“We can build anything.”
I’ve heard contractors say this kind of thing before, and it makes me shudder. Yes, with enough time and enough money you can build anything, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I can perform dental work, but I can’t promise it’ll go very well.
Let me be clear: gas station construction is not rocket science. It is, however, a unique construction project with unique challenges and characteristics. Over the past 33 years, we’ve built more gas stations throughout Texas than we can count. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, which have become lessons. And we want to share these lessons with you.
1. Select your contractor on value, not price.
This really goes for any vendor/subcontractor type relationship, but particularly in construction. For example, if we hire a mason that is $20,000 lower than two other bidders, it doesn’t mean they’re just really cheap – it means they’ve missed something. The same goes for hiring a general contractor. Because Texas doesn’t require GCs to be licensed, there are plenty of folks out there who will low bid a project without knowledge. And what happens in this situation? The cheap GC has hired awful subcontractors or missed parts of the scope in their bid, so they get strung out monetarily and start sending over change order requests to the owner. That cheap GC becomes an exorbitant GC and a 6 month project becomes a 12 month project. Long story short, select your GC based on the completeness of their bid, their reputation, and their experience – not the sticker price.
2. Get a rockstar architect.
We cannot emphasize this enough. As with the previous point, if you simply choose based upon sticker price for your architect you will soon regret it. Though a licensed architect has acquired the requisite knowledge and discipline to become licensed, it doesn’t mean they’re any good.
A good architect will save you money in the following ways:
- More complete plans and thus less costly change orders
- Savvy advice as to how to keep costs low while maximizing design and aesthetics
- Responsiveness/problem solving skills which keep the project moving at a good pace (we’ve seen architects bog down jobs from slow response to RFIs and other questions)
Now you do have to be careful with pricing, however. We have seen architect fees vary widely (and perhaps arbitrarily). Thus, while sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes you just pay more. Vet the architect by talking to their clients and then consider their fees.
3. Make sure the tank setters use concrete deadmen.
Underground fuel storage tanks are like giant buoys. That is to say, they are large hollow cylinders which would certainly float if placed on a body of water. So, with that in mind, what do you think happens when you lay tanks in a hole and then groundwater, rain, or runoff fills the hole? Well, physics happens. The tanks will float. If you have concrete or finished dirt over the tanks, it can create quite a mess and can damage the tanks.
In any gas station construction project, the tank setters should use concrete deadmen to weigh down the tanks until they are full of fuel. These deadmen are just giant weights strapped to the tanks that will keep them from floating if water gets in the tank hole.
4. Ensure the concrete subcontractor uses curing compounds when pouring concrete.
Not all concrete subcontractors use curing compound in Texas, and it is a recommended practice to make sure the concrete cures properly. Here is how the Portland Cement Association’s website defines the purpose of a curing compound:
“Membrane-forming curing compounds are used to retard or reduce evaporation of moisture from concrete. They can be clear or translucent and white pigmented. White-pigmented compounds are recommended for hot and sunny weather conditions to reflect solar radiation. Curing compounds should be applied immediately after final finishing.”
Basically, curing compounds are an aid to make sure the concrete cures properly. Sometimes owner specifications require curing compound, and sometimes they don’t – but it’s advisable to use curing compound on every pour– especially in projects with huge square footage of concrete like gas stations. It’s pretty cheap and it’s worth the peace of mind.
5. Keep the money flowing and resolve change orders quickly.
This is a big one. Gas station construction projects require consistent and quick funding to keep the work moving. Subcontractors have crews and material to pay for, and if payment is strung out to the GC that means the subs aren’t getting paid quickly. This can slow the work and result in increased costs to all parties. Further, it is highly advisable that change orders are resolved very quickly – either accepted or rejected – so that the work does not slow down. In addition to speeding up the project, quick resolution of change orders reduces the likelihood of conflict at the end of the project.
In addition to the considerations above, there are many other factors to bear in mind when building a gas station. Like trust, for example. High trust between principal and contractor (and all other parties involved) not only creates a more pleasurable work environment, but also increases efficiency. Low trust creates stalemates, and stalemates cost money.
In the end, whether you’re building your first gas station or you’ve built hundreds, each project is unique. Enjoy the adventure, keep your head down, and we wish you all the best!