Why Builders Must Be Learners
Continuing education is no longer optional.
What do today’s best builders have in common? Although the answer includes many items, there’s a common thread running through each of them: a commitment to ongoing learning. The know-how needed to build high-performance, durable homes is evolving faster than ever. That’s why top builders commit to continuing education in a variety of disciplines, including architecture, engineering, law, materials science, and management.
Here are three examples.
Processes. A custom building company assembles a massive product with thousands of interrelated parts: the finished home. That home is far more complex than most things people buy, except perhaps their car, and today’s customers rightly demand that it be completed for the contracted price, on the agreed-to schedule, with few or no defects.
Builders actually face steeper hurdles in meeting customer expectations than do carmakers. Not only must they coordinate and motivate teams of independent contractors to get the job done, but they have to do it outside in all types of weather including snow, rain, and summer heat. Keeping things on track under these circumstances demands bulletproof management and quality control, all of which must be continually honed.
Products. Building products and processes are changing more rapidly than at any time in human history. Industry trade journals showcase a seemingly endless stream of new materials and technologies, from engineered framing components, to high-tech windows, to security systems and smart appliances. The builder has to know how to evaluate these products and, if they’re worth adopting, how to make sure they’re installed correctly and in a manner that fits into the workflow.
Regulations. Governments are exerting more control over what types of homes can be built, how they get built, and how they perform when finished.
Zoning, building, and mechanical codes govern where the house is placed and how it’s framed, plumbed, and wired. Energy codes attempt to reduce the amount of heating and cooling the home uses, with the latest codes mandating that new homes be built nearly airtight. The need to satisfy energy codes while avoiding moisture problems and maintaining a healthy indoor environment has helped spawn the field of Building Science, which maps and quantifies heat and moisture flows through the structure. Every builder needs a working knowledge of how to apply its principles.
Work crews are also more regulated than ever. Federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency write new work rules each year, and states impose additional rules. Most of these rules include work process and recordkeeping requirements, both of which are increasingly enforced. To stay compliant, builders have to learn the regulations and keep current with annual changes.
Keeping up with this expanding web of new products, processes, and regulations is just half the battle. Builders who want to stay in business have to adapt to these changes in a way that controls costs and keeps customers happy. Seat-of-the-pants management doesn’t cut it any more—the builder needs a commitment to continuing education.
This education is widely available. Professional associations offer classes and certifications in a variety of disciplines. Private training companies show builders how to comply with new codes and regulations. Trade shows introduce new products and technologies, and most shows also include seminars on design, construction, and management. Where a builder and its staff get their training matters less than the commitment to getting it. Advanced training is one sign of a professional, so it’s a fair subject to ask about when evaluating a prospective builder.