EllisDon Finds New Ways To Leverage Its Expertise

Construction firms may often overlook the valuable assets they have in their people and their skills. Not so over at EllisDon, Inc. The company is creating new and unique opportunities that leverage its people and skills investments. Geoff Smith, president and CEO of EllisDon agreed to answer some questions about this new venture.

Q: After years of being successful at building, and at construction management, why are you now offering your expertise on a consulting basis?

There are several reasons why EllisDon is doing this. Firstly, we believe there is a very large and unserved global market for precisely these kinds of services. (And where people are providing these services, they aren’t builders. When we say something will work, we KNOW it will work, and are prepared to participate and guarantee.) I won’t go through the specific services and target markets – you can see that from
our website
– but we believe there may well be keen buyers. Secondly, these services offer new ways to build new revenue and brand new relationships and partnerships, based on expertise which we already have and infrastructure which is already in place. Thirdly, it is a great way for EllisDon to expand into new global markets without taking huge risks – the profit margins will of course be lower, but so will the

Q: Is this similar to outsourcing, that is do you take over various operations if a client wants you to do that?

I have been thinking of it as insourcing (our clients will outsource to us) – and the answer is yes, we are prepared to take over various operations and activities if a client wants. For example, we believe we can do construction accounting for firms both more effectively and more efficiently than many can do for themselves – so they would be costing themselves money not to use us. The same goes for project management systems, HR, and many of the other services we are offering.

Q: Are these services for everyone, or are they designed for very large companies?

In the North American market, we believe these services will be most attractive to mid-sized companies rather than the larger ones. Companies that want to move themselves to the next level quickly, inexpensively and with the least risk. Or a company that has a specific project or opportunity that is somewhat beyond their current expertise and wants some help in order to ensure success. Or a client (or lender) that has a builder in those circumstances, and wants to ensure success through helpful oversight and assistance.

In the global market, especially in ’emerging markets’, we believe that these services may well be attractive to both mid sized and large companies in the same circumstances.

Q: When will these services be available? Where?

These services are available right now, and can be made available to anyone anywhere. EllisDon has experience in many countries and a permanent presence in North America, Europe and the Mid East. Many of the services, or elements of each service can be delivered electronically, and we are prepared to travel anywhere for mutual advantageous opportunities.

Q: Can you take me through the steps involved to illustrate how this might work for a client who wants to take advantage of your project
management expertise?

If one goes through the website, I believe we have set out how the services will work for various clients. Most importantly, we are very flexible – every client, every project and every set of circumstances is different, and we are ready to adapt (in terms of the service provided and the remuneration) to individual needs. We have experts ready to immediately address each of the services offered, and to tailor a solution to anyone’s situation, and we have set up the offerings so that all you have to do is pick up the phone and you will be speaking very promptly to the most appropriate expert for your situation.

Straw Bale House Survives Strong Quake

People may have to stop referencing the Three Little Pigs story while extolling the virtues of one building material over another. It appears that straw may be just as resilient as brick.

Darcey Donovan, a civil engineer, and the Reno alumna of the University of Nevada, built a straw house that survived the 82-ton force of an earthquake simulation. The house was a full-scale, 14-foot by 14-foot replica of the kinds of houses Donovan has been building in Pakistan. It took seven increasingly forceful quake simulations to cause the house to sway and crack at the seams – but it stayed standing.

Donovan described her work in Pakistan as an effort to increase survival rates for people who have traditionally lived in housing that doesn’t stand up to quakes. A major challenge she explained is in making the housing affordable and earthquake resistant.

Straw bale houses are used around the world, but those have posts and beams for support and rely on energy-intensive materials, skilled labor and complex machinery, making it unaffordable for the poor,” Donovan said. “In our design, the straw bales are the support, and not just for insulation. Our design is half the cost of conventional earthquake-safe construction in Pakistan. The materials we use — clay soil, straw and gravel — are readily available; and we utilize unskilled labor in the construction.

Donovan also claims the structures are 80 percent more energy efficient while being 50 percent of the cost of conventional buildings.

Try Helping People Protect Their Eyes

Some estimate there are more than 2.5 million eye injuries each year in the U.S. The Texas Ophthalmological Association (TOA) claims a large number of those might be avoided if people would just wear eye protection, like ANSI-rated eyewear.

When you consider how small the eye is, compared to the rest of your body, and how well protected it is already, (inset, rapid response blinking, and with lashes and brows to catch foreign intruders), it’s kind of amazing how many things find their way there. I’ve often been amazed at how many things end up in my eyes even when I AM wearing safety glasses. I was running the line trimmer the other day, wearing my safety glasses, and some piece of a plant still managed to hit my eyeball.

Even so, most amazing is how difficult it is to get people to use eye protection. Most of the time it involves slipping on some eyewear, yet for reasons bordering on stupidity huge numbers of people can’t be bothered. For those managing construction projects it is a never-ending process trying to keep everyone’s eyeballs safe at the end of the day. Many people don’t publicly like my suggestion for how to make more eyes safe on the job but I think privately many do.

If people aren’t wearing eye protection when they get an eye injury, don’t pay for any medical care, and don’t allow any other compensation – no disability, no SSI, no workers compensation. It’s unlikely though we’ll ever see that level of personal responsibility being called for.

