Explaining High Rise Construction

I hear it all the time: “I just have a condo…”

First, let’s set the record straight: When you are talking about construction, eliminate “just” from your vocabulary. It’s never “just” anything.

Hammering one nail into one piece of something requires paying for someone’s time to come on site and swing the hammer that was purchased from somewhere.

Second, here’s the hard truth: Imagine any type of construction project that you would like to do in a single family home – from a hallway renovation to a gut rehab. Imagine the cost of that project (accurate or not). Now, take that project, place it into a condo building…and increase it by 50%.

Condo construction is expensive. Here is why:

1. Deliveries. In order to do a construction, project you need stuff – stuff like tile, flooring, mouldings, doors, and building materials. All of this stuff needs to be delivered. So, how does that happen? Well, it happens by delivering to a loading dock. A loading dock that is owned by the condo building. This dock needs to be coordinated with the condo building and often needs to be reserved. This requires front-end coordination from your contractor to reserve the dock and make sure the delivery company is going to show up that day and on time. It also requires on-site coordination from your contractor to make sure the delivery is on time and is brought into the condo unit without issue. All of that coordination takes time. Do you know what time equals?

2. In-Unit Delivery. Delivering materials doesn’t end at the dock. Far from it, in fact – the materials have to come from the dock, down the hallway, likely through multiple steel doors, into an elevator, out of an elevator, down a hallway, and into the condo unit. Usually, all of the areas that I just described need to be protected. All of that takes time – time to prep the common areas with plastic, cardboard, and a prayer; time to walk with the materials from one place to the other; and time to wait for the elevator for each load. Do you know what time equals?

3. Building Hours. Most condo buildings have strict guidelines for contractors. These guidelines often stipulate parameters for daytime hours when construction can be done. In a flexible building, these hours are from 8am – 5pm. Seems like a full day, doesn’t it? Not at all. Most construction crews like to start early and end early to avoid traffic and maximize daylight 7am – 3/4pm. They also like to stay late if they’re under a deadline. In the final weeks of a project for a single family home, it’s not unusual for us to see crews on site past 6pm so they can finish our project and get to another the next day. Also, in a single family home, you walk inside and get to work. In a condo building, you walk inside, sign-in with the receiving room, walk down a hallway, wait for the elevator, and then walk into the unit. This is approximately 20-30 minutes of time. That 5pm deadline? That means you’re OUT at 5pm, so that means you’re really cleaned up and finished for the day at 4:30pm. So, if the crews are under deadline and they can’t finish by 4:30pm, they have to come back the next day. That’s another day of time. Do you know what time equals?

4. Building Construction Rules. Most condo buildings have rules regarding the actual construction of the building. Typically in Chicago, condo units have a concrete floor slab that is actually structural concrete. The condo buildings rarely with let you cut into that concrete. So, if you want to, say, move your bathtub to center a freestanding tub under a window or change your bathtub to a standing shower, do not pass go, do not collect $200. The rules will not allow it unless you run your piping on top of the concrete floor. This is why you will see bathroom floors raised up from the rest of the floors when you walk into renovated condos. There is also fire code to consider which requires aluminum studs instead of wood studs, requiring more expertise to install. Also, most important, you’re dealing with utilities that are connecting to the WHOLE BUILDING – your kitchen hood, your plumbing stacks, your HVAC or radiators – it’s all connected to everyone else. So, one mistake and you’ve got a HUGE problem on yours hands. So, all of this work requires highly qualified crews that know what they’re doing and are aware of the consequences of not being careful. Finally, the condo building engineers usually want to inspect the work during construction. All of this requires additional time. Do you know what time equals?

5. Debris. When transforming a space, part of transforming the space is removing what is currently there. How do we do this? Demo, baby. What does demo create? Debris. Where does the debris need to go? Somewhere else. Well, first it has to go somewhere in the unit. Then, it has to get dumped into carts that are covered in plastic and taken out of the unit to a dumpster or dump truck (see Items 1 & 2). An average elevator ride down and up, including walking to and from the dock, is 20-30minutes. Now, imagine hauling dozens of carts of debris. An average gut rehab of a 2,500SF condo usually takes us 3-5 weeks for demolition alone, depending on Items 1-4 above. Then, after demo, we’re still building stuff right? There is debris from that also which needs to be cleared out the unit. After all, we have limited space. In a single family home, we can put the debris outside or in a garage. In a condo, we’re tossing where we work. It takes careful coordination to plan how and where debris is going to be handled in order to keep the project efficient without hurting any finished areas of the condo. All of this takes time. Do you know what time equals?

So, there you have it – it’s not “just” a condo. It’s a condo. A good contractor will tell you the truth: it’s going to be expensive and it’s going to take a while. For reference, 8 weeks is a very aggressive schedule to renovate a bathroom or a kitchen. Whatever you are considering, start at 12 weeks for anything being gutted and go up from there.

Having said all this, condos often have great views where a significant renovation shines. They also have smaller, defined spaces that create a fun design challenge to gain inches while maximizing impact.  As long as everyone understands what it’s going to take to execute the project from the beginning, we have found that these spaces are some of the most rewarding to bring to life.

Want to see some of our condo projects? Check them out here!

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