It’s only when things go wrong that remodelers need to rely on their jobsite documentation. Most of the time it’s a minor issue, such as a customer questioning a decision, and remodelers who keep meticulous notes or a daily log can quickly reference the information and provide answers.
“It’s for when someone comes to you later and asks, ‘Why are you two days late on the schedule?’ or says, ‘I never received notice of that,’” says Tim Faller of Remodelers Advantage, and a REMODELING columnist. “Those discussions can easily be put aside by having good jobsite documentation.”
For more serious cases, the daily log, timecards, photos, and video might be needed for arbitration or a court case. Unfortunately, because jobsite documentation is needed only rarely, lead carpenters or crew might become lax about filling out the forms or the log or taking progress photos.
But Faller says that during training sessions when he discusses documentation, someone in the class shares a story about how documentation saved the company money or, more importantly, prevented or resolved legal issues.
A. Equipment & Materials
Shoreline, Wash., remodeler Joseph Irons stocks materials such as fasteners, tape, shims, and garbage bags on company trucks. Crews add items to the daily log and the company uses the list to update invoices. Remodeler Ben Kelley, in Vineyard Haven, Mass., prefers to use a separate “materials from stock” form to track items for his cost-plus billing.
B. Material Delivery
“If I can’t remember the exact day lumber was delivered to lot 10,” construction industry writer Chris Prince says, “I can scan my delivery log to see the date.” This part of the form can also be used to track material returns, confirm vendor credit, and note any damaged materials/incorrect orders. If you track detailed delivery-related information, using a separate form could make it easier to find answers if questions arise.
C. Fixing It
Chris Prince says that a “complete” entry in this section includes a comment that’s relevant to the effect an event will have on the project. E.g., “Met with architect, he provided list of minor changes, with exception of marble selection change for foyer; supplier recommends we allot extra week for delivery; change order notes extension of completion date. Owner has been notified.” Use the back of the sheet for longer entries.
This section should include notes on conversations with the client, subs, and the office. Using short phrases for standard updates is fine. However, if there’s a problem, the lead or crew should include detailed notes.
NOTE: Personal opinions should never be posted to the log. If internal frustration is documented, it can become possible evidence against the company.
Daily Job Log
A job log helps remodelers keep a daily record of conditions, visitors, work, and materials. Joseph Irons of Irons Brothers Construction, in Shoreline, Wash., uses a two-page carbonless form and places one copy in a master binder organized by date. An office staffer enters data from the second copy into the company’s computer system to create invoices, then places it in the client file. At J. Francis Co., in Pittsburgh, job logs are faxed to the office daily.
Jim Glover, president of Glover Construction, in Pierre, S.D., doesn’t keep a separate log for each job. Instead, he writes down significant information (date, weather, calls, materials ordered, completed work) in a notebook. He copies relevant pages and places them in the individual project files.
Tim Faller recommends that the company owner should assign responsibility for the job log to one person. If the log information includes timecards and tasks that are required for payroll, doing so might encourage the lead or crew to complete the log. Chris Prince, author of the DeWalt Contractor’s Daily Logbook & Jobsite Reference, says that another way to get crews into the habit of filling it out is to spot-check the logs at weekly meetings.
Prince says that the log shows a consistency of verifiable documentation, which is important if an issue goes to court. “If you can prove you were consistent with your log entries, your credibility is strengthened significantly,” he points out. The log is the legal property of the company, he notes, which means it can be subpoenaed by the court.
JOB LOG: Attorney Richard Feeley of Feeley Mediation & Business Law, in Marietta, Ga., says it doesn’t matter whether a daily job log is written in ink or that the log is bound. What is important is that the company can show it keeps organized records on a regular basis and that the records are kept contemporaneously with the work.
He says that before a jury is allowed to review a daily log for a court case, the court would likely ask the remodeler and/or staff to testify about record-keeping. Irregular or sloppy record-keeping, Feeley says, provides the opposing attorney an opportunity to attack the credibility of the records.
PHOTOS/VIDEO: Feeley suggests that you ask the client to sign a photo release that provides your company with permission to take photos on their property. You should only use the photos in the capacity referred to in the release. If the release limits use of photos and video to just documenting job progress, don’t use them for marketing materials. You should also:
• Establish procedures for your crew. This could include only photographing work areas and not private areas of the home and not taking photos of children.
• Keep good records with a time/date stamp, which is easy to do with digital images.
