Know Your Requirements
LEONARD SALES has been in the construction industry for 27 years and has learned from experience that the clients who demand the highest standards and who are willing to work in conjunction with the contractor are the ones who generally get their projects finished on time and to budget. Len is based in Thorpe Bay, Essex.
DRAWING UP A SPECIFICATION
The specification is a detailed description of the materials that will be used and should be written in such a way that there is no room for misunderstanding. Most cost increases arise from changes to the design and specifications and/or clarification of inadequate specifications.
If a builder or contractor is left to carry out work from a specification that is loosely written and his interpretation does not match your expectations, you may find that disagreements start to cloud the client-contractor relationship early on in the project.
It is therefore very important that you list all of the elements that you know will form each part of the works, and then break these elements down to ensure that they will meet your expectations of the finished product. As you will see from the sample specification in Figure 2.1, each element of work can be separated
and dealt with individually. This will help to avoid any potential misunderstanding.
You can also treat each room as an individual element, and in fact it is advisable to do so particularly if your colour scheme or finishings are different from other rooms. If you are only having internal alterations carried out, ensure that at the very least you have a plan of each floor in order to name each room. Remember that each bedroom must be specifically named, i.e. bedroom 1, 2, 3, etc. to ensure that mistakes are not made.
The completed specification may be included on the drawing. However, it is normally issued as a separate document. The work can, therefore, be priced in detail which will enable you to make cost savings where required.
It is worth taking the time to cover as much as possible in the specification as this will be an important factor when obtaining quotes. The more detailed information you can provide, the more the builders/contractors can price on a ‘like for like’ basis, which allows you to judge fairly between quotations.
If you are on a tight budget, do not accept an estimate that is all encompassing. If you need the estimate to show where you can make savings by reducing the amount of work, ask the builder/contractor to provide a breakdown of his estimate.
If you do request a breakdown estimate for the specification, you must bear in mind that overheads, running costs and profit are built into the rates and some figures may appear to be high when in fact they may be very reasonable. This is where obtaining several quotes will help you to understand how each company builds up their quote.
Making cost savings
There are regulations that govern the standard and quality of some of the materials that will be used, such as underground drainage, insulation material, glass, fire resisting material, etc. There are, however, cost savings that can be made by using alternative materials. This is something that you will need to discuss with your builder or material supplier, but ultimately the material must comply with the building regulations.
If you notice material changes from that in the specification, particularly material which will eventually be covered up such as floorboards or pipework, speak to your builder about. He may be making cost savings at your expense!
When it comes to the finishes you must ensure that it is your specification that is being worked to and is specific to your requirements. Your local building material supplier and associated suppliers will normally be happy to assist in advising on the appropriate materials for given situations. Do not be afraid to ask.
Breakdown of the specification
As you can see, the specification has an important part to play in detailing the overall building specification. This can be broken down even further by producing finishing schedules for specific elements such as:
- decoration finishes;
- floor finishes;
- ironmongery details.
Examples of these are shown in figures 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4.
Changes to the specification
Although you may prepare a comprehensive specification, if the property is old and there is limited historic information, you may find that there are circumstances that require you to change the specification or to instruct additional work to be carried out to meet building regulations.
One example of this is where a party wall in the roof space does not meet the fire regulations. Another is where asbestos is encountered, which would require removal and disposal by specialist contractors once the proper tests have been carried out to ascertain the type of asbestos found.
Further common problems in older properties are dry rot and wet rot, two conditions which can have serious consequences on the cost and timing of a project. It is worth considering having a full survey carried out by a specialist if you are in any doubt.
If you are considering having new roof tiles and your existing tiles are slate, you need to ensure that the type of tile that you have chosen does not exceed the weight of the tiles that are being replaced.
This is particularly important on older properties where the rafters may be smaller. You should always ensure that if heavier tiles are being fixed in place of the existing slates, additional supports have been introduced to spread the additional weight to the appropriate supporting walls.
Always remember that if you decide to change the specification on site for any reason, it may affect the eventual cost of the project. Be sure that you know the consequences of changes before you make them wherever possible.
