Framing a business' bottom line

Local contractors nail down factory efficiency

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— The construction framing industry is no different than any other time is money when it comes to pounding nails.

Sean Walsh of Western Framing and Siding, and Shane Ferris of Ferris Framing, have evolved a style of building that they believe allows them to frame luxury condominium and townhome units in Steamboat Springs more efficiently. That efficiency translates into a better bottom line.

Instead of waiting for foundations to become ready for framing to begin, the two businessmen rented an undeveloped piece of ground behind the D Bar K Motel on U.S. 40 to serve as their yard. They built a large wooden platform to get their carpenters out of the mud and snow last fall, and started framing walls offsite.

Ferris had the contract to frame the large Canyon Creek at Eagleridge project this past winter and is currently contracted to frame the Mountaineer for general contractor Mountain Habitats. Ferris and Walsh have teamed up to carry out the two contracts.

The decision to frame offsite began when they realized they were weeks behind their original schedule before they ever got started at Canyon Creek.

"When you walk on a project and you're three months behind," a framing contractor has to find a way to make up for lost time, Walsh said.

He has a background in large-scale production carpentry acquired during 15 years of working in the Los Angeles area. The strategy he and Ferris are employing in Steamboat is different from what takes place at large subdivision in Southern California but, to their knowledge, it's still different from what most contractors do here.

In the Los Angeles area, teams might work their way through an entire subdivision performing specific tasks on each building, before moving on to the next and repeating the exact same job. In the Yampa Valley, the scale of the projects isn't large enough to allow that approach, Walsh said. However, they have realized efficiencies by building offsite.

"It turns it basically into a factory situation," Walsh said.

One of his carpenters is assigned the task of cutting lumber for one component of a 2-by-6-foot exterior wall and repeats that exact task as many times as is necessary. That alone saves the time wasted on a job site when carpenters walk around looking for the right power tool as they shift among different tasks.

But the biggest time saver comes from the carpenters organizing their materials and knocking out the same cuts of dimensional lumber in repetition.

Framing walls in a yard also allows a construction foreman to more closely supervise his workers and make certain everyone is on task. Carpenters have a tendency to wander off and chat with other workers on the job when they are framing on site, Walsh said.

When exterior walls are framed offsite, everything must be labeled carefully; the actual walls are given a number that corresponds to a number on the construction plans. And the supervisor at the job site has to pay close attention to make sure walls are being installed in the right place.

Walsh and Ferris are using an adapted version of framing offsite at the Mountaineer, currently under construction on Medicine Springs Drive, near the base of the ski area.

The project includes a total of 28 custom townhome units, two to a building. Each is priced in the range of $500,000 to $600,000. Among the 12 units in phase II being built this summer, Walsh and Ferris framed the first and third units offsite, while the concrete foundations were being poured.

The first building went up quickly, and the framing crews are in the midst of building the second pair of townhomes onsite. They expect the second building to progress rapidly they'll frame the building, install the trusses and sheath the roof within 10 days.The walls for the third building are already assembled and waiting for construction to begin.

Mountaineer developer Jim Darcy came here from Crested Butte 12 years ago.

He said he was impressed with how successful Ferris and Walsh were with offsite framing on Canyon Creek, and the system has worked well on his project, he added.

"We're selling about one unit a month since the model unit has been completed and he plans to build 12 units and a pool this summer," he said. "This fall, we'll evaluate where we are with construction and sales," before determining whether to launch directly into the third phase of the Mountaineer.

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