By Alexandra Turner

On average, remodeling a bathroom reels in potential homebuyers and recoups 62 percent of the remodel cost, U.S. News and World Report notes. Bathrooms date fairly quickly, and a well-done remodel preserves the good bones of your bathroom while replacing outdated elements with modern ones. If you've completed some DIY projects before, you'll be able to tackle much of your bathroom remodel yourself, but there are some tasks that require professional assistance.

Must-do items

Prioritize your to-do list based on your budget and these must-do items. While a complete remodel may be ideal, tackling just some of these must-do items can increase your home's attractiveness and resale price, according to U.S. News and World Report.

  • Get the floor in good shape – If your bathroom floor is outdated or looks old, replacing it is a must.
  • Update fixtures – Replacing the shower head and faucet handles helps modernize your bathroom.
  • Replace the toilet – Replace your old toilet with a low-flow model to begin saving money instantly and update the room.
  • Add fresh paint – A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color gives any room a nice look, especially the bathroom.

What to DIY

If you have some experience with DIY updates, you'll be able to tackle these items yourself. Find any supplies at your local home improvement store.

  • Replacing the toilet – With half a day's work and a little heavy lifting, you can replace your toilet. Turn the shutoff valve, then drain the toilet bowl and tank. Disconnect the supply line, then disconnect the toilet tank from the bowl. Remove the toilet and replace it with the new one by working the process in reverse. If you have a weak back, call a plumber for this one.
  • Updating fixtures – Unscrew your shower head and replace it with a new one. Consider a low-flow shower head as an eco-friendly move.
  • Painting – Clean the walls with a bleach solution before you paint. Tape off the ceiling and floor, or around any fixtures. Apply a primer and up to two coats of paint, letting the walls dry in between each coat.
  • Replacing the medicine and linen cabinets – Freestanding cabinets can be removed and replaced, while built-ins must be demolished first. Take apart the old cabinet, then mount your new cabinet against the wall by drilling screws into wall studs. Select screws that will support the cabinet's weight when loaded with towels, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Pre-assembled medicine cabinets are easy to mount on the wall.

What to trust to experts

Bathroom repairs that require re-plumbing or re-wiring the room are best left to the experts, design spokesperson Deborah Burnett notes at DIYNetwork. These include replacing the tub or shower, updating the shower tile or the bathroom floor, updating the bathroom lighting, adding floor heating or moving the water and drain lines. As MSN notes, hiring contractors can be expensive, but making mistakes in electric, plumbing and general contractor work is far costlier in the long run. Click here for remodeling contractors in your area. An expert contractor will be well worth his fee by improving your home's value through needed bathroom updates.

Alexandra Turner is an interior designer and space planning expert who enjoys blogging about her profession.
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By Geoffrey Hall

Safety on the job site begins in the executive suite. To have a real influence on workers, safety must become a core value of each construction organization. Chief executives should instill in every level of management that the responsibility for safety lies with them. Senior executives need to lead by example taking an active and visible role in the implementation and execution of the safety culture. Because every project is built on paper first, safety begins with pre-planning. As executives begin the process of planning a project, safety should be incorporated into all stages of development. All exposures should be identified and addressed in pre-planning stages and controls to mitigate risk exposures should be built into the safety plan.

Additionally, all firms should establish a safety committee prior to building. This committee will be composed of upper management, risk managers, safety directors, and operational staff, striving to continually discuss and review safety performance. Planning for safety is a continually evolving process and chief executives should utilize all resources in order to mitigate the risk of safety complications. Hiring on-site safety managers for projects of all sizes can prove to be beneficial in the long run, despite what may be perceived as high upfront costs. A safety manager can help continually review and enhance the efforts made by everyone on site. Risk management experts and insurers may bring a new set of eyes to a project and can help identify concerns or problem areas that may be otherwise overlooked. This may occur because the company is focusing on major hazards but overlooking lesser ones.

