A Colorado plumbing apprentice visited job sites, snapped digital photos and designed an online photo gallery for builders, contractors and subcontractors last year.

Today, Armando Arechiga, director of technical services for JobDocs.com and his founding partner, Charles Adams, have a different role — to help facilitate the online documentation process for construction professionals. For a $19.95/job monthly subscription fee, contractors can take their own digital photos and then upload the images themselves.

JobDocs.com, which originally launched in March 2000, reopened on Aug. 1 with a new mission to better suit its needs.

“If you have a digital camera, you can now have a secure online place to upload your pictures,” Arechiga said. “What we're doing now with this new look is retooling it to fit what our customers wanted. So many people have their own digital cameras, and the cost for hiring out can be expensive. This makes it more available to every homebuilder, contractor and subcontractor.”

The majority of construction professionals frequently document their projects with film, but Arechiga said many are now embracing new technology by using digital cameras on the job site.

“Almost everybody did some variety of documentation once the project was a certain size,” he said. “More and more of them were switching over to digital and we figured the trend would continue.”

While many contractors snapped photos of the job site, Arechiga found that only a handful actually e-mailed the photos to their clients. With JobDocs.com, however, contractors can simply upload the images and then organize them online.

“They can rename, delete and group the photos by categories such as plumbing, framing or concrete for the different stages of a construction project,” he said.

JobDocs.com is designed for the small- to medium-sized builder or contractor, who may not have their own IT department. It allows them to interact with their clients, build a solid relationship and get feedback on the construction photos. This works especially well for contractors and builders who are constructing a home for a client who lives out-of-state, which is often the case in Colorado, he said.

Hosting the online photo gallery also allows JobDocs.com to have both a national and international reach without having to send photographers worldwide, he said.

“We plan on eventually training or certifying photographers to sell the product around different areas, but right now it's available online,” Arechiga said. “We don't have nationwide coverage on that service. Depending on how this goes, that really won't be too much of our focus.”

Instead, JobDocs.com's clients have control of their own sites, complete with 10MB of storage space. Larger builders or subcontractors who are handling more than one ongoing project can add new accounts, keep them separate and manage them with an easy-to-use administrative interface.

“It generates a dynamic Web page that doesn't require them to do any coding,” he said. “It makes it all happen for them. We tried to make it really easy as far as uploading the pictures. We tested it out on the (JobDocs.com) president's eight-year-old daughter.”

To get the most out of the service, contractors need to upload low- resolution photos that are formatted for the Web rather than for print, he said. Contractors can include between 400 and 500 photos in their gallery before they exceed the storage space requirement. To help them format their photos, JobDocs plans to post technical tips like the one on resolution shown in the sidebar.

“Once they get up to a particular size, the files get so big so that they could only have a dozen or two pictures in their account,” he said. “The photos in the gallery are generally pictures that are intended to be e-mailed, not the big mega-pixel files. We do have another service for architects that incorporates larger storage capabilities for high-resolution files.”

Once an account reaches its storage capacity, clients can have their photos archived on a CD, which they can either give to their client or keep for themselves. Companies can also archive their own photos, Arechiga said.

“There's going to be a lot of people out there who are going to be able to do it themselves,” he said. “We absolutely encourage people to do that. That's why it's $19.95 a month. People can get out of it what they want.”

Contractors not only can use the service to share photos with clients, but they can also use the photos to speed up the change-order process.

“If you have to go into arbitration over a job, you have proof positive that on a particular date, this is what it looked like,” Arechiga said. “All parties can pretty much agree on that beforehand before any need for litigation arises.”

This helps save the contractor time and headaches, he said.

“A lot of times in plumbing when you're going through a remodel, things that you expect to be there aren't there,” he said. “In electrical contracting, I'm sure it's the same thing. One of the things we tell contractors is it's potentially knowing the difference between seeing it Friday afternoon versus showing up on Monday morning and finding it for the first time.”

From their experience as plumbers, the JobDocs staff knows what it takes to effectively document a project, Arechiga said.

“We're going to try to get people to use digital pictures or documentation more frequently in the future,” he said. “We think it makes a lot of sense. It's like a virtual house.”

Even the smallest contractor or subcontractor could use this service and immediately have a worldwide reach, he said.

“This throws it open to anybody,” Arechiga said. “Contractors worldwide can do it.”

Tech Tips A WORD ABOUT RESOLUTION

For an online photo gallery, contractors should upload low resolution photos so they download quickly and don't take up too much storage space. Arechiga offers the following information on resolution and digital cameras.

The term “resolution” has evolved from its printing days to take on new meaning in the digital world. Resolution traditionally referred to “dots per inch” (dpi), that is, an image with a higher dpi is said to have higher resolution.

Today we see resolution referring to screen area of monitors and file size of digital cameras. This sense of the word is referring to the width multiplied by height of the image, such as 640×480, 800×600 or 1,024×768. These are fine for online viewing, but just what do these numbers mean when we want to migrate back into a print world?

When we are looking at a computer monitor, the actual size of an image will depend on the monitor. Basically, because a monitor has a fixed number of pixels (Macs usually have 72 pixels per inch and most PCs are 96 pixels per inch) there really isn't much need for higher resolution images.

Getting the same detail from a print of that same image will depend on the print size. Bottom line, you won't be able to print an 8×10 from a lower resolution picture, without having some serious loss of quality.

Technical terms aside, resolution still comes down to describing one thing: “How does it look?” To that end, it helps to decide what the picture will be used for ahead of time, but when in doubt, do what I do — take two.