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Approving variations to the structure or materials

What happens when changes to the plans or specified materials have to be made once building work has started? We look at how to manage the variation process.

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Changes by the builder

In the specifications there will be detailed instructions about what products the builder is to install, for example, the brand of wall cladding. Sometimes the builder or one of the subcontractors may have to make a substitution because that brand wasn’t available when needed. You will want at least the equivalent in quality to be installed.

In your contract with the builder you should have a term that forbids the builder making any variations to the contract without your express written instruction.

Be aware that an amendment to the building consent may be required.

If the builder makes a substitution without your permission you may have a case for breach of contract under the Consumer Guarantees Act or mandatory warranties that apply to contracts entered into from 30 November 2004.

When you ask for changes

During building you might change your mind about something. This might be at the suggestion of your builder or something you thought about later, for example, you might decide to install soundproofing between the bottom and second floor, or change the position of an internal wall.

Talk to your designer, project manager or builder to help decide if the variation is really necessary and how much it will cost. It could require a new or amended building consent. Or it could turn out that it can’t be done anyway – it may be too far into the building process to start moving walls or inserting soundproofing products between floors. But you won’t know unless you ask.

Be aware that changing your mind is likely to cost you money – ask for at least an estimate in writing of the cost before you agree to the variation.

Variation process

Variations should follow the process set out in the contract, i.e. get them in writing and include:

  • An itemised claim detailing the required variations.
  • Agreement of the variation by your Building Consent Authority.
  • A record of any discussions or negotiations.
  • A record of what was agreed and any payments made.
  • A summary of the adjustment against the original contract sum.
  • The authorised instruction to carry out the variation.
  • As it is a variation of the main contract, it should be signed and dated by you and the builder (or project manager).
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