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Automation in Construction 8 Ž1999.


The causes and costs of defects in construction

A study of seven building projects
P.-E. Josephson ) , Y. Hammarlund
Department of Management of Construction and Facilities, Chalmers UniÕersity of Technology, S-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden
Accepted 29 October 1998


To perform rational defect prevention, it is necessary to have knowledge about defects, their causes and associated costs.
The purpose of the study presented here is to stimulate improvements by indicating where preventive measures are most
effective as well as how to perform them. A study of defects in construction was performed during the period 1986–1990. A
new and deeper study has been performed by the same research group during 1994–1996. Seven building projects have each
been monitored during a 6 month-period. Observers spent 8 h a day at the site analysing and describing defects occurring. A
total of 2879 defects have been collected and fully described, including their root causes. Formal interviews with 92 key
persons have been made. q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Building project; Causes of defect; Defect; Defect cost; Quality cost

1. Introduction Economics and Construction Management at

Chalmers University of Technology and ‘R & D-
The conditions for construction are constantly West’; a group of construction companies in Swe-
changing. To succeed, companies must develop and den. The study is a continuation and deepening of a
improve continuously. Changes must be based on study carried out during 1986-1990 by the same
knowledge of both the environment and one’s own R & D group. In this new study the main focus is on
work. In this situation knowledge of the nature of the causes of defects, including underlying causes.
defects that have occurred is important. With such
knowledge, effective actions can be taken to improve
the process. 1.1. Defect studies
In this paper, a study made in seven construction
companies is presented. The nature of defects de-
There are a large number of studies of defects
tected during production is discussed.
occurring in the production and maintenance phases.
The study was performed during 1994-1996 in
However, there are only a limited number of studies
cooperation between the Department of Building
about the briefing and design phases.
The cost of defects occurring during production is
stated to be 2-6% of the cost of production
Corresponding author w1,12,10,25x. In our first study, the defect cost in one

0926-5805r99r$ - see front matter q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 2 6 - 5 8 0 5 Ž 9 8 . 0 0 1 1 4 - 9
682 P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687

Table 1 breaks up. Most actors only take part for a limited
The origin of defects in a number of studies Ž% of total defect time. Therefore, the organisation is continuously
changing during the process. This study was per-
During During
formed to find potentials for improvements in these
production maintenance
"R&D-West" Summary of Summary of
Some of the most important roles in a building
1986–1990 w10x several studies several studies
project organisation are played by the client, de-
Client 3 5–15 0
signer, contractor, sub-contractor, material supplier,
Design 20 15–30 40–55
Production 54 35–55 20–45 machine supplier, and the user. It is through the
Material 20 5–20 5–15 coordinated actions of these actors that the building
Maintenance 0 0 5–10 is actually built. In similar ways, defects in the
Other 3 0–15 0–10 product or in the process can be ascribed either to
the actors or to the coordination amongst them.

2.2. Defect— a chain of eÕents

building project was approximately 6% of the pro-
duction cost. The cost of defects occurring during the The evolvement of all defects can be considered
maintenance phase is stated to be 3–5% of the as a chain of events including cause, erroneous
production cost w19,20,22,24x. action, manifest defect, consequence and corrective
The origin of defects occurring during production measure w3x. This model of a defect constitutes the
is principally in production, but also in design basis for our study.
w2,4,10,11,14x. In our first study, 54% of the defect
cost could be attributed to production; 34% to site 2.2.1. Cause
management and 20% to workmanship w10x. The We define cause, in accordance with Ref. w9x, as a
origin of defects occurring during maintenance is proven reason for the existence of a defect. Often
principally in design, but also in production there are several causes of the same erroneous ac-
w7,15,19,20,24x. A summary of a number of defect tion. There may be either combined causes, or a
studies is presented in Table 1. chain of causes. For that reason, the term ‘root
Organisations consist of individuals who co-oper- cause’ is sometimes used to describe the most basic
ate towards a specific goal. Therefore, it is natural reason for an undesirable condition. If the root cause
for the defects to be ascribed to individuals is eliminated or corrected, this will prevent the recur-
w5,10,16,18x. It is generally believed that defects are rence of the defect w8,26x. The direct causes of
caused by lack of knowledge, lack of information or defects can primarily be attributed to individuals.
lack of motivation. Carelessness is stated to be the However, every action by an individual is influenced
most common cause w2,10,16,17x. Lack of knowl- by conditions. If individuals are to find it worthwhile
edge is often mentioned as the second most common to act at all, motivation, expectations and commit-
cause of defects, but information is also often men- ment are necessary w3x. MotiÕation is people’s desire
tioned. Although defects are ascribed to individuals, to contribute, through their own actions, to the resul-
the basic cause can be found in organisational phe- tant organisational action. Expectations imply that
nomena. individuals believe that their actions will result in an
organisational action. Commitment means that in
order to achieve something together, people must
2. Frame of reference have some ‘control’ over one another, i.e. they must
be able to rely on certain types of behaviour and
2.1. The roles certain attitudes in the rest of the team. This control
is secured by the creation of mutual commitment.
Building project organisations are temporary. Henceforth, we use ‘motivation’ to describe the sum
When the project is completed, the organisation of these three conditions.
P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687 683