For every construction project, senior executives should thoroughly outline a strong safety plan prior to construction, establish a safety committee that can oversee the project and work with outside resources. By taking these proactive approaches to creating a safety culture, construction companies can save lives, reduce accidents and lower the costs associated with injuries and delays. A strong safety culture helps to manage not only incurred costs through accidents but also the saves the company expenses it would have to bear itself.

Geoffrey Hall is senior vice president of ACE USA's construction group.

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By Mark Jones

The real estate development and construction industry is no stranger to volatility.  Managing a large-scale construction or renovation project can be daunting for any company, especially when building in a different country. Navigating the various processes, government regulations and construction trade differences inherent to specific countries can pose significant roadblocks for companies as they embark on global projects spanning many markets.

In order to remain competitive in the marketplace, there are opportunities to deploy project management expertise outside the comfort zone of your own country or region. Here are some best practices and guidelines to successfully overcome the challenges posed by cross-cultural expansion and development.

Define Goals, Objectives and Roles Upfront –  The clients’ goals and objectives and the project manager’s role must be clearly defined up-front to ensure alignment and avoid conflict during the project. Client preferences and protocols vary depending on the region. Some are most interested in cost management, while others would benefit from strategic guidance and a holistic approach to managing the full project. It is also crucial to reconcile nuances of terminology during negotiation discussions to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language. Regional distinctions between North America, Europe and the UK can dramatically impact the outcome of the entire project. Something as simple as the definition or spelling of a word may seem of little consequence, but there are variations to even the most fundamental terminology and meanings can easily be confused across geographies.

Master the Construction Trade Differences, Such as Unionization – One major factor that continues to pose a challenge is unionization. The construction industry is significantly more unionized in North America than in the U.K., and project managers will not only need to know how to manage construction teams but also how to work with the union representatives. To have a better understanding of the local practice and customs, attending local construction associations’ information sessions can be crucial in understanding local rules and processes. The local unions themselves are helpful when negotiating pricing and tendering rules and the major contracting organizations that have union alignments can be helpful knowledge pools too. Most of all, a good project manager will need to be skillful in getting the required local union rules to work within the context of the overall project, budget and schedule.

Understand the Governmental Rules and Regulations – It is essential for project managers to have comprehensive knowledge of the legal, contractual, health and safety regulations of the region or locality. Local regulations and legal practices will guide the project manager when considering specific processes. Health and safety regulations can differ drastically across markets with developing countries having less stringent health and safety regulations than developed regions. Understanding funding sources, banking legislation, loan requirements and federal and state legislation cycles are all very important to getting projects delivered.

Mark Jones has 19 years of experience within the construction sector with clients in the institutional, infrastructure, mining, hi-tech, and commercial sectors.  He is currently a director for Turner & Townsend based in Toronto, Canada.

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By Megan Browning

Set on a beautiful 17-acre campus in the residential community of Ross, Calif., the Branson School has a rich history dating back to the 1920s. In an effort to create a greater sense of campus community, plans were set forth to build a new multi-purpose student commons area situated between the upper and lower campuses. With the ultimate goal of bringing the outdoors in, school administrators teamed up with Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects to design and build a 7,500-square-foot LEED Platinum certified structure that would provide energy-efficient comfort while embracing the local climate.

“We did a digital rendering of the fluid dynamic model to optimize the airflow to the building,” Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Associate John Kleman explained. Based on these results, architects altered the size of the operable windows and openings to take full advantage of the building’s orientation and prevailing winds. The additions of two 10-foot diameter high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans, built with direct drive motors, keep the air moving throughout the building and were integral to the design strategy. “After evaluating our options, we thought, 'Let’s not condition the air, but use the climate that we have,'” said Mary Griffin, FAIA, Turnbull Griffin Haesloop. “We wanted students to eat outdoors as many days of the year as possible, so having the building open to allow them to go in and out was really important.” With the new facility serving as the heart of campus activity for students, comfort was a necessity. The HVLS fans do not lower the space temperature, but rather create a perceived cooling effect with silent air movement allowing occupants to feel up to 10F cooler. “The fans magnify the air movement through the building," Kleman said. "I’ve been in the commons on days over 90 degrees and it’s perfectly comfortable.”

