By: Mike Lopez

At one time or another, we in the restoration industry have heard the phrase, “unforeseen condition.” To a property owner, it may seem like a contractor catch phrase that attempts to divert accountability or a term that design professionals use when trying to explain an unexpected complication. When encountering this issue, an owner might ask: “how can this be, and what will this do to my budget?” More importantly, an owner might wonder what can be done to avoid unforeseen conditions in future projects.

The following two statements are guaranteed to apply to any restoration project. Design professionals are never able to obtain every ounce of information pertaining to a building, condition, or specific detail prior to the commencement of work. Without the ability to analyze every aspect, there is no way to anticipate every condition that will arise during the course of a project. Like death and taxes, there will always be unforeseen conditions.

An owner’s first line of defense against unforeseen conditions is a contingency. All projects should plan for some form of contingency, whether it be budgetary or accounted for in allowances. Contingencies serve to provide a “savings in the bank” for projects, so that when more work is required or when unexpected conditions are discovered, there are financial resources available to properly address them.

How does one plan for the unforeseen without creating egregious project budgets? In most cases, a judgment call must be made during the design process based on past experiences and the information at hand. The quantities included in a contract should be considered, whether they represent a percentage of the façade area or are estimated quantities that may yet be identified during the course of work. It is important to note that from a contractor’s perspective, contingencies do not guarantee that work will be performed. Large allowance quantities in a project budget create risk for the contractor, as a considerable percentage of work could go unperformed and result in a sizable credit to the contract. Conversely, insufficient allowances could potentially result in large change orders that put great strain on the Owner. In an effort to ensure the successful completion of a project and a fair balance for the owner and contractor, contingencies should be carefully evaluated and planned for.

There are additional means to help owners and design professionals avoid certain “unforeseen conditions” when preparing for a restoration project. Probes are invaluable for exposing underlying conditions and uncovering possible complications prior to the start of construction. Building assessments and scaffold drop inspections can also offer an overview of the existing conditions and identify areas of concern ahead of time. When coupled with a contingency, these tools can effectively prepare an owner for the road ahead.

When undertaking a restoration project, an owner should always “expect the unexpected.” However, with some thoughtful planning, prior investigation, and well-developed contingencies, “unforeseen conditions” can be absorbed with limited impact to the project or the project’s budget.

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