The consequences of penny-pinching during a building project
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.
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