While helping bring the outdoors in, HVLS fans serve as more than just a means of air circulation. Because these fans use their immense size, not speed to move impressive amounts of air with minimal electrical input, they also fit in with the school’s energy efficiency initiatives. Other sustainable features include a living roof, radiant heating, solar panels and large flexible doors that create an open dining experience in fine weather. “The building is an educational tool,” Kleman remarked. “There is curriculum built around the LEED program and understanding how buildings can contribute to sustainability.” Maintaining the community’s rich cultural traditions, popularity of the new student commons is reaching beyond Branson students as the facility has also become a venue for community events. “The student commons has been so popular we actually have another local school wanting to use it for events,” Facilities Director Dave Schneider remarked.

Megan Browning is a writer for Big Ass Fans®, the world’s preeminent designer and manufacturer of large-diameter, low-speed fans.

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By John Doherty

As engineering and construction firms continue to expand globally, their need to manage costs at all levels of project delivery becomes increasingly important.  One of the key ways of managing costs is by putting in place a program that promotes continuous improvement in operational effectiveness, an approach that a majority of the industry’s companies are interested in adopting. 

PwC’s 2013 E&C CEO survey revealed more than half (53 percent) of CEOs indicated a focus on improving operational effectiveness. To be successful, operational effectiveness programs should have process, functional and talent management dimensions. From a process perspective, each step, from opportunity identification through turnover, needs to be assessed for opportunities to reduce time and move decisions to the lowest possible level consistent with appropriate review. Opportunities for reducing time can be as simple as making the operational manuals and sporting checklist accessible to the project manager through tablets.  Some  firms also have approval processes in place that require senior management involvement in all steps in the process, where, in fact, the decisions could easily be handled by less senior management as long as a well-structured and approved delegation of authority matrix and governance process is in place.

Processes effectiveness is not only about the efficient execution of the project. It is also about having a standard model for project management across regions and countries. With this approach, staff can be readily transferred across regions to meet client demands without the need for significant retraining. Functional excellence is also key.  Each functional department − purchasing, cost accounting, IT and HR − needs to look closely at the department processes as they intersect the delivery of a project and ensure the operational level of excellence supports the goals being set by the delivery team. For example, a purchasing department that takes weeks to respond to a request for a new subcontractor can significantly impact a project’s success.

Many companies are exploring models where the purchasing staff, while still owned by the corporate function, are deployed on the projects.  This model can help ensure the corporate policies and procedures are maintained while supporting the need for rapid response at the project level. Talent management is another area where a focus on providing operational excellence can significantly impact delivery. This is particularly true when sourcing staff from external agencies. A talent management function should have a disciplined approach to capturing not only current but projected needs and proactively translating these into a steady pipeline of new candidates from regions where the skills are well developed. In summary, globalization is driving a need for operational excellence at the process, functional and talent management levels.  Companies that do not focus on operational excellence are likely to have significant challenges meeting their profit and revenue targets as they expand into international markets.

John Doherty is PwC’s U.S. engineering and construction advisory leader. He has more than 35 years of experience in industry and expertise in the areas of strategic planning, large capital program management, project risk assessment, project bidding, buyout optimization, project execution improvement, supply chain management, strategic planning and IT management, and application implementation.

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By Tony Inglese

Concrete has been an integral part of structures in society since the Romans first used it thousands of years ago and it is easy to see why. The Pantheon in Rome still survives to this day proving the ability of concrete to survive the ages. Concrete as worked so well for so long that historically the industry is rarely a witness to revolutionary innovation. However, in recent years the concrete industry – fueled by advances in science and technology – has begun to see several interesting new trends that may very well indicate where the industry’s future lies and how we will see concrete differently in the future.

