7 Reasons for Construction Schedule Delays

August 28, 2023

Construction projects may regularly see disruptions, errors, and conflicts that interfere with the team’s ability to complete projects on time. Regardless of whether these delays happen at the hands of someone along the construction chain of command, or they’re completely out of human control, construction delays can pose significant challenges for general contractors, trade teams, and clients. 

This article will cover the most common types and reasons behind construction delays, explore the various damages related to these delays, and explain how technology can help keep construction projects on schedule. In some cases, construction technology can even compress construction schedules to finish projects before the expected timelines. 

Financial Losses Due to Construction Delays

Delays in construction drain resources, money, and patience between the involved parties. In some cases, construction delays are unavoidable while other delays result from negligence or poor performance. In these situations, the liquidated damages clause enters the equation. 

The contract between the general contractor and owner should have a liquidated damages clause that defines the course of action that takes place when the general contractor fails to uphold his or her end of the contract in question. Utilizing a liquidated damages clause can help ensure agreement between the parties involved in a construction project, encourage delay mitigation, and avoid costly litigation in the case that delays do occur. 

The term “liquidated damages” refers to an agreed upon daily sum designed to cover the costs incurred each day that a project extends beyond its predetermined date of completion. These funds are typically subtracted from the sum an owner owes the contractor once the work has been completed. Defining an agreed upon sum increases security and assurance, reduces risk, and keeps costs reasonable.  

Types of Construction Delays

Several types of construction delays exist, and each one needs to be met with appropriate solutions. For example, some construction delays are critical while others are non-critical. Different outcomes are going to arise based on the type of delay, those responsible for the delay, the source of the delay, and the ability of the construction team to resolve the issue in a timely manner.

Let’s examine the three main types of construction delays.

  • Critical delay: A delay that materially affects the completion date and the party responsible for the critical delay must pay for the damages. 
  • Non-critical delay: A delay that does not materially affect the performance of the involved parties and does not warrant damages. 
  • Concurrent delay: A delay that both the employer and contractor are responsible for. In this case, the contractor is entitled to a time extension but not to claim damages. 

It’s also worth mentioning the principle of prevention in relation to construction delays. The principle of prevention means that the contractor cannot be held responsible for a delay if it was caused by another party. This issue may come up regardless of whether the delay is critical, non-critical, or concurrent.

Damages relating to these delays can qualify as liquidated damages, actual damages, or consequential damages.

  • Liquidated Damages: Before the start of the contract-defined project, the parties involved establish a liquidated damages clause within the contract. This clause determines the financial cost associated with delays, based on a forecast of estimated real costs and losses the first party would likely incur.
  • Actual Damages: When liquidated damages are not defined in the contract, contractors are liable for what’s known as “actual damages.” This means that the owner of the project presents the contractor with a list of costs that were the direct result of failure to complete the project by the agreed-upon time. These damages are usually related to materials and labor. 
  • Consequential Damages: These damages are those that occur as an indirect effect of the contract breach. Usually, consequential damages are related to project completion delays, but they can also result from performance issues.

What is a Delay Claim?

When a construction delay occurs, one party can submit what’s known as a delay claim to request that the party responsible for the delay pays for the resulting damages. This claim can be filed by the project owner when contractors and subcontractors submit their final records for settlement. In addition, the contractor or subcontractor may file a claim for loss if they are delayed by another party involved in the construction project.

There are three ways to analyze a delay claim:

  • Prospectively: This method involves predicting the impact of the delay on the construction’s progress and adding these predictions to the delay claim report.
  • Retrospectively: This method calls for evaluating the effects of the delay after it has occurred, then recording those results in the delay claim.
  • Contemporaneously: This method involves analyzing the impact of the delay while it is occurring, then recording the current issues in the delay claim.

Top 7 Reasons for Construction Schedule Delays

Delays in construction schedules can happen for various reasons, both large and small. That said, regardless of the size of the delay, the source of the delay, and the resulting damages, it’s far better to avoid them whenever possible. Being aware of the top delay contributors can help construction managers and contractors know how to identify potential factors that might cause delays and learn how to avoid or mitigate them. 

Here are seven of the most common causes of delays in the construction industry today. 

1. Difficulty Accessing Skilled Labor

Accessing skilled labor is a significant challenge for construction companies, one that can halt necessary work and consume time on schedules. Unfortunately, the labor shortage will continue to be a challenge for the construction industry, driven by a graying workforce, fewer workers entering the skilled trades, and increasing demand from mega-projects. With fewer contractors available, there is also higher pressure to allocate a work crew correctly for each step of the construction process. 

Construction technology like robotic layout is helping overcome the construction labor shortage by reducing reliance on manual labor for repetitive layout workflows, automating layout, compressing schedules, and reducing rework. 

