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Construction don’ts

Business Forecast

Hang on to customer complaints, and learn from them.

Kristen Hampshire | June 19, 2012

When a homeowner files a complaint about a contractor to the California Contractors License Board, an industry expert is dispatched to the site to assess the issue and determine whether the work was performed up to standard.

Scott Cohen is an 11-year member of the board’s Industry Expert Program and he’s filled a book he titled The Candid Contractor with a decade of construction defect files from his notes. “These are not just mistakes I found in the field from other contractors, but mistakes we made in our own business so we can all learn from them,” says
Cohen, president of The Green Scene in Northridge, Calif.

Because Cohen carries landscape and general pool contractors’ licenses, he says he gets called in on complex cases. “I use those investigations to train my staff,” Cohen says, noting that he holds monthly meetings at his company where these construction defects are reviewed. So his experience working as an industry expert for the board builds awareness among his crews.

“A smart man learns from his own mistakes, and a wise man learns from the mistakes of others,” Cohen says.
The complaint files run the gamut, but Cohen sees these three mistakes the most.

1. Covering weep screed.
The purpose of weep screed is to drain moisture from porous walls, such as stone, stucco and wood. When landscapers make the mistake of putting soil directly up to weep screed, they don’t allow water to drain away from the walls. “This can sometimes introduce water into the walls,” Cohen says. “So that creates moisture that can’t get out of the walls, then you have mold issues, and those can be a big deal.”

2. Separating concrete and hardscape. When a landscaper pours a patio up against a home, there should be a separator – a felt or foam strip that allows concrete to move independently of the structure (home). “When that is not done, the concrete has trouble shrinking and expanding and we get cracking and heaving problems,” Cohen says.

3. Construction over clay soil. “Clay soil is expansive when wet,” Cohen points out. “It will shrink and expand depending on the moisture in the clay, so it’s like building on top of a sponge.” Landscape contractors must take this into account when building surfaces such as patios. The surface should be moistened first.

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