Polished Concrete Floors: Even today concrete floors are unfortunately oftentimes seen as a bare-bones build-in that is only suitable for warehouse floors and parking lots, however, in a world where green tech have spiked in popularity polished concrete floors are beginning to offer sustainability to commercial and retail facilities across the globe. Polished concrete is created after being treated with a chemical densifier, being ground and polished with high-grit pads until it is 800-3000 grit, and then stained or dyed with a variety of stains and dyes that can make it look similar to various granites or quartzes. Because polished concrete floors are already made of a material that is built into facilities to begin with, it reduces a building’s carbon footprint simply by cutting out the need to buy flooring. Additionally, these glossy floors reflect overhead lighting quite easily which can help even the largest and dimmest of spaces to look brighter.

Pervious Concrete: Also known as permeable or porous pavement, pervious concrete is another green trend in commercial concrete construction that is becoming increasingly more popular and an increasingly environmentally-conscious world. Pervious concrete is actually a technology that was first used in the mid-19th century but has recently rebounded as another Green technological advance. As its name suggests, pervious concrete has miniscule pores that allows rain water to drain into the ground instead of overfilling storm drains and detention ponds. Additionally, it prevents materials from being swept into storm drains and clogging them.

Graphene Reinforced Concrete: Graphene is a flat monolayer layer of graphite in which the carbon atoms are arranged hexagonally. Research in recent years has shown that graphene could potentially be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, material in the world with an ultimate strength of 130,000 megapascals (MPa) and a density of 1.0 g/cm3. Comparatively, concrete has an ultimate strength of 3 MPa and a density of 2.7 g/cm3, structural steel an ultimate strength of 400 MPa and a density of 7.8 g/cm3, and diamond an ultimate strength of 2,800 MPa and a density of 3.5 g/cm3. Concrete is already commonly reinforced with steel or other fibers but even a small amount of graphene added to concrete has the potential to hugely boost concrete’s tensile and compressive strength as well as reducing concrete’s weight.

When consumers think of the word “change” they often don’t think of the concrete industry; after all, to most, concrete construction looks like as if it hasn’t changed since the Romans first did it. But the truth is that science and technology impact concrete construction in so many ways and these new ways to make and use concrete will lead to the creation of structures that will last a millennia.

Tony Inglese works for Enviro-Systems, a concrete construction solutions company offering environmentally friendly concrete products that assist with concrete washout and concrete removal

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By Tara Compton Half the summer's gone, so if you were planning to take advantage of those couple extra hours of daylight each day by upgrading the tech solutions in your home, you'd better get moving. Today's innovations include motorized window shades, do-it-yourself alarm systems and thermostats that learn your temperature preferences, all of which can be controlled remotely through your mobile device. As a construction professional, you've got a leg up compared on other homeowners when it comes to DIY projects – so check out what's new and exciting in home technology solutions. Here are some tips to working your way through what's out there:

Motorized Window Shades

Motorized window shades enable you to control how much light you let in or keep out of your home, regardless if you're home or not. You can use a mobile app to check and set your window shades throughout the day, provide light to your pets during certain periods, protect your furniture from the blazing summer sun or set the shades to open a few minutes before you arrive home. Learn more about motorized shades at the Customer Electronic Design and Installation Association site.

Wireless Security Systems

With more people choosing to use apps to control home automation, a wireless security system makes good sense today if a homeowner travels or is away from home frequently. Violent crime and property crimes continue to rise, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, homeowners can have extra peace of mind with a wireless security system. With a mobile app, you control your home's security system from anywhere in the world. Wireless systems also manage your security through power outages and storms. Monitoring systems are made to continue to receive signals wirelessly, even if the neighborhood's power has been knocked out.

Smart Energy

This same mobile technology explosion enables homeowners to tinker with the amount of energy a home uses during the course of a week or month through use of a smart thermostat, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. Controlled through Wi-Fi, this thermostat "learns" the temperatures you prefer and adjusts itself accordingly. Homeowners can check energy stats, wattage amounts and cost savings with various changes to energy plans. All of this is gleaned and controlled right from one's mobile device.

Tara Compton researches environmental sustainability, DIY home repair and holistic health and wellness practices. 
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By Frances "J.R." Babineau

Continuous insulation (CI) has quickly become the rule when it comes to meeting the higher efficiency requirements mandated by the most recent International Energy Conservation Code. As exterior foam sheathing becomes a more common means to achieve CI, it is important to understand the details that can detract from CI’s effectiveness.