So, even though May is almost over it was Healthy Vision Month. It’s still not too late to get everyone together for a safety meeting and talk a little bit about protecting eyes. One thing I’ve found to be effective is to hand out safety glasses, but not just the cheapo ones that nobody wants to be seen in. Have a selection so people can pick their own style. And for those who wear eyeglasses, offer some money toward converting their lenses to safety lenses. From my experience it’s almost impossible to get people to wear the safety glasses that have the elastic band and fit over the top of the eyeglasses.

For those people who can get by with reading glasses there are now safety glasses with built-in bifocal readers. I have a pair of these and they work great. I can even see the sixteenths on the tape measure when using them. So while helping to keep my eyes safe, I’m also finding a new level of accuracy in the stuff I build!

Rethinking How Disaster Money Is Doled Out

As natural disasters that affect buildings continue to escalate, the insurers of those buildings are obviously looking for ways to minimize risk. According to The Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a nonprofit funded by insurers, one way to accomplish that may be to increase the payments a state can receive in the aftermath of a disaster if the state adopts and enforces stronger statewide building codes.

The IBHS says that under legislation proposed in Congress, HR 2592, 13 states would qualify for additional post-disaster money, 10 more would qualify if they did some minor modifications to their building code efforts, and eight others could qualify if they beefed up their enforcement efforts.

To see where your state stands you can check out the IBHS interactive map.

How To Get The Most Out Of Highway Rights Of Way

A couple of enterprising fellows have come up with a scheme to put all that space around roadways to use creating energy. Called a GreenRoadway, the vacant land and median areas are loaded up with wind turbines and solar panels. The wind turbines portrayed look kind of like stacks of disks rather than great big propeller-style contraptions (as seen in the attached photo taken from the GreenRoadway press kit). Model portraying the GreenRoadway solar panels and wind turbines along highways

According to the prospectus these lands are often convenient to the electric grid and will support solar panels, wind turbines, vehicle charging stations and geothermal systems. The system is being licensed on a state-by-state basis and is expected to allow the licensees to take advantage of tax credits, renewable energy credits, and funding from the latest stimulus package. Sealed bids are being accepted until July 24, 2009.

Lawyer Asks The Hard Questions About Green

In a nation with relatively free speech there are always those who get off the politically-correct thought patterns and suggest the prevailing thought might be due for some scrutiny. These voices are necessary because so often group think is nothing more than repetitive sound bites that large numbers of people simply assume to be true.

The rise of entertainment journalism personified by anchors like Lou Dobbs, and radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh, adds politically-correct emotion to topics that would be better served by “just-the-facts.”

So when it comes to construction topics it is always refreshing to hear from those who offer opposing views without a lot of entertainment spin. One such personality is veteran environmental attorney James A. Kosch. Kosch has been mentioned on these pages before as he called for us to really think about where we were going with our green initiatives.

Now, about a year later, he’s back and proffering that the green building craze is here to stay, but that it probably isn’t going to reward us with quite the utopian visions we harbor. That, of course, has to do with money. Kosch is also still asking some hard questions, and perhaps causing some to think about the long-term challenges that green is bringing, particularly when it comes to the law.

…We can now ‘do green’ much more effectively than in the past.”

Still, major uncertainties remain. Legal professionals tracking this trend are navigating uncharted territory on issues related to water reuse, energy generation and sales, tax credits, insurance, economic incentives, easements for light, air and conservation, and much more, Kosch explained. They must pay particularly close attention to the status of legislation and regulation that affects, or may affect, future projects, he added.

So far this year, for example, New Jersey lawmakers have introduced 20 or 30 green-building related bills. “Fortunately, much of this legislation shows a moderating sensitivity to the economic challenges now faced by New Jersey businesses. We’ve seen bills pass that provide flexibility,” Kosch said. “That is a positive development. After all, the Soviet Union tried command-and-control, and it didn’t exactly work.”

Get The Lowdown on Networking Sites

I have only recently begun to re-explore social and business networking Web sites and it seems they have come a long way from just a few years ago. There are now widget-types of tools you use that will do things like automatically include your latest blog posts and the books you are reading.

I use LinkedIn for business and Facebook for personal (my daughters invited me there and were kind of surprised I signed up since they tend to think of it more for people a lot younger than me).

The one thing I have noticed is that it can take a lot of time to keep up with all the activities you can get involved in on these sites. Brian Eastwood did a post recently that covered these sites really well from a business perspective, and he gave some good advice about how to use them most effectively.

Making Deadbolts Tougher

I like it when a manufacturer thinks about ways to make the installation of its product easier. Just as long as the method is a good one and I’m not going to have to go back later and work on the thing again. I only like to install stuff one time.

Schlage has a new deadbolt that it claims can be installed in less than one-half the time of a typical deadbolt. Calling it a “hands free” installation, Schlage writes that one side of the deadbolt snaps into the door leaving you free to grab your screwdriver without having to hold it in place. I’m having a little trouble picturing installing a deadbolt without any hands being involved, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean “hands free” at a particular installation point.

But there is more to this deadbolt than meets the eye. It has an anti-pick shield, and the bigger latch and bolt size is supposed to give you added kick-in resistance.

One thing lock manufacturers never seem to take into consideration is the fragility of the door frames. No matter how big of a latch and bolt you have, when it is mounted in a three-quarter inch wooden jamb, there’s really not much the bolt and latch are going to do to prevent the door being kicked in. The flimsy jamb is just going to split and the door will be wide open. So one of things I do is make sure to use the extra long screws that often come with deadbolts. These screws should make it into the door framing and that will most likely require someone to kick it more than once.