Building your investment

The fairy tale of the three little pigs may only be a children’s story, but for those who live in an area where a hurricane may well huff and puff and blow your house down it makes sense to pay heed to the lessons inherent in the tale. Taking shortcuts in construction, whether through inferior materials or slipshod construction techniques, can have catastrophic consequences down the line. In order to assure quality construction, it is vital to find a good contractor when planning a new build or renovation.

Earlier is better

When planning a home, the contractor can become involved at different stages of the process, depending on the route followed.

Traditionally, a project may be planned in full before it is put out to tender. Only once the successful tender has been selected can there be any real input from the contractor.

“By this stage it may well be too late to influence the design or ‘buildability’ of the project in any significant way,” says Ian Barnard, director with Charterland.

“If you are pursuing the design-build route, then obviously the contractor is involved at an early stage in the design development, and he can impart his knowledge to benefit the client.”

According to Barnard, it is always better to have a construction professional cast an eye over matters before going ahead with a plan.

“Some fundamental design flaws may find their way into your project, and impractical or unworkable designs/components can be pointed out to you before the final plans have been approved and work commenced.”

Finding the right contractor

With so much riding on finding the right contractor for a construction project, it is very important to find someone who will deliver quality work on time.

“Cayman is fortunate in that we are a small community with few degrees of separation between most inhabitants. It follows that the best way to find a reputable contractor is to ask around. For something as personal as the construction of your home, word-of-mouth is still the best form of advertisement,” according to Barnard.

Emerson Piercy, chief building control officer, said there are five steps that should be followed when trying to find the right contractor.

“Five things that the contractor should be able to provide to you to make your selection process go more quickly are: proof of insurances (general liability, workers compensation, builder’s risk insurance or similar); proof of financial stability; process and procedures; professional organisations and references of previous jobs within the last two to five years (check these references),” he says.

Barnard agrees, saying one should be wary of any contractor who is not prepared to give out details of previous clients for personal references.

It is also of great importance to find a contractor who is familiar with local building codes. It can be potentially disastrous for completion date and construction cost should a contractor not be familiar with local code.

“Imagine the delays and costs associated with tearing down and redoing works that have been rejected by the building inspector due to non-compliance,” says Barnard.

Managing inspections

One of the important roles of a general contractor is to see to it that all necessary Building Control Unit inspections are carried out at the appropriate times.

There are a multitude of inspections that have to be carried out on building, plumbing, electrical, gas and mechanical elements, with inspections required at different times during the construction process.

The first inspection is carried out on the underground elements, before any backfill is put in place. The second inspection follows after all the piping or wiring has been put in place, but before the ceiling and wall membranes have been put in place, with the final inspection taking place when the building is ready for occupancy.

“Unfortunately, there are some contractors out there who are not very good at administering their projects, and the end result can be one or a combination of the following for the client: overruns in project costs, delayed completion dates, or substandard workmanship,” says Barnard.

Construction costs

There are many factors that can have a significant impact on construction costs, some of which are more controllable than others.

When working with a new build, where you place the building might be one of the most important factors when it comes to the overall cost of the project.

“The nature of the bearing surface can have a significant impact on overall project costs; with regard to costs associated with factors such as demucking, the need for piled foundations, retaining walls, site dewatering and imported fill requirements, to name a few,” says Barnard.

The complexity of the shape of the design will also influence cost. The most cost efficient shape tends to be the square, as it gives the best floor to wall ratio.

“Irregular shapes, and multiple corners all tend to add to the overall construction costs,” according to Barnard.

High walls can also add to costs, as can construction waste. According to Barnard, an important way to minimise construction waste is to see to it that the length of all walls are a product of the full length or half length of the blocks or other construction material being used.

“This will make cutting easier, thus reducing labour costs, and minimising waste,” he says.

Planning for the unexpected

One of the most important factors when building or even renovating in Cayman is to improve the hurricane resistance of a home.

The construction industry in Cayman is also constantly evolving. The impact of hurricane Ivan some five years ago influenced many of the choices that are being made when it comes to construction and home design today.

“It is critical to create an external envelope that will resist the positive and negative pressures and uplift forces associated with hurricane winds and driven rain,” says Barnard.

Ensuring that the foundation is tied to the walls and the walls to the roof forms a big part of ensuring hurricane resistance. The shape and structure of a roof can also have a significant impact on how a building responds to a hurricane.

“Since Ivan we have seen a vast increase in the use of standing seam metal roofs for domestic applications, as these roofs generally fared very well in Ivan,” according to Barnard.

The role of relatively smaller improvements such as the addition of hurricane shutters or impact resistant doors and windows should not be underestimated either.

“The use of hurricane shutters, or impact-resistant doors and windows is vital, as any penetrations in the external envelope can cause uplift and outward pressures on the remaining elements from with the building. This can result in the collapsing of walls, and the loss of roofs,” says Barnard.

Many people are also using concrete blocks for the construction of internal walls on the ground floor, as this can help limit internal damage due to flooding.

Leading a relatively normal live in the aftermath of a hurricane has influenced the way people are designing and building their homes.

“More people seem to be considering the aftermath of a major hurricane, and are incorporating water storage systems and emergency generators into their construction plans,” says Barnard.