Saturday, 16 June 2007

How Some Contractors Cut Corners

One of the ways some contractors cut corners is, when building extension to a house at the back, to omit out the footings at both the back right and left corners and also the ground beams meant for the supporting the walls. To understand what I meant, please refer to the two photos on the left showing the absence of footings and ground beams of my two neighbours' back extensions. Then compare with the other pictures showing my house back extension that had both of these two elements in place which, if I had not insisted for their inclusions, the contractor also would have conveniently 'forgot' them.

More coming...

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Useful Pointers To Take Note In House Renov.

I hope you'll benefit from the following pointers gained from my past (and sometimes painful) experience.

1) It's preferable to have sink-mounted faucet than wall-mounted faucet for kitchen sink. Even though it may make changing of the faucet in the future slightly difficult due to the crammed space available under the sink, it'll make sourcing of water for undercounter water filter so much easier than if it's wall-mounted. Besides, with good quality faucet, one will not need to change it for years to come. With wall-mounted faucet, if like me your contractor did not make a connection standby for you to tap water from, you'll be stuck when you want to install undercounter water filter.

2) When buying kitchen sink buy one with pre-cut hole for faucet, it’ll make installing faucet so much easier. Not to mention that factory-cut hole is always better (smoother with no scratches) than that drilled by plumber unprofessionally.

3) Sinks can be surface-mounted or under-mounted. For the latter, it’s easier to wipe away the water on the table top than surface-mounted sink. It will also look nicer.

4) All basins and sinks should have sink traps installed. This is so that the foul smell from the sewer will be blocked from reaching the basins or sinks. The other benefit of it is that in the even that you accidentally drop something small into the basin/sink, such as a screw or a small earring, you can still retrieve it by opening the sink trap at the bottom of the basin/sink.

5) Only direct main water should be supplied to the kitchen taps. Do not accept it if the contractor tells you it’s the same thing like mine did. If you ever go up the attic or rooftop to view the water in the water tank you’ll not dare to even wash your face with the water sourced from there unless you have installed a quality outdoor water filter between the water meter and the water tank. And that's assuming that your water tank is well covered too. Mine was topped with a wrong-size cover and therefore was exposed to the elements until I rectified it.

6) Water heater shower should also be tapped from direct main water supply so that the water pressure is stronger, if you want a good and enjoyable shower after a tired day. Or else you'll regret it.

7) Toilet bidet should be installed on the right hand side (from seated position) if you are right-handed. Otherwise, the reverse is true.

8) If box windows were to be installed, sliding window panels, and not casement ones, should be used for ease of opening and closing.

9) If you are ordering gate made of mild, make sure that it is galvanized so that it will not rust easily.

10) As it is the practice in Malaysia to use fluid mortar as grout for the gaps between the tiles. And it is normally applied using a sponge. For the sake of convenience, the workers will just wipe the grout over the surfaces of the tiles thereby smearing the tiles as well. Unless the smears are removed within few minutes, once the mortar dries up on the tiles they will look grayish in colour.

11) Under no circumstances you should permit the construction workers to use acid to clean up any of the tiles with acid. It’ll damage the groutings between the tiles. Certain tiles can also be damaged by acid bath.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

About Main Con & Sub Cons

When engaging a contractor to renovate your house, you can either let him be in charge of all aspects of the renovation or you can get separate contractors to do the works which they specialise in, such electrical power supply system or air conditioning. There are pros and cons in either arrangement. Leaving everything to a main con to handle will save you lots of time, energy and hassles. There will be also better co-ordination between the various sub cons as they are all under the supervision of the main con. The only trouble is that to maximize profit the main con may press the prices of the various sub cons so much so that the latter may cut corners in order to survive. Whereas if they were to deal directly with the houseowners, without the middleman, the main con, they can have bigger margins. , to save cost the main con may resort to cheap (read poor quality) sub cons. Therefore, the integrity and ethics of the main con here is of upmost important.