2. Missing or Incorrect Data

Successful project completion relies on accurate and reliable data. Missing or incorrect data used during any design, layout, or installation steps can result in conflicts, delays, and remediation (rework) to resolve the problem. Completing this redundant work requires otherwise unnecessary time and resource investments, which slows the construction schedule considerably. 

Advances in virtual design and construction (VDC) software, such as building information modeling (BIM), helps centralize and improve data quality across design and trade teams. Working directly in the same model, teams can detect clashes between trades and adapt the designs in real-time. While this software has been instrumental in improving data sharing and quality during the design process, this accuracy hasn’t been carried into the field until now. 

With the development of automated layout by Dusty Robotics, the accuracy of the coordinated VDC model can be brought directly into the field. Automated layout ensures all trades’ designs get laid out accurately by printing the coordinated virtual model directly on the construction site surface. Installation can start sooner and with improved accuracy thanks to the centralized and reliable data. 

3. Mistakes & Conflicts

Manually measuring and marking layout for individual trades often leads to measurement errors and cross-trade conflicts. Mistakes made during manual layout are difficult to identify until the installation phase. And, even small discrepancies in layout and installation can produce significant conflicts across trades, resulting in time-consuming delays and rework. 

With an end-to-end layout solution, conflict discovery gets pushed upstream to the design phase. In addition to identifying conflicts directly in software, foremen from each trade can walk the length of the printed layout together, analyzing alignment and determining feasibility. Noah Bull, a Project Engineer at Level 5 INC. explains how automated layout greatly improved conflict identification for a multi-family apartment complex, “We’ve been able to find a lot of issues with MEPs and plumbing that might be off and fix that before we start any framing. That right there is saving us a huge amount of money.”

4. Miscommunication & Slow Approval

Miscommunication causes expensive and time-consuming issues that can ultimately decimate construction projects. Construction projects possess several moving parts, and communication breakdowns can impact viability of the project as a whole. Without a streamlined and effective process for communication across trades, important information can get lost, superseded by assumptions that lead to inaccuracies and errors. 

Notably, miscommunication results in $31 billion dollars in rework costs annually. Successful construction projects bake approval and trade communication into workflows. Utilizing construction technology such as VDC software and automated layout helps teams align regularly and in real-time. Better communication improves alignment, reduces risk, and increases the viability of construction projects. 

5. Budgeting Issues 

Incorrect estimates for materials, wages, labor hours, and the like can greatly hinder a project’s ability to progress. This is especially true when rework is required. In general, rework and conflict resolution cost the construction industry more than $177 billion annually in the US.

Reliable, real-time construction technology can assist construction professionals and contractors in developing highly accurate quotes for projects. By taking the time to budget correctly with technology, construction teams can also create a more realistic snapshot of construction costs as well as any budgetary constraints in the future. 

6. Change of Scope

Any modification or change in scope can cause the whole project to be reevaluated including scheduling, budget, quality assurance, and more. To avoid the need for changes of scope, invest in accurate and realistic forecasting from the beginning. Using a liquidated damages clause can help teams forecast the needs of a project, and incentivize all parties involved to stay within scope. In addition, maintaining clear, open communication between clients and general contractors can reduce the likelihood of changes in scope occurring. 

Technology including estimating software can help construction teams forecast, track, and measure project parameters. This alerts teams to potential problems and streamlines communication to ensure everyone is on the same page throughout the project lifecycle. 

7. Poor Weather

Extreme weather events can derail project timelines and capabilities. However, this is one factor truly out of everyone’s control. Though using a weather forecast application can help construction teams work around certain weather conditions, there’s no real way to contend with extreme weather events. 

Extreme weather can be dangerous to the safety of construction workers, as there are various risks associated with heat, cold, rain, and wind. For instance, winds exceeding 20 mph can knock a person off balance causing a high fall risk, and all construction work must cease when wind speeds exceed 25 mph.  

While weather cannot be prevented, construction teams can take preventative measures to protect themselves, the job site, and resources. It’s highly recommended for construction teams to use technology to consistently check the weather forecast and follow emergency advisories. Job sites should be kept clean and clear, with no loose items that could fall or be blown over by high winds. All electrical equipment should be properly grounded or double insulated, temporary electrical power should utilize ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and materials should be kept away from live electrical components. 

In addition, utilizing cloud-based technology can help protect valuable project data in the face of a weather event. Data loss only serves to exacerbate the complications that poor weather may bring. 

Investing in Technology to Prevent Construction Delays

Investing in reliable construction technology helps you instill trust, clarity, and efficiency in your construction projects. With Dusty Robotics, all trades can seamlessly work together with accurate and automated layout, preventing delays, optimizing budgets, compressing schedules, and reducing risk. Skanska, one of the world’s largest construction and development companies, used Dusty Robotics FieldPrinter to complete a best-in class healthcare facility 3 months ahead of schedule and $3 million under budget. Investing in your competitive edge pays off. 

Contact our team of experts to learn how you can get started with Dusty Robotics on your next construction project.

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August 28, 2023