Changes to the specification can sometimes be incorporated in the original quote. However, where there is a material change, costs may be incurred due to the duration of the project being extended, even if the material is the same price. Restocking of material and revised delivery times come at a price.
Even if you do not require data cabling facilities to be installed, it is worth considering having the cables put in with the electrical system, as many people are now working from home and this may be an advantage when selling the property. With the advance of technology growing at a rapid pace and the cost of hi-tech equipment becoming more affordable, you may decide to take advantage of this in the future.
Data cabling can be terminated in wall sockets that are similar to telephone sockets. These allow complex systems to be installed which will enable the control of audio systems and the operation of any other remotely accessible equipment from any room in the house.
Installing security measures
Another area that most people are concerned about is security the possibility of burglars entering their property. This is an area that seems to be of high priority in the mind, but is one that is put off until a later date as it is mistakenly thought that intruder alarms are expensive. In reality, alarms give peace of mind and can pay for themselves in a short space of time, as insurance companies will normally reduce the premiums when alarms are fitted.
This may also be the case if you have a range of window and door locks fitted that meet the insurer’s requirements for ‘adequate security provisions’.
If the installation of a security alarm does not fit in with your budget, it is worth installing the cables while floorboards are up or where other cables are being run. You then have the option of installing the necessary equipment at a later date. Even if you do not have technical equipment or alarms installed, it may make a difference to the desirability when selling the property, and may even add to the selling price.
All building works which include plumbing, heating and electrical work must meet certain regulations which will require certification.
SECURITY ON SITE
This is an area that does not usually have enough attention paid to it by builders in general and is something that can be overlooked by the client. When you employ the services of a builder or contractor you would naturally assume that he has thought about site security and weather protection. This is not always the case and when things go wrong in this department it can sour relations severely.
If there is any doubt about the security that is being provided, most insurance companies will use this to avoid making payment on claims for theft or damage. Most building work will entail the need for workers to have access to parts of the main building on a regular basis. You must therefore take all precautions to avoid any unforeseen problems. This is explained in Chapter 7 under Method Statements.
HEALTH AND SAFETY ON SITE
There are particular health and safety regulations for the construction industry which are very comprehensive. Your builder should be aware of these regulations. However, the domestic side of the construction industry is not regulated to the extent that it should be. Nevertheless, domestic builders are beginning to understand that they have a responsibility to you as a client and their own employees with regard to health and safety.
When you employ the services of a builder in a building you intend to use as your residential home, you are undertaking a moral health and safety obligation. Understanding the importance of health & safety is something that cannot be ignored. Any person who has contact with the project has a right under health and safety law to be protected from danger.
If you are going to employ individual contractors to carry out the work (for example, carpentry), they should have their own public liability insurance and work to good building practices. All necessary measures should be taken to remove or reduce the risks of accident by introducing methods of controlling the risk.
When you consider employing the services of individual contractors or a main contractor, it is important to satisfy yourself that they are competent and can work safely. If you are responsible for the site and a person is injured due to negligence on your part, they could take legal action against you.
If you are in any doubt about the health and safety precautions or procedures that you need to consider, contact the Health and Safety Executive helpline on 0845 3450055. Alternatively you can obtain information from the HSE website: www.hse.gov.uk.
Personal protective equipment
One important element to pay attention to is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is inexpensive and should be used in conjunction with other control methods. The use of basic PPE such as hard hats, masks, goggles and gloves, is all too often ignored in the domestic side of the construction industry.
It is important to select and use the right type of equipment. Your local PPE supplier should be able to help you identify your exact requirements. Plant hire shops will usually provide some of this equipment as part of their service.
PPE that you would expect to see on a construction site of any nature could include:
- hard hat;
- goggles (specifically for grinding or cutting with a disccutter);
- ear defenders;
- ear plugs;
- masks (lightweight for general dusty work);
- masks (rubber with a canister for gas emissions or paint fumes);
- gloves (heavy duty cotton or rubber);
- knee protectors;
- safety glasses (for general use with circular saws etc.);
- steel toe cap boots;
- high-visibility jacket.
