Posted by: nedpelger | April 30, 2010

Blog’s Been Relocated

I relocated the blog to the ConstructionKnowledge.net site.

Follow this link to get there.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 16, 2010

Solar Energy Shines in the New Economy

Solar energy installations continue to be one of the few bright spots in the construction industry outlook for America. Rhone Resch of the Solar Energy Industries Association states “Residential installations grew from 78 megawatts in 2008 to 156 megawatts in 2009.” A megawatt can power about 1000 homes (since the average home uses 10,000 kwhrs of electricity per year and there are roughly 10,000 hours per year). The commercial installations are even more exciting.

The list of photovoltaic power stations shows that Europe is far ahead of America in solar installations. The recent tax law changes in America, however, seem to be creating a boom of solar planning and installations soon to be built.

The states that have legislated a certain percentage of electricity be produced from renewable energy seem to be leading the boom. For example, California now requires 20% renewable energy electricity and increases that requirement to 33% by 2020. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, will require about 80 times more solar energy in the grid from 2009 to 2020. These are huge investments that will need to be made.

If you think this market may suit you, hop on the internet and start researching. Remember, where you are 5 years from now depends partly on the decisions you make today.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 14, 2010

Stabilizing Wet Soil with Lime Brings Amazing Results

PanzRule posted the information below on the ConstructionKnowledge Forum last week and I thought it was too good not to share further. I used lime on a fast-track factory project a few years ago with excellent results. We finished the project on time, which couldn’t have happened without the lime soil mixing.The experience shared by PansRule below should be read by everyone who has to work to control construction schedules and wet/frozen soils.

Post subject: Soil Modification/Stabilization by Panzrule

I have been working on a site project that began in early October of 2009. If you can remember this winter here in Pennsylvania, we had a record winter in terms of snowfall. In conjunction with the snowfall we had what I would consider a cold winter. Now this is coming from a guy who spent the last 11 years working in an office who now was the acting site project superintendent, project manager and occassional equipment operator. So needless to say my opinion may be slightly skewed due to the time spent in the office becoming soft.

Because of the wet & frozen soil conditions throughout the winter and the owner’s need to maintain the project schedule soil modification was used. To be totally honest, I was skeptical of the process. I had never seen this process used and by the prices that I recieved for purchasing the material, I was petrified!

We applied a blend of hydrated lime and lime kiln dust. The amount of this product varied depending on the moisture content of the soil. The product is added by percentage of weight of the soil (soil proctor value) and how much moisture you are trying to reduce. Depending on the soils, for every 1% of hydrated lime added to the soil will reduce the moisture by 1-3%. If by spec you are only allowed to be 2% over optimum for moisture and the virgin ground being cut is 10% over in January, you probably won’t be able to make it without some type of modification to the soils.

On previous projects in the past if schedule had to be kept in these situations either stone was place in lieu of fill or stone was mixed with fill. This works fine except if the site balances for every yard of stone imported you will have an equal yardage of fill to haul away. As it turns out here locally the cost to modify a cubic yard of soil on this site was about half the cost of purchasing stone. Let alone what it may have cost to export that same volume of earth.

I was amazed how this product melted 20″ of frost and was compactable in about 2 hours. There were also soils that I would classify as pus. You know the kind that almost level themselves when dumped. Treat that stuff with about 5% hydrated lime and now you have something to work with.

Needless to say I am no longer skeptical about the product or the process. It made a believer out of me. I would love to try using a type 2 or 3 portland cement and mix with soils. From what I am told you have about a 3 hour working time before it becomes rock hard. In some cases I am told that if excavation is required after soil is treated with portland you may have to sawcut the treated soils so you are able to dig through it. I am also told that if the subgrade is treated using portland beneath paved areas, the sectional thickness of stone and asphalt could be reduced. This would be beneficial if the cost of asphalt continues to rise and would help reduce the use of our natural resources.

So if you have a few thousand yards of wet fill to place and natural air drying is not an option give soil modification a shot. Once you get past the sticker shock you won’t be dissappointed.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 7, 2010

Living a Creative Life

I came across a letter that an architect wrote to an aspiring architect about a typical day in challenging economic times. The architect who wrote the letter had worked on many Frank Lloyd Wright projects. The letter was written in 1931, but has some great wisdom that carries forward to today. You can click on the letters to make them more readable or go to LettersOfNote.com for the transcript and some more information.

There was lots I liked about this letter.

  1. A busy, influential architect took the time and effort to write it to a kid.
  2. He mixes the practical and the creative, acknowledging the place of both.
  3. He ties the work to a higher purpose…the requirement to love truth and beauty.
  4. Imagination gets called out as the quality of creativity.
  5. He challenges to live beyond the office, to read Walden.
  6. Efficiency and integrity are foundational.

You may not be an architect, yet your job (and your life) will improve with attention to these concepts. I challenge you to consider and value your imagination. Do things that feed that imagination, building your capacity for creative problem solving. It’s fun and it gets noticed.

Unleashing your creativity won’t only help your work life, your level of happiness will also surge. I recently read an excerpt of The Happiness Project that noted that the things we enjoyed doing at 10 years old will likely still be the things that bring us joy. We tend to forget and we benefit if we try to remember. This Happiness Project Toolbox also had some great insights.

So take some time to re-engage in a hobby, read something out of your norm, focus on living a creative and joyful life.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 5, 2010

Lots of Looking, Not Much Talking

I checked the web stats for ConstructionKnowledge.net (which I should probably do more often) and was pleased to see over 16,000 unique visitors to the site last month. Considering we were at 2,000 unique visitors two years ago, I’m glad to know so many construction professionals find the site useful. It’s certainly growing only by word of mouth, because I don’t do anything to promote it.

This blog gets from 2,000 to 3,000 unique visitors a month. So lots of folks are looking. I continue to be surprised, though, that so few people are talking. I get an occasional comment on blog post, usually from one of a few people. The Construction Knowledge Forum has some occasional postings.

Both these venues provide you the opportunity to ask questions, rant about things that move you, or just engage in discussions with others in this great construction industry. I encourage you to consider posting something in the Forum or the Blog comments. It may be a new experience for you, but hey, get out of your comfort zone. As W.C. Fields said, “It’s time to take the bull by the tail and face the situation.” Happy postings.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 3, 2010

Construction Industry Updates

I found a few tidbits in this week’s ENR that I thought you might enjoy.

You are probably sick of reading about the new health care law, regardless of which side you’re on. Did you know that the construction industry has a special status in the new law? For every company in America, except construction companies, 50 full time workers tips the firm into the requirement to provide health care to employees. The law currently states that construction companies must provide health care with 5 employees or $250,000 in payroll. The penalty is $750 per employee per year.

Supposedly, the Reconciliation package will eliminate this special treatment of the construction industry. As you’d expect, vocal proponents are politicking on either side of the issue. Construction business groups wonder about the hardest hit industry of the Great Recession taking another shot. Union leaders want the 5 employee rule to stand.

The unemployment rate in construction dropped from 27% to 25%, which I guess is good news. Though an industry with a 1 out of 4 people out of work really can’t celebrate. Firms I’m talking with are starting to see some work moving in mid-2010, though most don’t see much improvement till 2011. The forecast seems to vary widely depending on the types of buildings.

Most of my work seems to be designing and constructing apartment buildings, churches and solar farms. A decade or two ago, it was factories and office buildings. I’m not sure what that says about America, but I’m thinking it isn’t so good.

Something that is good, though, is the cover story in ENR about an innovative apartment building now being constructed in Manhattan. Designed by architect Frank Gehry (think the curvy metal of the Disney Theater in LA or the Guggenheim Museum in Spain), this 70 story building is on time and budget. Nadine Post writes yet another wonderful article outlining how the various players work together to design and build this complex project. She also makes the astute observation that the cooperative design-build team kept much of the project simple (to control cost) and only added the curves and complexity where it showed.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 2, 2010

Now That’s Just Silly

I’ve had a couple of thoughtful posts, so now it’s time for something completely different. If you have 4 minutes, you will laugh out loud at something in this video.

Here’s a photo a friend sent me that should inspire us all…though I’m not sure to what.

Hope you have a great Easter week-end.

Posted by: nedpelger | April 1, 2010

Construction, Bankruptcy and Regressing 250 years

A good friend of mine will be signing his personal bankruptcy papers this week. He already shut down his construction business, fortunately without owing anyone. On the personal side, though, he’s underwater everywhere. His home and truck are both worth much less than the outstanding loan balances. He has a big chunk of credit card debt that he’s paid on for years (probably paying the original loan down several times) that just keeps growing at high interest rates. We’ve all heard this story often, I’m just seeing it up close this time.

My pal builds to an amazing quality level. He has an artist’s eye and gets decent production as well. Whether winning awards for his finish carpentry work on a local college project or building beautiful built-in furniture, he’s an amazing tradesman. Admittedly, he probably shouldn’t have his own business. Too quick to empathize with his customer’s point of view, he lacked the attribute to protect himself. He didn’t ever charge enough, always worried that he’d lose the work or that he wasn’t being fair.

So what’s he going to do? He’s going Aborigine. Moving to the Appalachian Mountains, he’ll live with a group of people that teach others how our ancestors lived…no electricity, making tools for building, hunting or harvesting for food and all that goes with a primitive lifestyle.

All his tools are sold. Most of his other possessions he hauled to the Penryn Mud Sale and sold at auction. I took some stuff to that sale as well. Below is a photo of some Amish kids having a great time playing on an old air hockey table we wanted to get rid of.

As I was walking around the sale, I saw an Amish framer I work with often. Elam was there with his twin 3 year old sons, who had to be the cutest little guys I’ve ever seen. He and his wife got there in their horse and buggy, yet his crews frame with air nailers and electric drills and have cell phones.

I’ve lived around the Amish my entire life and have a basic understanding of how and why they stay Amish. For most, it’s just how they were raised. Everyone’s upbringing seems normal to them.

When I look to my friend moving to the woods, though, I’m intrigued. The writing about the camp gives more detail, “We orient to the basic foundation of where things come from and where things go. We plant and harvest in our gardens, milk goats, make butter, soap, bowls, spoons and tools of all size and description. We hunt and gather wild foods and medicines and natural resources abounding in our huge natural preserve. We cook on a fire, gathering our own wood.”

Sounds like a great adventure doesn’t it? Perhaps we have much to learn by looking back? Would you be ready to step back in time?

Posted by: nedpelger | March 31, 2010

Taking Some Time to Reflect

If you’ve been blessed to have children and were present at the birth, you probably remember that birthing moment with awe. I recall the grand mixture of emotions: joy, fear, love, disgust and probably a couple others. I was solidly in the game, though not at all sure how to play. I was terrified I’d screw the whole thing up. Time passed, I made lots of mistakes though generally I did OK as a husband and parent.

This week our daughter Anna gave birth to our first born grandchild. They named him Levin. Our son-in-law brought his 8 year old son Clay (whom I love dearly) into the marriage, so I have some experience with being Poppy. I’m fascinated, though, how different the birth experience is for a grandparent than a parent. My best analogy relates to wrestling. When I was preparing to go out for a match, I had some of the most intense feelings of my life…a combination of excitement and dread. When I watched my son go out for a match, on the other hand, my emotions were so much calmer, everything seemed more in perspective.

The photo below shows our other daughter, son and me hanging out in the waiting room. We were relaxed, and no, I wasn’t picking my nose, though I can’t vouch similarly for Tessa.

We had a relaxed day, hearing the updates about the progression of labor. I can’t resist throwing in a photo of Anna in the early stages of labor, as she looked so beautiful and radiant.

She went through the labor and delivery process mostly keeping that smile. She’s an athlete with a great positive attitude and was sure she’d be fine with this birthing thing. She once ran a marathon without any preparation and that’s mostly the way she approached having Levin. It seems to work for her.

As I recall, the first few months with a new baby present a different sort of challenge. Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers, says, “Bringing a new baby home is like getting the world’s worst roommate. It’s like Janis Joplin with a hangover and PMS.”

So Anna, Chris, Clay and Levin will be in the muddle of that living and learning. In a way, I’m on the other side of it. I still have a full and joyful life, yet age seems to level the peaks and valleys a bit. Nothing seems quite as scary as it once did. No matter what happens, life continues and we get through…until we don’t. And it’s all good. Especially holding a little newborn and realizing that this amazing cycle starts anew.

A buddy of mine since 7th grade heard about Levin and advised me to take some time to reflect, to think about the things that count in the long run. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken his advice here and decided to share with you.

Posted by: nedpelger | March 27, 2010

No Excuses, No Worries

I’m not a fan of excuses. When someone shows up late to a meeting and starts to blame circumstances, I think, “Do you know how lame you sound?”

Years ago a friend said, “If you’re going to be more than 2 or 3 minutes late to a meeting, give a courtesy call and let them know your status. Excuses should be avoided, though, because most of the time the reason you’re late is that you didn’t care enough about getting there on time.”

I’d like to hear an honest appraisal, sometime, when someone walks in late to a meeting. “I’m sorry I’m late, but you all just didn’t matter enough to me to put in the effort to be on time.”

Of course, all this leads up to me making an excuse for not posting this week…my internet service (for about 1000 of us in this area) was down almost all week. Sorry.

As I was thinking about excuses, my son Lex sent me this wonderful short video that encourages and motivates. Please take a few minutes to watch it, I think you’ll be glad you did.

He doesn’t make excuses and he doesn’t waste time worrying. He lives all it.

I’ve got some good posts in me for next week, so check back.

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