At my remodeling company, we rely on many forms and
checklists to run our jobs. The one we use most is our
quality-control checklist. This form began as a fairly simple
scheduling template that I picked up from a management book. It
included reminders about when to call subs and schedule
material deliveries and so on.
We used the original template for a while but found that it had
little effect on our projects; it really wasn't much more than
a listing of the events that have to occur for a job to be
completed. I needed something more comprehensive, a checklist
that told lead carpenters exactly what construction details and
job-site procedures I wanted them to use.
Like many remodelers, I prefer to use certain construction
details, so I started adding notes to the form about how to do
the work. Perhaps a construction issue would come up during a
meeting with clients, or I'd think of something in the middle
of the night — and then I'd write myself a note and add
it to the list later on. If an idea came to me while I was
driving down the road, I'd call my answering machine and leave
a verbal note there.
Over time I added quite a bit of information to the template
— so much that it has now become our quality-control
checklist. The first items I added were flashing and
waterproofing details, because even small leaks can cause a lot
of damage. I've learned this the hard way and do not want my
subs and employees to repeat mistakes I already know how to
Shower pans. For example, I've seen
plumbers lap shower-pan liners the wrong way and then tell me
the shower won't leak once the tile is on. A mistake like that
is hard to miss, but many smaller errors can be detected only
by leak-testing the pan.
I want the leak-testing to be done right, so the list reminds
leads to use the proper-size drain plug (not a rag); to test
the benches and shampoo shelves; and to fill the pan in the
morning so that if there's a severe leak someone is there to
fix it (see checklist section).
Addressing this topic on the checklist shows that I am very
serious about these issues and that there is no excuse for
building a shower pan that leaks.
Frozen pipes. Another example of a
quality-control item is pipes in outside walls.
I don't care how much insulation is in the walls or how much
pipe insulation is wrapped around the pipes; it has been my
experience that if you put pipes in the wall in a cold climate
like ours, sooner or later they will freeze and burst. Then I
end up getting an irate call from the client (usually on a
weekend) and have to spend time and money fixing the problem
— which could have been avoided by placing the pipes in
the floor cavity and not in the outside wall.
For this condition, I added the following item: "Lead and
production manager confirm no water pipes in outside cold walls
or cold floor overhangs that may freeze in the winter. Pipe
insulation is not an acceptable alternative to this."
Electrical boxes. Although they're
not as dire as leaks, I also have a problem with electrical
boxes that are installed too close to the trim. They look bad,
and sometimes the only way to get the cover plate on is to trim
the edge. Personally, I like to see an inch or so between the
top of the wainscot and the bottom of the cover plate.
After running into this issue on more than one occasion I added
this item: "Confirm layout of electrical, cable, and phone
outlets, and switches in walls that will be tiled. If
switches/plugs are above tile wainscot, be sure the bottom edge
of their cover plate is a minimum of 1 inch above wainscot.
Cutting the bottom edge off the cover plates is not an
acceptable solution to lack of planning and poor layout."
How We Use the List
The checklist exists as a spreadsheet on my computer. At the
beginning of each job, I print out a copy for the lead to keep
and use on site.
It's long and very detailed, but there's nothing on it I
wouldn't do myself if I were the one running the project. It's
basically an instruction manual that helps lead carpenters
— who may not be as experienced as I am — get
difficult details right, inspect what needs to be inspected,
and stay on top of scheduling and ordering.
Not every line or column gets used on every job. At the
beginning of each project, I go over the list with the lead; if
a line item does not apply, we strike it through with a pen.
Anything we don't strike through is required on that job.
If I want to remind the lead that a particular item is
especially important, I'll put an "X" in the column labeled "X
below if required."
Dates. Schedules are often fluid on
remodeling jobs, so we rarely use the column labeled "Date
Required." But we might use it when an item needs to be
selected by the client or when we need to order something with
a long lead time.
