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Don’t Mock the Mock-up

Here we are in the dog days of August and things are a little quiet. I was doing some cleaning of my computer’s hard drive space and came across a couple of things that jogged the old memory cells. For a long time I have advocated the use of sample panels or rooms to determine the quality of a Level 5 finish, the belief being that all parties involved would see the finished sample and come to an agreement about what is expected and acceptable when all is said and done. This group includes the owner, architect, painter and general contractor. The theory is that there is less money involved up front than there is when a dispute arises at the end of the job. It also provides an opportunity to work out any glitches before more time and money has been spent. Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well, I am always amazed at the reason put forth to turn down finished work. The case in point is one that has left me scratching my head in wonder. On a large hospital project the drywall contractor followed the advice on constructing a sample panel. The panel was accepted as the basis upon which the finished work would be judged. It seems that the general contractor has suddenly discovered ASTM C840, Standard Specification for Application and Finishing Gypsum Board, and has focused on paragraph 23.1 about decoration. It reads as follows: “Surfaces finished to Levels 3, 4 or 5 shall be covered with a drywall primer compatible with the final decoration prior to the application of the final decoration. NOTE 16—It is not the intent of this specification to assign responsibility for performance to specific trades.”

Some GCs Just Don’t Understand

The general contractor wanted to know if a drywall primer was in fact applied. The GC is also demanding that a drywall primer be applied just to ensure that the contract is fulfilled. A little late to be asking the question, but it apparently has produced consternation on the part of the drywall subcontractor. What do you do to correct the situation or change the GC’s mind? First I would question whether a member of the GC’s staff witnessed the construction of the sample panel. If not, then it’s time to bring in the painter and have him produce evidence of the type of primer used for the final work.

The GC doesn’t seem to understand the division of work. This project is a union job, so the division of work is straightforward as to who does what. We know with certainty that the drywaller cannot pick up a brush and apply the primer. In addition, the GC seems to ignore Note 16 and its meaning. Note 16 was added to prevent misunderstanding about the drywall applicator being responsible for the application of the drywall primer simply because it is a requirement of ASTM C840. Drywall partitions, like everything in a building, are a part of a system that in which many trades are involved. While the lines of division may change depending on where the project is located, there is a very clear line where one trade stops and the next trade starts.

My Take

My take on this is that the GC’s individual on site is not at all familiar with the construction process and how things go together. This clearly indicates the lack of practical training in most of middle management in our industry today. The total inability to see and conceptualize the big picture comes from only looking at the schedule and budget and not at the process. I strongly suspect that are underlying reasons that are not known to the subcontractors. With the project winding down, this may be a way to ensure a job for a few more weeks. I have also seen these types of actions taken when the budget has been blown and the GC wants to back-charge a sub to save money for their pocket.

There is no way to fully protect you and your company in a situation like this one. One would think that with the walls being accepted as complying with the sample panel, this would not be an issue. After all, if we go back and look at Fell’s Five Points (1. Creating the illusion of a monolithic surface under normal lighting conditions; 2. Building a mock-up prior to doing the work; 3. Check project before bidding; 4. Check for paint with less than 50 or less VOC requirement; 5. Building orientation.) and fully understand the first point, the GC might look back and agree that the wall surface does not have any problems. You might want to save this for future projects.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to, or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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