Motivation alone is not enough. If an individual is rely on opinions from the actual organisation. Non-
to act correctly, on the basis of hisrher own personal fulfilment of these opinions gives rise to defects.
prerequisites, the individual must also have the nec- The changes which are made because of new or
essary knowledge and the necessary information for changed needs during production or use phase are
the specific task. Knowledge is information and not seen as defects.
understanding about a subject which a person has in
his or her mind or which is shared by all human 2.2.3. Consequences and correctiÕe measures
beings w6x. Knowledge includes skill and experience. By ‘consequence’, we mean all consequences of a
Skill is the knowledge and ability that enables you to manifest defect, which includes consequences for
do something such as a job, game, or sport very well both the product and the process. By ‘corrective
w6x. Experience is knowledge or skill of a particular measure’, we mean all actions performed with a
job that you have gained because you have worked view to completely or partly remedying manifest
at the job for a long time w6x. Information about the defects, and their consequences. The extent of conse-
operation is received in communication between in- quences and corrective measures taken constitutes
dividuals or between organisations. the defect cost.
Motivation, knowledge and information are mutu-
ally dependent w13x. For instance, insufficient infor-
mation involves lower motivation. 3. The method
The concepts of risk and stress are also used in
the analysis of causes. Calculated risk is part of all The method used is based on our study performed
actions, and thus it is difficult to avoid defects from 1986 to 1990 w10,13x. The method has been
entirely. The term ‘risk’ implies that there is a modified to a minor extent. The organisation of the
probability of a defect. ‘Calculated risk’ means a study, i.e., the group of companies and the research
conscious probability of defects. Higher calculated group, is the same as in the first study.
risk means that a higher probability of defects is
accepted. 3.1. The building projects
Stress seems to characterise temporary organisa-
tions. Stress is the general reaction of an organism, In this study, six projects are each being followed
which is activated when the individual is threatened up during a six-month period, and one project is
w23x. followed up for four months. The seven projects are
being performed by different companies. The pro-
jects have been chosen with the intention of acquir-
2.2.2. Erroneous action and manifest defect ing knowledge about different types of projects.
We distinguish between erroneous action and Some characteristics are presented in Table 2.
manifest defect, i.e., the result of an erroneous ac-
tion. The manifest defect is a non-desired condition
Table 2
in the product or process. We start from Ref. w21x,
The building projects
which author defines defect as ‘the non-fulfilment of
Project Type New Type Production Time
intended usage requirements’. constructionr of cost Žmonths.
Some requirements are given by law and in regu- conversion contract ŽSEK M.
lations, building standards, etc., as well as in contract A Museum NewrConv General 30 12
documents, site meeting records and other project B School New Turnkey 130 13
documentation. However, not all requirements can C University New General 100 16
be specified. Every individual also has non-ex- D Industry New Turnkey 21 14
pressed basic needs. There are also many details E Housing Conversion General 15 4
F Fire station New Turnkey 55 15
which are difficult to specify. These demands are G Shopping Conversion General 30 13
referred to as ‘usage’ requirements. Sometimes the centre
specified requirements are wrong. In such cases we
684 P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687

