Most self-build ventures that come to grief start to do so long before the building work begins. It is in the earliest stages of planning a project that mistakes are usually made that can lead to an eventual failure.

Many self-builders begin their projects without fully appreciating the various pitfalls they may encounter and frankly, they sometimes appear to be wearing distinctly rose coloured glasses. The wrong site, lack of services, access problems, bad ground, Radon contamination… the list goes on and on. It is essential that any site is properly investigated before a decision to buy or build is taken. There aren’t many insurmountable problems in building, only very expensive ones!

Commercial clients such as insurance companies or pension funds would no more begin a building project without a proper investigation of the site, the scheme and all its possible ramifications… than they would pay out on an insurance claim or pension, without first checking if it was valid!

The finished article doesn’t have to be decided at this point … but it should start the process of moving forward on the right track, so that the completed project will be what the client actually wants and just as importantly, can afford. The process of investigating feasibility is what any commercial client would expect from a good construction project manager, in order to gain the maximum value for money.

In order to forward plan finances, it would be more sensible to establish what you are attempting to erect your building on in the first place. Are there any buried problems? Is the ground stable enough to carry the load, without having to pile foundations to the earth’s core? Is there a river running underground just below the surface? Any of these things could be the case and please… don’t expect the vendor of the land to be honest about any concealed problems, even if he does know about them.

Any responsibility to check the site is yours so how should this be carried out. Feasibility is the name of the process and if it is undertaken with the same zeal as all the ‘sexy bits’ of the project, then it can be a real lifesaver, as nasty surprises could be waiting for any unwary self-builder. All it takes to do it is a general idea of the building design, the type of site desired and lots of research.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Start with the value of any completed project. Ask the local estate agents to give a valuation. Most will do this free although there are tools on the internet available to help with this. There is no point in erecting a fine and beautiful building, if it costs more to build than it would be worth at sale. As a rule of thumb, developers use a calculation like this:

  1. 35% for the site itself.
  2. 35% for the build cost.
  3. 30% profit.

If the building is for your own use then the profit is saved. However, it is no point in squandering that saving on expensive fittings or an expensive site if it then takes the costs over the top. It must also be remembered that developers are building a cheaper generic type of dwelling not a bespoke home, so your final build cost could well end up higher.

Check out the underlying bedrock at the proposed site location, via the British Geological Survey add-on, to Google Earth. This will give the required basic information. Iit will still need some further research to ascertain whether the local subsoil is stable and if there are any other geological considerations such as clay soil and tree proximities. In addition, any information regarding local ground water conditions would be useful. A full report can be obtained from Landis http://www.landis.org.uk that will provide a detailed report of the soil and its composition, usually within a 1km radius. Try to have a chat with the local building Control Officer, who may know the area well. An inquiry into potential Radon gas contamination should also be undertaken. A report can be obtained from the Health Protection Agency sitehttp://www.ukradon.org/index.php

Look up the plot on an Ordnance Survey map
http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/ for a free online map and check for obscure footpaths or other possible hindrances such as Saxon burial grounds or the like. These should all be reported on the HIPS documentation but… better to look yourself than be embroiled in lengthy litigation after you have made the purchase.

Are there any old buried buildings, like air raid shelters or pillboxes from the last war? These can be extremely well built and cost a great deal of money to remove. Unless of course, they can be turned it into something useful like a pond…. Also, check any old buildings for basements. If they’re not wanted, they will need to be filled in.

Is the proposed site on a hill? This will have a huge bearing on the speed and complexity of the construction. Building a house into a hillside is great and looks wonderful, but it does create technical issues that can have a profound effect on the cost of construction.

Is there adequate access to the site? It would add considerably to costs if it were difficult to get the materials and men onto the site easily. It could require additional site plant such as a forklift or a truck to get the materials from the nearest road and these do not come cheap.

Is the proposed site in a remote location? The added cost of providing services to remote locations can be substantial. Getting by with a wind turbine and a couple of batteries is a non-starter… it’s a bit more complex than that. Boreholes can be dug if the water is there and sewer treatment plants can be fitted, but they all use electricity and they all cost money to fit and operate. Oil delivery and sewer servicing firms all have limitations on distances of operation from the road and this needs to be taken into account. Telephones are likewise difficult to connect and the remote location will probably mean no mobile signal to boot. Contact with the outside world is crucial during the construction phase. Material suppliers do not accept pigeon post….

It would probably be much better in the long run to get a professional to carry out a feasibility study on both the site and any proposed design. A construction project manager or a building surveyor would carry out this at a reasonable cost. It would provide some idea of the likely costs of building on a site and if there were any problems, which could be detected, with some informed research. They would also give an idea of any likely on-costs, which may be necessary to overcome any of the unforeseen evils previously mentioned. Any cost incurred in this process would be far and away cheaper than finding out there are problems after construction begins.

Whoever is used, make sure they have an accreditation to a recognized body such as The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) or The Royal Society of Chartered surveyors (RICS) this will mean that they have the necessary skills to offer advice without the fear of any ulterior motives. In addition, their advice is covered by a legal ‘duty of care’ to act in your best interests. In the case of the CIOB, this is the recognized regulatory organisation for construction project managers.

SFS Management Contracting would meet to discuss any plans and ideas, then carry out a site investigation and analyse the feasibility of any proposed design. A professional report would be produced detailing all known site problems and possible solutions, along with any likely costs. The report would contain a viability assessment of the design and would include a provisional build cost within known parameters. It would also include a list of any technical anomalies or discrepancies occurring within the design itself, which could be streamlined to reduce expenditure. An objective approach would be proposed, along with the most viable level of assistance.

The self-builder could be sure of unbiased advice, from somebody who is skilled in both the managerial and technical areas of building and who can help to avoid the many pitfalls before the project begins. It would seem sensible to discuss the project with someone who has already encountered most of the problems and hazards involved and who’s only concern is that the desired building is constructed on a budget that will not put the clients in poverty for the rest of their lives. The correct decisions made now could make sure that doesn’t happen.

The cost of a feasibility report for a new build project is approximately 0.2% or £2 for every £1000 of nett build cost, obviously dependent on its complexity. This is a very small sum of money to avoid what could be very costly mistakes and to gain the same advantages as the astute commercial clients.

Remember, thinking time is free so make more use of that resource than any other. With a bit of luck and some good advice, you could be sitting back in a few years time with a whole new set of experiences and a wealth of building anecdotes with which to liven up your house-warming party.

Project Management

What is this and why should we use it for our building project?
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What should we look for?
Can we afford to do this?
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Finding out what it should all cost.
Keeping those costs under control.
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How it can really help a project.
How to do it properly.
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Tender Process

Making sure the build team is properly chosen and prepared.
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Finding the best value materials.
Making sure they stay that way.
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Site Management

Working with the whole team,
helping everyone to get it right.
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CDM 2015 Regulations

Carrying out the Principle Contractor Role For CDM 2015 Regulations
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