As you can see from this list, there are many items of PPE that you may require but it is unlikely that you will need them all.
Workplace safety covers a wide range including the provision of welfare facilities. Contractors have a legal obligation to their workforce and the following are some of the issues that need to be considered on all sites:
- maintaining the internal working environment:
- heating (subject to the nature of work and common sense)
- where the work involves motorised plant, managing the movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the workplace;
- preventing falls from height;
- preventing people being struck by falling objects;
- providing a safe workplace;
- providing and maintaining the equipment in a safe condition;
- providing adequate welfare facilities such as sanitary and washing facilities (although shared facilities can be negotiated, and would be usual on small projects);
- ensuring safety when storing or stacking materials.
The condition of a building is often a major contributing factor where accidents occur. Most accidents that occur in the workplace are generally due to slips, trips and falls – these accidents are easily prevented. Working at heights and working near vehicle movements will need to be very well controlled in order to avoid serious injuries or fatalities.
Employers or individuals who are in control of a building site should always carry out risk assessments on the work activities being undertaken to ensure that proper control measures are in place.
Checklist for health and safety considerations
- Externally Are pedestrians and neighbours adequately informed of potential dangers? Are signs in the correct positions?
- On site Are sufficient signs placed in prominent positions for visitors and site personnel to comply with?
- Personal Protective Equipment:
- Storage Are the right facilities available for storing PPE?
- Provision Do you have the correct PPE?
- Use Are you and the site personnel using it?
- Site rules for:
- Site personnel
- First aid:
- Information Do you have provisions on site? Do you know who will provide first aid if required?
- Equipment Is the appropriate equipment on site?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have statutory obligations to adhere to. These obligations are based upon common law principles. The effect of the Act has been to bring all people at work (and others) under the protection of the law. The Act covers all employment activities and applies to employers, self-employed persons, subcontractors, visitors to places of employment, employees, directors and managers, members of the public, designers, suppliers, etc. It also provides the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) with various enforcement powers.
All work activities that pose a high risk to employees or other people require a correspondingly high degree of effort to ensure that those risks are controlled. Similarly, those that pose a low risk should require a lesser degree of effort and time to control.
Some duties are absolute, and an employer must comply.
Other duties are qualified by terms such as ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, ‘so far as is practicable’ and ‘best practicable means’. These standards rely upon the courts for interpretation. ‘So far as is reasonably practicable’ means that the degree of risk must be balanced against the cost necessary to combat it.
The builder/contractor or his representative must firstly identify and assess the risk, its severity, the frequency of exposure to the risk or duration of exposure, and the number of people who could be affected.
The cost of doing something about the risk then needs to be calculated. Cost is not just measured in monetary terms but also in time, effort and degree of difficulty. Most employers find that time represents the largest cost.
Where a builder/contractor employs five or more people, he must provide and revise as appropriate a written safety policy. The safety policy must contain:
- a general statement of the employer’s general policy with respect to health and safety;
- the organisation and arrangements that exist for carrying out that policy.
The policy and any revision must be brought to the attention of the employees.
Do not be afraid to ask a potential builder for his safety policy. If he readily agrees to this and you find yourself with the document within a day or two, the chances are he has a professional approach to his work. If, however, he does not know what you are talking about, it does not necessarily mean that he is not capable of carrying out his work safely.
However, it is important to let him know that you expect full consideration in this respect, and that you would like to see some evidence of how he plans to meet his health and safety obligations. If you get nothing at all from him, it is unlikely that he takes the issue as seriously as he should.
Inspection of other sites
If your project is of a significant size, it is worth visiting property which is currently being worked on by any builders that you may be considering using before engaging in any contract. This will enable you to see how they operate, the cleanliness of the site, etc. If you feel that you would like to know more, it would not be unreasonable to ask the property owners if they have any objection to discussing their satisfaction with the builder/contractor.
One point to remember when inspecting any site is that a clean site is generally a safe site and would indicate an organised foreman or site manager at the very least. If during the project you can see that the standard of health and safety is very poor, you need to stop the project and ensure that before the work continues the senior manager has satisfied you with his proposals to address the situation.