How do I choose a builder?

The cheapest quote from a builder is not necessarily the quote you want to go with.

Every home owner has aspirations to make their home the best it can be. The nicest possible environment for them and their family to live in. And who can blame them? I myself designed the extension to my own home back in 2007, where the small dining room extension built back in the 1980’s was demolished and replaced with a large dining and family room and kitchen.

Regardless of the increased monetary value of the house, the quality of home life for my family, has improved immeasurably since the builders completed the work in July 2008.

However for some home owners the prospect of creating a dream home can become a nightmare. Spurred on by a vast array of home improvement ideas streamed through our television screens and via social media, we have all been brainwashed into thinking that we know how to improve our home. Of course we can do amazing improvements but this can come at a price.

There is a trap waiting to snare the unsuspecting home owner.

Being diligent three or four quotes are obtained from local builders.  It is at this point that that everyone should ask themselves, which of the prices is offering best value? It nearly always will not be the quote with the lowest figure on the bottom line.

Sometimes (not always), best value comes with a price tag attached and this should be budgeted for in the overall cost plan. No-one wants to employ a builder to turn their dream into a nightmare and perhaps the cost for avoiding this is as valuable as the bricks and mortar themselves.


What does a structural engineer do?

If one considers the human body as analogous to a building, structural engineers would be the professionals that design the skeleton so that the body can support its weight and other forces that act on it.

Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering, and its applications are diverse. A great deal of what structural engineers do involve designing structures such as buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc. Structural engineers work as consultants to architects, design-build contractors or the end user of the structure. The architect or design-build contractor comes up with a building layout, and then it’s the structural engineer’s responsibility to calculate the loads (such as snow, wind and earthquake forces), fit the structure to the architecture, and decide on what structural systems to use. The structural systems include steel, concrete, masonry, wood and other materials from which the engineer selects beams, columns, and other members that make up the building support. Though structural engineers generally are involved with the design of new buildings, they are sometimes involved in the demolition or dismantling of a structure, either permanently or in order to repair it. They also inspect structures both during and after construction to ensure that they are properly constructed.

Because the work of structural engineers is closely tied to public safety, they must be qualified and registered with an institution in order to demonstrate their abilities. Generally speaking, an engineer has at a minimum a bachelor’s degree in engineering and at least six years of experience working under the supervision of a Chartered engineer.


What is Structural Survey?

There is more than one type of survey which can be carried out on a house or other building. For the uninitiated it can be confusing to understand all of the terminology involved.

The most common type of survey is carried out during the purchase of a house and the result of this will be a Homebuyers Report. This will be carried out by a Chartered Surveyor who will be a member of the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors). The format of this type of survey and report will follow a prescribed format and is licensed by the RICS.

The Homebuyers report will identify any defects in a building and is essential information when negotiating the purchase of a home so that the vendor fully understands the condition of the property being purchased.

A structural survey is quite different from a Homebuyers Report. A structural survey could be commissioned for a number of different reasons, the most common being:

  • A building is exhibiting signs of movement or cracking due to an unknown cause
  • A building owner wishes to extend or alter a building and needs to understand which walls are load bearing

At Andrew Howard & Partners, we can carry out structural surveys to assess a building which is cracking or which is to be modified.

The reasons for a building moving or cracking can be difficult to determine but are most likely due to one of the following:

  • The effects of mining
  • The action of tree roots where the building is built on clay soils
  • Leaking drains

If a building is to be modified, Andrew Howard & Partners can survey load paths through the building and advise a building owner what can and cannot be achieved to realize their dream without the roof literally falling in on their heads!

Contact Andrew Howard & Partners for further advice.


What is Subsidence damage?

Subsidence damage occurs when movement in the ground causes movement of the building foundations. The damage often shows up as cracks in walls or ceilings, often around door or window openings and wider at the top than the bottom. Doors and windows may also stick.

Subsidence most commonly occurs when clay soil under the foundations dries up and shrinks, frequently due to moisture extraction by the roots of nearby trees. This type of subsidence typically occurs in the summer following hot, dry weather. The second most common cause is leakage from underground pipes washing away or softening the soil beneath the foundations.  Another less common form of ground movement is heave. This occurs when the ground swells – often when moisture levels increase in a clay soil after removal of trees.

In many cases subsidence damage can be repaired relatively easily and effectively and without foundation work. This is usually after the cause has been addressed which will typically involve some tree work or repair of a leaking service pipe. In a small proportion of cases, normally where the cause cannot be removed, it is necessary to undertake foundation works.

Site investigations are investigations carried out to establish the type and condition of the foundations and soil beneath the foundations. The investigations are carried out to determine the cause of the damage to the property. These can consist of:

  • Trial pits – a small pit dug into the ground
  • Boreholes – a deeper hole drilled into the ground to obtain soil / root samples for study

Contact Andrew Howard & Partners for further advice.