Building Inspection – Compliance not Quality

Role of Building Surveyor

One of the key misunderstandings by new house buyers is the role of the building surveyor with respect to building quality of their New House.

Many consumers  believe that inspections by building surveyors against the minimum standards of the ‘Regulations’ are also an inspection of work quality specified in the contract.

This belief is incorrect, some of the key objectives of compliance with regulation are:

    • To protect the safety and health of people who use buildings and places of public entertainment; and
    • To facilitate the cost effective construction and maintenance of buildings and plumbing systems.

House Build Contract

The House contract between the owner and the builder for a new house construction includes the following aims.

  1. To provide for the maintenance of proper standards in the carrying out of domestic building work in a way that is fair to both builders and building owners; and
  2. To enable building owners to have access to insurance funds if domestic building work under a major domestic building contract is incomplete or defective.

An example of the differences would be:

If a builder ran out of bricks during the project and finished the wall off with another type of bricks.

  • As far as the building surveyor was concerned the wall would be structurally sound and would therefore meet the objectives of the regulations.
  • As far as, you the owner, is concerned a wall of two different types of bricks would definitely not be what you required.

Your remedy however, would be through your building contract, NOT the regulations.

 

For more posts about quality see Gettting It Right

 

Originally posted in 2011, updated 2022

How Often Do You Visit The Site

For the first Australian house we built welived and worked close by and could visit every evening.

During our last build the site was 40km away so I only visited once or twice a week.

Many builders will tell you that you are not allowed to visit the site for OH&S reasons, unless the Site Supervisor accompanies you. There are two reasons for this:

  1. If you have an accident they have evidence that you have been told not to be on the site.
  2. They would prefer to get on with the building with the minimum interference from you.

I didn’t let this stop me from visiting although I have got a construction industry site (red) card and I understood I was there at my own risk.

I think that in the early stages its more important to keep a close eye on things if you have made a lot of changes from a standard design, or you are having a house built to your own design.

If you are using a standard design the Site Supervisor and the Tradies will generally know what they are doing. When there have been lots of changes to the design they may lose the plan/or forget and revert to the standard design.

Later when it comes to fit out you need to keep more of a watch on things. A couple of examples from our last house:

  • The wrong laundry trough was initially fitted and had to be ripped out.
  • The wrong kitchen tiles were delivered but we spotted them before they were fixed.

The Minimum

As an absolute minimum you should do an inspection when each stage payment is claimed.

If you spot what may be a problem it can be best to be tactful and ask questions in such a way that the Builder has a chance to explain what is going on. If you are not convinced then its time to do some research.

Best thing to do is also get to know your Builder.

Build a good relationship first (also see ‘Working with your Site Supervisor’)

If the Builder get’s annoyed and is impossible to talk to you should contact the Housing Industry Association and/or the Master Builders Association for advice.

How often did you visit your build?

 

For more posts about quality see Gettting It Right

 

Practical Completion Inspection – 12 Hints

So your house is nearly finished, and your builder asks you to do a PCI. . . . Whats that?

This is your chance to get defects fixed before handover.

You will have the opportunity to walk around the house with the builder.

Here are some hints for your PCI Inspection

  1. Take your time. You have spent a lot of money and it’s your chance to get things fixed.
  2. Look at things from a different angle. It’s easy to miss things below eye level, when you are standing. In each room sit on the floor (or a camp stool) and have a good look around at that level. Sit on the toilets and shut the door.
  3. Take your shoes off and walk round in stocking feet then you can feel any problems with the floor.
  4. Turn on the Taps. Fill the basins, sinks, and bath to the overflow level and then check for leaks.
  5. Run the showers and check they drain.
  6. Flush the toilets, check they are securely fixed to floor and don’t leak
  7. Check locks Make sure privacy locks on toilets and bathrooms work
  8. Check switches and power points Test power points. Make sure that where you have several lightswitches on one panel the layout of switches is logical
  9. Check you have the electric points you selected. Make sure all the lights and power points have been fitted
  10. Sensor check If you have any sensor lights make sure the delay and sensitivity is correctly set. We had one in a wardrobe in our current house that went off if you stayed still for 5 seconds.
  11. Check for rough edges Such as on the edges of paintwork from paint drying in lumps/drips particularly window sills. Those rough edges can catch your curtain fabrics and pull threads.
  12. Record everything Making sure ALL of your concerns are noted down on paper, legibly and not skipped over. There may be some things where your SS will just say “Oh, that always gets done before handover”. Make sure it is written in the PCI list anyway. Unless it’s in the list, it may not get done at all.

