Thorough discussion and briefing are an essential first step in any construction project. Employ a local architect to assist in the briefing process if the project is complex or if they will be involved in design at a later stage. Consider the following issues and write a summary for all ‘stakeholders’ to approve prior to commencing any design or construction work. This will prevent many problems or potential disagreements down the line:

  • Number of rooms, uses and sizes
  • Relationship between each space and any necessary adjacencies
  • Number of users for each space and the whole building
  • Access requirements (pedestrian, disabled, types of vehicles, servicing etc.)

It is useful to create a ‘schedule of accommodation’ for a large project, that lists all rooms, number of users, floor area, and a suitable allowance for circulation and ancillary rooms. This will allow you to calculate a total internal floor area, which will assist in cost planning (see later).

Choosing a Site
These are a few of the issue to consider if you have to choose a site for your project:

  • Mains electricity, gas, water, sewerage connections / costs and alternative services options
  • Suitable access for the predicted traffic (pedestrian, car, lorry, bus, delivery vehicles)
  • Suitable size to allow for the required accommodation, space for access, parking etc.
  • Ground conditions (and impact on foundation costs)
  • Trees (location of roots, impact of shade etc.)
  • Geography (it is more expensive to build on a sloping site)
  • Orientation (consider local climate issues such as wind, monsoons, sun path)
  • Drainage and flooding (is the site in a flood plain?)
  • Be VERY careful of ownership issues - use a local specialist surveyor and/or legal advisor to ensure the land is actually available and the boundaries are correct

Design Development
The initial design ideas can be developed once the brief has been agreed by all relevant parties. A few options should be considered and tabled for discussion. Try to avoid predicting one solution without exploring a few alternatives as the first concept is rarely the best solution. Consider issues such as access, orientation, views in and out, relationship between the various rooms / spaces, materials and precedents such as local ‘vernacular’ buildings. It may be beneficial to visit other buildings with the same function to discuss their pros and cons and develop the brief further.

If the project is of a reasonable size, it will be beneficial to draw out a programme of the various stages of the job against a time line. This will allow you to estimate the total time for the project, monitor your progress and help you predict when you need certain materials and trades on site.

Planning Permission
Check with the local authority or an experienced local architect what permissions are required prior to commencing design work (or work on site!). Your project programme should allow for any approval periods.

Local Regulations
Check with the local authority or an experienced local construction professional what the local ‘Building Regulations’ are. These are generally a series of requirements to ensure that the building is safe and that it functions properly and efficiently. You may have to submit drawings and calculations for approval and your programme should allow for this.

A local structural engineer should be consulted on all but the smallest of projects. Buildings should be designed for a suitably long lifetime and the correct sizes of structural members, grades of materials and construction methods are essential to prevent long term structural failure. If work is to be done to an existing or damaged building, consult an engineer to ensure that any necessary remedial action is taken BEFORE commencing renovation or new construction work.

These systems may include heating, cooling, plumbing, electrics and sewerage. They are generally very technical and best left to a local specialist engineer or contractor to ensure that they meet any necessary regulations and/or standards. Consider integration issues such as the location and sizes of all the services in the building at the design stage to ensure that there are no nasty or unsightly surprises during construction!

Cost Planning
If the project is large or complex a local quantity surveyor should be employed to create a ‘Cost Plan’, based on the agreed initial brief, design drawings and specification of materials. This will provide an estimate of the total building cost in comparison to the available budget. An appropriate contingency (typically 10-20%) should be allowed as it is very easy to miss items at the initial stages or for changes to be made as the design develops (or even during construction as unforeseen problems arise!). The cost plan should be updated and reviewed at key stages in the project to monitor progress against the budget.

On small projects it may be sufficient to obtain estimates / quotes for the various elements of work. A contingency should still be allowed for unexpected items. And be aware that ‘estimates’ are just that – they may not be the final cost of the work!

Contracts & Agreements
It is essential to have written agreements with all contractors and specialist consultants. These may be as simple as a list of their proposed services / tasks, what materials they are providing, an agreed price and whether this includes any relevant taxes. This is essential as it is very easy to misunderstand or disagree when verbal agreements are made, particularly when there is a language barrier! On larger projects it may be necessary to use a more formal construction contract. Advice should be sought from local construction professionals.

Health and Safety
You may be responsible for the health and safety of contractors, consultants and / or volunteers working on the site. Consider the following:

  • First aid kit on site at all times
  • A member of the team with relevant medical experience
  • Train volunteers how to use tools (especially power tools)
  • Try and avoid working from heights and use suitable ladders etc if necessary
  • Consider taking out accident insurance or notify any volunteers if they are responsible for their own accident insurance

Sustainability and Environmental Design
Sustainability is a combination of social, economic and environmental factors. These should all be considered at the design stage of a project to ensure it has a positive impact on the local inhabitants and economy and a minimum impact on the environment. The following are some issues to consider:

  • Environment
  • Use local, natural materials wherever possible as these require less processing and transport and therefore have lower ‘embodied energy’
  • Integrate energy saving features (low energy lights and appliances, appropriate insulation, low energy heating and / or cooling systems)
  • Study local traditional buildings to see how they respond to the local climate
  • Integrate water saving features (dual /low flush WCs, rainwater collection and storage, low flow taps and showers)
  • Integrate renewable energy systems such as solar thermal hot water panels if they are financially viable
  • Integrate waste recycling facilities if there are local recycling schemes in operation
  • Social
  • Use local contractors to support the local economy and develop a sense of community acceptance of the project
  • Develop the brief in collaboration with community leaders to maximise potential use of the building by the local community
  • Use the project to educate users and the local community about their impact on the environment and how they can reduce their energy use, water use and waste
  • Economic
  • Buy materials locally and use local contractors to support the local economy

Scope of Works
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Tools & Power
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Written by: Rupert. Please contact us for any suggestions or further information.