Piers Taylor: Make your house work for you – Part 2
In the second of his two-part series, architect Piers Taylor advises on how to go about managing your home alteration project.
Many people fall into ‘project management’ without a true understanding of what it means, what their responsibilities are, or the limits of their knowledge in the area. They then often fumble their way through a project fraught with unforeseen expenditure, bodged details and fractured relationships. My three steps should help you understand what’s involved in project management, who can help you in your mission, and how you can make your building dream a reality…
I would suggest always using an architect if at all possible…
Step 1: Get professional advice
You can save money by not using professionals to assist with the design or the management of your project, but unless you know what you’re doing this can backfire badly. I would suggest always using an architect if at all possible, even if just for the initial stages of a project where good advice can really set you up.
The point of using a designer or architect is to do something you can’t – not have them simply draw up to your direction. I’m reminded of Henry Ford’s comment: ‘If we had given people what they wanted, we’d have given them faster horses.’ Not, of course, the first affordable mass-produced automobile, which revolutionised personal transportation in ways never previously imagined.
Without an architect, not only will you miss out on opportunities to re-imagine your house in ways you’d never dreamed of, but the communication and documentation of the design for a project is unlikely to be completed effectively. Project managers are not designers and are therefore ill-equipped to produce the technical information needed to accurately communicate the design intent of a project to a builder. An architect will ensure the special, bespoke vision for your house is not lost in translation.
Step 2: Itemise the costs
To protect yourself from a situation where a builder builds what he wants, not what you want, you need a document that accurately lists the costs involved in the project. You can draw this up yourself, but it does come within an architect’s remit.
Many people think they can bypass this stage and begin work on a project on a wing, a prayer, and a bit of goodwill. But goodwill can rapidly disappear, so if you have an itemised record of the cost of everything provided by a contractor – right down to the type of screws used – there will be no nasty surprises. Such an itemised, formal costing (no place for estimates here) also means it’s possible to remove or change aspects of the project while understanding the financial consequences.
The more time you spend preparing for a project, the better it will be…
Step 3: Describe it accurately
It’s important that building is strategically planned. The tried-and-tested method for this is the building contract, which is used to set up and manage relationships between the people doing the work and those paying for it. A building contract is only as good as the work it describes, yet most people do not accurately describe in words and drawings what they want their builder to achieve. Instructing a builder doesn’t mean giving them a vague ambition for your project; vague instructions translate into vague costs, vague timescales and a situation where the builder effectively becomes the designer. Instead, your building contract should contain a set of unequivocal information where everything – literally everything – can be costed accurately. You should never let a building project start until you have agreed the cost, time and quality of materials involved.
The more time you spend preparing for a project, the better it will be: your space will be exceptional, supported by imaginative detail, and without too much angst. I’ve no doubt many people will still feel that all of this is an inconvenience, or that they cannot justify expenditure on professional support, and if they can find a good builder, they can just crack on. How wrong they are.