Personally, I preferred to hire the sub cons myself as I found that I could get better quality works done at reasonable prices. The only trouble was, like I said above, it required a lot of my attention (i.e. time and energy). And I found there was this tendency of the main con trying to sabotage them by not willing to co-ordinate whole heartedly, out of jealousy.

If you plan to engage different contractors for different areas of the renovation, then do book their services before the renov starts. The types of contractor include:

1. Electrical Contractor
2. Alarm System Contractor
3. CCTV Contractor
4. Door Carpenter
5. Air Conditioning Contractor
6. Pest Control Contractor
7. Gate Manufacturer
8. Auto-Gate System Contractor
9. House Painter
10. Kitchen Cabinet Contractor
11. Landscaping Specialist

Final installment tomorrow will be on the minor details of renovation which, though minor, are important enough to justify our attention. So see you...

Monday, 4 June 2007

Preparations Required Before Renovation - Part II

(2) Buy or order (or at least have an idea where you can get them from) the necessary fixtures and fittings below ahead of renovation, if any of them is not provided for in the quotation. In the order of installation schedule:

1. Floor & Wall Tiles
2. Alarm System
3. CCTV System
4. Toilet Bowls
5. Wash-Basins
6. Kitchen Sink (built-in)
7. Room Doors, Door Frames, Door Hinges.
8. Gate & Auto-Gate System
9. Kitchen Cooker Hob
10. Kitchen Cooker Hood
11. Ceiling Fans
12. Ceiling Lights
13. Wall Lights
14. Air Conditioners
15. Food Disposal Unit (for kitchen sink)
16. Kitchen faucet
17. Kitchen Cabinet System
18. Shower
19. Water Heaters
20. Indoor Water Filter
21. Curtain Rails

It is very important that when renovating a house, to have items 1 – 7 available as early as possible, particularly the tiles need to be ordered early as out-of-stock orders may take 1 - 2 months to be fulfilled. And even though the rest of the items may only be required later, during the renovation, the contractor may still need to know some of their measurements, so that he can standby the necessary pipework, wirings or holes in the correct locations and positions. A case in point is the kitchen cooker hob. The contractor not only needs to know where you want to have it installed. He also needs to know its measurements so that he can prepare an opening for the hob to sit in when making the mould for the concrete kitchen worktop. In addition, he also have to know where the power point for the cooker hood needs to be. be continued.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Preparations Required Before Renovation - Part I

I hope you will not make the same mistakes I made when you renovate your house, particularly if, like me, you have bought or are planning to buy a secondhand house.

So before you begin, carry out the followings:

(1) Check that all the water taps and electrical wirings are in good working condition. That is, the former to have good water pressures, and the latter to have correct wiring and stable electrical supply. If not rectify them first. Failing to do so will result in lots of headache later on, believe me.

Electrical circuits to look into include that of auto-gate, gatepost lights, doorbell, telephone cable, TV aerial cable, power points (wall sockets), etc. If possible, change the doorbell and auto-gate wirings if they came with the house and are already several years old. Because being outdoor, chances of them not working are higher due to exposure to moisture.

By the way, for laying of concealed pipes or cables on the walls, I think it's better that the construction workers use an electric cutter to cut two parallel tracks and chisel away the plaster in between later instead of hacking the walls directly with chisel and hammer. Not only is it neater and less damaging to the walls, more importantly, it's also easier for you to determine the exact locations of the concealed cables or pipes later on should you need to drill holes on the walls later. Better still, take some pictures of the tracks for future reference. Of course you can also use pipe and wire detectors, but how reliable are they is debatable especially those from China.

If your house uses single-phase power system and you wish to change it to 3-phase one, make sure again that the necessary cables are also laid well before any other kinds of work is carried out on the walls or ceilings such as the installations of decorative plaster ceilings and cornise. Same goes for cables for alarm and CCTV systems. Otherwise, you'll have to go wireless for the alarm and CCTV systems - which are both more expensive and harder to setup, particularly the latter.

