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Computers and Construction
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Kingston Whig-Standard. Jan. 31, 1998

By John Thomas

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Ontario Home Builder’s annual Building and Renovation Forum in Toronto. Lots of exciting new ideas about building and renovating. Furnaceless houses. Next Steps in Computerizing Your Business. Next week, I’m giving a talk to the Renovator’s Council on using the Web for contractors.
 Was it only five years ago I took an Introduction to Computers at St. Lawrence Co.? Back then, I swore I’d never get a computer. Computers, I said, were glorified pencils. Not for me. But to prove it, I took the course. As soon as I finished, of course, I bought my first shiny new 286 and joined the techno-bores. And now, several generations later, and wishing my Pentium were an MMX, my construction business is completely driven by computers.
 What’s the big deal about computers? Let me tell you how the construction world estimates a project. There are four components to an estimate: labour, materials, subcontractors and equipment. The cost of equipment and subcontractors are relatively easy to figure. But the cost of labour and materials represents a wide database of items.
Consider hanging a door. Is it interior or exterior? Light or heavy jamb? Clad or not? Fire-rated? Wood? Steel? 32”? 34”? Each estimate contains hundreds of these items. In the bad old days, each item had to be individually repriced or fudged from memory. It was like constantly re-inventing the wheel. And there was tremendous room for variation in each estimate.
The computer remembers all this stuff. The material item and the associated labour time to install it all contained in a database that can be constantly refined and improved. The estimate can be broken down in a variety of ways. Want to see the job without the kitchen? The computer can filter it with a few keystrokes.
Drawing is the other aspect of computers that provides mind-boggling power over design and costing. The new programs literally draw in 3-D. And these are drawings  more accurate than hand-drawn, faster to produce, and integrated with estimating programs.
And then there’s the Internet. Figure the alternatives. You can rent a space in the Yellow Pages the size of your thumbnail for $100/month. Big enough to insert your name and phone number. Or you can have a Home Page on the Internet for about $100 a year. And on your Home Page you can have pages and pages of text, photographs of jobs, even sound. And you can change and update the info as often as you want. This advertising is not for worldwide seekers of your services. It’s for anyone in the local area who’s on the Web, which includes more of us everyday.
Sure, it takes a while to learn this stuff, and there’s a cost involved, but it allows you to work more quickly and as a result, more economically than ever before. It’s like your first table saw. Why did you wait so long to get it?
That’s the big deal about computers. And why I’ve joined the techno-bores.


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