Data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that August 2018 housing starts in buildings with five or more units grew 37% compared with the year before, indicating that multi-family housing continues to lead growth in the housing market.
As more and more large apartment projects hit the market, competition for the end user has grown fierce. Builders are turning to an array of increasingly high-end finishes to stand out. This trend is putting a spotlight on an area of construction work that in many cases makes up the smallest part of a project’s overall budget but can make or break the end product when it goes out to the consumer market.
Finishes are an evolving specialty
Finishing hardware covers everything from interior door hardware and locksets to towel bars, shower doors, blinds, wire shelving, fire extinguishers, mirrors, bike racks, and much more. Sound daunting? Add to that the evolving technological capabilities of everything from a lockset to a bathroom mirror, and apartment-dwellers’ increasing demand for common area amenities like dog washing and bike repair stations. You’re talking about a highly specialized piece of the building puzzle.
What makes finishing hardware an even more challenging specialty is the fact that its installation comes late in the construction process when builders are eager to make up for delays that have happened earlier. Skilled finishers must work quickly and efficiently, and must have put in the advance planning to ensure their part of the operation runs like clockwork.
In the last three decades, the size and complexity of multi-family housing projects have increased immensely. Here are some guidelines to help general contractors find the right provider for this crucial part of residential construction.
Look for a finishing hardware installer who will embed on your jobsite
This is in contrast to hiring a company that will bring materials out vanload by vanload at a time you have to schedule. Best practice is to treat the finishing company like any other trade on a job site. While general contractors may not want to devote staging space to another user, being onsite can make a world of difference for the finishing work.
It takes up a little more space but greatly reduces potential problems that are not uncommon otherwise. When you are building hundreds of units, having the right materials onsite—right down to the exact size of bracket needed to secure specific shelving units to walls—can make the difference between being on time or behind schedule.
Look for a point person dedicated to your job
To forge a good relationship with the general contractor and other subcontractors onsite, we always assign a lead to no more than two or three projects at a time. These individuals get to know the job site, and they can attend to details earlier in the process—such as the size of holes drilled in a wall where medicine cabinets will later need to be installed. They’ll make sure delays are avoided. This kind of familiarity makes a big difference over hiring an installer who will send a different set of workers to your site every day. Successful finishing installers must have deep knowledge of the project and stay up-to-date on changes.
Good communication makes the biggest difference
Successful coordination of finish hardware installation means attending weekly subcontractor meetings, knowing about schedule changes as they happen, and continuously communicating with suppliers and installers so that the right supplies and people are onsite at the moment they need to be.
Look for installers who get repeat business
Successful builders of large-scale multi-family housing understand how crucial these final details of a project can be, both to keeping construction on time and to the quality of the end product.
Finishing hardware in large multi-family residential projects can no longer be treated like a small job. It’s a complex specialty all its own, and treating it as such will lead to a better end product.
Paul Milde is founder and president of CIP Finishes, a specialty construction firm that furnishes and installs interior hardware in large multifamily residential, commercial and related projects in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and other regions. CIP Finishes is based in Stafford County, Va.