Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to avoid ‘Cowboy Builders’ – 5 Practical Tips



Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised or discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so.   Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.

Source:www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk
There are times when we need to engage the services of a builder, contractor, tradesperson, (call them what you will), when we are considering building work or indeed in the event of an emergency. Selection of ‘the right person’ is often determined by random selection based upon a brief search through Yellow Pages, a quick internet search or a card displayed in a newsagent’s window. This leads to us placing our trust in people we know very little about and allowing then access into our homes/buildings. Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised/discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so. Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.

Knowledge of home repairs and building works is something many people no little to nothing about and therefore prefer to pay to have these types of work carried out. Therefore, if a ‘builder’ is invited to give advice and a quotation, most people will not have the expertise to assess whether the work they are proposing is appropriate or indeed necessary, or whether it represents good value for money or not. So why do we seem to make these rash decisions? This is likely to be due to the urgency of works, our trusting nature, confident, sometimes intimidating behaviour, cheap price etc. It is decisions made on this basis that can lead to very significant problems and disputes, and this approach should be avoided at all costs.

In March 2012 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published their Home Repairs and Improvements Toolkit which in the introduction states: ‘In the 18 months from January 2009 to September 2010, advice service Consumer Direct received over 146,000 complaints from consumers about problems they had experienced with home repairs and home improvement projects’. As a result the OFT together with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Trading Standards and Local Authority Building Control and Planning departments, launched a campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers around how to manage home repairs and building works.  The toolkit considered that raising public awareness through the media would be the most effective way of dealing with this issue, however, below I offer some practical suggestions that should be considered when engaging building and repair works:

1. Do your homework

Always take the time to do some research to find out about the people you are thinking of using. How long have they been trading?, do they have a website, if so are there examples of their work?, are there previous customer reviews. Have they got a track record for the type of work you require? Do they have the accreditation they claim?  If you cannot find this information on-line, then ask for details of previous similar work that has been carried out and contact details. Good builder/tradespeople are proud of their work and would be more than happy for you to talk to their ‘satisfied customers’. If a builder/tradesperson is not willing to provide this information for you then do not employ them!

2. Obtain alternative quotations

Never appoint a builder/tradesperson on the basis of one quotation. When you go to a supermarket you often have the choice of numerous similar products, which you will assess at in terms of quantity, quality and cost. You will consider these factors and then make an informed choice. This is exactly the same approach you should take when considering home improvements or building works. If you instruct building work from the first quotation you receive it is the same as going into to supermarket and picking up and paying for the first thing you see. How can you be sure you have got good value for money.

3. Get things in writing

All quotations should be received in writing.  Failure to receive a written quotation can lead to disputes and misinterpretation in what you ‘thought’ you had been told and what is actually provided. Legally, there is such thing as a verbal contract, the problem is, how can you prove someone had said something, if they are claiming otherwise?  Written quotations will avoid this, however it would also be wise to have the quotation broken down into as much detail as possible.  A detailed breakdown, with costs attached to each item, will reduce uncertainty, for yourself and the builder. Also, do the costs include VAT?

4. Payment

It is common practice for a builder/tradesperson to request an upfront payment for ‘materials’. I would suggest that as part of accepting the quotation that you also agree a payment schedule, which will include any upfront payments. Payments should be spread over the duration of the works and based on progress with a final payment held back until the work is complete. Never pay large sums of the works cost upfront. Only pay the builder/tradesperson for the work they have completed. Always be mindful that you are in a position that if the builder/tradesperson failed to complete the works (for whatever reason), have you got enough money left in the project to pay someone else to complete it? If the answer is no then you have probably paid too much too soon.

5. Never accept cold callers

Never be tempted into considering ‘deals’ from cold callers. Many of the horror stories we hear relate to those who have felt pressurised into paying for work they did not need, was far too expensive (sometimes extortionate), and completed to a very low standard (or sometimes not completed at all). Avoid cold callers at all costs. We have possibly all been in a situation where we open our front door and are greeted by someone who appears to be plausible and knowledgeable, however do not be fooled! You will undoubtedly be offered the deal of the century, however in life you get what you pay for, so to quote a popular phrase, ‘if it appears to good to be true, it probably is’.

Typical ways in which you may be approached may include:

‘I am working over the road and noticed that you have some damaged tiles on your roof.  While I’m here, I’ve got my ladders and just happen to have some spare tiles, do you want me to take a look?  Answer - NO!

