Monthly Archives: October 2012

Understanding JCT building contracts and valuation reports

JCT’s are one of the most used and well known forms of building contracts they are the industry standard and worked under by many main building contractors. These are managed by the C.A. or contracts administrator who are often appointed as the project manager by their clients. There are different types of JCT building contracts, home owners JCT’s typically used on home extensions or refurbishment projects. One of the most commonly used is the minor works JCT this is used on many refurbishment projects. They can vary and contain various elements like contractors design and design and build sections. They lay out the basic ground rules of the project like the measured works these are fix cost or square meter rates that have been agreed by the main building contractor and client in the tender process and are listed in the schedule of works. There are other elements like instructed works and omitted items these are managed by the contracts administrator and allow the client to add or omit items at pre agreed prices or sometimes at the digression of the contracts administrator. The contracts administrator keeps control of the costs they carry out valuations of the works at set periods and value the amount of work that has been completed and check the quality of the work and if the main building contractor is on programme this means if they have got the amount of work done that they have forecast in there programme of works keeping the building project on schedule. Once the valuation has been agreed the contractor administrator will issue a valuation certificate and this allows the main building contractor to raise an invoice for the next or final stage payment. They also issue a client cost report this lets the client know what has been completed and what percentage of each element still needs to be completed. It also helps the client manage their finances as they can see what is left to pay if there have been any extra costs and how they can add in their wish list items or omit items if the costs have risen.

How to find out if a wall is structural?

Many people ask how you work out if a wall is structural. Many people are under the misconception that if a wall when knocked is hollow it is therefore not structural and can be removed without causing any structural problems. This is not the case it is true that many stud walls (this is walls constructed using timber or metal studs) are not load bearing. The issue is that some of these walls are load bearing meaning that they are critical to the structural integrity of your home or building. It is also the case that with modern dry lining technique that walls that appear hollow can in fact be made of masonry and load bearing but appear hollow when knocked. Returning to stud walls or stud partitions as they are often called these are sometimes designed by the architects or structural engineers to carry loads like floor joists or tie in external walls adding vital rigidity to the structure of the building. So the answer is to employ a competent building contractor one that will not just advise you based on the fact they want to win your work. Chose a good quality building contractor who can provide references and has strong alliances with other property professionals like architects and structural engineers. Or hire the services of a qualified structural engineer this can be less expensive than you think and undoubtedly less costly than reworking a building that has suffered structural damage as the result of not removing a wall properly. Also even if the wall you wish to remove is structural it does not mean that it will cost thousands of pounds to remove. It is often just a case of inserting a suitable RSJ or steel beam as they are called by structural engineers and building contractors. So if you are in any doubt make sure you get some professional advice prior to starting the works. It is also important that you inform your local authority building control department as structural alterations fall under part “A” of the UK building regulations.

Top tips for installing a Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation system MHRV

1. Make sure your installer is BPEC qualified this is the qualification in domestic ventilation, those qualified in installing Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation systems will be able to advise on all the points below.
2. Make sure you use ridged ducting and minimise the length and bends on the ducting runs this will help the Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation system run at maximum efficiency.
3. Use a short length of flexible ducting when the ducting run terminated onto the Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation unit. This will help minimise any vibration and sound.
4. Make sure that the final input and output ducting runs that run through any unheated voids are fitted with insulated duct. This stops any chance of condensation in these final ducting runs.
5. Make sure all ducting runs are well supported and tied or bracketed to the building fabric. Do not allow any ducting runs to sag. This can lead to pooling in the ducting which can be potentially dangerous to heath.
6. Make sure that the correct terminations vents are used, if the vents create too much restricted air flow they can stop the Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation unit working correctly and can cause the unit to work less efficiently.
7. The most important and one of the most missed items is the use of a duct trap to stop any condensation in the ducting runs from returning to the Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation unit and causing water damage to the unit. This is often omitted by both system designers and installers on site and is the most critical part of the install. The ducting trap waste water should be run along with the unit waste water trap outlet often called the condense trap to a suitable drainage run. Make sure you take care in the waste pipe runs and fit an in line one way value to the waste runs.