Ø Project A is a conversion of an old museum, six-month period. One observer is placed at each
and a technically complicated new construction of an site. The observer has no other task than to register,
entrance. It has a complicated client organisation, follow-up and describe defects occurring.
including several authorities to consult, strict saving By making rounds on site, the observer has daily
demands and small spaces. For reasons of financing, contact with all the personnel, the building contrac-
the time of production was cut down from 17 to 12 tor’s as well as the subcontractor’s personnel. When
months. necessary, the observer contacts the client, designers,
Ø Project B mainly concerns a new construction material manufacturers, etc. He takes part in meet-
of an upper secondary school. For part of the build- ings and reads all documentation. Each observer has
ing, the framework of an old fire station is used. The been educated in the method and introduced at the
school personnel were not employed when the con- site. During the study the observer and the re-
struction work started. There were specific demands searchers have continuous contact. At special meet-
for an allergy-free school. This is a complex building ings, the observers compare notes.
because of the many different methods and materials The observers are engineers or civil engineers.
used. Six of them have less than ten years and one has 30
Ø Project C is a new construction of a university years of experience from construction. Our first study
building. The building is of high technical standard, showed that young people with only limited experi-
especially the ventilation. The time of production ence of construction are the most successful in the
was shortened from 20 to 16 months at a very late data collection. People with more experience tend to
stage. The project organisation consists of companies perceive some situations as normal and for that
and individuals who have worked together before. reason fail to describe them as defects.
Ø Project D concerns a new construction of two The data collection consists of three main parts.
similar multi-dwelling blocks, which are similar to Ø Defect descriptions. Each defect is described
two 5-year old blocks in the same area. The total on a special form. Approximately 20 questions are
price has been forced down because the contract is coded. They are supplemented with detailed descrip-
part of a larger contract. The production work is tions of causes, erroneous action, manifest defect,
strongly influenced by a large development pro- consequences and corrective measures. The defect
gramme in the company. The site is exposed to cost is estimated. Sketches, drawings and pho-
strong winds. tographs are appended. A total of 2879 defects were
Ø Project E is a conversion of an industry build- registered. Some of them consisted of several similar
ing, with a very short production time. Many work defects.
activities are ongoing at the same time. Periodically, Ø Project description. To enable the analysis,
there are lot of workers in small spaces. The building each building project is fully described. Among other
includes many installations. Except for these charac- things, the project organisation and the site organisa-
teristics, it is quite a simple construction. tion changes during the process, systems for leading,
Ø Project F concerns a new construction of a fire planning methods, policies regarding choice of sub-
station. Part of the building includes many installa- contractors, etc., activities included and their interde-
tions. For this, the authorities have high security pendence, are described. Schedules, drawings, site
requirements. Major user influence during produc- meeting records and diary are appended. Costs and
tion. times for the whole project and for separate physical
Ø Project G is a conversion of several shops in a elements, activities and materials are stated.
large shopping centre. Quite a divided site with a Ø InterÕiews. In each project, the research group
great deal to be taken into consideration because the interviews 10–15 key persons. Each interview is
shops are open during production. approximately 1 h. The interviews are tape-recorded
and transcribed in full afterwards. During the inter-
3.2. Data collection
views, the characteristics of the building project are
One starting-point is to register and analyse all mainly discussed. This type of interview was not
defects occurring in the building projects during a made in our first study.
P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687 685

4. Results not been registered as defects. There were also prob-

lems with deliveries of prefabricated concrete ele-
The analysis of the primary data of the study is ments.
ongoing. The following results, particularly those Ø In project E, many problems arose because the
concerning root causes, are hence preliminary. project was an intensive one, with many workers in
small spaces. Several workers described the project
4.1. Number of defects and defect cost as ‘messy’. The main defect was a delayed elevator
The number of defect descriptions varies between Ø In project F, there have been some late changes
283 and 480 per project. Since some descriptions because of the user’s influence during production.
contain several similar defects, the real number of The design process was described as faulty. The
defects is higher. The defect costs arising during the inexperienced manager of the design process felt that
time of the study vary between 2.3 and 9.4% of the he should have directed the process more firmly.
production cost Žsee Table 3.. Ø Project G was described as ‘messy’ because of
Among noteworthy conditions, the following can the fragmented site and the adaptations of the pro-
be mentioned. duction work to the opened shops that had opened.
Ø In project A, the time for a complex blasting Many customers had to cross the site to reach the
was gravely underestimated, so the whole project site. The contractor received a lot of extra orders
was delayed. Severe savings demands involved sev- from the shops, which involved delays in the con-
eral changes in the production method. The compli- tract.
cated organisation involved many last-minute in-
structions from the client. 4.2. The origin of defects
Ø In project B, the contractor received extra
orders for SEK 4 M. One reason was that no school
The analysis indicates that, on average, 32% of
personnel were employed when the production
the defect costs originated in the early phases, i.e., in
started. Only a few of these extra orders have been
relation to the client and the design. Approximately
registered as defects.
45% of the defect cost originated on the site, i.e. in
Ø Project C was successful according to several
relation to the site management, the workers
actors. The largest defect was a part of the ventila-
and the sub-contractors. Approximately 20% of the
tion pipes, which fell down.
defect cost originated in materials or machines Žsee
Ø In project D, the total price was exceeded.
Table 4..
Many extra tasks were imposed on both the site
In three projects, design defects were the largest.
managers and the workers, and the situation was
Defects attributed to sub-contractors dominate in two
stressful. The project was exposed to many distur-
projects. Project E is dominated by the delayed
bances because of the weather; however these have
elevator contract.

