The building process
What to expect when the hammers start swinging.
Unless you’ve been through it before, the building process is quite foreign.
Don’t worry, there’s a general formula your renovation should follow. Once you know it, you’ll be able to keep tabs along the way
How long will it all take?
Your builder will probably give you an estimate of how long the job will take. The start and finish dates should be in the contract. These are likely to be flexible because there can be delays outside the builder’s control. It is not always a straightforward matter of 12 to 16 weeks.
Builders should know about some likely delays and be up-front about them (for example, commitments they have elsewhere). You need to take a reasonable attitude to delays outside of anyone’s control, such as poor weather.
Before anything takes place, ask for a construction plan. A version must be in digital or physical form and not just inside your builder’s noggin. It should cover everything from start to finish with the time frames of each step. Any critical tasks need to be highlighted where work needs to be completed before other jobs can begin.
The timings for subcontracted trades also need to be in there. This is handy for keeping you in the loop as to what’s happening on-site and for holding tardy tradies to account.
As your job progresses, the plan will need frequent updating to track delays or changes.
Changes along the way
There’s no such thing as the perfectly planned renovation. Inevitably there’ll be changes that need to be made so the job can continue. It might be a deviation from the building plans – sometimes what you’ve got on paper doesn’t come off like you expected, or modifications are required so you can use the space as intended.
You might just want to change things once your walls are cleared out and you get a better understanding of the space. A kitchen window might be better if it were moved to take in more of the view, or you might want some built-in shelving around the telly.
More often than not, there’ll be issues exposed on demo day. This usually entails uncovering a bit of rot, dampness or someone’s dodgy building practices of yesteryear. For the job to continue, and for your family to be safe in the house afterwards, they’ll need to be repaired.
These changes – known as variations – are a fact of life once things get under way. They probably won’t be included in your original contract, so you’ll be paying for extra materials and your builder’s time to get them fixed up. Make sure you have a contingency fund squirreled away to account for this.
You have some important choices to make when it comes to running a reno project. You can manage it yourself, your builder can take care of it, or your architect can for an additional fee. You can even rely on a specialist construction company to run things for you.
You stand to save the most money by doing it yourself, but it could prove too much if it’s your first rodeo. Most people will choose to rely on the main builder or architect. This doesn’t mean you won’t be involved along the way – you just can let someone else drive things, contact the council and arrange inspections, and, if necessary, put pressure on anyone holding up the project. They can also pay the right people at the right time and come up with solutions to issues along the way.
Whoever is managing the project needs to track key things before, during and after the job.
- Make sure building consent has been issued.
- Make sure that you understand all the documentation – have the architect or builder explain the plans and specifications to you and make sure you are happy with the design. Any changes after the fact are likely to be costly.
- Make sure the appropriate licensed building practitioners will be designing and carrying out or supervising the work.
- Ensure the site is cleared and ready for the builder to start work.
- Make sure there’s unhindered access to the site. Sometimes it might require you temporarily pulling down part of your fence so tradies can bring in materials.
- Develop a good working relationship with your builder. Any concerns about their work should be discussed right away.
- Calling the Building Consent Authority inspector at the correct times indicated on the consent to come and sign off work.
- If changes are necessary, instruct your builder in writing about all variations to the specified work and ensure you get a written costing. Be aware any changes may mean you have to amend your building consent.
- If responsible for choosing appliances and any other materials or fittings and fixtures, make sure they are already bought and ready to go when the builder reaches that stage.
- Keep to the payments schedule and pay promptly.
- Keep a record of all work undertaken along the way.
- Report any urgent defects to your builder promptly and in writing.
- List any non-urgent defects for your builder to correct at an agreed time.
- Settle the final account.
- Calling the Building Consent Authority inspector to make the final inspections.
Keeping an eye on things
There are numerous things which you need to keep a tab on. Even if you aren’t managing the project, you can still make sure things are being done right and on time.
There are shortages of some building materials and products at the moment, which you need to factor in. Your builder may need to order materials way in advance and you should either be prepared to substitute like-for-like products or you might have to wait.
Storage of materials
Building materials may be in perfect condition when they’re delivered to your site but, by the time they become part of the structure of the house, they may have gotten damaged due to their storage and handling on the building site.
Practices that can damage materials include:
- no cover from the weather
- rough handling
- storage directly on the ground causing dampness
- storage on uneven surfaces causing warping
- storage that doesn’t allow for sweating and escape of moisture
- using the materials as a storage or work platform.
If you see any of this unfolding, take it up with the builder or project manager immediately.
If you aren’t living at your place while the job is under way and want to visit, you will have to arrange access. Most builders close off their sites to public entry, including owners.
It’s a good idea to whip out your phone and take regular photos and videos while the reno is progressing
The reasons for doing this include:
- Recording the location of service trenches, such as drains, before they’re filled in.
- Having a record if there are any disputes about the workmanship or materials used. Make sure photos are close-ups to show important details.
- Recording already damaged items delivered to the site or items damaged by vandalism.
- Recording weather conditions and any resulting damage.
- Noting anything unusual you see, such as irregular construction practices.
- Recording milestones in the building work.