Speculative property development funding available?

This area of bank lending has been one of the least favoured sectors of bank funding in recent years as banks have looked to repair their battered balance sheets and reduce their exposure to property backed lending. A recent survey of European Property Finance trends has seen lenders surveyed increase their likelihood to lend. With three quarters reporting they expect to finance some form of speculative development funding in the next five year period. As always those with the best track records, prime sites and pre-let or sold developments would be their favoured lending targets. Ultimately the banks know that speculative property development can deliver stellar profit gains that allow for developers to pass some of the gross development margin back to their bank financers. So as always in this stage in the property cycle the banks return in search of profits and gentle ease back into an area of the economy that has proven to provide good returns for savvy developers and bankers over many years. It is the speed at which bankers and investors can enjoy their profits and returns, with most speculative building development projects taking between a year and two years to complete. It means that banks and investors can enjoy returns well into double figures quickly with the advantage of a first or second charge of security over a valuable asset. Will this change in attitude now make it easier for builders and property developers to obtain speculative development funding as well as kick starting the property and construction industries?

Cracked brickwork

Cracked brickwork is usually a symptom of some form of structural defect to your house or building, however they can vary greatly in repair costs. This is because cracked brick or masonry can be a sign of a more serious structural defect like subsidence or some other form of progressive movement. Or it could simple be a case of settlement that could be repaired for just a few hundred pounds. Very often houses have been badly constructed when they were initially built. This is called poor construction technique by those that specialise in structural repairs. In our experience this counts for around seventy percent of structural building repairs with poor maintenance of items like drains and roofs being responsible for the majority of the rest. Very often properties have been built with no or inadequate lintels above structural opening likes doors and windows. Or poor infill has been used either in floor slabs or under footings, in fact we have seen footings in properties constructed in the 40’s and 50’s which have been built on only a thin strip concrete footing just seven or eight inches deep. So what is the best solution to these structural issues? You need the issues to be surveyed by an experienced building contractor who will let you know if you need to get advice form a structural engineer. Home owners like to avoid the expense of a structural engineer but a good contractor will know when they are needed and will not carry out any work if they have concerns over the seriousness of the repair. However less experienced or scrupulous builders will be more interested in getting paid for the job than your long term solution. So take some time to ask your builder about their experience and if they have any professionals in the industry like structural engineers, building surveyors, quantity surveyors or commercial surveyors who will give them a testimonial or reference. This way you have the confidence that your specialist structural building contractor has the skills and experience to give you a permanent and well finished solution to your structural building defects.

Period property renovation specialists

When renovating period properties it is important that you consider the smaller details that separate a good renovation from those carried out without that fine attention to detail. So think of the whole project and don’t miss any of those less exciting items like guttering, door furniture and hard landscaping. This can often seem like a huge task, so break up the items into more manageable items and work on each section at a time. Once you have employed your building contractor they will be asking for decisions quickly on various items and these can catch out novice developers. For instance items like flooring are fitted right at the end of a full refurbishment project but the type of flooring will effect floor heights and joist heights once the re-fit begins. So make as many decisions as possible before you get started but involve your building contractor from the start. There experience and previous projects give good building contractors a unique input on your project. Make sure you have a detailed and itemised quotation so you know just what is included and what is excluded this will help you manage your refurbishment budget. With period property there will always be some unforeseen costs and issues that can only be discovered after the stripping out is undertaken. So reserve around 15% of your renovation and refurbishment to cover those items that cannot be foreseen like rotten joists or cracked masonry.

Adding a home extension with a glass roof

Many home owners are looking to extend their homes but fear that the much needed extra living space could make their existing rooms darker. There are a couple of options to make sure that you maximise the amount of light that you can enjoy in your new home extension. The first and simplest is to add roof lights to the new home extension. This is often done by carrying the ceiling height up to follow the rafters often called a warm roof construction detail. This not only gives a feeling of space and luxury but also allows the roof windows to let in the maximum amount of natural light. The other but more costly option is to add a glass roof to part or all of the home extension. If it is added to one side of a pitched roof design it not only adds a great amount of natural light it also give a real design statement that can separate your home extension from an average home extension. The most preferred and aesthetically pleasing are glass roofs that are either completely finished in coloured aluminium or a mixture of aluminium and smooth hardwood timbers. Although it is now possible to get engineered glass roof structural components, these are usually used as either rafters or purlins.

