A Guide to Surviving the Construction Process
When it comes to one of life’s most stressful experiences, having a major extension or construction project undertaken at your home is close to the top of the list. Whether it’s costs spiralling out of control, the fear of hiring cowboy builders or the constant noise, dust and dirt levels driving you insane, it’s not a process for the unprepared or faint hearted.
But with any home improvement whether it’s that all essential kitchen upgrade, luxury bathroom, extra bedroom or extending up into the loft, at some point or another you’re going to have to take the plunge and got for it.
So how do you come out the other side of such a massive undertaking? Read this essential guide to surviving and thriving after the work is done and the dust has settled.
There’s no easy way to say it but being fully prepared and well-informed prior to the start is the best advice you can take. If you think you can take the fast track and jump straight into a large scale project without much forethought or insight, then expect a very bumpy ride!
It’s important to know exactly what you want right from the start. As the saying goes, it’s all in the detail and nothing could be truer than for a major building project, so work out exactly what it is you want and what you are trying to achieve.
Speak to as many professionals as you can including architects to have professional architectural drawings drafted, builders to discuss what you have in mind, interior designers to get ideas about making your home a better place to live, surveyors to discuss the technicalities of making changes to your building and of course the local authority and building regulations departments to get the correct legal permissions. By discussing what you intend to do, you’ll soon find out what is realistically possible but you may also pick up some incredibly useful and inspiring ideas along the way, not to mention a clearer idea of how much this all may cost!
Always have a clear idea of exactly what you want and expect and how much you can afford. This will help your architects draw up designs and plans that will suit your needs best and means your build will go smoothly rather than being constantly interrupted during the middle of the process. This just leads to delays and costs going sky high.
Find the Right Builder
Sadly the construction industry is full of the good, the bad and the ugly, so getting the right people on board is critical to ensuring your build is done right, goes according to plan and stays on budget.
If you have friends or family who have undertaken a project on a similar scale, speak to them about their experiences and ask them how their builder performed. If they are full of glowing praise, you know you have at least one contractor on your list of those to contact for a quote. If not, that’s one to avoid!
Get as many quotes as you can from as many reputable contractors as you can. You’ll be surprised just how varied their costs may be. Choosing the cheapest quote is not necessarily the best route either. Some contractors may appear cheap in the beginning but then they add several “extras” on as the process goes and you then find that their initial costs were completely misleading and deliberately low to get your business.
Finally, try to look at some of their past projects to see the quality of the build and find out if they have happy customers. Construction is all about the detail so the final finish is what makes a project stand out from the crowd.
Set a Budget
Whether money is no object or you are on a shoestring budget, always work to a set budget. Having the ability to control and forecast costs will ensure that your build stays on track. In most cases, builds always overspend as the builders may discover unforeseen issues or homeowners may decide to change the fixtures and fittings, so have a contingency plan in place of at least 10% minimum. By doing so, you’ll minimise the stresses and strains that any overspends will undoubtedly cause.
If you have the means, keep a close tab on spending by creating a spreadsheet and get familiar with formulas that will automatically tally up your spends and give you a breakdown of totals as you go. You’ll be amazed just how quickly the costs start to rack up!
Some builders do not like it but insist on getting a written agreement in place that outlines the work to be undertaken, costs and timescales to completion before any work begins. If possible, add as much detail as you can including products and materials to be used, final finishes and a start date. If you get any resistance to this it might be wise to use an alternative contractor. Those that do not wish to stick to an agreed commitment but insist on large up front payments may not have your best interests at heart.
Finally, make sure that the builder provides a quote and not a loose estimate. Estimates allow for too much wriggle room to add costs and make adjustments. If you have provided the builder with accurate architects drawings and they have visited and inspected the site, they should be able to give you a firm cost for the work.
Living with Construction
If you plan to live under the same roof as the construction project then be prepared for some hard times. If you are going to lose a kitchen or a bathroom for example, it will have a major impact on how you live and your quality of life.
If possible, start planning with the builders to try to have some form of temporary utilities in place that will help you to get through the bulk of the heavy work when water, electrics and utilities will be disconnected for a short period. You’ll be surprised just how stressful and challenging it is to lose the things we take for granted. A clean useable kitchen and bathroom or just hot water and heating is a huge loss when it’s gone, even if for just a few days or weeks.
If you have the means, try to live off site during these periods with family and friends or alternatively, rent some temporary accommodating close-by so that your lifestyle is not too heavily interrupted and you can keep a close check on the build progress.
Prepare for Dirt & Dust… Everywhere
No matter how hard you try, dust will find its way everywhere. Building work produces huge levels of dust and dirt which travels easily and travels fast!
To minimise the impact of dust, make sure to cover up any perishable items with good quality dust sheets or cellophane wrapping to keep it out. Section off rooms in the house by keeping all doors closed and add dust sheets and plastic wrap where possible to minimise the spread of dirt settling.
The biggest culprit of travelling dirt is muddy boots and footwear. If your contractors have access to the house, they will tread it through on the floors and it will spread fast. If you can keep the builders away from the areas you intend to inhabit, it will go a long way to having some form of separation from the building work and prevent dust from getting literally everywhere.
Be Present on Site
It pays to make regular appearances to the site to monitor progress and to be available to discuss any possible key decisions with the contractors. It also means you can keep an eye on progress and ensure you are happy with the quality of the work being carried out.
It is also wise to have a key point of contact with your building contractors to arrange site visits and formal meetings to go over progress and key aspects of the build. This will help to keep them on their toes and ensure there’s no slippage in the agreed timeframe. As a general rule, you should visit the site at least once per week and make yourself available via telephone as much as possible if challenges or problems arise that need your oversight.
Communication is Key
To avoid misunderstandings or oversights, it pays to have clear lines of communication between yourself and your contractors to avoid mistakes, disagreements and a ton of aggravation. If you’re handling the project management yourself, make sure it is clear you have the final say on all key decisions. If you have hired a project manager or your architect or a designer to be the point of contact, make sure the contractors know this and that all decisions must be relayed through them to you.
If possible, keep records of all dealings on paper or digitally and date them to refer back to them at any time.
Finally, make sure lines of communication remain friendly, professional and courteous. It only takes the smallest of disagreements for relations to go sour and if this happens, it’s not uncommon for building projects to grind to a halt and end up becoming a heavy financial burden.
Avoid Making Major Changes
Harking back to he preparation stage, changes should be avoidable if you made the right preparations at the beginning.
Minor changes usually have little impact on a build but large changes can cause huge problems with planning and set the entire process back by weeks, sometimes months and means increased costs and a project that stalls if the builders become unavailable or demotivated. The more key decisions you make in advance, the less chances of it going badly wrong later on.
Find Time to Recharge
Any building process can feel like it’s consuming your every moment and taking over your life, so it’s important to have time away from the project to relax, unwind and recharge. Whether its a sport, pastime, exercise class or social gathering, make time for yourself so you can clear your mind of the fog that any build will eventually create.
It’s All Worthwhile!
The longer the build progresses, the more it feels like it will never end. But rest assured, at some point the project will come to its final conclusion and despite the lengthy build process and the overspending, not to mention the stress, noise, dust and dirt, your new beautiful home would have been worth all of the sacrifices you made!