Thursday, December 31, 2009

House construction-How to start and proceed

I am sure you might have noticed a spider making a net to catch it’s preys to eat it.After spinning the net spider watches for any movement and wait in a corner.Once a fly or other insect get caught in the net,spider rushes close to it’s prey and tie it with net finally to kill it and eat it.

This is exactly how non professional contractors who construct most of the houses in Kerala talk of a square feet cost of a house simply to mislead possible clients into their spider like net. Once caught in the net, you cannot escape and by the time you finish construction of the house ,the last thing you worry about is the original promised square feet cost of construction. You somehow try to complete the house whatever may be the final cost.

Construction cost in Kerala is rapidly rising and any house construction will take not less than one year. During this period cost of input materials and labour increase a lot and no contractor is going to bear the increase in cost and still give you a quality product.If you plan to build your house in Kerala try to do it as fast as possible as tomorrow will be too late and you may not be in a position to afford construction cost of tomorrow.This is precisely why any house built well sells at double the construction cost immediately after completion.

Design and construction of a house is a bit complicated affair if you want to do it properly. You need Architectural design and complete design details for it, structural design details, interior and landscape details. Only a professional agency can do it rightly for you.

House construction  has got three major components in it

1. Basic Structure and plastering. Probably I can give a guess on  cost of this part. If you do it with right structural design, proper quality and engineering at present in put cost level, it may cost about Rs.1000/- per sft.Again it is only a guess and when you actually construct your house with proper engineering it may go up and not likely to go down.

2. Interior work like flooring, Electrical, plumbing, painting, interior wood work like modular kitchen ,stair case etc

3.Compound wall,gate,septic tank,water storage tanks, landscape work,rain water storage,Electrical and water connections etc

On second and third phases of construction rapid change of technology forces you to adopt to latest trends and facilities.At the beginning stage of construction,there is absolutely no way of correctly predicting cost of these stages.Of course,contractor will gave cost figures with several conditions applicable and these conditions applicable can take care of his profits whatever may be cost indications given by him.

It will be better to decide on umpteen options available for each and every item of work with professional guidance at these later stages of construction.

Once  your plan is ready, using Engineering estimate methods cost of structural work can be calculated. Square feet plinth area is not the only deciding factor of cost. At best it can be treated as one of the many factors. If you calculate cost considering only this  square feet plinth area factor it will be like the old story of blind going to see elephant.

Let us see how we proceed on design and construction of your house.

We proceed in a systematic manner in developing design for your house and then proceeding to make it a reality with high standards of design, quality and workmanship.

First step is my visit to your plot.

This visit to your plot to study your plot, site conditions, surroundings and to visualise house in your dreams through the eyes of an Architect will cost you Rs.3000/-plus travel expenses.

After this we will prepare the most important document for your house which we call as Basic Plan showing dimensions and positions of rooms, doors and windows only. We charge Rs.2.5 per square feet plinth area for this Plan.

You can go through this drawing and suggest changes as may be required and it can be revised not once but twice without any extra charges.

Then we will have to prepare a set of drawings as required by Kerala Building rules for submission to local authority like Panchayath for approval. Our charges for these set of drawings is Rs.6000/-

If you have someone to follow up about this with local authority, he can arrange site inspection by concerned official and obtain Building Permit after paying fees as may be applicable to local authority.

If you have no one to do this, we can arrange this. In that case our travel expenses and other service charges will be extra.

Then we proceed to prepare Engineering Estimate giving item wise costing for each item of construction mainly for budgetary purpose and also to act as a starting point for construction if we take up construction directly.

Before each stage of construction we will give you expected cost, time required for that stage of work and rates applicable in writing to you.No extra charges for site visit,detailed architectural and structural design  and close monitoring of work if we take up work on contract basis.

After completion of each stage of construction, we will take detailed measurements from site and billing will be on this actual site measurements details of which will be forwarded to you for your verification. Rates applicable will be the same as that given in the Stage Estimate given prior to commencement of that stage of work. There will be a proper agreement for construction work signed by both parties entered prior to commencement of work

If you are an NRI,you can peacefully leave the entire house building job to us.You will get transparent billing with complete details,you can watch work progress of each day through pictures in blog specifically created for your site sitting in any part of the world.Our reputation gained through building more than 200 houses in Kerala and designing much more will ensure that you get the best work done complying with modern architecture,structural engineering vasthu and complete professional care

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Preparing plan for house to be built

I remember a bank Manager meeting me few years back and telling me to see a plot which he intend to purchase as plot has an attraction for him-low price.Because nobody is willing to buy the land as it has reasonable but low front width but within about six metres depth the plot has only width just sufficient for building a room.He told me-“Every body says that at that plot a house cannot be constructed due to irregular shape of the plot.Because of that land owner is willing to sell the land at low price.But still no buyers.If you can design and build a house in that land,I will buy the land”

I saw the plot and agreed to design and build his house at that plot.When I completed the house,house really looked good and I have converted the disadvantage of the plot into advantage as I did a stair using that inclined outer surface of the plot.Above all house had all facilities and utility more than expectations of the client.