 

Why not buy the PCI Guide for much more advice and extensive checklists….still only $4

 

 

Balcony Drainage


If you are going to have a balcony don’t forget to consider  the drainage.

You need to make sure that you have a large enough drain, for example this.

And the whole balcony slopes down to the drain.

If the drainage isn’t done properly you are going to have staining on the front of your house.

Here are a couple of photos of balconys with drainage problems.

This is a really bad example of staining where it looks like there was no drain, and the water drains off the edge.

 

Although this isn’t as bad you can see that some water has been staining the building as water runs out of the grout between the tiles.

Getting the Colours Right

Let face it, I am a typical man and colours don’t really interest me much.

I like to limit myself to the standards of White, Black, Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

I’m even not too sure about Indigo and Violet. . . What’s wrong with just saying Purple?

Don’t start on talking about colours like Aquamarine and Avocado as I will quickly get lost. . . and that’s before we mention the 100 different types of white, or ’50 shades of Grey!

The average project home builder has about the same sense of colour as me so if you want a particular colour here are some things you need to do:

  • Find out if the builder has a standard paint supplier or will allow the use of any paint manufacturer as early as possible.
  • Get that paint manufacturers colour charts and pick the colours and finishes (gloss, satin, matt etc) you want before the colour selection.
  • Make sure the full description of the colours are handed over preferably with copies of the colour cards stapled to the documents for reference.
  • Check the colours are correctly described in the contract documents.
  • Check the final finishes against the cards at the PCI inspection.

Did you finish up with a colour you hate on your house? Or just the wrong shade of white?

For similar posts see Selection

More about selecting finishes including 24 pages of Check Lists in the‘Selection / Pre-Start Guide’

 

Checking Door Painting

Do you read the guarantees on things you buy?

Well here is one on a door at my local Bunnings store.
II am including this post for 2 reasons.

DIY door installation

If you are going to fit a door don’t rush the job make sure you paint all edges before you install it.

When its an external door I would reccomend at least 3 coats all over if you don’t want it to shrink and expand when the weather changes.

There is little that is more annoying than a door that continually sticks.

New Houses

With new houses the guy who paints normally comes along after the doors are fitted so its quite common that both the top and bottom edges don’t get painted.

This is just one of the things you need to check before you agree to the final payment.

 

For more advice on things to check see the PCI Guide

 

Practical Completion Inspection

The Practical Completion Inspection (PCI) is probably the most important inspection, your chance to identify any faults and get them fixed before handover.

It’s a lot simpler to get them fixed before you move in!

If you have employed an architect or project manager for the whole project, or you get an inspector for the PCI only they should run the whole exercise.

If not it will be up to you.

Procedure

The normal procedure is to meet with the site supervisor and go around the house noting any defect.

The site supervisor, will then normally put a red sticky paper dot on any problems and record the defects. You then counter sign the defect list.

The builder should attend to all defects in about 10 working days so handover can occur.

Preparation

To make sure you are prepared here is what you should have for the inspection:

      • A copy of the contract and the drawings so you can tick things off.
      • Checklists (For only $4 you can buy the anewhouse PCI Guide complete with checklists of hundreds of items.)
      • A couple of light bulbs to check light fittings.
      • A lead lamp so you can check power sockets.
      • A cloth so you can make clean dust off the kitchen counters and vanities counters to inspect for scratches and chips.
      • Some boots so you can walk round the outside if its muddy.
      • A torch, tape measure and spirit level
      • A packet of dots in case the Site Supervisor’s supply runs out.
      • A camera

Also make sure the supervisor will have a ladder, or bring your own.

What you won’t be able to check

Most builders don’t fit Appliances and the Hot Water Service until handover to prevent theft.