‘I’ve just re-surfaced your neighbour’s driveway and I’ve got materials left over. While I’m here I can do you’re drive for a really cheap price, but I can only do it today. What do you think?  Answer – NO!

‘We are in the area today only and offering significant unrepeatable discounts for a small number of customers who agree for us to use your property for marketing purposes. We will take pictures of the work we do and include it in our marketing literature’ Answer – NO!

‘You will need to sign up now. The manufactures price is increasing after today’Answer – NO!

‘I will give you a good deal for cash’ Answer – NO! - If this is suggested it should immediately raise alarm bells as, firstly it is illegal and will undoubtedly be work ‘off the books’, thereby avoiding tax and VAT payments. Anyone who is prepared to suggest work in this way is not the type of person you can have an faith or confidence in as there honesty is already compromised.


Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog

Monday, May 16, 2016

10 Tallest Buildings in the World - In Pictures



The World's 10 Current Completed Tallest Buildings (at May 2016)

In last week’s article I discussed the human desire to construct high rise buildings and posed the question: Is there a limit to how high we can build?’.  The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), have formulated a list from their database (link) which shows completed, under construction and planned ‘skyscrapers’ over the coming years, demonstrating that construction and demand for high rise buildings is on the increase.   This week I wanted to publish details of the 10 current completed highest buildings in the world, as detailed the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) database:

Number 1

Burj  Khalifa  - Dubai - UAE  - 828 Metres  - 2717 Feet - 163 Floors - Completed 2010 

Source: foundtheworld.com
Number 2

Shanghai Tower - Shanghai - China - 632 Metres - 2073 Feet - 128 Floors - Completed 2015


Source:www.latimes.com
Number 3


Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel - Mecca - Saudi Arabia - 601 Metres - 1972 Feet - 120 Floors - Completed 2012

Source: www.independent.co.uk
Number 4

One World Trade Centre - New York - USA - 
451 Metres - 1776 Feet - 94 Floors - Completed 2015

Source: www.aecom.com
Number 5

Taipei 101 - Taipei - China - 508 Metres - 1667 Feet - 101 Floors - Completed 2004 

Source: www.taipei-101.com.tw
Number 6

Shanghai World Financial Centre - Shanghai - China - 
492 Metres - 1614 Feet - 101 Floors - Completed 2008
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk
Number 7

International Commerce Centre - Hong Kong - 484 Metres - 1588 Feet - 108 Floors -Completed 2010

Source: www.architecturalrecord.com
Numbers 8&9 

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia - 452 Metres - 1482 Feet - 88 Floors -Completed 1998

Source: blog.123hotels.com
Number 10

Zifeng Tower - Nanjing - China - 450 Metres - 1476 Feet - 89 Floors - Completed 2010 

Source :skyscrapercenter.com

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog

Monday, May 9, 2016

Is there a limit to how high we can build?



On May 6th 1954 when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, there were many who thought that this would never be beaten.  The record has been broken a further eighteen times since then..... This also seems to be the case with high rise buildings, motivated by our human desire ‘to go one better’ than the previous best.

Burj Khalifa Tower - Source: www.youtube.com
Sometimes we have to stand in awe at the creativity and innovativity of the human race, where we are constantly stretching the boundaries of possibility. This is well demonstrated around the globe with the large amount of high rise buildings that are either in the process of being constructed, or have actually been completed. Demand for high rise buildings is on the increase, which is demonstrated by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), who have formulated a list from their database which shows completed, under construction and planned ‘skyscrapers’ over the coming years.  Click on this (link) to take a look at this list where you will notice that if all of the proposed and under construction buildings are completed, then by 2021, only three of the current top 10 buildings (Burj Kalifa, Shanghai Tower and Makkah Royal Clock Tower), will remain in the top 10 buildings, and in fact only five of the current top 20 buildings, will still appear in the top 20 by 2022.  These statistics are staggering, however they demonstrate our inate desire to build big.  At the top of the list of proposed tall buildings is the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This is now under construciton and projected for completion in 2018. It is expected to cost in excess of $1.2bn, and form the first phase of a wider Kingdom City scheme that is estimated in the region of $2bn.  Kingdom Tower will rise to 1000 metres, which will exceed the current completed tallest building (Burj Kalifa – Dubai), by a further 172 metres.