All additional power points should preferably be on new circuits of their own rather than looping from nearby circuit. This is to avoid overloading the existing circuits and thus runs the risk of fire.

Unless for the reason of convenience you choose otherwise, do remember to inform the electrical contractor that you want every light to have its own separate switch so that you'll have full control of the light in the house. I had such mistake done to my bedroom and only discovered it after my house was fully renovated. In the end I had to ask someone to hack the wall to redo the wiring there, thus leaving some unsightly tracks on the wall, even with much effort. : ( be continue.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

House Renovations - The Quotation

From my experience, I found that quotation is one of the most important elements in our dealing with the contractors. It should be spelt out clearly if you do not want to get shortchanged and feel heartached like I did. Because, unless it's in black and white, there will bound to be misunderstandings, especially if the contractor, like mine, is unscrupulous.
I hope that you have better luck and you manage to get yourself an honest and responsible contractor.

So what are the things that should be listed in the quotation? Below are some of them but by no means an exhaustive list. If you can think of something else, please post a comment to me. Thanks!

1. Qutotation MUST have deadline for completion of the renovation. It must include a penalty to the contractor in monetary term otherwise the deadline will be meaningless.

2. Quotation, ideally, should specify that, in the event that you would like to drop/cancel any of
itemised jobs, will the full cost of that cancelled work be deducted from the total renovation
cost? If not, it should be spelt out clearly how the deduction be calculated.

3. Quotation, if including paintings, should specify what type and what brand of paints that
will be used so that you will not be shortchanged. And whether the paintings will include
undercoats for materials that require them such as wood, pvc and metals (lest the paints
peel off within a year).

4. In the quotation, it is preferred that it be stated that, should there be additional work
involved that was not accounted for in the quotation, it is the contractor's duty to inform
you about the additional cost (where cost is involved) BEFORE he carries out the work.
Failing which, it should be considered as part of the deal.

5. The quotation should, if possible, also spell out what are the minor fixtures and fittings that
are included in the cost. Things such as DP box, switches, ELCB, electric wall sockets, sink
trap, sewer manhole, door hinges, etc.

My next intallment will be on Things You Should Know/Do Before Renovation Work Begins.
Stay tuned!

Some Of The Pitfalls In House Renovations

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you'll find what I have to share informative and valuable. Please do not hesitate to leave your comments so that I can also benefit from your feedback and/or experience.

My first advice in house renovation is: Don't engage a contractor just because he is your friend. You see, I gave the job to a close contractor friend. This is despite that two of my wife's colleagues had highly recommended we engage the contractor who they both were very happy with. Because I thought, being a close friend, he would accord me special attention and also would not overcharge me. His original lump-sum quotation seemed reasonable enough at first. Unfortunately, it wasn't itemised as requested for he just conveniently forgot about it. That's where problem arose because later, I decided to drop certain components of the renovation, I was given peanut rebates compared to the costs I was verbally quoted or led to believe at the negotiation stage. So make sure you insist that your contractor gives you an itemised quotation.

In your negotiation with your potential contractor, make sure he will be the one doing the job and not a subcontractor. Because if it's the latter, he may simply pass your job to someone he just knows, which is what happened in my case, using you as a guinea pig. If the sub-con turns out to be experienced and honest that's not to bad. But if you get one who turned out to be unscrupulous and irresponsible, like the one I got, God helps you. Mine not only overcharged me exorbitantly for the various VOs (changes made during the renovation) I wanted later, he also didn't bother to supervise the workers. Most of the times he was elsewhere tending to other (I presumed, more costly) projects. In the end, I had to monitor my house renovation myself.

My another mistake - For not asking VO be given to me in black and white. As a
result, there were many misunderstanding and arguments with the subcontractor as to what were agreed upon what weren't.

Lastly, make sure that the quotation is as detail as possible, more about that tomorrow.