Inefficiencies in how we build things extract a heavy toll on the industry and on ourselves. These things push up costs, cause delays, increase the chances of mistakes and probably worst of all they rob us of time. And time is life. They also cause a lot of stress. And stress is a killer. This is the first in a series of articles and podcasts exploring various inefficiencies.

Time and time again I have seen the lack of materials bring portions of jobs, and in some cases entire jobs, to a standstill. These material deficiencies come in a few common forms. Not having any materials at all is probably the worst scenario since you can’t even shift work to other parts of the project. Not having enough materials of a given type means one part of the job stops and if that one part is crucial to other parts moving forward it also stops those. Not having the right materials usually means scrambling to find the right materials while a portion of the job goes on hold. There are other materials problems but these seem to be the most common from my experience.

There’s no substitute for planning when it comes to reducing materials deficiencies. While many people in construction seem to like to “fly by the seats of their pants” the reality of poor planning means they’re loosing money, time and eventually small pieces of their sanity. The neat thing about planning is that if you do it once really well that plan is re-usable for other projects, or even for other parts of a project. If you take the time to do thorough estimates, keep records of how accurate those estimates were, and then incorporate changes to how you estimate in order to continually improve your accuracy, you will find that materials issues will greatly diminish. Not, go away. But at least become more manageable.

One thing that helps me to minimize repetitive estimating tasks is to use the “assembly” function of my estimating package. That way I end up with a materials list for a given quantity of production. If it’s an exterior 2×6 wall then I know not only how many studs, plates and blocks I need, but also how many nails I need per linear foot of wall. Once I’ve calculated this one time it’s not going to change materially unless there’s a change in how the wall is assembled.

There are other reasons that materials can come up in short supply and if someone else doesn’t suggest some I will get into more of those in the future.

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