The Bridge

For our continuing discussion of referencing techniques, this month’s subject, color coding for reference purposes, could not have come at a better time. Currently, I am working on a very large and complex project that lends itself in every way to the usefulness and application of color coding for reference. It is a 46-story hotel tower in the heart of New York City: Times Square.

It is on complex projects like this that color coding for reference proves most useful and becomes an essential part of the referencing process.

I have been fortunate in my experience as an estimator to be involved with almost every type and size of construction project. This list would include apartment and office buildings, hotels, dormitories, jails, museums, stadiums, department stores, zoos, restaurants, etc. Being based in New York City—the capital for design and construction in the United States (if not the world)—has made this experience possible. It has also forced me to adapt creative methods to produce an accurate quantity survey every time. No matter how large, small, difficult, etc., the project, the key to success is always consistency—referencing is the foundation of this.

Know where to begin

Last month, we talked about indexing the drawings. As part of that discussion, I mentioned how I use different color tags and/or colored pens to distinguish drawing types and categories from one another and how effective it is. Of course, the most common use of color coding concerns the actual quantity survey, but that is a discussion for another day. However, reference color coding does overlap with this, as we shall see. Ironically, most estimators (in my experience) neglect this form of referencing. On a large and very complex project, such as this hotel, it is most effective and necessary. I can and will easily spend a day or more on referencing this job, but it will save me at least two or three times that in effort and increased accuracy.

To begin, I want to work with the floor plans (in 1/8-inch scale). A typical floor plan includes indicators for sections, elevations, details, wall types, door numbers, room name/number, etc. Needless to say, at first glance it can be quite intimidating and hard on the eyes and brain. For any type of sectional indicator, I highlight it in orange. Likewise, I highlight elevations in green, details in blue, wall-type targets in yellow and room names/numbers in fluorescent yellow. The cumulative effect is dramatic.

The previous maze of indicators, targets, etc., are now easily distinguished from one another by category. My brain knows automatically, by color distinction, what it is I am looking at. The floor plans are in 1/8-inch scale but there are also part plans for the guestrooms in 1/4-inch scale. Again, I follow the same color scheme for the indicators on these part plans but I must do one thing more: I must distinguish the demising walls between units and public spaces.

These walls will be measured off of the floor plan itself but I must be able to isolate each room so I can take advantage of duplications, symmetry, etc., as well as work with the larger scale part plans that contain more information and thus are more desirable to use in the quantity survey. In this case, I will use the same color coding for these demising walls as I chose for the floor plan and transpose them onto the guestroom plans.

Next, I do the same for the reflected ceiling plans. Very often, RCPs lack the definition of a floor plan, including section and elevation indicators and room names/numbers. Thus, I must coordinate with the floor plan the location(s) of these indicators, transpose them on the RCP, and then color code them in the referencing color scheme.

Furthermore, for a complex RCP, such as a lobby area or ballroom floor, to help me distinguish elements of the walls and columns from ceiling elements like the fascias, soffits, headers, light coves, etc., in coordination with the floor plan, I will color in all walls and columns in orange. The effect before and after the actual color coding of the fascia/soffit/ceiling types is startling. I could easily mistake a line on the RCP for a wall when really it is a fascia or header. In a way, it is a transposition of the floor plan on the RCP.

Beware of obstacles

This job is unusual in that the door “tag” on the floor plan was actually an all-inclusive code for the door/frame/

hardware type. As such, there was not a specific door schedule to work directly from so I had to define each door tag on each floor and/or part plan with a color code that first defined the door/frame type and, second, the hardware set. A typical code might be S01-25.

In this case the S01 defines a single swing (S/S) 1-hour-rated solid core wood door in a hollow metal frame. The “25” defines hardware set number 25. For a S/S SC wood door in a HM frame, the code is green, thus S01 is highlighted in green. Had it been a S/S HM door in a hollow HM frame, it would have been blue, etc. Regardless of the door/frame type, the hardware is always highlighted in orange (accessory hardware is always dealt with separately from the door and frame).

For building elevations and/or building sections, I will also highlight indicators for sections, details, etc., in the established color scheme. For a job such as this with a very complex exterior wall configuration that includes a curtainwall system, brick and even ceramic tile (on light-gauge framing and sheathing), easily understanding the building elevations and sections is critical for these to establish the location and relationships of the buildings construction system.

Also, for the plan sections and plan details that are most important in defining the elements of the construction materials, I will use color coding to distinguish and identify the elements relevant to my trade.

For example, the “stick built” exterior wall at the hotel’s lower floors interfaces with other systems including the curtain wall system. To help define these elements, I color code the interior gypsum board in yellow, batt insulation with pink, gypsum sheathing in blue, wood blocking in light green and plywood in dark green. This inclusion of a color code not only quickly tells me what is going on in a complicated detail, it also defines to me what is and what is not within my trade’s scope of work.

Remember, an estimator is like a Hollywood director—you’re only as good as your last picture. In estimating, you are only as good as your last estimate. Try some of these methods for yourself and don’t let anyone tell you you are wasting time. If it helps you do a better job, you are wasting time by not doing it. Every estimate you produce should be an improvement on the previous one. Next month, we will take up the subject of schematics and their important uses in referencing.