Buildings in Derbyshire

Each county boasts it own unique blend of housing stock and as with anything there is always a certain degree of regional individuality. Derbyshire is not without its own unique buildings and building techniques. One of the most prevalent and unusual in other counties is the use of limecrete floors these are floors constructed like a traditional suspended timber floor at first floor level and then covered in limecrete often mistaken by many as a concrete floor. This unique feature has some advantages over traditional floor construction and can be found in many terrace properties in and around Derbyshire. It is not only good at stopping draughts through floors but also adds to thermal and sound insulation between floors. The other positive aspect of limecrete floors is that they add thermal mass just where it is needed in the middle of a property. The thermal mass of the limecrete absorbs the heat in the building and then releases it slowly back into the property when the temperature drops. This helps maintain a more level temperature and helps stop condensation and lower fuel bills. It seems that the builders that constructed these floors and buildings throughout Derbyshire where ahead of the game when it comes to green building techniques. The only real down side to limecrete floors is the additional loads that they place on the structure this can on occasion lead to some structural issues. Although limecrete floors are well known for their durability they can be a challenge to correctly repair if damaged. It is always best to employ a building contractor will the skill and experience in dealing with limecrete floors and structural defects.

Period property renovation specialists

Those who own and love period property often marvel at that most distinctive and unique of external finishes Stucco render. Originally used as a cheaper alternative to stone frontage often on period terraces and grand country houses it is as highly skilled to apply as its finish is impressive. Its basic components are sand and lime often with plant and animal fibres these were added to give more strength to the finished render. Good stucco render can look very close to the stone facades it was designed to mimic. The best examples are usually found in London, Bath and Birkenhead. The lime based plaster used internally allows the solid masonry walls that these techniques cover to breath. In fact when these original building techniques are repaired or covered with more modern building materials. It often leads to issues as the walls are no longer allowed to breathe the moisture builds up between the layers and starts to either push off the render, plaster or leads to salting and contaminated plaster. Other products are also used like lecca floor insulation that allow floors to breath rather than a single or multiple layer damp proof system that are not always the best solutions to repairing or replacing period property floors. Many of these floors were never designed to be completely free of damp they were designed to breath and as long as the properties gutters, drains and pointing were well maintained and not covered in non breathable coverings they were fine for hundreds of years. Often modern techniques like cement based repointing or covering these floors in vinyl floorings or carpets where the cause of damp issues rather than them being defective.

How to knock through two rooms

Many home owners want to take walls out in their home to allow for a more modern and open plan living style. The majority of walls are structural and either supporting other walls above or are carrying the loads of the floors, floor joists or roofs above. This does not mean they cannot be removed but the structural loads need to be taken care of. This is often done by inserting an RSJ (this stands for Rolled Steel Joist) these are often referred to as “beams”, buy builders and structural engineers. If there is more than one they are usually numbered to make sure the beams and beam sizes are not mixed up. This is because the size and strength of an RSJ needs to be calculated by a qualified structural engineer. They will consider all the loads that will be transferred on to the RSJ and how strong it needs to be. So the first starting point is to either contact suitable experience building contractor who can take care of the calculations or a qualified structural engineer. You will also need to get building regulation approval this is done by contacting your local authorities building control department. It is their job to make sure that the work carried out is not only safe but also meets the current UK building regulations. You or your builder will need to pay the local authority building control notice fee. Then they will come and inspect the work usually at pre plaster so they can check that the work that will be covered up is up to standard and again visit on completion. They also check that electrical items like sockets that have been moved or altered have the correct electrical certification. The key to making your knock through run smoothly and be a stress free experience is to employ a good and experience builder. Also make sure that you or your builder has a building control notice application in place prior to the works commencing.