Quality System for Trade Contractors Gets Results

Three framing companies have consistently reduced quality defects by more than 50% while improving productivity and builder satisfaction since implementing the NHQ Quality System for Trade Contractors one year ago in a pilot project.

By Edward Caldeira, Director of Quality Services, NAHB Research Center | September 29, 2001
Edward Caldeira, Director of Quality Resources, NAHB Research Center


Three framing companies have consistently reduced quality defects by more than 50% while improving productivity and builder satisfaction since implementing the NHQ Quality System for Trade Contractors one year ago in a pilot project.

The system is now open to the entire residential industry through publications and workshops that can help trade contractors satisfy builder and home buyer demands for quality.

It is a milestone for integrating quality assurance into the construction process where it is needed most - with trade contractors who do the physical work building the houses.

The NHQ system is based on ISO 9000 quality management principles. Although ISO 9000 is well-established in conventional in-plant manufacturing, it is not common in home building. The NHQ system applies the ISO 9000 principles in a way that’s useful for the home building industry. The result is a model that applies to all types of trades.

The pilot project was conducted by a collaboration of the NAHB Research Center, the Wood Truss Council of America, K. Hovnanian, Del Webb Corp. and three framing contractors: All-Tech Construction, Del Webb Contracting Services and Schuck and Sons Construction. The project was sponsored by the NAHB, the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Project participants re-ported three reasons for improvement.

First, quality expectations are clearly documented by quality plans. The plans specify the right way to work with thoroughness that goes well beyond what’s found in typical scopes of work. There is no confusion when the quality assurance plan spells out construction details for each activity, specifies workmanship tolerances and prescribes work procedures including the use of materials and equipment.

"The system enhances what we are already doing," says Hank Zolkiewicz, division manager for Del Webb Contracting Services. "It just forces us to put everything in writing and be accountable for normal everyday tasks."

Second, field personnel are responsible and accountable for quality. Training reinforces expectations set through the quality plans. The quality message is reinforced through frequent discussions about company quality policies, management quality reviews, formal inspections and regular training on quality topics.

Quality performance is measured through the number of builder punchlist items, callback frequency and builder satisfaction ratings.

"The overall issue of creating accountability along the way ... increases our ability to correct the problem when you know where the responsibility lies and at what point in our process it occurred," says Jalsa Urubshurow, president of All-Tech Construction.

Third, a regular process of continuous improvement prevents recurring defects. Contractors take it upon themselves to analyze hot-spot quality issues. Regular hot-spot training of field personnel communicates the right way to do the job. One by one, recurring defects are effectively prevented. The longer the QA system remains in operation, the fewer quality defects will arise.

Participants expect progressively fewer quality defects during the coming years.

"Through our data collection, we are able to pinpoint errors and then focus our training where it’s needed most," says Frank Serpa, vice president of operations for Schuck and Sons. "This creates a continuing education and improvement cycle, which ultimately results in reducing callbacks."

Spurred by positive results, the quality system is being implemented through several initiatives.

Home builders are leading the way through trade partnering programs. Several local home builder associations are involving multiple builders in regional initiatives to create a critical mass of quality trade contractors that will benefit everyone. Several individual trade contractors are implementing the quality system on their own.

To support these efforts, project sponsors have backed a national initiative to educate, train and provide implementation assistance through the NHQ Certified Trade Contractor Program.

Related to the program is NAHB Research Center certification of trade contractors whose quality systems meet the program requirements and pass a series of independent quality system audits.

Learn more about how your company can get started by requesting the free NHQ Certified Trade Contractor Information Kit from the NAHB Research Center’s ToolBase Hotline at toolbase@nahbrc.ord or 800/898-2842.


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