Remember to check these on Handover Day.

Also it won’t be clean!

More information at PCI – 12 Hints

For similar posts see Getting it Right

 

Why not buy the PCI Guide for more advice and extensive checklists….only $4

 

Keith, Hero of ‘The Block’

If you are having a new house built Keith should be your hero too!

Over the years, foreman Keith Schleiger “The Blockinator” seems to be cast as the bad guy.

The guy who causes delays, disruptions, and upsets the contestants.

The Real Bad Guys

The real bad guys are the tradies who have spent most of their careers getting away with things such as:

  • Poor waterproofing;
  • Removing important structural elements;
  • Shoddy workmanship;
  • Working unsafely;

You would think knowing they are in front of the camera they would try and lift their game . . . . . but old habits die hard . . . and they still think they can get away with things.

What Keith Does

Keith protects people like you who are buying a new house

He makes sure everything is built with care, and meets all the building codes.

Your House

Who is protecting you when your new house is being built?

  • The Site Supervisor is responsible for perhaps 15 or more builds so you will be lucky if they visit more than twice a week!
  • The Building Surveyor will only visit 4 or five times!

Both are paid  by the builder, whose main interest is getting the house finished quickly!

That leaves plenty of opportunity for tradies to cover over their dodgy methods before anybody sees the issues.

If you can’t check things yourself perhaps you need to employ a ‘Keith’ and engage an independent inspector.

Working With Your Site Supervisor

If you are building your new house with a big builder once the contract is signed the most important person in the build is going to be the Site Supervisor(SS).

The site supervisor is responsible for programming the works, ordering materials, selecting who will carry out the various tasks (from the tradies contracted to the builder), and supervising the works as well as liaising with you.

To get the best results for your house building a good relationship with the site supervisor is important.

I am not saying that you have to be best friends, but you should aim for an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • When you are first contacted by the site supervisor why not suggest buying them a coffee to start the relationship off in a good way.
  • Let them know what things are important to you.
  • Arrange site meetings during the working day. – Typically the building trades works from 6.30am until 4.00pm. It’s your house so if you can’t make the effort to meet during their work hours don’t expect the supervisor to use their family time to meet you.
  • If you are given a mobile number that doesn’t mean you can ring in the evenings and at weekends.
  • If you spot a problem be firm but don’t go off the handle. “I noticed that ‘X’ was different to the required specification” is going to get a better response than “YOU SCREWED UP!”
  • The typical site supervisor will be involved in building several houses at once so sometimes they can’t get straight back to you.
  • If during construction you are told that something you wanted can’t be done ask to be shown the regulation that doesn’t permit it. On our last house I wanted the gas meter and electrical meter together. One night I checked the site and the plumber had installed the pipework to another location. When I was told that they couldn’t be together I asked the question about the regulations and the meter location was moved without further discussion.
  • Sometimes it can be worth waiting a bit longer for the better tradesman to become available, rather than rushing the build.
  • Always go through the site supervisor, don’t try to order the tradies around if you visit the site.

How have you got the best out of your site supervisor?

For more info while the build is underway see Construction

 

Energy and Water Ombudsman

If you have an ongoing problem with the supplier of Water or Energy utilities its worth contacting the Ombudsman in your state.

Our Problem

About the middle of June we got rid of our last gas appliance and asked for the meter to be removed.

We were told that by our energy retailer that it would take the wholesaler (Multinet)  20 working days to remove the meter.

Well 20 working days passed and the meter was still there so but we weren’t worried because we shouldn’t be paying anything.

Around about 40 working days a charge of 88 cents/day was taken from our credit card.

When we complained we were told that the request had been wrongly entered and it was going to take another 20 days to remove the meter and we ‘should’ get a refund.

‘Should’ isn’t good enough for me so we made an online complaint to the Victorian Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOV).

Response

At 9.30 the next morning we were contacted by a representative of EWOV to discuss our case.

An hour later we received a email from Multinet saying they were looking into the problem.

By the end of the day the meter was gone.

Conclusion

If you are getting the ‘runaround’ from your water or energy retailer you should seriously consider taking your case up with the relevant ombudsman in your state.