Construction checklist: Considerations to make when building a house

Whether you are building a house to own, for rental purposes or for sale, the process of selecting a suitable design and contractor can be agonising.

That’s because, unlike most other ventures, real estate ventures are for life, and a single mistake can cost you a lot of time and money to rectify.

“Real estate projects are very capital intensive. People invest their life savings, sometimes even money they themselves have never seen, and therefore need to be very vigilant when embarking on a project,” notes Adrian Madoya, a principal partner at architectural design firm London Consult.

Madoya notes that there are a number of factors which when brought into consideration, assist prospective homeowners to avoid unnecessary mistakes.

1. Your needs and lifestyle

One way to attain a satisfactory result is to consider the needs of the people occupying the development.

This can be achieved by answering the question: What does a typical day for the occupant look like?

Needs may vary depending on age, personality and occupation.

For instance, if someone loves cooking, the kitchen would be key in the design, and a lecturer would want a study room.

“If you like to host gatherings, you could go for an open house plan. There are others to whom the house is so personal that even guests are hosted outside the main house,” notes Madoya.

A house design should also take into account preference for either a country or city lifestyle.

While countryside dwelling provides an opportunity for you to include a yard or exterior space, the same cannot be said for urban dwellings where the only way to expand and maximise living space is upward.

While residential structures should take into account the demands of families, commercial developments should have plans that ensure the efficiencies and amenities of floor areas of the individual units offer support and complement each other to ensure a 100 per cent uptake of the development.

2. Budget

The budget element is unavoidable. Madoya notes that because nothing in the field of creativity is set in stone, you could always challenge your architect to come up with alternative solutions to your concerns.

If your budget does not fit the desired house plan, you could consider going for a cheaper plan, and leave room for adjustments so that once you are able, you can make improvements.

“Avoid spending too much in anticipation of the future. Instead, concentrate on your short-term needs and on your current and actual budget. This outlook ensures that you are not squeezed by high maintenance costs,” notes Madoya.

3. The Basic Structure

After taking into account your needs and budget, you can now focus on the finer details of your basic structure.

A floor plan should show how all rooms and house features relate to each other. The homeowner is able to check where all rooms are located as this is what forms the basis of how the building will be erected.

“Nailing down a good floor plan lets you work through any obstacles you may encounter with the home’s design, allowing you to make changes in the design before construction even begins. Ideally, you should also go for a floor plan that has a lot of flexible living spaces to enable you to make changes easily in future,” notes Madoya.

Other factors to consider while picking a design include the position of the sun, the surrounding scenery and the proximity to neighbours. These factors can determine the size and location of windows and doors to be used.

A large window facing the sunset is a good thing. With neighbours a few meters away, it becomes less interesting.

However, Madoya says nothing has to be set in stone. For instance, while there is a perception that glass houses are less private and unsecured, this isn’t always the case.

“There is always a solution. For instance, we have windows which you can only see from the inside out, others have a thickness of up to 5mm that even stone cannot break. Always be ready to challenge your architect to give you a solution to your needs,” notes Madoya.

The basic structure should also take into account furniture and other large fittings to avoid inconveniencing occupants. If it is a personal project, you could always use a tape measure to ensure that everything fits together the way you imagine it.

A floor plan should show how all rooms and house features relate to each other. The homeowner is able to check where all rooms are located as this is what forms the basis of how the building will be erected./Shutterstock

If you are selecting a design for your new home, you could use your current home as a measure, to identify what needs to be changed or what you would want to be added. You could also engage close family or friends to help you identify what you may have failed to capture.

“Pick the issues that don’t work or the good ones and compare them with the layout you are looking at. Get a wish list from your existing home. Consider what a floor plan will offer that you don’t have in your current home, and how it will improve your lifestyle,” notes Madoya.

Naturally, because of the amount of money you are investing, you would want to get a house plan that fits every specification on your list. It can however be very difficult to find a house plan that meets all your specifications.

In such a scenario, Madoya advises that you should prioritise by picking the features that are most important to you. Decide what is non-negotiable, and keep an open mind for the rest. It might also be in your best interest to modify a property rather than continue looking for one that fits your needs precisely.

“Accept that nothing is perfect. For example, an open floor plan is spacious but has more echo than a plan with interior walls. A house with numerous windows will be well lit during sunny days but colder during cold seasons,” notes Madoya.

4. Consider green or energy-saving designs

John Msafiri, a design architect, says that with the recent environmental changes, picking a house plan that will guarantee you an energy-efficient home has become crucial, as it could help you save on many costs in future.

“Recently clients have been keen on sustainability strategies such as natural lighting, cross ventilation, passive cooling and heating, views and greening employed when developing the designs. Sustainability strategies go a long way and form a key factor when making the cut,” notes Msafiri.

For instance, choosing a design with well-placed windows that create ventilation will reduce the need for air conditioning in warmer regions, while a compact plan that minimises the external surface area to volume ratio will conserve heat during cold seasons.

Indeed, improved insulation materials and techniques for walls and windows have made it more affordable to heat and cool homes with the unpredictable, changing seasons.

5. The contractor/consultant

Msafiri notes that it is crucial to pick the right consultants and contractors for your project as they will be your partner during the development and execution stages.

Besides advising on the most appropriate house plan and how to maximise its potential, a good consultant will take you through the various symbols and terms used on your house plan, which can be complex and difficult to understand.

To identify a good contractor, you can start by visiting the websites of your preferred architectural and design firms to review their works and from there pick a few to organise interviews and see which firm fits your design ethos, your understanding of the tasks and your project aspirations.

“Due to the advancement in technology, the Board of Registered Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS), which is the governing and regulatory body for the industry, has also put up on their wall details of consultants with good standing in the built industry, to help you identify the best consultants,” notes Msafiri.

Meanwhile, Adrian Madoya notes that if you are going to pick a project with an architect, you should get to understand what the architect stands for, how they see the world, and whether this fits in with what you want.

Avoid going for someone just because you know them.

“Good designs should appeal to the intuition. You walk into some places and wonder why they have a stunning effect. That is because the architect thought it through to convey an emotion or feeling rather than just intellectual and logical analysis,” notes Madoya.

6. To buy or to build

For many prospective homeowners, the dilemma of whether to buy a house that has already been developed or to build one from scratch is not uncommon.

Architect Msafiri advises that if you are looking for a house for commercial purposes, urban living, need a home urgently, or are risk-averse and do not want to go through the hustle of the design and construction process, then you might just opt for a building that has already been developed.

“This protects the buyer from getting into situations where projects stall or stagnate, protects you from false advertising where the sale pitch is different from reality, or from a delayed return on investment for those who are buying for rental purposes,” notes Msafiri.

If, however, you have a piece of land and wish to develop or due to inadequate funds would like to do a project over a longer period or would just want to embark on a customizable project that fits your individual tastes, then starting from scratch is recommended.

“For first-time homeowners, both the above scenarios may apply. But quite often, you will see most first-time owners prefer to buy into a completed project for fear of tanking their fortunes. There are those who just dive in the deep end and the rewards are worthy,” notes Msafiri.

Adrian Madoya concurs, adding that it is advisable to curate designs rather than buy a house because the cost of buying a house is exaggerated and it follows the market trends which can make you a victim.

“It is understandable why someone may not want to buy instead of build. You wouldn’t know where to start, the professionals are few, quacks are so many and people run away with clients’ money, but if you do your due diligence at the beginning of the project, you can end up with something you want,” notes Madoya.

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