Thursday 3 February 2011

Tuesday 14 December 2010

A day in Court

Last week I was in court as an expert witness in relation to a case between a builder and a young couple (The Homeowners) who engaged him to extend their dwelling. The case arose as a result of the builder not getting his final payment which amounted to a sum equal to approximately 5% of the “contract” price, which he believed he was entitled to and initiated legal proceeding, which ended up before the district court. Based on our initial report the homeowers made a counter claim for damages to repair defective work.
It’s fair to say there would never have been a court case, if the homeowners had engaged a professional to look after the design and supervision of their extension. The extension required planning permission, which they duly obtained, having had their drawings as it was stated in court prepared by a technical drawing teacher. The drawings were basic, with no detail, other than beginning sufficient to enable a planning application be assessed and determined.

However, the drawings had no annotation outer than a few dimensions, and were used by the homeowners to obtain quotations from three building contractors. The builder provided a quotation and was asked to start, which he duly did making up the detail as he went along in the absence of any construction drawings or specification. There was no written contact between either party. The question of how the project was financed, was never asked or established, in court, however its safe to assume it was not by way of a mortgage, in that no certificates of payment were required. However the quotation was for several tens of thousands. Before going into argument, the judge asked the builder, if the level of construction he agreed to construct was to a minimum level to meet building regulations, to which it was confirmed.

There were a number of what would be considered snagging items/minor defects, doors requiring adjusting, the items which would normally be up right before the payment of the final instalment. However there were a number of more serious issues, which would not have happened had proper construction drawings and a specification been prepared and the project supervised by a competent person.

One such item was a connection the builder made to the drainage system, which while not created by the builder, it was agreed by both sides’ expert witnesses as been a health hazard. The main area of contention regarded the construction of some minor but significant elements of structure, which were a cause of concern for us more so than that of the builder. Had the builder not deviated from the method of construction, used elsewhere within the extension, there would not have been an issue. The judge in his summary of the case stated that fact and decided in favour of the homeowers, however the award properly will not cover the cost of the remedial works.

The judge however was not too happy that the case was before him, as he said himself, he was not an expert in construction. He questioned as to why arbitration was not considered as means of resolving the issues, even in the absence of a formal writing contract. Nor was he too happy with the level of dialogue between both sides and their expert witnesses’ in that there were significant differences of opinion, something which would be quiet normal in a circuit court case. Furthermore the amount in question which the builder was trying to recoup was small and compared to costs assisted with the case; the builder was certainly 4 times well less off after the court case than he was before the case.

I certainly learnt a lot from my attendance in court; and how in preparing reports it’s important to reference and include the relevant extract of the standard in the report.

I wonder how ipads would be accepted for retrieving data on the day such as codes of practice or Irish/British or European standards, with a judge ? An iphone or ipad would certainly have been handy for both sets of expert witnesses last week.

If the builder learnt anything, it is not to build a project unsupervised as it can come back to haunt you. As the homeowners, they will know only to engage the services of a professional in future.

Monday 13 December 2010

Cottage renovation Part 6

Despite the bad weather recently, some progress has be made, with the roof now nearing completion : outstanding works comprise of the fixing of the ridge caps and some flashing to the elements of the vertical velux windows.

Inside work has commenced with the first fixing of services. Insulation options for the roof and ceiling are currently begining costed.

The delivery of the windows and doors are now due.

Monday 15 November 2010

Cottage renovation Part 5

Work has progressed since my last site visit despite the poor weather. However its not been without delays.

The fixing of the breather membrane and slating battens is now complete, as is most of the slating on the northern side of the roof. However the completion of the slating has been delayed, as the vertical velux window units, were not ordered sufficient time in advance. As a point of information, the vertical elements codes VFA & VFB currently require a 3 week lead-in from date of ordering to delivery.

The client has opted to go with a factory finished hardwood timber window rather than Black uPVC. Windows and doors will be supplied by Carey Glass Joinery of Nenagh, who’s price was exceptionally competitive for the end product. A mixture of double and triple glazed units will be installed with delivery scheduled for the first week of December. Subject to favourable weather conditions, the external insulation and rendering will follow immediately.

Internally work has progressed; the first floor has now been floored with 18mm flooring grade ply and the studwork caucus now complete, which will enable commencement of the first fix of services. Final selection of sanitaryware will be critical in the coming week or so, to enable that element of the first fix progress.

At this stage the project is running 4-6 weeks behind the targeted programme, a common trait of self build projects constructed by direct labour.

Monday 8 November 2010

CIAT ramblings

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about CIAT. Last month I was in Dublin for a CIAT Centre Committee meeting, there’s normally a meeting prior to the Institute’s AGM, which took place in Guernsey at the end of last month.

I always enjoy the discussion after the Centre Meeting, where most of us “from the country” have a chat and lunch prior to making the journey home. Discussions vary covering topical issues within the profession, be it OSI copyright and the merits of buying an OSI licence or issues with planners or building control. Of course current fees or the lack of them featured in the discussions too. It’s always a couple of hours well spent, as someone will always have a solution to a problem that any of the others would raise. At this year’s AGM a number of promotional video’s (thought that term was gone with the introduction of DVD's) were launched by the Institute, 4 in all I believe. The one that’s most beneficial, is that aimed at potential clients.

I have to say it’s not bad and definitely worth having a link to, within each reach for potential clients. Another reason why I should really progress my membership now.

My POP record, is sitting somewhere on my desk awaiting the signature of my POP record supervised before submission. I should really get it signed off and submitted, so I can progress my membership… the longer it sits there the long it will be before I attain Chartered membership. Top of this week’s to do list, along with booking a CIAT CPD course.