The tallest building in the European Union is currently The Shard’ in London. Completed in 2012. The building stands at what now seems to be a modest 309.6 metres, when you take into consideration the buildings on the CTBUH list.  In fact if all of the under construction and planned buildings on the list are completed, The Shard will not even appear in the top hundred and fifty buildings in the World by 2021, even though it currently sits as the 80th highest completed building in the World.

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah - Under Construction - Source: www.youtube.com
There are a number of reason that may motivate investment in a high rise building, including, scarcity of land in large cities (often their central business districts), increasing demand for business and residential space, economic growth, human aspiration to build higher, innovations  in structural systems and products and ultimately prestige. However, planning and constructing a large building comes with many challenges that are less of an issue for smaller buildings.  This includes things such as finance, planning restrictions, energy use (although many new buildings are adopting renewable and other technologies), structural considerations, circulation in what effectively becomes a vertical street, external fa├žade (fixing, maintenance and cleaning), internal environment to achieve human comfort, and so on.  The more high rise buildings that are built, then the more these issues are better understood, however as we stretch the boundaries and construct even higher, then we are likely to encounter further obstacles that we may not have previously contemplated.

As an example let us consider one of the fundamental needs, water supply, in a very high building.  If we consider the provision of a water supply pipe from the bottom of the building to the top, it is easy to imagine why this could prove to be problematic.  As previously stated the current highest building in the World is 828 metres high.  Therefore trying to ensure that the water supply travels such a long distance in a vertical direction and can be used at the right pressure when needed is never going to be straightforward:

‘Plumbing is one of the more challenging problems to solve due to the loss in pressure as water travels up a vertical pipe. Plumbing engineers found out that as you lift water above a datum, you lose 1 pound per square inch for every 2.3 feet of elevation. This small but incremental loss makes achieving high water pressure at the top of a water column very difficult. Most water fixtures require at least 25 psi to operate or flush properly, so measures to ensure consistent water pressure throughout the building must be implemented. As the building get taller, another problem arises as the water pressure at the bottom of a vertical pipe becomes too great for safe operation and building codes’
                       
‘The early solution to this problem was a water tank mounted on the top of a building with fill pumps at the bottom of the building.  Water is supplied to occupants through a simple gravity down feed system.  Today, a system of pressure-reducing valves and sub-risers are used to manage the inconsistent water pressure throughout a skyscraper. Pressure-reducing valves reduce the pressure at the bottom of the building, while sub-risers increase the pressure for the skyscrapers upper floors. Today’s systems lack a main tank, but rather integrate the whole system within a buildings walls and basement’ (Source: http://www.allaboutskyscrapers.com/)

The above discusses a single issue to demonstrate the complexity of design issues in respect of building higher. Other issues such as sewage, lifts, emergency escape, fire fighting provision, earthquakes (and many others ) etc. could equally have been selected, as they pose significant design challenges for very high buildings.  Despite this it appears from buildings on the CTBUH list, that these issues are not standing in the way of buildings becoming evermore higher. This then poses a question. ‘Is there a limit to how high we can build?’ Well, at present it appears not, but surely there has to be a limit?  On May 6th 1954 when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, there were many who thought that this would never be beaten.  The record has since been broken a further eighteen times since then, with the current record being held by Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj achieving a time of 3.43.13 in Rome in 1999.  This also seems to be the case with high rise buildings, motivated by our human desire ‘to go one better’ than the previous best.

Who knows what human ingenuity will produce in the future? The possibilities seem endless. In fact take a look at the list of ‘all’ tall buildings on the CTBUH database and you will see that there is a ‘vision’ to build at a height of 4000 metres in Tokyo, Japan. This is four times higher than the Jeddah Tower which will become the new highest building in the World when completed in a few years time. This vision appears hard to believe however I am sure many thought the same about a human being running a mile in less than four minutes prior to 1953, so you never know……..

Try to take the time to look at this fascinating documentary which shows how the current highest building in the World was constructed.


Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog

Monday, May 2, 2016

External Decorations – Routine Property Maintenance - Part 2



Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetical appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it.

