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In What Category is That Construction Cost?

Seldom do two sources present information the same way!

In the construction industry, a disconnect exists in the reporting of construction starts data and actual spending data.  Problems may arise when data is used to perform comparisons or forecasts between starts and spending. New starts and backlog may be listed in one category and spending for the same markets may be listed in another.

Almost universally, reporting of construction economic actual spending data follows the U.S. Census Put-in-Place Spending format. I adjust all other construction starts input/forecasting data that I use to conform to these Census Put-in-Place definitions. Here are some pitfalls to be aware of:

The U.S. Census Construction Put-in-Place (Construction Spending) Release follows these definitions.

Residential spending data is about 35% renovations and improvements that has no units associated with the dollars, so cannot be included in a comparison to housing starts.

Demolition is not included in renovations/improvements. Partial repair of flood damaged homes is NOT included in residential improvements. Full replacement of flood damaged homes is included as improvements, not new single family. Here is Census definition of flood repairs

Offices includes pubic buildings such as city halls and courthouses. Includes data centers and bank buildings. Excludes medical office buildings, offices at manufacturing sites and offices at educational or healthcare facilities. Excludes Public Safety.

Commercial includes all retail buildings, warehouses, parking lots and garages. Excludes parking at educational/healthcare facilities.

Census DOES separate the costs for buildings that are mixed use retail/office/residential.

Educational, along with K-12, includes administrative offices, health centers, parking, residence halls, classrooms, educational research labs, food service and sports/recreation facilities at schools or colleges and universities and all associated infrastructure and maintenance facilities at the educational site. Also includes public libraries, science centers and museums.

Healthcare includes similar support and infrastructure to educational. Also includes medical office buildings, non-manufacturing and non-educational research labs.

Amusement and Recreation includes performing arts centers, civic centers, convention centers, sports and recreation facilities not located at schools or colleges.

Transportation includes air freight and passenger air terminals, runways, bus and railroad passenger terminals, light rail and subway facilities, railroad track, railway structures and bridges, docks and marine terminals and maintenance facilities and infrastructure associated with each.

 

Some sources of design or new construction starts data carry terminal buildings as commercial buildings, institutional buildings or other public nonresidential buildings. Census caries the building cost of all terminals grouped in with the non-building infrastructure costs of Transportation. Some sources carry public buildings such as city halls and courthouses as Public Safety but Census carries cost data for public buildings such as city halls and courthouses in Offices. Some sources classify laboratories as commercial and warehouses as industrial/manufacturing but Census includes warehouses in Commercial and Labs, depending on use, can be either Educational, Healthcare or Manufacturing.

 

Dodge Data New Construction Starts

Dodge includes monthly New Construction Starts for Terminals and Courthouses in Other Institutional Buildings, a Nonresidential Buildings category. The Census actual spending report includes Terminals in Transportation and Courthouses in Offices.

Although all of these still remain in Non-building Infrastructure, Dodge includes Rail, Mass Transit, Airport Runway and Pipelines in Other Public Works. Although not often mentioned by Dodge, it is assumed Communications is also included in Other Public Works.  Census includes all mass transit in Transportation, Communications is listed separately and pipelines are included in Power.

 

Constructconnect (CC) Construction Starts Forecast

New starts for Transportation Terminals is in a line by the same name but subtotaled in Commercial (Nonresidential Buildings) starts. Census includes Terminals in Transportation.

CC lists Courthouse starts subtotaled in Institutional. Census carries Courthouses in Office (Commercial).

CC lists Military as a line item subtotaled in Institutional. This might include Office, Housing, Warehouse, etc., which would be carried by Census in Office, Residential, Commercial, etc., respectively.

CC lists Laboratories (Schools & Industrial) together and subtotals all labs in Commercial. Census separates labs by commercial, research and educational and carries spending in Manufacturing, Healthcare or Educational respectively which would subtotal spending in Manufacturing (industrial), or Institutional (Healthcare and Educational).

CC does not list rail or transportation separately, but does list Airport and Misc Civil (Power,etc.). This leads me to think rail is included in the line item with Misc Civil (Power, etc.). Also, CC does not list Communication, which I suspect is included in Misc Civil (Power, etc.) Already noted above is that Terminals is subtotaled in Commercial. Census carries rail, runway and terminals in Transportation and keeps Communication and Power separate from others.

CC provides an alternate table of new starts data that corresponds to a proprietary software, INSIGHT. This table of starts data reshuffles categories very far from anything that would resemble Census spending output.

 

The AIA publishes a twice annual Consensus Construction Forecast, comparing forecast of Nonresidential Buildings spending using inputs from seven or eight firms. Every firm but one follows a similar organization. The difference is FMI includes both Transportation and Communications in Commercial Nonresidential Buildings. I’m not aware of another other firm that reports these two categories of spending as Nonresidential Buildings. Both are typically carried as Non-building Infrastructure. That these categories include costs for projects such as rail beds, rail right-of-way civil structures, loading platforms, airfield runways and support structures, communication transmission lines and cell towers supports the more standardized inclusion of these items in Infrastructure.

Similar discrepancies may exist when comparing starts or spending to indexes, such as the AIA Architectural Billings Index, which broadly classifies projects as commercial, institutional or residential with no further definition. Some resources classify Amusement/Recreation as institutional and some as commercial. In particular, the shifting of costs between Nonresidential Buildings and Non-building Infrastructure creates a particularly meaningful disparity between spending forecasts.

 

As you can see, there are numerous instances where the data are often mixed up. From the point of view of the forecaster, initial input data cannot always be used directly to forecast or match spending output. Some manipulation of the data is required to make input and output match.

As an example, I move the Dodge data starts for Terminals from nonresidential buildings to non-building infrastructure Transportation, so that really changes my totals from theirs for Nonresidential Buildings to Non-building Infrastructure. My output conforms with most all others, most of whom also follow the Census PIP definitions.

What does your source for data take into consideration? Know your data!

 

 


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