it's 6 a.m. and the day's first sunlight is filtering through dark,
blustery clouds. From your job site high on a hill, you gaze down
on the tile roofs and palm-tree-lined streets of Santa Barbara,
Calif., and from there to the gray, wintry sea.
your crew of 18 gathers, you recall the three weeks gone by, when
15 workers formed steel and set forms for 28-foot stem walls - 12
feet in the ground and 16 feet above. Today, 10 concrete trucks
are scheduled to start rumbling up the hill by 8 a.m.
7 o'clock, the boom truck pulls up. Because there is so little flat
space to park on the sloped site, you have told the driver exactly
where to park his rig. However, he parks his heavy truck 3 feet
over, closer to the ledge, and to your horror the rain-soaked ground
beneath the tires begins to give way. Within seconds, the boom truck
bogs down on the muddy slope, tilted at an alarming angle. "Oh
my god," you think. "It's going to roll."
the truck does not roll, but you've got cement trucks on the way
and 18 workers standing by. And more than that, a big storm is forecast
for that night. If the concrete isn't poured, the formwork will
be pushed out of place by the heavy, rain-soaked earth and the job
could be delayed for a week or more.
to Beat the IRS
wait, there's more. A delay of weeks will prove disastrous for the
homeowner, who must get an occupancy permit by May 1, just four
months away. If he doesn't, he'll owe the IRS hundreds of thousands
of dollars in capital gains taxes on a house he sold nearly two
years ago. In fact, if he doesn't get the occupancy permit on time,
and loses that money, he won't be able to afford this dream house
and will be forced to sell it.
you think about the grinning, cherub-faced homeowner, who uses a
wheelchair to get around and often exclaims that "you can see
God from up here," you know the concrete absolutely, positively
must be poured today.
to another day in a grand adventure for Dennis Allen and John Scoggins,
president and field representative, respectively, of Allen Associates,
a general contracting firm. The company was hired in December 1995
to build a large custom home overlooking the Pacific Ocean by May
started Without a contract," says Allen. "We started with
a handshake because the plans weren't ready. The client's overriding
concern, which became my overriding concern, was to meet the deadline."
the homeowner had two years after selling his previous house to
invest in the next, in order to avoid the large tax bite, there
had been delays in the process. He threw the first design out and
finally hired designer Jane Lily to draw the final plans. He was
also careful about the contractor he chose, interviewing no fewer
than eight. Allen was hired, he believes, partly because of the
intricate schedule he prepared - it was four pages deep and took
two weeks to complete with the help of a computer expert. But it
showed exactly how the job could be pulled off in the small window
of time remaining until the tax deadline.
Back at the Site
at "boom day," Scoggins was distraught, and even considered
calling off the concrete trucks. Soon, however, he hit on a solution:
Chain the boom truck to a backhoe and pull it off the slope and
out of the mud. When that didn't work, another solution came up:
Get a crane to lift the boom truck back onto the parking pad. And
because they needed a crane the next day anyway, the costs would
the phone, Allen and Scoggins called scores of crane operators up
and down the central coast of California. Finally, .Specialty Crane
of Santa Barbara called back and said they could be there by 11:15
a.m. At 11:30, a chain was being wrapped around the truck while
heavy concrete tucks idled in line on the steep road leading to
12:30 p.m., the truck had been lifted up like a toy and set 3 feet
over and the concrete started flowing around 1 p.m. It flowed through
the afternoon and into the night. The owner, who often found the
building site impossible to negotiate in his wheelchair, was stationed
in his downtown apartment, watching the drama play out through binoculars.
In the evening, he had a bevy of large pizzas delivered to the site.
Around the same time, heavy drops started falling from the sky and
kept up a menacing presence until the last truck was emptied at
9:30 p.m. - completing a total pour of 140 yards.
was absolutely amazing dedication," Allen says of the crew,
who worked 16 hours on that fateful day.
before leaving the site at 10 p.m., Scoggins and the crew covered
the driveway with plastic, and as predicted, the rains fell through
the night, dropping 2 inches before letting up.
Scoggins, left, and Dennis Allen proudly display the occupancy
permit, which was issued three weeks before the big deadline.
dramatic as boom day was, it was just another in a long line of
challenges and victories during the course of the job. Here are
some of the other issues that arose:
details. Because the house was designed hastily, and by
a designer who spends a large part of her time teaching at an East
Coast university, many details were not on the plans, and had to
be decided by the builder or the owner, usually at the last minute.
"They were working so fast, I couldn't keep up with the decisions,"
the homeowner says.
everywhere. The job required three full-time supervisors,
and often had as many as 45 workers on site at a time. Because the
site only had a small flat area, Scoggins fought to keep that clear
for materials. He could often be heard telling a worker who had
parked on the pad, "You! Move your truck! Now!"
months at a time, 10 or more trades worked side by side on the job
every day, including framers, electricians, plumbers, drywallers,
insulators, masons, roofers, concrete workers, sheet metal workers,
and utility installers. During the entire job, there was just one
argument, between a framer and a lather, over use of a ladder. "Basically
people really flowed well," Allen said. "We had to help
them think about where they could work."
neighbors. An attorney neighbor threatened legal action
if the crews didn't stop working so early. "I'd really like
to stop the job," Scoggins told him, "but we have pending
rain and we can't stop." Finally, an agreement was struck,
with the support of the city, that workers could build the house
from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That. didn't satisfy the neighbor, but it
limited legal action.
delivery. The trusses, which were promised in six weeks
from Trus Joist MacMillan, ended up taking 12 weeks. "I was
fit to be tied," Allen says, recalling how he and the owner
complained all the way to the top of the typically reliable company.
"I imagine some heads rolled. We actually had to shut the lob
down for a few days, which was awful.
custom features. Elements of the house were designed for
the special needs and comfort of the homeowner. The thresholds had
to be smooth, but still divert water away from the house. A unique
pulley and rail system was created to lift the client out of his
wheelchair and into a hot tub in the master bedroom, and from there
to the bed. And a radiant slab floor was installed over a raised
foundation. The etched concrete of the concrete floor had to be
protected with drywall during construction of the walls and roof.
granite counters in the kitchen, cantilevered and lowered to accommodate
a wheelchair-seated cook, had to be rein- forced to withstand the
weight of guests in the kitchen who would invariably use the counters
for sitting space.
client, special job access. To allow the owner maximum involvement
with the building process, the crew often built plywood ramps around
the construction site. "The owner was just enthralled,"
Scoggins says. "He even brought a few of his wheelchair buddies
Well That Ends Well
construction, the client had T-shirts made for the crew that said,
"Mission Impossible," which showed Scoggins on top of
the house with a whip, yelling "May 1st!" The city building
inspector was portrayed as a sleuth with a magnifying glass, and
Allen was depicted as a top-hatted magician. In response, Allen
gave the owner a company T-shirt, declaring, "You're now an
perseverance of the company was so effective that the occupancy
permit was issued three weeks before the deadline. Another month
of construction followed that, and the elated client threw a thank
you party for the crew.
the job was completed, the owner and builders have become very good
friends. In fact, Scoggins can frequently be found at the house
on Mondays for the weekly football party.
of course, the owner is deeply grateful: "You know how many
nightmares I had on this job? None. Integrity is what it's all about."
Kathy Price-Robinson writes on
construction topics from Arroyo Grande, Calif.