Once building work is under way, there are a number of things to keep an eye on. How long should the project take, who should keep records, and are building materials being stored correctly?
Order of construction
The usual order of construction is:
- Excavate the section and lay the foundations
- Pour concrete floors
- Construct the framing
- Put the roof on
- Mount the windows
- Put on the exterior cladding
- Organise plumbing and wiring
- Fit insulation
- Put in the doors
- Install cabinets and interior lining
- Tile floors and walls
- Carry out final plumbing and electrical work
- Paint the house and complete any finishing work
- Lay the floor coverings
How long will it all take?
Your builder has probably given you an estimate of how long it will take to actually build the house. The start and finish dates should be in the contract. These are likely to be flexible because delays are often outside the builder’s control. It is not always a straightforward matter of 12 to 16 weeks. Delays you can expect might be due to:
- Delays in other houses the builder is working on affecting how soon the builder can start.
- Whether the subcontractors are available when needed.
- The weather – this can be a huge factor, for example when laying concrete foundations. Wind is often a problem when roofing and building wraps are being installed.
- Hold-ups with materials, which are often in short supply in times of heavy building activity.
With demand for builders and contractors being so high in recent times, people have reported huge delays of months and sometimes years before the house even got started, and then building work taking a lot longer than it should.
Builders should know about some likely delays and be up-front about them, for example, what commitments they have elsewhere. You need to take a reasonable approach to the delays outside of anyone’s control, such as the weather. However, when the delays start to get unreasonable you might want to look at your options.
Remember that you should apply for a code compliance certificate once the building work is complete. If you do not apply within two years from the time the building consent is granted your BCA should contact you to follow up on the work.
Keeping an eye on things
If you are managing the project, you have to keep a close eye on the quality of the work and pick up problems quickly. For example, if the wrong wall framing is going in, it needs to be sorted before the wall linings go up.
You, the builder or the project manager will need to ensure that:
- Materials are checked off when they arrive to make sure they are what is ordered and required.
- Timber is of the specified treatment type and at specified moisture levels.
- The house is set out correctly on the site.
- Plans and specifications are followed.
- Materials are installed to manufacturers’ instructions.
- Finished construction is protected from the weather.
Even if you are not managing the project, you may well be taking a keen interest in progress. If you spot anything that does not look right, bring it up immediately with the builder. It would be better to replace a few bricks that are the wrong colour than wait until the house is finished before pointing it out. Most things that go wrong are simply mistakes which your builder would prefer to know about sooner rather than later.
Take photos of plumbing and wiring before walls are lined so you have a record to assist trades people if changes are needed later.
Speak to the project manager first and let them deal with any problems. It is part of the project manager's job and it's what you are paying for. Use a diary to record all your questions and comments to your project manager.
Setting out the house on the site
How does your new house get its exact position on the section? How does the builder know where to start the foundations?
The architect/designer will have taken the first steps in making sure the house will fit the section and meet any height or placement restrictions. They will give careful set-out instructions on the plans for the builder to follow. The set-out instructions will be based on the plan of the section and give measurements showing exactly where in relation to the edges of the section the house will sit. In most cases this is all that is required and an experienced builder will be able to position the house exactly.
However, your section may have an unusual shape, or it may be that the house will have to fit very tightly on a small urban section. In these cases the services of a land surveyor will be used to position the foundations. They can also set out the other difficult-to-place features such as boundary pegs defining the site and minimum floor levels.
Sometimes the boundary pegs get moved. They may get knocked out when a neighbour is planting a boundary hedge, or children may remove them, not understanding their significance. If they are stuck back into the ground haphazardly the builder is probably working off the wrong information when setting out the house. If the deviation is small this may not be a problem. However, it could cause major problems when it is finally noticed. For example, the garage may not line up with the entrance way. Depending at which point the error is noticed, it can be an extremely costly exercise to put it right.