Source: www.napoleon.cc
I am not a mechanic but like most people I am aware that if I do not take care of my car then it will eventually break down. Regardless of what you may know about cars, most people (but not everyone!) can do basic things such as checking oil and water levels, checking and maintaining tyre pressures as well as filling up with fuel and occasionally even cleaning the car!  In a similar way buildings require 'regular basic maintenance' in order to prevent more long term issues manifesting themselves, which if not carried out can prove to be very expensive to rectify.  Last week I discussed the importance of undertaking maintenance to buildings and introduced a number of routine basic maintenance tasks including clearing rainwater gutters, cutting back trees, shrubs and vegetation and washing down UPVC.  This week I offer some further advice in respect of external decorations.

Extensive Splice Repairs - Source: sashwindowskent.co.uk
How many times do you walk or drive past a building, which is in a very poor state repair and asked yourself why the occupants have allowed this to happen?  Allowing the external envelope of a building to deteriorate will not only give a very negative visual impression, but also create an environment for materials/components to deteriorate and decay.  As an example let us consider softwood timber, which is used extensively for numerous external building components including windows, doors, soffit and fascia boards, barge boards, cladding and so on.  Different treatments are available, including oil and water based preservatives, which are designed to reduce the risk of moisture ingress into the timber and therefore protect and increase the serviceable life of the material.  These however do not last forever and even in the event that pre-treated timber is used it will still require regular coatings to maintain the protection.  Where pre-treated timber is not used, it is necessary to provide an alternative protection, which in most cased will be a painted finish.  Once the protective coating to the timber deteriorates, be that preservative or paint, the timber then becomes vulnerable to decay, particularly wet rot. As a general rule of thumb, the time frame for routinely carrying out external decorations is between three and five years, however this will vary depending on a number of factors;  

Firstly, preparation of decorated surfaces.  Even if timber is in the early stages of decay, it is still necessary to deal with the decay before applying the decorative finish.  There is not much point in just painting over decaying timber (and I have seen this many times), and hoping that the problem will somehow rectify itself!  In these situations, depending on the extent of decay it may be necessary to cut out effected parts and introduce new timber (something called a splice repair), if the decay is less serious it may be more appropriate to remove areas of decaying timber and then fill with a good quality timber filler, or in serious cases it may be necessary to replace the whole component. Whatever the circumstances the repair must be appropriate depending on the extent of decay.

Secondly, quality of materials – It is essential that the correct products are used when undertaking external decorations.  You only need to visit one of the large national DIY outlets to see that there are numerous manufacturers who provide a range of products for all sorts of applications. This seemingly unlimited choice is sometimes the problem. Many people do not read the labels properly (sometimes not at all) and end up buying a product that is not appropriate.  A common example of this is where internal quality gloss paint is used for external applications.  

The other issue in respect of quality of materials is cost.  The quality of products can vary significantly and the cheapest price very rarely represents best value.  It often proves to more cost effective to use more expensive products because they are likely to be better quality and therefore last longer. More expensive products do not always guarantee this however a little bit of research into a product (nowadays with the internet you can read other customers reviews) will help you to decide.  Using well know established brands may also be worth considering.  These again may prove to be more costly, however they are well known brands for a reason!  

Finally, quality of workmanship – You do not need to be a trades person to undertake decorations to your building, as most people can lift and use a paintbrush!   This may be true for applying a finishing coat and works of a simple nature, however a little more knowledge is required when undertaking the majority of external decorations.  

Depending on the surface to be decorated, after preparation, it may be necessary to apply an undercoat or primer, followed by a number of finishing coats.  Certain products will also come with a list of ‘manufacturer’s instructions’, which must be followed in order to make the finish effective.  Failure to understand and apply an appropriate level of workmanship will result in a sub-standard finish, which will undoubtedly require addressing much sooner than you would want.  I would suggest that poor workmanship was the most common factor for many of the external defects that I come across when undertaking inspections.  Therefore, in some circumstances it is likely to be more cost effective to employ the services of someone who has got the correct level of knowledge and expertise, than you attempt the work yourself to try to save a few pennies.

Decorating externally on a routine basis is fundamental to maintaining and improving the serviceable life of building components and materials.  For the purposes of this article I have considered external joinery, however all materials/components should be considered in a similar way. Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetical appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it.  I will again finish with the following question - Why Is Regular Routine Property Maintenance So Often Overlooked?

The video below shows a method of repairing a timber window frame which has suffered wet rot decay.  If the timber had decayed any further it is likely that a splice repair would be necessary.




Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog