Melissa Dewey Brumback, a partner at North Carolina-based Ragsdale Liggett PLLC, recently tackled the subject of what to do as design professional if you have received a “Reservation of Rights” letter from your insurer as part of a claim against your firm. As she explains:

Reservation of Rights (ROR) letters are sent for a variety of reasons- most notably, when some portion of the construction lawsuit against you is not covered under your E&O policy.  The letter must state the reason(s) that the ROR is being issued.

With the ROR, the insurance company is telling you that it reserves the right to withdraw from your defense and/or deny payment of damages at a later date, depending upon how facts in the case develop.  The notice is intended to let you know that there *may* be issues later, and to put you notice that  you have the right to hire your own lawyer (at your own expense) to protect yourself from that future potential risk.

In a follow-up post, Brumback focuses on a question many A/E/C professionals involved in disputes have: “Do I really need my own lawyer if the insurer is giving me one?” Brumback’s response is worth paying attention to:

The short answer is that you do not *have* to hire your own lawyer.  But, it can be very useful.  And, it can be done economically so you don’t have to break the piggy bank.  You see, if you hire your own lawyer, they can be “back up” and simply monitor the lawsuit, while the insurance-retained lawyer does the yeoman’s work.  That way, if the insurance carrier begins to make noise about filing a declaratory judgment to deny the claim, you have your own lawyer already in place, knowledgeable about what’s happened in the case from the get-go.  But if the insurance company never “pulls the trigger” on denying the claim, then your private lawyer’s involvement (and bill) will be minimal.

As California continues the transition to renewable energy, practical issues sometimes create unforeseen complications. One example: California requires that ALL residential buildings constructed after January 1, 2020 produce at least as much energy as they used. By 2030, all new nonresidential buildings must meet zero net energy requirements.

Additionally, the state is requiring that 50% of existing nonresidential buildings meet the zero net energy requirements by 2030, although some details obviously need to be worked out as far as deciding which 50% of those buildings must comply. (more…)

Besides aesthetic considerations, maintaining a clean facility has numerous benefits including prolonged useful life of building components, improved indoor environmental quality, reduced exposure to pathogens, and it can even mean improved efficiency lowering energy costs. So it should come as no surprise that “green cleaning” practices are integral to more sustainable operations and maintenance of various buildings. (more…)

Writing for Forbes, Richard A. D’Aveni weighs in on how he perceives the economic impact of 3D printing on the construction industry:

Take construction. It’s a huge industry worldwide, accounting for $9 trillion in revenues and 6% of global GDP. It’s also been a technology laggard, with productivity barely rising over the past few decades. Even with digital blueprints and other fancy software programs, we still put up buildings pretty much as we did a century ago.

3D printing represents a true paradigm shift for the built environment, promising real disruption to the industry over the next couple decades. Combined with advances in material science, 3D printing offers a number of benefits:

Those buildings will also be a lot cheaper to construct. Because everything is digital, we’ll rely on robot printers to do much of the work. Already the Institute for Advanced Architecture in Gaudi’s home town of Barcelona has developed “minibuilders,” an experimental array of small robots that swarm around and put up a building in less time and at lower cost than it would take human workers. The process also generates a lot less waste. And this isn’t just about making dull concrete structures. The robots also work with composites of wood, plastic, and metal.

That’s for building on site, but if you prefabricate the structures and ship them over, you get even greater savings. Prefabrication has been around for a while, but 3D printing allows for such precision that the assembly process is literally a snap. Saudi Arabia, whose population is exploding, is talking with Winsun about printing as many as 1.5 million housing units over the next five years. Winsun thinks this technology could eventually go a long way to solve the global scourge of substandard housing.

Folks, the handwriting is on the wall. Ignore it at your own peril.

Google Creative Lab, one of the many, many research and development cells within the advertising giant, just released its latest experiment in artificial intelligence (AI) to the public for free. According to the Google Blog:

Drawing on your phone or computer can be slow and difficult—so we created AutoDraw, a new web-based tool that pairs machine learning with drawings created by talented artists to help you draw.

Here is a video to give you an idea of what that actually means:

Via: Laughing Squid

Skilled labor shortages affect more than just the construction industry. As craftsmen in various trades and industries from the Baby-Boomer generation retire or change professions, there aren’t too many younger apprentices to train or to otherwise transfer that knowledge. The brain drain could have drastic impacts on modern conveniences that most of us take for granted.

Case in point: COBOL programmers.

What’s a COBOL, you ask? COBOL is the nearly 60-year-old Common Business-Oriented Language that most banking software depends on. Anna Irrera, reporting for Reuters, elaborates on the issue:

And here lies the problem: if something goes wrong, few people know how to fix it.

The stakes are especially high for the financial industry, where an estimated $3 trillion in daily commerce flows through COBOL systems. The language underpins deposit accounts, check-clearing services, card networks, ATMs, mortgage servicing, loan ledgers and other services.

The industry’s aggressive push into digital banking makes it even more important to solve the COBOL dilemma. Mobile apps and other new tools are written in modern languages that need to work seamlessly with old underlying systems.

According to J.K. Dineen at the SF Chronicle:

With five months to go before a Sept. 15 deadline to pull permits for the work, owners of nearly 52 percent of “tier three” buildings — wood-frame structures of between five and 15 units — have yet to submit permit applications. That’s the first step in the process needed to comply with the city’s 2013 mandatory soft-story law, which targets buildings susceptible to collapse in an earthquake.

Out of 3,526 buildings in the category, 1,693 have filed for permits, while 1,834 have not, said Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui. Hui said he is surprised at how many property owners have ignored the call to bring their buildings into compliance, given the monthly mailed notices and publicity around the program.

“They have had plenty of time to respond,” Hui said. “It’s for public safety. We just want them to comply and protect themselves, the tenant and the public. Earthquakes are not predictable — one could happen this afternoon.”

The clock is ticking!

Life Cycle Assessments, also known as Life Cycle Impact Assessments (abbreviated as LCA and LCIA, respectively), provide objective measurements of the environmental impact of a given product from the procurement of its constituent raw materials, through production and manufacturing, all the way through to decommissioning and end of life (recycling or disposal).

In my mind, an LCA or LCIA is similar to looking at Total Cost of Ownership or TCO. Whereas TCO helps stakeholders understand the complete financial impact of a purchase decision, an LCA/LCIA helps stakeholders understand the total ecological impact of a purchase decision.

Writing for Triple Pundit, Harnoor Dhaliwal and Pete Dunn put together a fairly detailed look at what goes into a proper life cycle impact assessment study and why it matters. Here is an excerpt:

In LCIA, impacts are modeled in three distinct phases: fate, exposure and effect, as shown in Exhibit 1 below.

  • Fate modeling accounts for the characteristics of an emission and the environmental concentration it forms once released. This tells us where in the environment the emission ends up and its final concentration.
  • Exposure modelling looks at the intake level of the emission by considering various routes and modes of intake. In other words, how much of the emission gets eaten, drunk, inhaled, absorbed, etc. For ecosystems, exposure models consider the amount of the emission that becomes bioavailable (i.e., able to be taken up by organisms).
  • Once exposure is assessed, effect models link this information to known toxicity data at those intake levels. This allows us to assess the relative danger of exposure.

Life Cycle Impact Assessment is more and more factoring into sustainable design and construction, but as we continue to understand more about the health and other impacts of various products in the built environment, it is safe to assume that LCAs and LCIAs will only continue to influence our industry.

When I was working with the facilities management staff at San Diego’s iconic Air & Space Museum on the path to LEED Certification under the Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance program, I got a chance to see a really cool tool that could on its own improve safety statistics for construction workers. Especially for the DIY-ers and volunteers of the world that like working with their hands — and keeping those hands intact!

The product is called SawStop and has been patented for some time. The way the device works is relatively easy to explain, but complicated in its design and execution. A portable table saw used for cutting wood, the SawStop table saw implements a unique blade assembly that can detect the presence of human (or other) flesh, triggering a chain reaction that stops the blade from spinning and then drops the blade assembly down into the saw’s housing — all of this happens in less than a second.

Great product idea, right? That’s what a competing manufacturer thought. Construction Junkie has more on the aftermath following Bosch’s infringement on SawStop’s intellectual property:

In January of 2017, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in favor of SawStop and effectively halted Bosch from “importing, selling, marketing, advertising, distributing (except for exportation), and soliciting United States agents or distributors for imported table saws,” according to a press release from SawStop.

SawStop’s President, Dr. Stephen Glass applauded the decision, saying “When Bosch chose to introduce the Reaxx saw in disregard of our patents, they left us with no alternative but to take action in court. We have defended our innovation, our hard work, and our investments in developing SawStop technology, and we are pleased that the ITC ordered the exclusion of products that use our patented inventions without a license and confirmed the strength of those patents. We are grateful for the U.S. patent system for encouraging and protecting innovations and we look forward to continuing to supply the market with safer saws.”

Bosch reportedly plans to appeal the ruling.

Since today is Friday, here’s a video demonstrating the brilliance of the SawStop product.

Safety First! That’s been the culture in construction for most of my life, but as we all know, safety was not always the highest priority in decades past for our industry.

Back in the 70s, when OSHA, various trade associations, and — perhaps most importantly — the insurance carriers began cracking down on lax safety practices in construction, the pushback was epic. With already razor-thin profit margins, the additional direct and indirect costs of improving safety was a real threat to the businesses behind our built environment.

But people got over it, and now safety is taken seriously — well, at least a lot more seriously than it was a century ago.

Fast forward to present day and we can see that not only are our workplaces safer, but there is also a financial benefit to keeping workers safe. OHS Online reports the following:

Associated Builders and Contractors has released its 2017 Safety Performance Report, which reports that users of its Safety Training Evaluation Process, by using proactive safety practices, reduce recordable incidents by up to 87 percent — making the best-performing companies 770 percent safer than the industry average.

“ABC’s third annual report on the use of leading indicators, such as substance abuse programs and new hire safety orientations, confirms that high-performing ABC members have safer construction job sites,” said ABC President and CEO Michael Bellaman. “This is one of the few studies of commercial and industrial construction firms doing real work on real projects, and it shows that implementing best practices can produce world-class construction safety programs.”

Less job site accidents and injuries = more profit. It is that simple.

You can download a PDF version of the report for free at ABC’s website.