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Contractor Review

Eighteen contractors around the country canvassed
for the challenges they faced on drywall
jobs, boiled the issues down to three basic areas:

Complexity of design with different elevations
and curvature—stepped soffits, dropped ceilings,
suspended walls, etc. Track benders, of course,
have made some of the work easier.
Some architects have made it more difficult
than need be, or as a Washingtonian
phrases it, he sometimes encounters
“architect fascination with design that
may not be quite real.”

“Every job is challenging and unique,”
asserts an Illinois contractor, “each job
has a different design and has to be put
up differently. It’s all in the details.”

The sheer size of the job, creating an
ongoing logistics and coordination
effort. An English contractor, for On a Scale of 10,
instance, had “One hundred blokes It’s an 8
working six days a week for five years”
on a project in an office building above
a railway station in London. One inter-
esting solution for distributing drywall
sheets on site was “We shrink-wrapped
the plasterboard into bundles of 20,
loaded them onto pallets, which we had
stuck wheels onto, and pushed them
around each floor. When emptied, these
doubled up as cooking benches for the

Collapsed schedules, usually owner-driven,
as an Iowan points out: “One out-of-
town GC was on a schedule that he
created, which left us trying to accommodate
his needs while having to live
here with the consequences of this project
for years to come. We wanted to
make it as professional as we could, not
take the shortcuts he was forcing on us
with his timesaving. For instance, the
man came in during wintertime. Instead
of installing heaters to heat the frozen
ground, he poured the concrete on top
of the frost. We had to bring in our experienced
guys to put up the drywall, in an
effort to compensate for the amount of
upheaval we estimated would occur during
freezes and thaws. We had to take
many extra measures like this that we
had not planned on during the bidding
process. We alerted the owner and while
he was understanding, he was the one in
a hurry to see the building finished.”

One a Scale of 10, It’s an 8

One particular job that stood out for its
technical challenges was the Jude Collins
Smith Museum, which according to the
Alabaman who worked on it, had “multidirectional
and waved ceilings on a
slope (that did not touch the walls) that The Native
we had to frame TrackBender came in American Connection
real handy for that job!

“The building also had a drywall reveal
for the base all the way around the
building-keeping that margin all the
way through was no small feat. We had
a starter strip that we used, gauging
blocks, and set the drywall down in it.
The walls were really high, as well, with
a Level 5 finish that was made more difficult
by the light pouring down on

“On a scale of one to 10, I would say this
was an eight in difficulty, and we had
priced it at a six. We didn’t lose money
on it on the $800,000 bid, but it was
more difficult than we had envisioned.”

The Native American Connection

It is of interest that two contractors had
met their match in terms of challenges
while working on projects involving
Indian reservations.

The first, a Californian, is working on a
casino, hotel and parking structure
requiring about 1.6 million board feet.
“From the estimating standpoint, the
drawings were not as complete as we are
used to reviewing. They were actually
conceptual drawings that were not only
pretty vague, but the design has also
continued to evolve. I am not sure who
was in error, but they waited so long on
bidding out the project that they had to get something
going and the architect was not as far along as he should
have been. It puts us in the position of making assumptions
and hoping more of them are right than wrong. The project
has a guaranteed maximum price, so we have to document
anything we feel is above and beyond the original bid.
And that’s a battle. We’ve actually had to hire an architectural
firm and a structural engineer to determine the cuts
through the walls, structural wind loads and live and dead
loads, and everything else on the exterior.”

The other job, a hospital with more than a half-million
square feet of drywall and 50,000 square feet of exterior
sheeting, had a similar problem. As the contractor from
Iowa states, “The types of products they specified were not
the norm. The insulation was special; the vapor barrier that
they requested was at least twice as thick as we normally use.
We’ve done other hospitals and nothing has been as critical
as these specifications. They were using a new architect who
does all the work for the reservation. The design was overkill,
really, with the architects planning with ‘It’s nice to build it
this way,’ without thinking through ‘How do you build it
this way?”

As already mentioned, the Californian project is “a large and
fast track job they want it all done in eight months, and
they only just brought an electrician on board so we’ll
probably end up on shift work to meet
the deadline. The time crunch demands
a lot of people and coordination it’s
pretty intense, the challenge being how
to produce good quality work and be
safe while still meeting the schedule.”

The Iowan project is no different in this
regard: “Because of the schedule, we’ve
had to keep 30 men per day on it, a lot
of Saturdays, too. The coordination, the
design, the time frame just about
everything that could be thrown at us,
has come our way on this project.”

And another of the barriers he encountered
was . . .


“It’s a government job tons of paper work
and red tape from the Corps of
Engineers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
the Winnebago and the Omaha Tribal
Councils, not to mention the usual
requirements of the architectural firm,
the general contractor, OSHA, etc. It’s
a wonder we got anything done at all!
My advice to anyone contemplating this
kind of project is to read the contract
carefully read it at least half a dozen

“And then there was the requirement
that a certain percentage of the people
we employ on the job has to come from
the reservation. Some of the men are
sufficiently experienced to do the job. It
has been more an issue of getting them
there every day for the last two years!”

“The Corps of Engineers is meant to be
in charge but they don’t have any quality
control supervising, so it has been virtually
up to us. The inspection for performance
of work has been left to the
GC. We had a situation with the partition
walls intersecting with the outside
walls, for instance. They wanted the
entire building to be a fire-rated wall system.
Well, the only way you can do that
is by extending the partition walls to the
outside wall. Quality control rejected
the idea because of the terminal transfer
of temperature. They told us to stop at
the intersection of those walls. The
design had a 2.5-inch metal stud wall set
back an inch from the outside wall, virtually
as a facing wall, which they wanted
for the terminal barrier.

“Now, six months after the framing has
been completed for the entire project
and most of the drywall has been hung,
the production person for the GC says,
‘We need those firewalls and you didn’t
pull those firewalls all the way through!”


While these are the kind of barriers the
contractors could do without, the ones
they have accepted readily as challenges
were the technical issues of putting into
the real world the dream of the owners.
As the Iowan continues, “While this
project is like battling a seven-headed
monster, it is at the same time a unique,
entertaining and fun project with interesting
elements that. we have enjoyed
exposing ourselves and our people to.

“As a tribal hospital, there are religious
elements concerning the spirit world, for
instance. We have built a spirit room
designed after the fact, predictably with many radiuses, arches and angles,
as well as unusual materials, such as a
flexible, wood-slat ceiling with acoustics
above it. We installed a special black
insulation above the slats to create the
dark effect they wanted. It’s a very interesting

“All the radiuses allowed us to use a lot
of Flex Tracks and flexible metal stud
framing systems that are out there, from
quarter-inch high-flex boards to radius
bendable tracks. It was neat, because we
had to run square angles into the radius
angles to accomplish the right look. It
has been rewarding to see it all come

“And while we have had to draw some
personnel from the reservation and that
has been problematic in part, the other
way of looking at it is that we have been
running an apprenticeship program for
the local tribes and we hope to see some
new people in the trade as a result.

“Whether or not we walk away from
this project with any sort of a profit
remains to be seen. It’s not looking good
at this time and it’s not going to resolve
without fights and headaches about the
changes—that’s what it will come down

For the Californian project, “the coffered
ceilings at different elevations and
a lot of ornamental drywall with many
different shapes, curves and radiuses—
the many architectural features that one
is used to seeing in casinos—are what
this project is all about.”

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes,
some desirable, some that amount to
nothing more than headaches because of
shortfalls by others; but in the game of
building, and drywall in particular, that’s
what it is all about.

About the Author

Steven Ferry is a freelance writer based
in Clearwater, Fla.

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