Here are five considerations:

Avoid using just one insulating material While traditional cavity insulation is great, batts and rolls alone cannot prevent thermal bridging. Solution: A combination of exterior foam sheathing and interior cavity insulation ensures a seamless thermal barrier across the structure, making a great CI solution.

Properly install cavity insulation Cutting corners on the cavity insulation will decrease the overall effectiveness of the entire wall system. Batts and rolls, or spray foam are good options, but standard installation best practices must be followed. Solution: If installing batts and exterior sheathing, ensure the batts are trimmed properly and aren’t compressed into tight spaces. Interior cavity insulation should touch all six faces of the structure — the front, back and all four sides. If using spray foam, fill the full depth of the cavity to ensure proper R-value – but don’t overspray. If cavities are overfilled, contractors must trim or grind down the foam prior to gypsum board installation.

Choose the right sheathing material Not all materials are created equal: Be sure to use the material that will lead to minimum complications and maximum performance Solution: Of foam sheathing options, XPS and polyiso are the two most popular. XPS foams are durable, are less permeable and offer an R-value of about 5 per inch. At an R-value of about 6 per inch, polyiso foam is one of the most thermally efficient insulations on the market. Polyiso also contributes to a more fire-safe structure as it will not melt even at very high temperatures.  This makes for a great solution for commercial building.

Right-size and air-seal windows Window frames and panes are very conducive. Accounting for 25 percent (or more) of the total area in commercial buildings, they can constitute up to half the energy loss. Solution: Consider reducing the window-to-wall ratio and avoid floor-to-ceiling windows. Instead, design window locations and selection to maximize effective daylighting and views. It’s win-win: people still benefit from the sunlight and the view but the thermal bridges between the sill and the floor can be reduced with insulation. Also, note that gaps around windows should be air-sealed with foam, not fiberglass.

Make balconies energy smart Balconies are a high-demand element in commercial buildings, but they can be a thermal nightmare. Solution: Don’t create the balcony simply by extending the floor slab to project off the side of the building. Instead, create a balcony that is separated from the building structure using steel connectors and foam blocks to secure the balcony to the building. Or, consider using a less conductive material such as wood or wood-plastic composites or a standalone balcony connected to ground.  

As a building scientist for Johns Manville, Frances "J.R." Babineau is responsible for research and technology development of building products and applications, with an emphasis on indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency.  He has been with Johns Manville for 16 years and is actively involved in standards development through ASHRAE and the Building Performance Institute (BPI).  

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By Ron Antevy

As a designer or contractor, you want repeat customers, since multiple projects with the same facility owner will almost always result in higher profit.  Why is this the case?  For one, the sales costs go down with a repeat customer.  An element of trust is built between you and the owner so subsequent projects don’t have to be solely about cost, ensuring that you maintain your margins. Finally, as you gain experience with the same owner, the operational “unknowns” and risks are reduced. How do you go about increasing the odds that your customer will return for more? When the project is all said and done, the owner needs to look back and say that the scope, cost and schedule met their expectations. Try these three things during the project to standout with the owner and really "wow" them.

  1. Over-communicate: Provide regular status updates and report good news, as well as bad news. No job is perfect and owners know it better than most.  Are you sharing the whole story?  In the absence of information, people will naturally make assumptions, usually bad ones. Proactively communicate with clients, eliminating the chance of a bad assumption.
  2. Be Transparent:  The more information you are willing to share, the more vulnerable you become. That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but vulnerability builds trust. People do business with people they trust. For more on this, check out this book.
  3. Accept Accountability: If you build a reputation as someone who is willing to be held accountable, again you build trust. Even if that accountability results in a problem or two on the job, you will come out ahead in the long run.  On the other hand, if you spend your time and energy figuring out ways to cover your behind, you won’t have to worry about accountability – but don’t expect future work.

Ron Antevy is president and CEO of e-Builder, a cloud-based construction program management software provider.

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