Storage of materials
Building materials may be in perfect condition when they are delivered to your site, but by the time they become part of the structure of the house, they may have become damaged due to their storage and handling on the building site. Kiln-dried timber is a good example. It needs to be kept dry after it is delivered and when it is installed.
Practices that can damage materials include:
- No cover from the weather.
- Rough handling when coming off the delivery truck.
- 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 these practices occurring take it up with the builder or project manager and photograph it so you can show how damage occurred if there are resulting problems.
Safety on the building site
If you are managing the project, or just interested and want to visit, you will have to arrange access. Most builders close off their sites to public entry, including owners, to protect themselves from liability under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 and for reasons of security.
The main contractor or project manager should be keeping a complete and organised set of site records. Depending on your involvement in the project, there are a number of documents, including photographs, you should acquire and file for your own protection.
The reason for keeping a document trail is to provide protection for everyone involved if there are any disputes. The records relating to building houses include:
- A record of the original site conditions, including photographs.
- The plans and specifications.
- The contract.
- Site diaries kept by the main contractor (or project manager).
- Your own diary of notes.
Individual builders vary in whether they keep a site diary or not and how much information they record. But keeping records of the reasons for delays outside their control, in particular, could be very useful to the builder if there are any time penalties built into the contract.
Usual information recorded in the site diary:
- What work has been done.
- Verbal instructions given.
- Variations (which may require an amendment to the building consent before they are done).
- When subcontractors came and went.
- Weather conditions.
- Reasons for stoppages.
- Materials delivered and their condition.
- Setting out work.
- Visitors to the site.
- Moisture content checks.
- Building specification checks.
Builders may keep registers. For example, a Request for Clarification Register to ask questions and a Contract Site Instruction Register to record the answer. They may also keep a similar set of registers for their dealings with subcontractors. In the glossary there is a list of the common documents used in building projects.
Keeping your own records
Whether you are managing the project or not, keeping your own records is very important. A copy of the contract, as well as every piece of correspondence, the bills and statements, and a record of any discussion with the builder and contractors needs to be filed in such a way that you can easily find them. Emails should be printed out and filed.
Small projects won’t need an elaborate document control system. Probably all that is needed is for documents to be separated into headings such as correspondence, subcontractors and suppliers, contracts and financial.
Tip: Keeping a record of the accounts will help you keep tabs on spending and help you stay within your budget.
Photographs and videos
It is a good idea to take photographs or make a video diary at regular or key times while the house is being built, preferably with a date imprint. The reasons for doing this include:
- Recording the location of service trenches, such as drains, before they are filled in.
- Having a factual record if there are any disputes about the workmanship or materials used, for example, it might show if the insulation was installed correctly over building paper. Make sure the 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.
Keep the photos in an album, or on disk, date them and give them a title or explanation if necessary.
Making your own inspections of work on the building project and requesting inspections from building officials at the right times are important steps in the building phase.
In the plans and specifications put forward for building consent, you can specify owner’s inspections. These are in-progress inspections by yourself, or delegated to someone else, such as your project manager. Owner’s inspections are in addition to inspections by authorised inspectors.
During construction, the work has to be inspected at various stages. This is done by your Building Consent Authority (BCA). The inspections confirm that the work has been done in accordance with the plans and specifications approved in the building consent. For example, the depth and placement of steel reinforcing is inspected before the footings can be poured, and the moisture content of the timber framing is inspected before interior wall linings can go up.
Work cannot proceed until the inspection for each stage is completed. If the inspection is not done first, the BCA can make you undo the subsequent work, for example, take the wall linings off to inspect the framing.
Similarly, if work differs from the plans the inspector can order it to be demolished and done again.
Either you, the builder or your project manager must arrange for the inspector to come at each stage, depending on what is agreed in the contract. It is often the builder who makes the call but you must confirm this as you need to know that the inspections have been done.
The inspection stages are listed in the paperwork you get with the building consent.