Tim Faller says that a good digital camera (now available to almost everyone on their phone) is one of the best tools a remodeler can use to document projects. As digital technology has improved and become cost-effective, more remodelers are using cameras to document the before, during, and after progress of projects, as well as produce good-quality images and videos that can be used to communicate with subcontractors and with clients. You should photograph the following: Before work begins
- Overall photo of room
- Detail images of products that are not being removed or replaced.
- Flooring transitions
- Pathways — to ensure you bring the right protection products
- Finishes of home that you are replicating
During the job
- Framing connections
- Structural connections
- Concrete rebar
- Grading/compacting of fill
- Walls and ceilings before drywall is installed
- Wiring and location of outlets/receptacles/switches and data wiring
- Plumbing and waste pipes
- Gas pipes
Remodeler Ben Kelley, in Massachusetts, shoots video of projects at the end of every week using a handheld camcorder, partly for documentation but primarily to provide the client with a progress update. Kelley finds that using video is less time-consuming than photos. He breaks the footage into segments and, for each piece, writes a description of what the clients are viewing, then posts this on a website he uses to communicate with clients.
He occasionally uses his iPhone to shoot quick videos. “If we are documenting a project for future work, we video the open walls and give a copy of the video to our clients,” Kelley says. He also takes video at the planning stages of the job, which helps with estimating.
Jack Whealan, of SkyTop Builders, in North Carolina, also uses narrated video of the jobsite to help with estimating and occasionally to communicate with clients. For clients, he might shoot the video using his Blackberry Storm and upload it to YouTube. “It’s kind of shaky because it doesn’t have a stabilizer in it, but for the purpose of communication for someone in another state, it’s good enough,” he says.
A short video might be useful for narrating job progress for a client, but for documentation, photos are fine.
Companies use timecards for payroll and to create invoices for projects, so it’s important that the information is accurate. They are usually submitted weekly. When J. Francis Co. used timecards (see Time Card Technology, below, for what the company uses now), they asked crews to deliver or fax them to the office by Wednesday morning each week.
The company had also included a basic schedule on its timecard that described how most jobsites should run (7:15 a.m. lead arrives/organizes daily tasks; 7:30 work starts; 11:45 tools down/planning meeting; 12:00 p.m. lunch; 3:00 lead carpenters call PM with needs; 3:45 work stops/site clean-up and secure; 4:00 timecards signed by lead carpenters). Chris Prince says timecards should be signed.
Information to include on a timecard
- Social Security Number
- Employee signature
- Supervisor’s signature/initials
- List of weekdays, Monday through Friday
- Time-in and Time-out (this can be for the whole day or broken down by tasks. One remodeler includes a “from X to X” with the cost codes)
- Lunch (half hour or one hour)
- Job name/number/jobsite name or change-order number
- Non-job hours (maintenance for shop/vehicle/office or meetings, with a space for an explanation)
- Activities completed/work performed at site
- Activity/cost code to be circled by employee (some remodelers use the Construction Specification Institute’s standard cost code list; some include a list and description of each code on the sheet and/or posted on the job board; some use the workers’ compensation rate code for tasks to make sure the correct workers’ comp rates are applied to the work)
- Notes for the office/administrative staff
Instead of paper forms, some remodelers have turned to electronic job clocks to track crew hours. Ben Kelley of Building Shelter says that the ExakTime JobClock allows him to track employee time to the minute in accordance with the codes he uses for estimating and billing. He used to have these codes on the back of the paper timecards he used; now he doesn’t have to interpret the data or ask crew about discrepancies.
With the JobClock system, employees touch a fob to an on-site unit when they start and stop specific tasks. Kelley collects the information from the JobClocks on his own fob and his office staff download the records and convert them for use in QuickBooks. “I’m able to tighten up my estimates — tighten up my team,” Kelley says.
Prince points out that the fobs and phones allow the office to make sure the crew comply with the entries because the JobClock can be set so an employee can’t clock in the following day until they’ve entered hours for the previous day.
Whealan says that, for him, JobClock paid for itself within six months because it provided more accurate data on work hours. It also helps him track employees who arrive late and leave early. “It gives me grounds for removing dishonest employees,” he says.
These days there are a raft of software options available for tracking labor hours via phone and uploading to the cloud to access by your office system. That is the topic of numerous articles and reviews. But the process only works if you and your team are clear on what to document and why.