Oh, the Mistakes I’ve Made

Jim Snyder
August 15, 2013
COLUMN : From the Field | Operations

Here are a few of my personal gems:

  • Ordering a 24-inch width when I meant to order a 2/4 width
  • Ordering a one-over-one double-hung when I should have ordered a full view picture window
  • Ordering equal sash when I should have ordered cottage sash
  • Ordering the default hardware color when it should have been a color option.

How can mistakes like these occur when I aim to be meticulous with the details and know full well that if an error is made, I am liable and out of pocket for the cost?

There are many decisions to be made―and understood―between you and the client. Sizing, product type, configuration and color selection are only a few “order error opportunities.” Factor in all the feature and performance options now available, along with changing requirements for code and tax credits, distractions like lead paint testing, last-minute change orders, and questions from the client while you measure, and it’s easy to see why even the most methodical takeoff can have an occasional error.

Errors don’t originate from any one source either. Sometimes an ordering error is simply that: my error, my fault. Other times, an error is more of a hidden misunderstanding. For example, I once ordered and installed a one-overone double-hung. When the client first saw the finished product, she reminded me that she had requested “no bars” when replacing her operable divided lite double-hung. I was puzzled for a moment as I looked back at the new, one-over-one window until she put her hand on the checkrail and said, “No bar.”

While not every mistake can be averted, here are some guidelines to keep errors to a minimum:

Every client has a preconceived notion of “window replacement.”

Find out what that is. You will save a lot of time, earn respect and avoid confusion if you ask at the initial meeting.

Treat jargon carefully.

While “window speak” is how we in the industry communicate, it is not familiar to consumers. One of two things happens if I use too much jargon: The client becomes glassy-eyed, or worse yet, they pretend to understand. At the same time, be careful when consumers initiate the trade terms. This can also lead you both down the wrong path. One client of mine adamantly used the term “casement” in describing the replacements she wanted for her double hungs. After some confused discussion, I found out that―to her―“casement” had nothing to do with window operation; it meant “divided lite.”

Perform a line-item review of the manufacturer’s detail sheet.

Once a bid is proposed, review every line item for at least one typical window with the client. You might uncover a misinterpreted or unaddressed detail. Again, convert the jargon to layman’s terms and show the diagram of the window that most software provides. This gives a relatable image for light pattern and operation.

Clarify what your window sample is not.

While a sample window is helpful for a presentation, it is only that, and can mislead a client if not the exact same (lite pattern for example) as what’s proposed for the job.

Have the client restate and describe what you are ordering.

I ask, “How do you understand this?” This can take a bit of finesse, but it helps disclose their understanding of what’s being proposed. Keep in mind that you are covering so much new material to most clients, so they can understandably be overwhelmed. This process caught a huge error with one client who, up until the very end, thought we were finalizing full frames when actually we were finalizing inserts. (We had discussed both options). He admitted that his mind just locked into full frame as we were discussing
other features.

Review your order when your mind is sharp.

Sometimes all you need is a fresh set of eyes to catch an impending mistake.

Always measure twice.

Need I say it? The old adage still holds true.

Ordering mistakes can be a blow to the wallet―and ego―when they occur, and can lead to uncomfortable conversations with clients. These seven points above are what I use to ensure I get it right the first time.

What tips can you add to this list?

Jim Snyder has worked in the residential new construction, remodeling and fenestration industries for more than two decades. His website, www.windowjim.com, features a regular blog on installation topics, and he welcomes questions and feedback from readers at jim@windowjim.com.