the birthday kid whispers a message into the ear of the next person in line, and they turn and whisper it to the next person, and so on down the line. At the end of the line, the last person says the message out loud. Usually, it ends up being completely garbled from the original message.

Gales of laughter!

When ‘Telephone’ happens on the building site: not so funny.

When the people in your pipeline don’t get all the correct information, problems happen.

Materials get wasted, time gets wasted, there are change orders, cost overruns, unhappy customers.

When you add more layers to your workflow, like taking on your regional high-performance program that requires a HERS rater or other energy advisor, ‘Telephone’ can take on another dimension of pain and frustration that you didn’t know existed.


Typical Construction Telephone:

If the rater or energy advisor only gets to communicate to the builder, the game of Telephone is going to get played.The Rater or Energy Advisor is hired by the Builder to develop and assess energy efficiency measures and improvements sthe proposed house will meet the target rating. 

The Builder passes basic information about the house specs along to the Estimator/Purchaser, and (maybe) more detailed information along to the Site Super. Here’s the first garble of the message - is the correct info being passed along? Does anyone else on the team - other than the Builder - understand what the energy efficiency measures are? Do they understand why certain requirements need to be met, beyond code-compliance?

The Purchaser invites bids from insulation Contractors, who may also sub out the contract. The scope of work likely indicates the installation must be ‘to code’ or ‘to manufacturer’s specification’. There is often little or no documentation that relates to the requirements of the HERS rating. So there’s the second garble of the message.

Once the lowest-bid contractor has been hired, the site super has first contact, to set up scheduling with the crew chief and the contractor’s, or subcontractor’s, rotating crew of installers. It’s unlikely that anyone in this crew knows that the house must meet a specific HERS target, because ‘Telephone’, and the lowest-bid mentality. So they do their work and get out to the next house as quickly as they can.

After the insulation has been installed, the Rater is scheduled to come in, just before the drywallers hit the site. Good luck with lining that up seamlessly.

Sometimes the pass or fail for a HERS rating target can be determined by the pass or fail of your insulation job. Don't cut so close to the edge of your performance dollars!

If the Rater notes deficiencies in the installation during their inspection, the Site Super has to start a chain reaction of recalls and rescheduling of the Subcontractor, Crew Chief and Rater, plus a delay in the drywall installation.

The garbled/incomplete message at the bid stage has just cost you about $500 for the recall of the crew, $300 for the recall of the Rater, and at least 2 days delay on the drywallers, at $600/day. That’s $2000 for deficiencies and delay. Incurred aggravation: priceless.

You lose money when you go for lowest bid and don't specify any incentive or consequence for your insulation installers to hit a target. You lose out on the expertise of your EAs and HERS raters if you don't bring them into your team communications.

‘Telephone’ is not a special feature of the building industry, and is certainly not confined to high-performance house construction with energy efficiency measures. This study from 2013 indicates some pretty horrific stats for communications in business. Here are two key findings from the study:

“Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.”

“High-performing organizations (those completing an average of 80 percent or more of projects on time, on budget and within goals) create formal communications plans for nearly twice as many projects as their lower performing counterparts (which complete fewer than 60 percent of projects on time, on budget, and within goals).”

There’s a Better Way to Get to Cost-Effective Energy Efficiency!


Put your Rater or your Energy Advisor in contact with your Purchaser and Site Super.  

Get your whole team to buy into the systems thinking that is the basis of high-performance housing. The performance of your team impacts the performance of the house. Better teamwork and understanding of building science, with constant feedback loops - performance management - help improve your bottom line.

The Purchaser can then have a precise scope of work to hand out for bids, including the program requirements, the stages at which the Rater/Energy Advisor needs to inspect the work, and incentives or consequences for meeting or missing the installation requirements. This also ensures that you are comparing apples to apples in the bids, and weeds out the installers who don’t want to be bothered with your hi-falutin’ performance house.

I tell those folks: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, dearie.

In this model, the Site Super is armed with the information they need to ensure that the job is done correctly, and can pass that along to the insulation Crew Chief.

A clearer communications path will cost you about $500 more for a proper install, with another $300 to the Rater/Energy Advisor for their extra time in working with your team. That’s a $800 up-front cost vs. $2000+ of call backs, installation fixes, and scheduling challenges.

When you have a clear communications path, you save money, reduce stress, and create a better work flow for your energy efficient or high-performance house.

The performance rating will be higher, giving more value to the house sale, and you, as the builder, can offer your clients more confidence because you have quantifiable performance measurements from the blower door test and the inspection of the insulation installation.

Better understanding and clear communications about performance aspects of the construction project are becoming mission critical to high-performance housing, especially as codes move towards Net Zero Energy (or Zero Net Energy). Contractors need clear direction about the need to bid and install insulation and air barriers in ways that will not impact the rating or the performance of the house. That way, purchasers are selecting contractors who know what they’re getting into and have the skills for the job, and not choosing a low-ball bid that can’t meet the needs of your performance program.


Blue House Energy is committed to helping companies drive performance and business results.

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