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REALITY CHECK

Six tips for successful construction

The secret lies in planning, supervision and adequate financial commitment

In Summary

• Many dream of building a home or premise but venture into it with costly naivety 

• Contractors appreciate clients who pay decently, and this shows in their work

A maisonette under construction in Eastlands, Nairobi
A maisonette under construction in Eastlands, Nairobi
Image: FILE

Most people will engage in a construction project at least once in their lives, but the sector is so rife with pitfalls that many home owners end up with disappointing results instead of dream homes.

The average person lacking training in construction gets involved with buildings as an individual putting up a family home, rental units or commercial buildings. At work, people get involved in construction projects as procurement officers, accountants and as project managers.

Regardless of how one gets into construction, the pitfalls are the same and could result in disappointment at the very least or disaster at worst.

 

There are buildings where rooms have such strange shapes that it is difficult to effectively utilise the space. There are homes with poor ventilation, poor lighting and no space for washing lines or parking for vehicles.

Some buildings smell of dampness, while others have a permanent odour from the sewers, no matter how much effort is put into cleanliness. Some buildings get too hot or too cold, depending on the season.

 

Construction pitfalls are often a result of not hiring qualified professionals for the various parts of the project. There is a tendency by clients wanting to save money cutting the fees earlier agreed with contractors.

“When you bargain too hard to pay a contractor, he might agree with you out of desperation but he will not do the work with dedication,” says Geoffrey Omondi, a contractor in Nairobi.

He says contractors appreciate clients who pay decently, and this shows in their work.

“I was called to look at a house whose roof had been leaking for years. The landlord could not understand why the problem was recurring after several attempts at repairs,” Omondi says.

Previous fundis plastered waterproof cement on the sides of the building. Omondi decided to take a different approach to the job by removing all the roofing tiles. That was when the root cause of the problem was discovered. Plastic sheeting laid under the roofing tiles covered only about half of the roof. The other half of the roofing did not have any protective material between the roofing tiles and the ceiling.

 

“Most likely the contractor that built the roof knew he could not get more money from the client and so he decided to finish with half the required plastic sheets missing,” Omondi says.

Ideally, one should supervise all the stages of a construction project from start to finish to ensure all the work is done as expected. This is, however, not possible because a construction project could last several months.

It is impossible for the client to be present each day. That is why it is very important to get a tried, tested and trusted contractor. One way of getting a credible contractor is by asking friends or colleagues.

Sadly, a large number of contractors engage in corrupt practices, such as taking shortcuts in construction, inflating costs and dealing in stolen construction material. Stolen hardware is cheap but the risk lies in getting something different from what is required.

For example, you might be supplied with expired paint and only realise the problem months later, when it starts peeling off from the walls. There is also the possibility that hardware you bought for your own project might be sold if you don’t keep an eye on things.

Once your colleagues help you identify a contractor, it would be very useful to visit at least one site the contractor has worked on. Talk to the owner of the building and verify if indeed the contractor lived up to expectations.

Site visits are important because some contractors get pictures of very beautiful buildings from the Internet and claim to have built them. It is also worth checking whether the contractor is licensed by the National Construction Authority (NCA), a national government regulatory body that licenses practitioners in the construction industry, including foremen, masons, electricians, plumbers and even painters.

If you have decided to build, here are some important tips to keep in mind.

1. Get quotations and prepare a budget: It is all about the money. The size of your budget will determine the size of building you will have and what types of material you will use. It is better to make a budget, stick to it and complete your building, instead of stalling in the middle because you ran out of money. Bear in mind that cost overruns are normal in construction.

2. Seek services from professionals: Though professionals seem expensive, their expert advice will save you lots of grief in the long term. To start with, have your building plans drawn by a qualified architect.

3. Explain your concept: You are the client and you know exactly what you have in mind. Explain your vision to the architect and to the main contractor and keep reminding them if they go astray. Professionals should tell you whenever certain aspects of your vision are not technically possible to implement.

4. Obtain relevant approvals: There’s nothing as disorienting (some would say traumatic) as seeing government officials spray a big red ‘X’ across your construction site. Seek advice on which building approvals you need and get them before work begins at the site.

5. Make the right plan for your size of land: Utilise the space effectively while leaving aside some open ground for parking and recreation. It is not good to build ‘beacon to beacon’.

6. Cheap is expensive: In building and construction, there can never be enough emphasis against taking short cuts aimed at cutting costs. Would your loved ones be safe in the building you are putting up? If you cannot truthfully answer that question, then you are wasting time and money on an unsafe building.