Who is responsible. The next three
columns — "Production Dept.," "Client Selection," and
"Estimating/Sales Dept." — have to do with who is
responsible for making a decision or dealing with a particular
We don't use these columns all the time, but when I want to
call attention to something I'll put an "X" in one of them. The
most frequently used of these columns is the one for client
Completed items. The last two columns —
"Date Completed" and "Lead Carp/PM initials to confirm
completion" — are used only some of the time.
For instance, the lead wouldn't fill them in to confirm that he
had finished installing the baseboard — I can tell that
by looking. But he would fill them in to indicate that he
inspected something that might not be visible when work is
complete, or that he performed an important action that would
be difficult to confirm later on.
Input from leads. The checklist is
very detailed, but that doesn't mean my leads are like robots
— there are plenty of issues they have to figure out on
their own. It's just that there are certain problem areas I
know how to deal with, and I don't want the crew to invent
solutions that may or may not work.
If we encounter a new situation, I may add something to the
list, and if the lead can convince me there's a better way to
do something, we'll change the instructions for that
Otherwise, the default position is to do it my way.
Our checklist contains 400-plus items and prints out to about
20 pages. That's a lot of items and a lot of pages. But face
it: If you do a whole-house remodel or an addition with a
kitchen in it, the number of decisions, details, and scheduling
issues that you deal with will come to many times that
There is no need to page back and forth through the checklist
because tasks are listed in the order they'll be done.
At the suggestion of one of my leads, we recently began
color-coding items. Job-scheduling items are in black, client
selections are in blue, and material-ordering items are in
orange (see checklist section).
Standard Operating Procedures
Even after we began using this checklist, there were times
things weren't done the way I wanted. When asked about it, lead
carpenters and subs often replied, "Well, I guess you could do
it that way, but I've never had a problem with it this way" or
"Oh, yeah, that's right. I forgot. Next time I'll do it that
After hearing those kinds of comments, I added a paragraph at
the top of the list reminding leads that certain items fall
under the category of company standard operating procedures
(SOP) and are not optional. To make those items stand out from
the rest, I color-code them in red.
Subs. One problem I've run into with
lead carpenters is that they are sometimes hesitant to tell a
sub he needs to do something our way, not the way he's used to
doing it. Since leads want to get along with the subs, they
sometimes let certain details slide.
The checklist makes it easier for leads to enforce the rules;
if the sub complains, the lead can show him the list and say,
"Nothing personal, but this is company policy and my boss will
come down on me if we don't do it this way."
The End Result
We started using this checklist a couple of years ago, and I
can definitely say that it has helped. There have been far
fewer cases in which I've arrived on site and had to ask
someone to rip something out because it isn't right.
My leads like being able to skim through the list to see if
there is anything they forgot to take care of. Once a week I
visit each job to review the list with the lead. I can't say
the leads enjoy the documentation part of it, but I think they
see the value in it.
Many of the items the checklist contains would be second nature
to a lead with 20 years of experience. I've found that if a
lead is a good carpenter and refers to the list often enough,
he can run a fairly complex job even if he has only five years
The Production Schedule & Quality-Control Checklist —
as we've formally dubbed it — has been helpful as a sales
tool as well. It impresses prospective clients and shows a
level of organization and systemization that few contractors
have. In short, it gives prospects confidence that they'll
receive a quality job.
To download a copy of the entire checklist, go to
This section of the checklist — items 238 through 242
— pertains to vinyl shower-pan liners. The lead carpenter
is expected to perform these tests and inspections and confirm
that he did so by writing the date and his initials in the far
right-hand columns. An earlier item reminds the lead to install
blocking for the pans during the framing stage.
The notes in the checklist are color-coded so that different
types of tasks are easier to identify. Blue items have to do
with customer selections and are important to track because
they require lead time. Scheduling reminders are in black,
material-ordering reminders are in orange, and standard
operating procedures are in red.
Jud Aley is a
second-generation builder and remodeler in Westport, Conn. He
owns R.J. Aley Building Contractor.