When you undertake a construction project for the first time you might feel a little nervous, but really the overall experience is, for most people, an enjoyable one.
That isn’t to say it’s always easy; if you’ve never embarked on this process before you might find it a little surprising at times; however if you have done it all before then you will know what to expect, though of course there is always something new to learn.
While there are many possible ways of achieving your final goal, there are several fundamentals that you should stick to in any construction project however big or small it might be. These are some of the more important ones
Make the best of existing expertise
It is important not to waste time and energy trying to duplicate the basics that have been developed over generations. It is far better to use seasoned professionals and specialists who have carried out similar work before that trying to muddle through by yourself.
Will the work require planning approval and/or is the work being carried out on a listed building so it will need listed building approval? If you suspect that the answer might be ‘yes’ then you are strongly advised to contact an approved architect; you can find a list of architects who are members of RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) including their specialisations. It is worth carrying out some further research too, for instance by looking at their testimonials and feedback from previous clients who have undertaken projects similar to your own.
- An architect can guide you through the planning process including obtaining planning and listed building permission, building regulations and so forth.
- Your architect can also advise you on whether you need the services of a Structural Engineer or other professional.
Professional advice on costs
You might require the input of a Quantity Surveyor (your architect can advise you on this). If so you can find a list of members of RICS (Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors)
- You should work out your budgets carefully and always ensure that you have allowed for a reasonable contingency; 10% is generally acceptable.
- VAT can be confusing – generally no VAT is charged for residential new build; reduced VAT is payable on the refurbishment of buildings that have been uninhabited for two years and multiple to single dwelling conversions; the current 20% VAT rage is charged on most other building works. Note also that reduced VAT might be available on certain energy saving materials and works. Details can be found on these items in HMRC VAT Notice 708: buildings and construction 2014.
Services and licenses
There is a myriad of rules and regulations that you may need to adhere to. Your architect can advise you on those that apply to your project, but they might include
- Planning approvals including listed buildings and the discharge of conditions
Tree protection orders
- Highways Agency approval e.g. for possible disruptions to transport
- Environmental agency approval
- English Heritage approval
- Bat mitigation is a common hurdle and many local authorities require a bat survey and a licence if bat mitigation is needed. The same might apply to other protected wildlife such as newts and badgers.
If new supplies such as electricity, gas, water, or telecoms are needed it is advisable to begin the process as soon as possible as network infrastructure providers can be very slow; electrical infrastructure can take over a year to obtain, and Wayleave agreements (required to allow service providers to install pipes, cables and other items across or through an owner’s property) are often complex and difficult.
- Plant discharge treatment licences may be required from the Environmental Agency.
- Asbestos – projects that include demolition require an asbestos survey before any work takes place so that the contractor is alerted of any potential asbestos risk.
It is vital that you inform your insurer of your intended project before any building work is carried out. Failure to do so could result in your insurance being cancelled. It is the responsibility of the property owner to have buildings and contents insurance throughout the construction phase
Many construction contracts, such as those provided by the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) stipulate insurance requirements; for instance they may require that the employer has an all-risks buildings policy which might be hard to obtain and expensive. The contractor’s insurance broker can often help you obtain the necessary cover, but you need to start working on this in good time and well before the contractor is ready to start work.
Health & Safety
This is of major importance in the construction industry and the raft of regulation and legislation is vast. All reputable contractors will have a well defined H&S policy; however as an employer you have the ultimate responsibility, so you must give the matter your detailed attention. Note that complying with current legislation to ensuring safe working will almost certainly involve some cost.
Environmental legislation requires that you implement proper environmental control including taking proper measures with respect to pollution, waste management, energy, and carbon emissions. These need to be discussed with your contractor who should alert you to any such issues that may impact on your project. Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations require that unless your project is on a residential property for a domestic client, if it lasts longer than 30 days or exceeds 500 man hours, it must be registered with the HSE (Health and Safety Executive). Should this be the case a CDM Coordinator will be required to ensure that H&S is coordinated with all members of your team including architects and designers.
Renewable energy sources
Today there are many forms of renewable energy that are available for residential and other properties. Examples are heat pumps for powering air conditioning and heating systems; solar panels; and wind turbines. If any of these are appropriate to your project, then the earlier you consider them the better.
However it is a complex area; the right renewable energy sources might not only save you money, they could generate revenue too via the government feed-in tariff scheme. The field can be highly complex, and you are likely to need some competent advice. If you decide to go ahead with renewable energy sources, remember that much of the gain will be compromised unless you ensure that your thermal insulation and draft proofing is also state of the art.
Selecting a contractor
Before you select a contractor it is important to carry out some research:
- You should establish that any contractor you choose is experienced in the kind of work you need
- Always ask for references from clients and architects they have worked with, and where possible inspect work that they have completed
- You can also discover a great deal about a contractor, for instance how efficiently he works, by visiting projects that are still in progress
While price is always an important consideration, it is unwise to select a contractor solely on the basis of the quoted price. There is always the danger that a contractor working with low margins will save costs by scrimping on the job, for instance using lower quality materials, cheap subcontractors, and cutting corners on project management; all of these will impact on the overall quality of the job.
It is always important to select a contractor that you believe you can work with. Communications and relationships are always important, and you really don’t want to work with a team you don’t get on well with. The difference between working with a contractor you can relate to and one you can’t really is like chalk and cheese. At the very least insist that you meet up with the site manager who will be responsible for your project.
Patience really is a virtue when it comes to starting a big project; rushing into it is almost always a mistake. Sufficient planning and organisation prior to kicking off the project can pay big dividends and reduce the total project completion time. Taking time to put in place a detailed project plan will enable each member of the team to see what is expected of them and give you a much better handle on costs and delivery schedules.
As we said at the start, the experience of undertaking a construction project should be one that you enjoy, and one that you learn from. The process steps detailed here should at least provide some guidance and help you on your way.