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Want to Reduce Waste and Inefficiency During Construction? Start with Design.

You may be tired of hearing about how the construction industry lags behind others in productivity and sustainability. But the realities of construction inefficiency and waste are costly enough to deserve greater attention. 

The volume of construction waste generated worldwide every year will increase to 2.2. billion tons by the year 2025.

Source: Construction Waste Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast 2017 - 2025, Transparency Market Research

It’s estimated that 10% of construction materials go to waste, but that figure is likely much higher. Recent research suggests that more like 20% of construction materials go unused, and the American Institute of Architects says that building-related waste accounts for 25-40% of America’s solid waste. This equates to financial losses of over $160 billion, or 14% of the country's $1.13-trillion construction spending. 

Aside from the costs incurred, this waste also has environmental consequences, including more landfills, CO2 emissions, and pollution. The disposal of construction materials also creates safety issues and ultimately harms human health. Initiatives aimed to reduce, reuse, recycle, and rebuy construction and demolition materials can significantly reduce construction waste and begin to mitigate the damage being done. 

The costs of waste and inefficiency extend beyond tangible materials as well, resulting in more rework, RFIs, and change orders and contributing to the schedule delays and budget overruns that characterize most construction projects.

Stats around construction waste

These are just the symptoms of a bigger problem, though. To truly address construction waste, we must retrace our steps to see how we got here in the first place. To be clear, the objective of this type of inquiry isn’t to place blame but to identify the causes underlying the problem and, so we can begin to solve the problem once and for all. 

Understanding the Root Causes of Construction Waste & Inefficiency

Construction waste is generally defined as materials that don’t end up being used during construction. These materials include bricks, concrete, wood, electrical wiring, insulation, nails, and more. A study published in the Journal of Engineering Design and Technology in September 2019 identified six main causes of construction waste as shown below.

A deeper dive into these contributing factors reveals that issues like design and detailing errors, incomplete information, incorrect specifications, and poor communication and collaboration during the design stage represent a significant portion of the problem. A 2014 study of construction waste management attributes 33% of construction waste to a failure to reduce waste during the design process.

Reducing Construction Waste & Inefficiency at the Design Stage

Given that the design process arguably sets the direction for the project as a whole, it makes sense that process improvements at the design stage can begin to produce reductions in waste and improvements in efficiency that extend throughout the project lifecycle.

The use of technology like building information modeling (BIM) provides a starting point. By making it easier to convey design intent, BIM helps stakeholders achieve a common understanding of the project. But this is just scratching the surface of what BIM can do. When used as part of a constructible process and connected construction approach, BIM can provide measurable improvements in terms of time, money, materials, and resources. 

While using BIM to produce design models is well understood and widely utilized, BIM’s applications extend well beyond visualization. With the addition of constructible data, BIM models become content-enabled and provide the details and accuracy needed to drive efficiencies during construction and after. 

Constructible models eliminate wasted resources and materials, and allow for an unprecedented attention to detail before reaching the site.” 
—Jason Li, Senior Associate, VRBIM for M Moser Associates

When project stakeholders have access to content-enabled BIM models, they can identify and resolve problems before beginning work, and before materials are ordered. Surprises are minimized and as a result, rework, RFIs, and waste are, too. Constructible models provide the level of detail or development (LOD) needed to be construction-ready, as well as enabling contractors to take advantage of the time and cost savings of prefabrication, off-site fabrication, and automation of inefficient manual workflows in the field like construction layout and data capture.

Beyond BIM Basics: How to Realize the Efficiencies of a Constructible Process 

Designing models to a higher LOD is the first domino to trigger the changes needed to solve the costly problems of construction waste and efficiency once and for all. Given the technology available, the creation, sharing, and use of precise, construction-ready models isn’t just possible, it should be common practice. 

Constructible models are a great start when it comes to solving the root issues that ultimately lead to excessive construction waste and unnecessary inefficiency. But constructible models are just the beginning. To solve these issues and address other top AEC priorities like increased productivity, improved safety, and greater profitability, a holistic approach to constructibility is needed. 

“Leveraging a constructible process was instrumental in helping us achieve our efficiency goals.”
—Matt Hedke, Manager of Self-Perform for Barton Malow

To learn more about reducing construction inefficiency and see how others are realizing the benefits of a constructible process, get the white paper.