Traditional Can Spell Trouble - Ronan McGee

It’s a no-brainer…

On a particularly bleak Friday afternoon you arrive home from work to the usual chaos of schoolbags and sports gear clogging up the narrow hallway, stepping over coats and discarded uniforms ready to be picked up for the weekend wash. You walk wearily into the dark kitchen and reach instinctively for the light switch which crackles as you flick to on. You throw open the fridge and remember that you haven’t done the weekly shop, so its either a few slices of cucumber on cream crackers or it’s back out again in the hellish Friday evening traffic to go food-shopping on an empty stomach. The thought of dragging in all the wet shopping bags is enough to push you over the end-of week edge so you flop down on the awkwardly placed couch and almost crack open your head off the corner of the worktop. Bloody all you need when it should be the wine being cracked open! You curse under your breath about how many times you’ve told both yourself and himself that something needs to be done to the house and you swear that this is the weekend that the scrap book filled with images will be taken out and once and for all you’re calling the builder whose van has been parked down the road at the neighbour’s house for months.

Fast forward to three weeks later and said builder has been round and gave you a price there and then on the spot. He suggested building a huge extension with all the trimmings; sure, aren’t we only going to do this once! We asked him if we needed to get an architect, but he told us that they eat up the price of a kitchen in fees and our project would be too small for them. So, we tell him we need to think about it, and he tells us not to leave it too long as he can’t guarantee he will be available, given how busy the market is.

6 weeks later and after a hectic weekend clearing out the builder starts, and it’s been surprisingly easy. No heavy contracts to sign, all we had to do was make a €5000 payment up front to cover materials and out of pocket expenses which all seemed reasonable. Each morning we head off to work as usual, dropping the kids on the way until morning three and our normally quiet and reserved neighbour calls to say that the builders have taken down part of a wall adjoining their property without saying it to them or asking for their permission as courtesy. I am now late for a meeting and himself has no access to his mobile for the morning. I make a quick call to appease the neighbour, who is having none of it, so I end up having to postpone the meeting and drive back home across the city. After much shouting and swearing the builder agrees to erect a temporary fence and marks out the exact place where the new wall will be rebuilt. I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that they didn’t suggest we show the neighbours’ the plan; come to think of it we haven’t really seen much in the way of plans. Things went smoothly after this until week 4 and the builder tells us he needs a larger payment of cash. This means we need to go the bank to draw down money. More drama; the bank need a payment certificate from the architect or engineer. Architect? Engineer? I ask curiously. Yes, replies the cashier with pursed lips. But it’s only a small top up amount I plead. Sorry, you need a stamped payment certificate for us to release the funds. I go back to the builder who promises to sort it out as he has a mate who does this stuff all the time. We get the certs into the bank, albeit wallets lighter but relived we can continue to pay him.

Week 8 and its builder holidays; ‘wait you never told us you were taking off for 2.5 weeks’? ‘Sure, isn’t everyone’, he replied. ‘What are we to do with the state of the place? It isn’t safe for the children’. ‘We’ll do our best to cover it up and with the weather being so good you’ll be fine’. Patience is now wearing thin as we muddle on with the kids off school and the glorious weather sees us trying to make the most of a huge gaping opening at the back of the house. One up-side of a south-facing garden.

Work finally resumes in Week 11 and things are picking up pace. Then they land a bombshell. The opening they had initially calculated now requires more steel and the cost is €2500 more than planned. I immediately burst into tears; all these strangers in our home and now our money that we had saved for the floors is gone. Surely, he can’t ask us for any more money. But he does. The new front door we has chosen wasn’t ordered in time and we need to choose another more expensive option if we want to finish on time. I am starting to despise our home and ever doing any of this. What began as a simple 6-week project has now been stretched to 14 with no end in sight; some days they tun up for an hour or two; others not at all. We are all at breaking point and need our space back. We threaten to withhold the final payment, but they tell us they won’t be able to finish without it. After much cajoling we finally get it finished; not to the standards we were promised and now out of pocket several thousand more than we had expected.

Fast forward to 6 month later and a family member had asked us around to see their new extension. It became apparent the minute we walked into the house that this was well thought-out, not at all boxy and void like ours; it almost fit them. We on the other hand spend our time filling our new space with furniture to soften the noise. I asked them what builder they used, and they gave us the name of a builder whose name we had heard but was unavailable at the time. They proceeded to heap praise on their architect whose help and support they couldn’t have done without to get their new home extension finished. I instantly felt sick to the stomach and probed further. Apparently their architect was RIAI accredited which means they are licenced to do ( spend time understanding us as a family, how we live and subtract the space we really use from what we need) and take a project from the very beginning right through to ensuring a good set of drawings, a client builder contract to ensure no over runs on the build figure (unless we asked for something extra). She told us that they arranged all the payment certificates and made sure the builder was kept to a tight schedule. The last thing they told us left me suddenly feeling faint; they got a certificate to say that the works has been completed to the building and planning standards if they ever decide to sell their home. Suddenly I am feeling very stupid and that void-like feeling in the new extension all makes sense.

So, does this sound familiar?

Here are our top tips to ensure you minimise your stress levels during a build and maximise your investment.

  1. Consider a Home Consultation with a Registered Architect; get to know how you occupy your space first, sq.m second along with getting to grips with planning and building regulations.
  2. Don’t be swayed by what a neighbour has done; go and look but you are not your neighbour and every person/ family have different lives/ design preferences and lifestyles.
  3. Do think about what the problems are first; needs are the most important and wants to follow.
  4. Understand that design is about making your budget work and the architect draws to fit your budget and includes both the technical (energy requirements, planning consideration) also along with the aesthetic.
  5. Don’t call a builder out without the architect’s initial sketches; they won’t know what they are pricing for, and it leaves too much left out at the pricing stage, plus what you really want will be properly dimensioned.
  6. Make sure that if you do retain an architect that you check the register

A fully qualified architect is the only person allowed to use the title, architectural designers or consultants are NOT architects and cannot do certification or sign-off or stamp bank or legal documentation.

  1. Do ask if your designs will be done in 3d. Traditionally all drawing has been done in 2d (flat plan layout), but with new technology that allows you the client to see the finished rooms/ home in 3d and you get a far more thorough and detailed service.

And finally, I’m at the end of the phone if you are thinking about engaging the services of an architect. Karen (01 9696616 or 051 364535) E: