(Introduction, Syllabus, 1.Prelims, 1-4Precon, 2. Excavation, 3.Foundation, 4.Framing, 5.Close-In, 6.Roofing, 7.MEP, 8.Finish)

There are 15 tasks shown in the close-in phase for this example. Depending on the project and local conditions, many of these tasks must be completed sequentially. But others are often installed simultaneously.Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

The key to scheduling the work is to assess potential equipment or material conflicts, safety concerns, and local conditions. Poor scheduling will cause delays for subcontractors, and the workers assigned to different teams.Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

In most cases, the doors, windows, soffits, and trim are installed before the siding, but in some cases the weather will make it important to install the roofing before any of the other close-in tasks. In this example, the rolled roofing underlayment is sufficient to temporarily seal the interior.

Setting the Door and Windows
Windows are manufactured with an edge flange that is screwed to the rough framing around the wall opening. Wind loads determine the number of screws used along the sides of the door or window and are specified by local building codes or the project engineer.

Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

Energy codes require doors and windows to be certified by the manufacturer to guarantee that they meet energy ratings for the glass and frame.

Insulating tape, similar to that shown on the familyhandyman website are installed along the sill and sides of the door and window openings before the units are set in place. Once secure the perimeter of the door and window frames are taped to complete the installation.

Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

When weather conditions are extreme, metal “Z” flashing further seals the door and window frame to prevent moisture penetration.

Note that building codes require tempered glazing for glass doors and adjacent windows whenever inadvertent impact might occur.

Cement Fiber Trim to Match Siding
In this example, fiber cement boards are nailed to the framing at the corners, lower edges of the outside walls and around the door and window frames. For life-cycle and maintenance information on fiber cement trim and siding, see www.jameshardie.com.

Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

The trim above the header spans the full width of the door or window frame and the horizontal joint is caulked to the vertical trim of the jambs.

Close-In Phase – Insitebuilders

Bathroom, dryer, and plumbing vents that penetrate the outside walls and the roof are coordinated with the mechanical subcontractors and completed before the siding is installed.


 (To be continued…)


The material presented in this series has been taken from our book, “How a House is Built: With 3D Construction Models” The book includes annotated illustrations, captioned text, videos, models, and the 2D Preliminaries.




(Introduction, Syllabus, 1.Prelims, 1-4Precon, 2. Excavation, 3.Foundation, 4.Framing, 5.Roof, 6.Close, 7.MEP, 8.Finish)

Foundation Review (Foundation Checklist (PDF)
The formwork for the concrete footings is laid out on the floor of the excavation using the same workpoint and batter boards that were used to guide the excavation. The forms hold the poured concrete and steel reinforcing. Almost all steel reinforcing wire and rebar are now made from recycled material.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

As soon as possible after the concrete has cured, the forms are removed, cleaned and reused in the framing for the house. This minimizes waste, reduces the cost of rigid formwork, and lowers consumption for a more sustainable approach to construction.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

Building and stripping the forms and preparing them for reuse is a time consuming process that can be all but eliminated with the use of fabric forms. Fabric forms hang from horizontal screed boards and use the natural shape of wet concrete to shape the concrete.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

The foundation stem walls for this house are constructed with standard concrete masonry units called “blocks.” The blocks are laid in a “running bond” using masonry tools and reinforced with horizontal and vertical steel. The steel is embedded in “grout” to form a solid structural system. Depending on site and soil conditions, the same walls could also be built using cast-in-place concrete or insulated forms.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

Both masonry and concrete walls raise the frame of the house off the ground. This elevates the foundation and provides a crawl space or basement under the house to maintain and service the building during its life cycle.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

A raised foundation reduces potential moisture penetration, mold and mildew, insects and insecticides, and makes it easier to add or modify the house as needs and requirements change over time.

Simplified Construction Modeling Tutorial
For anyone interested in the construction modeling techniques used for the Foundation Phase illustrations, see this quick tutorial.

The tutorial is one of more than 70 videos included in our book “Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling.”


(To be continued…)


The material presented in this series has been taken from our book, “How a House is Built: With 3D Construction Models” The book includes annotated illustrations, captioned text, videos, models, and the 2D Preliminaries.



(Introduction, Syllabus, 1.Prelims, 1-4Precon, 2. Excavation, 3.Foundation, 4.Framing, 5.Roof, 6.Close, 7.MEP, 8.Finish)

Once the masonry materials and equipment are in place, the project is considered staged and ready for the next phase of the construction. Most superintendents will check the project just before their arrival to make sure everything is ready to go, no one wants to upset the masons before they even get started.

Depending on the size of the project, the masons will work in teams that include at least a journeyman and a person called a hod carrier or hoddie. Though often mistaken for a simple laborer, a good hod carrier is important to the flow of the work because block, brick, grout, and reinforcing have to be placed within reach of a journeyman or apprentice just as these materials are needed.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

Depending on union rules, a master mason might only be important for complex details or to manage additional teams on larger projects. Residential foundations like this one would usually only need to be checked for progress or to coordinate the location of anchors, conduit, or plumbing sleeves that penetrate the stem wall.

Laying Block
A plumb bob is hung from the string line intersection to mark the corners and junctures of the stem walls. The dimensions of the wall should fit a standard 8” module so they can be put together without unnecessary cutting or trimming the concrete block.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

If the lengths of the walls don’t match the size of the standard masonry units, block will have to be cut to fit into the wall’s construction. This adds to the cost of the foundation and creates a break in the joint pattern of the block that is often awkward to handle with a striking tool.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

The masons start in the corners, bedding the blocks to bond with the concrete footing and leveling the first course with a laser or a line level while making sure the corners are square

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

As they place the block, the J-bar coming out of the footing is fitted to the hollow core of the block, sometimes bending the rebar slightly to center the reinforcing. Additional lengths of vertical rebar are tied to the J-bar as the wall rises. The hollow cavities will then be filled with grout to stiffen the wall and bind it to the footing.

Foundation Phase – Insitebuilders

The top of the block or a hand level is struck with the trowel to seat the block into the mortar joint and any horizontal reinforcing that might be required. Joints are troweled flush or struck with a concave tool depending on project specifications. Parging might also be applied in extremely wet conditions to provide a smoother surface for waterproof sealers.

Platforms and scaffold make the work easier by bringing each course to a comfortable height. Guardrails are required for fall protection if the wall rises above limits set by construction safety codes.

(To be continued…)


The material presented in this series has been taken from our book, “How a House is Built: With 3D Construction Models” The book includes annotated illustrations, captioned text, videos, models, and the 2D Preliminaries.



Some might think social media is only good for constructors (and designers) with nothing better to do than shift through the self-promoting babble found in the constant banter of marketing information on Facebook or MySpace. But they have it wrong.

Insitebuilders - Twitter Use

For many project managers, social media is a way to see both the big picture of what’s happening in the industry and eavesdrop on what their competitors are doing. In practice, they are able to mine public information by reading posts and searching keywords to build competitive strategies in an ever changing construction industry.

Twitter is simple and spontaneous
In particular, the simplicity and off-handed comments found in apps like Twitter bring out unguarded exchanges that are telling when seen in the context of a stream of related tweets. This includes inadvertent security breaches by marketing staff and employees about current or pending projects.

Insitebuilders - Twitter Followings

You might think nothing substantive can be said in 140 characters, but add a consistent presence in a Twitter timeline along with links and pictures and these seemingly innocuous little posts begin to reflect not only a broad view of the industry, but a particular company’s way of thinking. As such, it doesn’t take long to read, recognize, and evaluate the collective thoughts found in the underlying messages that are exposed by this media.

This deeper understanding of a group’s thinking is in fact what makes Twitter valuable as a collaborative tool. In fact, any idea that Twitter is just for sending, sorting, and searching messages misses the power of this new media to visually direct a team’s collective consciousness toward a single minded focus.

Twitter as a management tool
The key to using Twitter as a management tool is to harness this interaction in a carefully controlled Twitter list or account. The objective is literally to crowd source the project from its inception, deeply embedding “buy-in” for team members as they are invited to join as followers. Important is that as followers, they are invited into the group and remain only as long as they add value to the team as a whole. In other words, their tweets become a measure of the value they bring to the collaborative efforts of the team as a whole.

Insitebuilders - Twitter Basics

In these exchanges, the concise nature of a tweet means project communications are no longer delayed or distorted by staged meetings, reports, proposals, or carefully rendered models. Instead spontaneous messages are sent immediately as part of a continuous flow of input, ideas, and second screen comments that shape the ongoing communications between active team members.

The value of Twitter is therefore the immediacy of the media itself. Participating in the conversation is like feeling the pulse of the entire project team, mashed together into a project long stream of consciousness that is visible in the flow of tweets, retweets, replies, hashtags, and comments, supplemented by photos, video, illustrations, and model images that carry their own perceptive insights.

SketchUp and Twitter
SketchUp adds to these interactions with site scans, photographs, videos, and illustrations from construction models that reinforce content with an immediate visual context for each tweet.

Insitebuilders - SketchUp Image Library

Collaboration begins between principals using site utilization models and overlays to establish scope, later in massing studies, simplified design models, and engineering as early images are gradually mixed by select followers with line item specific content from spreadsheets and schedules.

Like the tweets themselves, cumbersome documents are reduced to real time snapshots, visually gif-ifying content by clarifying collaborative exchanges from concept, through construction, and into facilities management.

Twitter apps are tools
The apps used to contribute and maintain this content are an ever changing collection of programs that were once used to send simple quick posts to a public forum, but have now advanced into sophisticated tools that incorporate multi-project administration. These include:

Insitebuilders - SMS Tweets

Short message service (SMS), still the fastest way to tweet images and video into a project account. Twitter uses short codes to sync text messages and images directly into an account from any cell phone with a camera.

Insitebuilders - Twitter App

Twitter also has an app that makes tweeting a little more complicated. The app has four icons: Home for your current timeline, Connect to track Interactions/Mentions, Discover as the search menu, and Me for settings and profiles. Click the New Tweet icon in the upper right corner to tweet and add a picture, video, or a library image.

Insitebuilders - TweetDeck
Tweetdeck works pretty much the same way as the Twitter app, except it categorizes tweets into separate timelines. Image attachments are currently limited to Library Photos and Take Photo, but no videos, which eliminates motion captures (except via YouTube). Names have been changed to Home, Me, Inbox, and Search as you swipe horizontally to access adjacent screens.

Insitebuilders - HootSuite
HootSuite adds menu features to manage lists as categories of followers. It has a Compose menu for tweets, with images limited to Take Photo and Choose From Library, again no video, except through YouTube. Hootsuite’s menus also include Streams instead of Home, a Search function, Stats, and Contacts.

Posterous is one of the most comprehensive of the Twitter apps. Instead of lists, Posterous uses Spaces to divide content. Each Space is actually a micro-blog/website where any member in the Space can contribute longer descriptive text along with a range of photos, videos, and illustrations. Text and images are posted through tweets, emails, or directly within the Posterous program.

In the end, each of these apps has its limitations, with some, like GroupTweets, fading with obsolescence and inattention. At the same time, to maintain the value of immediate and unguarded collaborative exchanges, a Twitter app should be simple and fast enough to serve its purpose as an immediately useable multimedia messaging tool.


Mobile Construction Modeling

December 12, 2012

It’s hard to believe but the first commercially available email programs didn’t appear until the late 1980’s, and though the communication benefits of electronic messaging were clear by the mid 90’s, many construction companies didn’t use email until the very late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

2D Techs or Construction Managers
In fact, it took a new generation of project managers to introduce this simple technology to reluctant old-timers – and as most would admit, the fight goes on.

For example, now that cell phones and voice mail have become standards for project communications, some offices actually still take messages on hand written note pads, while senior managers without keyboard skills have assistants write memos and handle emails for them, finding computers intrusive, distracting, and perhaps a little frightening.

Insitebuilders-BIM Tweet

At the same time, according to a recent tweet from The Mortensen Company, more contractors now use BIM software than designers. Of course, it goes without saying that the average builder has no idea who Mortensen is, and though construction companies may claim to own some version of BIM software, complex 3D modeling is largely ignored for spreadsheets, print outs, and face to face fieldwork during actual construction.  Even at Mortensen’s.

BIM in the Real World
It’s no secret then that BIM software requires trained technicians, anchored to software and graphic workstations that require constant updates and attention. In practice, working with this kind of technology is simply not practical on most jobsites, especially when a rolled out set of printed 2d contract documents are the basis for the actual scope of the work.

Insitebuilders-BIM min

It’s also important to point out that design, including BIM and its 2D documents are only a very small part of the real world of construction management. Based on the value and cost of services, barely 10% of the entire process is design, permitting, and preconstruction, and of that, perhaps half of the effort falls into actual BIM production.

90% of Construction is Communications
Following the money, the focus should be on what is happening on the jobsite and finding ways to communicate more efficiently with the real world that surrounds it.

Insitebuilders - SketchUp Max

Especially considering that today, computer programs like SketchUp transfer files over the internet, send emails from menu selections, and automatically upload images, cost and schedule data, and daily reports to the cloud as a common way of storing, cataloging, and accessing construction information.

For a new generation of managers, communications between team members now occurs on PDAs (personal data assistants), immediately using smart phones to photo, scan, text, and tweet annotated images and video exported from SketchUp to coordinate project activities.

Mobility is the New Norm
The mobility of these new devices and their ability to access an unlimited combination of resources has become a fundamental part of a continuous and instantaneous flow of project communications.

Insitebuilders - Twitterize

All of which is broadcasted wirelessly via satellite, cells, or broadband routers, giving managers immediate access to project information, the web for searches and bookmarks, networking platforms like Linked In and Facebook for market and background information, and graphical tools like You-Tube, image reference libraries, and animations for process control.

Today, the challenge is to understand how to use these new technologies effectively for construction communications, waiting again for a new generation of builders to demonstrate their competitive value in the real world.


Informal Builders

August 16, 2012

An informal builder is an economically marginalized man or woman, untrained and often inexperienced, who builds intuitively on invaded land while avoiding regulated standards or conventional methods. They build slowly without the luxury of design or plan, using simple tools and salvaged or discarded materials with the singular objective of meeting the immediate needs of their survival.

Homebuilt House, informal builders – See Insitebuilders

Marginalized by factors far beyond their control, these builders have opted out of a formal economy and decide to build housing for themselves on otherwise wasted or unusable land. Excluded by high costs and regulated values, they build because there are no other options for their housing, no clear path to follow for their security, and no desire to become dependent on what is often a corrupt and ineffective government.

Ideas emerge from instincts
What is surprising is that given what seems like insurmountable challenges, the details of many informal houses go far beyond what is absolutely necessary for basic shelter. Some builders are clearly experimenting with new ideas.

Ideas and instincts are of course all that any good builder ever has, but even the crudest house in an informal settlement is evidence of the self-confidence, optimism, and desperation that drives these self-determined builders to assemble what often appears to be an outrageously dangerous structure. Perched on steep hillsides or abandoned riverbeds, these houses take on the characteristics and details of a vernacular based on a chaotic collection of materials, hunted and gathered from the waste streams that surrounded them.

Homebuilt House, informal builders – See Insitebuilders

Hands-on Builder
Most interesting is that informal builders share a tactile understanding of the three-dimensional potential of a material. This includes a willingness to visually test ideas by fitting a variety of objects together, piecing them into the details of an evolving physical form. These builders work like sculptors, assembling, deconstructing, and revising their buildings according to the “feel” of a natural builder.

Homebuilt House, informal builders – See Insitebuilders

With no preconceived plan, each piece of the construction therefore becomes a form giver, continually rethought in the context of its assembly. As materials are sorted, stored, and temporarily installed, the construction waits for some future inspiration, perhaps a completely different idea that will only come from materials that remain to be discovered.

Homebuilt House, informal builders – See Insitebuilders

An informal vernacular
Important is that what we see as a result comes from an indeterminate process. There is no schedule, no list of materials, and only a vague idea of what the house might look like if it is ever finished. This struggle comes not from a desire to own or possess something of value, but to protect and provide shelter in an uncertain world. The process thereby provides both purpose and place to a family in the hopes that their determination will one day turn this house into a place they can call home.

Homebuilt House, informal builders – See Insitebuilders

The commitment of informal builders to their work is clearly reflected in this capacity to endure the unpredictable circumstances of their lives. What remains is to wonder at the perceptive choices of their informal constructions, choices that are somehow oddly humanized by a self-determined struggle for survival.


Working draft taken from: HOME-BUILT HOUSE: Shelter for an Uncertain World, ISBN 978 09762741 7 9, due out later this year (I hope) as a full color/interactive eBook.



When the sale of Google SketchUp to Trimble Navigation was announced, it reminded me of the days when the original SketchUp development team was still around. They held an informal conference a few blocks from their offices in the Fall of 2005. It was a small gathering at a little hotel with break out sessions, a few larger presentations, and fabulous display of food and drinks. Not sure, but maybe 500 people tops attended, some invited, most came because they were chosen in a lottery.

At the time, not many realized this simple 3D modeling program was about to be swallowed up by some really big ideas.

SketchUp and @Last Software

@Last Software had a startup spirit then that was infectious and somehow oddly personal. The enthusiasm of their employees started at the top with founders Brad Schell and Joe Esch and made it all the way down to almost everyone in the organization. And thanks to Mark Carvalho and a core group of evangelists, their marketing approach was so personal that everyone wanted to meet the people who put this amazingly intuitive program together. All dedicated geniuses, that was pretty clear.

SketchUp Base Camp 2005 - Insitebuilders

It was also pretty clear that @Last was looking for an out. Autodesk and Google were sort of circling around, Trimble might have even been there. And there were open and honest conversations about the future direction for SketchUp including an all hands meeting where the development team introduced an early version of Layout — a page composer that coupled 3D to 2D using an AutoCAD paperspace like environment. A photo texturing editor was also hinted at, as well as a passing mention of a geo-locating feature that linked SketchUp to Google Earth.

AutoCAD Paperspace - Insitebuilders.com

What was interesting was that these in-house presentations were more about testing reaction to ideas than it was about announcing new features. That worked because it triggered a lot of the discussion about balancing the wish-list for more “cool” design features with the original idea of keeping SketchUp a simple, user friendly 3D modeler. More than one attendee cautioned the team not to make things too complicated with new features. Keeping the program simple was something most understood as the strength of the program.

Of course, you can’t keep something simple and survive, let alone succeed – financially that is – without a lot of new features. You need a market, growth, and more paying users, and you couldn’t get that without a lot of hype and grandstanding.

Google and SketchUp

The startup energy was long gone when we revisited the SketchUp offices in Boulder after the Google acquisition. In its place were security procedures, unsmiling workers, openly political posturing, and a tension and focus that reminded us of an old fashioned sweatshop. Not that it was. It was just that the joy seemed to have faded into a kind of forced happiness that came with all you can eat goodies, offered like candy to children.

Probably no different than any other Google office on a normal day, but the contrast was striking when one thought back to the energy and enthusiasm of the original @Last team. We never went back. Google had literally moved Google Earth in on @Last, bringing with them a new and more global focus, big ideas and a lot of money.

Google Earth Cyber City - Insitebuilders.com

Though some at the 2005 conference believed SketchUp’s new geo-locating feature and Google Earth had rather limited applications, as it turned out it was that feature, along with patents on the simple and user friendly Push/Pull modeling engine, that sold Google on the acquisition. Their goal of course was to populate Google Earth with photoreal 3D models. We all know now that “Street Views” does a far better job of capturing real photo-reality. And it is Trimble Navigation that makes Street Views possible.

Now it’s Trimble’s turn

It’s interesting to read the latest threads on the SketchUp forums about the Trimble acquisition. Still the dreamy wish lists for all kinds of “cool” new features that Trimble should incorporate. Not that that’s bad, but it explains the kind of specialized focus that looks more to light rays, textures, and design tools that fuel both the forums and a much more interesting after market of Plugins and third-party programs.

CatchUp Newsletter - Insitebuilders.com

Of course, no one knows what Trimble’s plans really are, but it’s a pretty safe bet that they see the real value of SketchUp in the very same, simple, intuitive Push/Pull modeling engine that Google purchased from @Last — and probably still maintains a financial interest.

Unlike many designers, almost every constructor knows what any one of Trimble Navigation’s four core market segments has already done to revolutionize field surveying, layout, agriculture, exploration, and geo-mapping. Their GPS technology has literally changed the way field work is done for almost everything that includes a survey, plot, plan, map, farm, drone, scanners, or satellite. This of course includes what Trimble Navigation did for “Street Views” and Google Earth.

Trimble Navigation - Insitebuilders.com


Add to these innovative technologies, the recent acquisition by Trimble Navigation of a handful of point scanning and BIM and CAD software and management companies and you get an idea why SketchUp is such a good fit for where they are going. A “cool” design tool may be on the table, but there’s much more opportunity in blending two and three-dimensional visualization with GPS, geo-data, mapping, engineering, production, and civil and building construction.

Real Works Tunnel - Insitebuilders.com

These are the core markets for Trimble Navigation and there is little doubt that all of these systems are about to see the same simple 3D modeling engine that @Last invented and patented years ago incorporated into their software. It’s like going back into the future, all over again.

Back to Simple “3D for everybody”

The point here is that it’s the underlying simplicity programmed by Esch and Schell that makes SketchUp so valuable to these huge companies. These are pretty much the same lines of code, in the same software engine, that the original @Last team introduced with the original versions of SketchUp all those years ago.

And the real value of that embedded software code remains its simplicity.

Being SUSTAINABLE - Insitebuilders.com

The irony is that it’s this same original @Last simplicity that makes SketchUp so important for construction communications. In fact, one of our first books, 3D Construction Modeling (link), remains popular in the used book market because it uses SketchUp Version 4. Much easier to learn because it is exactly what @Last invented – a simple modeling program that brings “3D to everyone.”

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling - Insitebuilders.com

I should confess here that all our models are built with version 5 (sometimes 6). In fact, the secret to make construction modeling fast and cost effective is to focus on keeping things plain and simple. This is the same thing that is driving the interests of industry giants like Google and Trimble Navigation in the SketchUp technology and paradoxically parallels the original vision for SketchUp as a simple 3D visualization tool. Remember “3D for everybody.”

In the end, the intent of a construction model is not to impress, but to simply and quickly inform and explain the means or method of a process in 3D. Coloring and rendering in the virtual world might be a lot of fun, but they’re time consuming and have no place in construction. And as Trimble knows, the real money has always been in the real world.