Mistakes and disputes are minimised by good drawings and engaging with the architect and client every step of the way. Jerry Tyrrell shows why teamwork and goodwill are best.
Sometimes I hate my job – I get ambushed into yet another dispute that should never have happened, and there are no winners.
It starts with a good design, a good builder and a reasonable, hard-working couple. The work value is usually between $250,000 and $1.5m.
In every job the result should be celebration and life-long friendships – not an unpaid final claim plus a bill of more than $200,000 for lawyers and experts.
And don’t forget to add the relationship stress and misery of living with issues that cannot be fixed.
Drawings are the best ‘foundation’
I have solved thousands of disputes, and in every serious case the basis of the fight is usually an error or omission in the drawings.
The garage opening does not accommodate an SUV with roof racks. The attic stair just doesn’t work. There is no drainage shown behind a basement wall. An expensive timber floor is laid against a beachside balcony sliding door. Or someone slips on a single step or threshold that could have been eliminated if the levels had been checked.
Or worse, the designer ‘guesses’ a detail. These are mainly balcony thresholds, rooms below ground level, difficult roofs, ornaments on the facade, planter boxes and box gutters.
The issue could even be something complex such as glass roofs, motorised bi-fold doors, car-stackers or turntables in penthouses.
Detailing takes experience, and there are limited rules for designers and architects to follow (unless they have spent a lot of time on site).
Blending materials is an art form, and industry is not helping when it fails to tell us about the mistakes other people are making.
For instance, I always prefer a clear 2.1m access into garages. And 50mm wastes from balcony strip drains to achieve flat floors just don’t work. I don’t like laying floorboards under kitchen cupboards in case they get wet.
Paths 1.2m wide allow two people to walk side by side. Round 40mm handrails can be easily gripped. Weather-exposed timber doors suck: they swell, delaminate and decay. And don’t get me started on some of the matt finish baths and basins.
- Use stain-proof, easily cleaned self-finishing materials like granite, glass, stainless steel or concrete masonry blocks.
- Allow movement joints between different materials.
- Do not put incompatible materials together, eg: brass with aluminium, steel next to pools, hardwood above light-coloured pavers, etc.
- Durable finishes are worth 10 times their added cost in reduced maintenance and carbon footprint.
- Never use mild steel, cement-covered foam moulding
- Everything in wet areas should be waterproof.
- Think how water from ledges and corners will stain finishes.
- Use a single system approved by the manufacturer, eg: primers, glues and grouts.
- Read the technical data first for every material used.
- Benchmark anything complex with everyone responsible so it does not create a callback.
Substitute at your peril
Often contractors will change a product that is specified in the contract – sometimes for legitimate reasons.
For instance, using FC sheeting against a single-skin masonry wall is much superior to standard plasterboard.
I usually glue packers to a line to keep the board clear of the wall, and waterproof the back with membrane coating or, at worst, Bondcrete. In fact, you should claim a variation if this has not been specified.
However, if you change anything without agreement from the architect or client you can ultimately face installing what was on the drawings – even if what you do is better.
The best relationships have been when the client was told from Day 1 that there could be upwards of 15% of added costs to get exactly what they want.
Three is not a crowd
I don’t provide a lot of documentation when designing a building or renovation.
Starting with a carefully considered design I ensure the important things work well, ie: access, width of halls, maximised views, provision for sunlight and breezes, and durable finishes.
I am relentless about identifying existing fixed points and providing very clear set-out dimensions from those points.
I always know how the building will look, putting the client in touch with a sensible designer regarding colours and interior furniture. But I’m open to different ways in order to get the work finished.
I favour much more teamwork in our industry. The contracts should allow for this and empower designers and contractors to collaborate better during the works. This reduces mistakes, frustration and administration.
The best relationships have been when the client was told from Day 1 that there could be upwards of 15% of added costs to get exactly what they want. Also that changes during the works are always necessary and rarely, if ever, regretted.
NCC shake up
A findable National Construction Code (NCC) and Standards will soon have a searchable database of building terms.
I spoke to Trent Bourne at the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB). Trent and his boss Neil Savery made access to the NCC free in 2015, so more and more people are finding the NCC.
Now the Shergold and Weir Report has empowered Trent and Neil even more. Recommendation No. 22 allows them to: “develop a national dictionary of terminology to assist jurisdictions, industry and consumers to understand the range of terminology used to describe the same or similar terms and processes in different jurisdictions.”
I understand that the ABCB and Standards Australia are collaborating on adding NCC definitions into an electronic version of the well-written Glossary of Building Terms.
This is long overdue and will help all us use consistent language in our documents. Well done ABCB! This is another major step in streamlining access to knowledge.
Jerry Tyrrell is founder of the Institute of Building Consultants and co-founder of Tyrrells Property Inspections. He has more than 45 years’ experience as a contractor, architect and author.
Let me know any thoughts at email@example.com.
*This article first appeared in the summer 2018 edition of Building Connection. Click here to subscribe.