Friday 5 November 2010

Extensions and factors influencing budget prices

People definitely see value in construction at the moment and are prepared to extend their existing homes.  I'm currently working on single storey contemporary extension to a 1970's bungalow; the sketch design has been prepared and currently with a local building contractor, who's accessing if the works can be undertaken within the client's budget. 

Extensions and renovations, by their nature are more difficult to gauge budget prices for, as existing factors greatly influence the price. Apart from the fact that each extension is unique the following are some of the factor that can influence the project's budget.

Unlike most new builds, access to works involving extensions can be restricted, from no access at all in the case of terraced dwellings, to limited access due to proximity of site boundaries. Depending on the restrictions, these can effect the overall price. The of concrete for foundations, is far greater if it has to be moved from the roadside to the back of a house via wheelbarrows, as opposed to beginning placed directly into the excavated foundation from the back of the readymix truck.

Existing Structure
Extensions, by definition will become a part of the existing structure/dwelling and effect the structure in some shape of form. How the extension integrates into the existing structure will have an effect on the project cost. Should the only works in integrating the new and the old  be removing a patio door the cost would be significantly less than an extension which is integrated into an existing room (s), as the latter will involve significant demolition and structural works. Works where alterations to existing roofs can also significantly add to the cost.

In general at least some alteration to existing services is required, when extending an existing property. The effects on the project budget of these alterations vary greatly. moving a light switch or socket would have a minimal effect, compared to diverting an underground drain and manhole or relocating the boiler.

Very often when extensions are been built, client's take the opportunity to have  other works around the house done while the builder's are in, it may be hanging a few new doors, or putting in a new ensuite or altering partitions, all adding to the overall cost and distort the actual cost of the extension. 

Naturally specification can have the biggest influence on the project's cost.

Friday 29 October 2010

Construction Drawings?

When it comes to building new houses or extensions, Irish people often don't see the need for construction drawings or haven't in the past. I've experienced it myself in the past, where people go off and get prices or engage building contractors based on information contained on "planning permission only" drawings.

What's the difference. Everything really, planning drawings are not required to contain detailed information on construction, other than to convey the basic design and outline finishes, overall dimensions, location and position of opening etc. Atypical drawing which I would include as part of a planning submission is indicted below

Construction drawings by their nature should contain sufficient information for someone to build the dwelling/building from. The information contained on the drawings should enable works be undertaken in compliance with the building regulations; be it thickness or position of insulation, opening sections to windows, or size of the roof timbers or whatever. Furthermore, construction drawings allow the designer, to convey how s/he wishes specific element of the building be finished, eave overhangs, downpipe poisitions or even finishes. While much of the information relating to building regulations is standard (or was ), as most regulations don't regularly change, except for Part L, relating toConservation of Fuel and Energy (insulation in otherwords), many building contractors are not always familiar with other amenements.

Why not provide construction drawings at planning application stage? Well it can be done, however in terms of providing value for a client, its not the best route; in many instances, the house or development granted permission, varies from that applied for, often requiring amendments during the planning process, be it minor amendments or sometimes a substantial redesign or in cases the development has been refused permission.Furthermore planning authorities do not access development in terms of compliance with building regulations, their is to access compliance with the planning policy.

Of course one benefit of construction drawings, it it allows a building/dwelling be accurately priced, when prepared in conjunction with a relevant specification. The less information a building contractor has, the more assumptions s/he makes and the greater chance what s/he delivers is not what the client had in mind.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 4

The main roof structure is now complete, with work now progressing to preparing the roof for the velux windows. Velux windows to the south elevation will include vertical combinations, avoiding the necessity to construct dormers.
As noted below, rafters overhang the blockwork by a considerable amount, to allow for the provision of the external wall insulation, withthe insulation carried up  to the top of the wallplate, reducing cold bridging.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 3

An unscheduled site visit had to be made yesterday to sort out a few unexpected problems. Addressable, however they do delay the work.

Despite starting on Monday and joisting out the first floor, the carpernter are not expected on site agin until Friday. Flooring to the first floor with be 18mm ply, providing a good base for tiles and laminate floor finishes.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 2

Work is progressing on the cottage renovation. The project is behind programme, not helped in this instance by Tipperary winning the All Ireland Hurling Final: direct labour projects by their nature seldom go according to programme, as one is at the mercy of the sub-contractors, many of whom know that it will be the one and only time they will encounter that individual self-builder, unlike working for a building contractor.

At this stage the blockwork is complete. There is some work required around the existing opes, however this work is underway, mainly comprising of adjusting the cill levels, tidying up around the location of the former heads. New heads were cast as part of the band beam at first floor level. Cold bridges normally caused by band beams have been avoided in this instance with the used of external insulation.

The carpenter is due early next week to complete the first floor and commence the roof. While this will be going on, the windows and doors will be ordered(black uPVC has been selected) and installed prior to the installation of the external insulation and render. The external wall u-values have been calculated at a respectable least 0.22W/m2 using a thickness of 120mmof EPS insulation.

Consideration is currently been given to insulating the roof space along the line of the rafter right up to the ridge, creating a warm roof. I’m currently looking at the prop and cons of this, one major advantage of this method, which the clients sees, is of course the risk of frozen water pipes or a water tank is greatly reduced. The fact that there shouldn’t be excessive temperate differences in the attic, compared to the rest of the house, both in winter and summer, is also another factor wish is attractive to the client. Cost however may prove prohibitive… Kingspan, Xtratherm, Aeroboard, anybody?