The con­se­quences of penny-pinch­ing dur­ing a build­ing project

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, moved to Gra­ham­stown, where the build­ing boom and the short­age of skilled builders en­cour­aged him to try his hand at spec­u­la­tive build­ing.

His un­for­tu­nate in­volve­ment with gov­ern­ment con­tracts be­gan with the erec­tion of new mil­i­tary bar­racks and head­quar­ters. Retief put in his ten­der for £3 000 and af­ter be­ing awarded the con­tract, con­struc­tion started on Scott’s bar­racks in May 1820. Retief soon re­alised that he had un­der-quoted for his work but was not per­mit­ted to with­draw from the con­tract.

To save costs, he un­der­took much of the stonework him­self and em­ployed an un­der-qual­i­fied car­pen­ter to com­plete the wood­work. The mil­i­tary au­thor­i­ties, un­happy with the shoddy car­pen­try, stopped pay­ment, caus­ing a long and bit­ter dis­pute over the terms of the orig­i­nal con­tract. Work nev­er­the­less con­tin­ued and the bar­racks were fi­nally com­pleted in April 1823, but un­for­tu­nately for Retief the build­ing col­lapsed six months later dur­ing a storm. No won­der he did a run­ner over the Drak­ens­berg.

Now let’s move for­ward a cou­ple of hun­dred years to Dur­ban, with­out pre-judg­ing the out­come of the of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions. John Gra­ham, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of HouseCheck, high­lights things that can go wrong when build­ing:

● Re­moval of sup­port props too early be­fore the con­crete slabs are able to sup­port their own weight. Props should be kept in place for a min­i­mum of 10-14 days. Ide­ally an engi­neer should de­ter­mine when it is safe to re­move the props.

● Weak con­crete mix – us­ing too lit­tle, or in­fe­rior, ce­ment to save money. Buy­ing con­crete from a rep­utable readymix com­pany, in ac­cor­dance with an engi­neer’s strength spec­i­fi­ca­tions, is the right way to go.

● In­cor­rect or in­ad­e­quate steel re­in­force­ment – as a re­sult of ig­no­rance or in an at­tempt to cut costs.

● Poor man­age­ment of con­crete pours.

Gra­ham con­tin­ues: Many build­ing sites are poorly po­liced by mu­nic­i­pal build­ing in­spec­tors and by the Na­tional Home Builders Reg­is­tra­tion Coun­cil, and as a re­sult some builders and de­vel­op­ers get away with a lot.

He said un­safe and il­le­gal elec­tri­cal and hot wa­ter geyser in­stal­la­tions can re­sult in reg­u­lar fires and per­sonal in­jury in homes.

HouseCheck in­spec­tors es­ti­mate that about 70 per­cent of do­mes­tic hot wa­ter gey­sers are not in­stalled cor­rectly and are un­safe. Many elec­tri­cal cer­tifi­cates of com­pli­ance are also is­sued in­cor­rectly and some­times even fraud­u­lently.

I can only sup­port Gra­ham in his com­ments. For years now I have been ad­vis­ing that when un­der­tak­ing build­ing projects, there is only one way to go – and that is the proper way.

Start with ap­point­ing the cor­rect pro­fes­sional team – they have been trained to pro­tect your in­ter­ests. Then ap­point a prop­erly reg­is­tered and com­pli­ant con­trac­tor and check that any sub-con­trac­tors he may be us­ing are also com­pli­ant. En­sure you have a valid health and safety plan for the du­ra­tion of the works and that it is ad­hered to, and fi­nally, en­sure that the works are prop­erly in­sured, be­cause ac­ci­dents do take place even on prop­erly ad­min­is­tered and con­trolled sites.

But I can talk un­til I’m blue in the face, be­cause if you are go­ing to go out and pinch pen­nies at ev­ery turn and use cheap ma­te­ri­als and labour, you are go­ing to suf­fer the con­se­quences. I reg­u­larly get e-mails from read­ers say­ing “if only we had lis­tened to the right ad­vice…”.

Ig­nore the power of so­cial me­dia and what is avail­able on the in­ter­net at your own peril. All too of­ten we boast about how good we are and for­get about the bad con­tracts, where we have not per­formed. We adopt the at­ti­tude of “tomorrow is another day” and that our mis­takes are soon for­got­ten, Cape Town is a big city and we will find more work.

Don’t be too ca­sual; one up­set client with a few friends on Face­book and your client base will soon start to di­min­ish. Sim­i­larly, the amount of in­for­ma­tion avail­able on the in­ter­net means the client can check very eas­ily that you are work­ing prop­erly. So en­sure that you don’t leave un­happy clients and that you do the job right.

The power of so­cial me­dia can also be used against you if you treat your con­trac­tor un­fairly. Pay when pay­ment is due and pay what you are sup­posed to pay; word soon gets around the in­dus­try that you are not worth work­ing for, as you are just try­ing to rip the con­trac­tor off.

● Keep your ques­tions or com­ments com­ing to don@ma­cal­is­ter.co.za or SMS only to 082 446 3859

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