Table 3 4.3. The causes of defects

Number of defects and defect cost
Project Number of defects Defect cost The causes were often difficult to identify, which
ŽSEK. Ž% of prod. cost. means that our results should be extrapolated with
A 454 750 000 4.6 caution. In most situations, we found that the indi-
B 441 106 0000 3.1 vidual who gave rise to a defect had the necessary
C 371 610 000 2.3 knowledge and right information for the specific
D 376 1 530 000 9.4 task, but that the cause was lack of motivation. An
E 283 930 000 6.2
F 474 1 050 000 3.6
average of 50% of the defect cost could be attributed
G 480 1 330 000 4.8 to this category Žsee Table 5.. A deeper analysis
indicates that most ‘motivation defects’ are due to
686 P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687

Table 4
The origin of defects Ž% of total defect cost.
Project Client Design Site management Workmanship Subcontractors Materials Machines Other
A 9 13 27 8 30 8 5 0
B 4 47 5 14 17 12 1 0
C 7 38 6 5 30 13 1 0
D 0 21 20 27 5 22 4 1
E 10 18 2 5 7 51 1 6
F 2 33 23 14 8 13 5 2
G 13 18 14 5 37 3 2 8
Average 6 26 14 13 18 17 3 3

forgetfulness or carelessness. Only a few of the Ø Stability in the client organisation. Key per-
‘motivation defects’ were intentional. 29% of the sons were often changed. The project organisation
defect cost was caused by lack of knowledge, while lost time and knowledge through these changes.
a small part was ascribed to lack of communication, Ø Client’s project control. The client often used a
stress and risk. long time to come to decisions necessary for design-
ers and contractors. Their day-to-day plan was often
4.4. Causes per actor changed while waiting.
Ø User inÕolÕement. In some projects several
An analysis of causes for each actor has been groups of users visited the site in late stages and
made. Table 6 presents the average for the projects. consequently gave their points of view Žtoo. late.
For design defects, 44% of the defect cost was found Ø Time pressure. Designers and contractors
to be caused by lack of knowledge. For defects in worked under conditions of high time pressure.
site management, 50% of the cost was caused by Ø Composition of the project organisation. The
motivation. For defects in workmanship, motivation work in projects with people and groups of people
dominated but risk is also identified as a cause. For who had worked together before ran considerably
the subcontractors, 47% of the defect cost was found more smoothly than the work in other projects.
to be caused by motivation. Ø Cost pressure. Lowest bid is still a common
strategy in choosing suppliers. However, this cost
4.5. Root causes pressure spread through the organisation, from client
to contractor, from contractor to sub-contractor etc.
The root causes of the defects are now subject for Ø Support to the site organisation. The contrac-
analysis. However, some preliminary causes have tors’ management at the main office did not give
been identified. enough support to their site managers.
Ø To motiÕate people. Activities aimed at moti-
vating workers on site were lacking.
Table 5
The causes of defects Ž% of total defect cost.
Project Knowledge Information Motivation Stress Risk
Table 6
A 46 13 33 0 8 Causes of defects for each category of actors Ž% of defect cost per
B 27 15 36 5 17 actor respectively.
C 36 24 36 1 3
D 30 8 58 4 0 Actor Knowledge Information Motivation Stress Risk
E 8 21 49 10 12 Design 44 18 35 2 1
F 35 4 60 1 0 Site management 31 8 50 6 5
G 18 14 60 2 6 Workmanship 12 2 69 1 16
Average 29 12 50 3 6 Subcontractors 27 13 47 3 10
P.-E. Josephson, Y. Hammarlundr Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 681–687 687

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