Customer Story: M/I Homes Improves Construction Monitoring and Controls Costs

TraceAir's site work acceleration platform enables M/I Homes Columbus to track construction progress, manage dirt balance, and coordinate operations across their entire portfolio.
M/I Homes Columbus - The Pines
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M/I Homes is a homebuilding company that has been building new home developments for over 40 years. Over that period, they’ve built more than 130,000 homes across 15 markets. As one of the nation’s leading homebuilders, they manage multiple development projects simultaneously. We sat down with Director of Land Development in their Columbus Ohio location, Jason Francis, to learn how he’s using TraceAir to improve land development operations.

The Challenge 

M/I Homes’s Columbus division has 10 to 15 jobs at different stages of construction in progress at any given time, so they required a better system to track work progress and their contractors. They were looking for a solution to provide site development intelligence to members of the team that couldn’t get out in the field daily to monitor the status of their various projects. 

A second major issue was keeping track of their dirt stockpiles. Almost all the homes being built have basements, so their sites generate a lot of excess dirt. Therefore, tracking and monitoring the dirt stockpiles and managing cost-effective disposal measures were critical. “We try to manage that dirt by minimizing how far and where we have to haul it to. In other words, keeping it on our job sites, if it’s possible,” stated Jason. “One of the most expensive mistakes we can make in our businesses is not balancing our jobs from an earthwork standpoint. We could end up having to pay $12-$15 per cubic yard to get dirt off the job or maybe bring dirt in if we’re short. So, TraceAir was a good investment for us.”

Measuring and tracking dirt stockpiles was a major challenge before adopting TraceAir.

The Solution 

TraceAir provided a turnkey solution of drone flights, overnight data processing, and user-friendly software that allowed M/I Homes to obtain project data almost in real-time. The visibility and measurement tools provided intelligence in minutes or seconds that would otherwise require a site visit, consultant, or engineer and take days or weeks to complete.

M/I Homes uses TraceAir predominantly to:

  • Track construction progress, i.e., know how much is getting done in any given week
  • Maintain dirt balance
  • Manage operations and contractor sequencing on each site
  • Reduce ad hoc surveyor costs
  • Managing seeding efforts

The Results 

Enhanced Progress Tracking

M/I Homes uses TraceAir to extensively monitor the progress at its construction sites throughout Ohio. They use several of the TraceAir tools to handle different aspects of monitoring and tracking. “We use the other measuring tools – the stockpile tool, the distance and slope tools – to track how many feet of pipe is getting put in on any given day. So, we can keep track if things start moving slower than expected.”

M/I Homes also uses the tool to keep track of progress in relation to payments. “When we get progress billings on all these jobs, we can quickly compare what is presented with what we know has been accomplished. It’s useful to know that when the contractor bills me for 80% of the sanitary, I can, at a glance, know that approximately 80% of the sanitary has been constructed without having to pick up the phone and call our field guys,” stated Jason. “Monitoring the schedule and pace of construction is a whole lot easier with TraceAir.”

Additionally, TraceAir helps M/I Homes identify problems before they get out of hand. For example, they had started two projects with two different contractors on two different sides of town. They were able to track the progress of both projects and saw that one sanitary sewer construction far outpaced the other. This discrepancy raised a red flag internally and with the contractor. “Both projects were starting late in the season, and it was going to be challenging to get them completed before our construction season ended,” Jason recalled. “It was good to catch it early on, so we could bring it to the attention of the contractor and track and monitor as the pace picked up in the following weeks to ensure that we were on track.”

Additionally, M/I Homes uses TraceAir to track seeding efforts on their projects. “Here in Central Ohio, our seeding season is pretty short. We have a few weeks in the spring and a few weeks in the fall. And TraceAir is very useful in knowing what areas we’ve seeded, how it’s coming in, and what areas we need to take corrective actions on. It’s a quick and easy tool to monitor that progress,” stated Jason.

Better Dirt Balance Management 

M/I Homes also uses TraceAir for tracking and monitoring the movement of dirt to prevent expensive stockpiles from building up. TraceAir also replaced their quarterly on site monitoring system and allowed them to manage dirt balance remotely. “We use the stockpile measurement tool pretty regularly and keep an eye on where we’re generating dirt and how much. It has given us the ability to make adjustments to our engineering plans for future phases to utilize that dirt on site,” said Jason.

TraceAir's Measure Stockpile Tool

On a recent earthwork removal project on their Hoover Farms development (a single-family development in Westerville, OH). They agreed on a price per cubic yard based on how much they hoped to bring in and what they thought the job would result in. The TraceAir Compare Surfaces tool gave them the ability to keep an eye on the project to ensure they got the job to grade and were able to pay appropriately. “We were able to enter a contract without having a great deal of detail about how much dirt we were going to be moving. We knew how much we needed to get to grade using TraceAir and our engineers’ estimates. And we were bringing it in on a daily basis, and he was moving it for us, and TraceAir gave us the ability to measure and track it,” Jason recalled. 

Visual Communication

M/I Homes relies on TraceAir to provide visual data during weekly internal meetings and external stakeholder meetings. “TraceAir is also used by quite a few people on our team, both internally and in our external consultants,” stated Jason. “We use it in our weekly engineering meetings and meetings with contractors and municipal entities. They’ve been surprised that we’ve been able to show them pretty much real-time information on the status of construction.”

360 Panoramas are a valuable visual communication tool.

The Return on Their Investment

TraceAir has been able to save M/I Homes valuable time with reducing driving time between site visits and has enabled them to reduce surveying costs. “Part of our rationale behind going all-in with TraceAir was comparing the cost with our current processes.”

For M/I Homes, managing dirt and keeping track of stockpiles was a complicated and, at times, expensive process. “With our prior methods and procedures, we relied on our field staff to alert us when a stockpile was getting big,” Jason recalled. “We would spend a couple thousand dollars to have a survey measure it, and then we’d wait four to six weeks to get the results back. And we did that a couple of times a year, on any given job.”

TraceAir enabled Jason and his teams to eliminate much of this spending. “TraceAir supports us in several ways,” he stated. It gives us closer to real-time ability to track on a weekly basis, as opposed to sending a survey crew out every three or four months. We know that if we use TraceAir, it might help mitigate or reduce chances of more costly mistakes, e.g., having to load dirt in a truck and haul it away.”

TraceAir is very user-friendly. I love that we can easily upload additional overlays and toggle back and forth between them. The support staff has been excellent, responding in real-time and making changes to flight patterns, the overlays, and our schedule. TraceAir has a real good team.”

- Jason Francis, Director of Land Development at M/I Homes of Central Ohio

Ready to reduce costs, improve productivity in the field, and meet your construction deadlines?

TraceAir offers a state-of-the-art site development acceleration system for contractors and consultants. Achieve site balance, stay on schedule, and track progress remotely from any location using our cloud-based platform. Contact our team to learn more.

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