It's no mistake the 2009 HGTV Dream Home project in Sonoma, Calif., is proceeding at such a quick and efficient pace. Every possible decision is made before ground is broken, including plumbing fixture and lighting fixture choices, to name a few. It's builder Bruce Lee's mission to keep the job on schedule.
Each HGTV Dream Home is built on a fast pace, and this house is certainly no exception, says HGTV Dream Home planner Jack Thomasson. "It's moving fast, and that's because of Bruce Lee and how he has his construction site organized. Bruce likes to make as many decisions upfront as possible. So before we're even pouring a foundation, we're meeting with suppliers of plumbing fixtures, of lighting fixtures. We're making a lot of the later decorative decisions early in the process. And I think that's one of his keys to moving the construction site along quickly is to have as many decisions made upfront as possible," Thomasson says.
Early decisions certainly help, but aren't the only ingredients in a well-run job site. Having the right people and effective technology on the job is a critical element of success, Lee explains. "I think the big key with construction of this type of home is the experience and knowing how to plan things out and putting the right people in the right position. Obviously, everybody here seems to be on their cell phones all the time, but cell phones are really important because if you need to get a hold of a supplier or a subcontractor's got a question, you can answer that question and give him that answer and he doesn't have to go somewhere else. He's gonna show up on your job because you're there for him. Other than that, it's just being aware of what's going on and paying attention," he says.
"I'm here every day, and my guys have been aware of how I like to do things, so they're dialed into it," Lee continues. "They've got a question, they're not sure, they're going to call on me, and I'm going to give them an answer. So, they're not gonna make a mistake. And if they do make a mistake, we'll fix it. But the key is, it's not necessarily how fast you do it, but it's how right you do it, also. And we like to do it fast and right."
Despite the best-laid plans, problems can arise, as Lee tells the story of the HGTV Dream Home foundation. Lee contacted a subcontractor he had used many times throughout his career and gave him one week notice of when to be on the job. "He said he would be there. However, the day before he was supposed to start he called and said that he couldn't make the schedule. I had to tell him that I had to find another subcontractor to use. I called a subcontractor that I had used only a few times prior, who showed up that day to start. Nevertheless, I think that since we have been working together for so long and with our friendship, he will realize next time when I give him a date to be on the job, he will be there," Lee adds.
Just as familiarity with subcontractors is yet one more element of a successful job, unfamiliarity with new products potentially can slow things down. "Due to so many sponsors on this job, a lot of the materials that we are working with are materials we have never worked with before," Lee notes. "Any time there is a new product and subcontractors, there is always a slight time delay due to the learning curve of the product and a learning curve for the contractor and subcontractor to work together in a seamless way." Still, the 2009 HGTV Dream Home project moves along on schedule.
The Value of Clock-Watching
Typically, employers look down on employees labeled as clock watchers. On the 2009 HGTV Dream Home job site, however, clock-watcher is a label to be worn proudly. The city of Sonoma's construction hours are Monday through Friday from eight to six, and are strictly adhered to. "It's nice like on a hot day like this to be able to start earlier, but we have to stay within those hours," Lee says. "So we work between what they allot us. On the weekends it's from nine to six and on Sundays from ten to six. I try not to make my guys work on Sundays. We've been doing a good job keeping up with the schedule Monday through Friday and then half a day on Saturday."
Staying within allowed working hours not only keeps local government happy, it keeps neighbors in good moods, too. Working efficiently within those windows of opportunity is just as important, Thomasson adds. "One of the ways that we're being neighborly is by building this house quickly. The faster the construction goes, the less time the neighbors will have to deal with the sounds that are associated with construction," he says.
"[Developer] Steve Ledson is very concerned about the neighbors and the people who live in this community and live in this area. He doesn't want them to be heavily impacted by the construction of this house. So, he takes great pride in how this house is being built. You can see that pride in the cleanliness of the construction site, for example. You can see that pride in how things are organized. You can even see that pride in how quickly this house is being constructed because the faster it's constructed, the less impact over a longer period of time for the neighbors," Thomasson continues.
"Also, Steve isn't building this community at a frantic pace. There aren't ten houses or more being constructed at the same time. He builds houses one at a time. Each house has his label on it, and the neighbors benefit from that," he says.
The other force influencing the work being done this job, in addition to the local government, is the HGTV production crew. The schedule for a TV show is always tight, therefore the tendency is to push hard early in the project to get ahead of schedule, Lee says. "If you get behind, it seems like it is almost impossible to make it up," he says. "With a TV show you cannot add days onto the schedule as opposed to regular jobs in which you just tell the owner that you need more time."
Time is something always in demand on a construction site, which reinforces Lee's belief in creating contracts based on performance timelines. "[Subcontractors] are more responsive and perform better because there is more profit for them if they perform well and get done early. If they don't, profits go down," he emphasizes.