By interacting with many through email,I get a feeling that majority or almost everyone think that preparing plan of the house can be done by anybody even without any engineering or architectural back ground.Most of the people think that an Architect is required only to make a good Elevation for the house and Architect is some one who can draw great looking Elevation from any plan.

Recently a person contacted me with a plan prepared by”his Engineer”He wanted me to tell my charges for preparing a “great looking Elevation” for this plan and he wanted front ,side and rear views.I told him to send me the plan before I can comment on it.After I got the plan,I realised that frontage of the plot is very low and depth is more.Naturally plan prepared has low front width and more depth.I told him  that ,with that plan and plot there are several limitations for getting that “great looking elevation”

Another client of mine keep insisting on me following plan drawn by him even though I have patiently explained to him the defects and problems in the plan and difficulties he will face after constructing house like that.All my advices go in the air,and he insists with the plan and tell me that my job is to make a great elevation for the plan he drawn.

For getting a good Elevation,plan should be made with that intention and Elevation can be only as good or as bad as the plan.

When people talk of plan of the house what they mean is not exactly what we professionals call as plan.For them,plan includes Elevation and also other drawings local authority ask for  before giving building permit.To distinguish mere plan from these set of drawings I am calling Plan as Basic Plan which is actually the most important first drawing for the house to be built.Basic Plan just gives dimensions and positions of rooms,doors and windows and nothing else.If the plan is designed well,you will get a good Elevation.Without a proper Plan,no one can get a good Elevation.

Any one trained in drawing Auto CAD drawing can draw a Plan.But just a Plan prepared by a professionally trained person is not what you need for the only house you may be building in your life time.
You need the best possible plan made by the talented Architect with professional training and rich knowledge obtained by designing and building houses in Kerala considering all good aspects and features of traditional Kerala Architecture,modern architectural innovations,structural engineering aspects and Vasthu factors.

Kerala scenario in addition require an impressive exterior for the house while doing effective space management inside house with absolutely no wastage of space and maximum utility for every bit of built up area.
I have designed and directly built more than 200 houses in Kerala and designed much  more.Even though I hear from many  that he knows everything about house construction after building one or two houses,with each new building design and construction,I still learn many things which I never even anticipated earlier.So with each new design and construction my capabilities in building design and construction increases.

Some one kept on sending mails to me saying that my argument that plan of the house has to be done by a qualified and experienced professional is wrong.According to him owner of the house to be built knows better and he can prepare a better plan.

Yes.Owner of the house probably  can tell what all he needs in the house.But a good discussion with the Architect will be helpful for the owner of the house to understand his requirements better as a talented Architect can guide him properly in identifying his needs for the house correctly and planning for the house considering site and surroundings  conditions and financial limitations or possibilities of the person trying to build the house.

In fact the one important job an Architect has to do is to design the house in a manner with maximum utilisation of every built up space,little or no wastage of space,proper ventilation ,lighting and easy movement inside house.Client should get more value for money invested in house by getting better facilities at lesser cost.

Some times client’s ego get the upper hand.”I am spending  my money.So Architect should simply do as I say” This type of argument or approach I hear from even well educated people.If you do not listen to advices of Architect,every architect normally will leave it at that and you will realise that what the Architect had been telling is correct and good for you and your house, only after you complete the house,over ruling advices of the Architect.

I had a well placed software professional based at Singapore as my client sometime back.When he approached me first he brought a Plan of the house prepared by a “Singapore Architect”.Even a junior of mine in my office could make out that if the house is built like that it will have more inconveniences than facilities and the house when finished will look terrible.In fact my assistants advised me to change the plan and convince the client.As I have already studied the client properly and noticed his ego centric nature,I simply did not do that.If I advised him strongly about changing that plan of the house,most probably he would have gone to some body else to build the house.

When we completed the house he realised the mistakes and problems.But that was too late and nothing could be done about it.Recently after two years of completing his house,he approached me for building a house for his friend.This time he want me to do design of the house also.

I have an NRI client who is a qualified Engineer working as building construction Engineer abroad  may be with lesser exposure to building houses in Kerala.His father is a retired PWD Engineer.But keep on telling me that whatever he knows about house construction does not mean much as technology has developed a lot after his retirement.

This Engineer client of mine wanted an additional door to the house from car porch even though main entry is quite nearby.I told him about futility of his requirement.But he insisted on it.Even his retired father could understand that what I am telling make more sense.But he did not want to interfere in his son’s arguments.We constructed house like that as I could make out that his ego is ruling higher than his common sense.He is realising about meaningless nature of his insistence only now after completion of the house when  it is too late to correct.

I am not saying that only those with qualifications in engineering or architecture with years of experience can design a house well.What is required more is common sense and knowledge acquired  through practice.This is what exactly make a good designer and builder.When you get some one like that for designing and building your house,please remove that ego centric thinking from your mind-“After all it is my money.Let the Architect do as I say”

As a general rule even though I will advise my client once or twice about the defects of his arguments,I never insist upon client to follow my advice.In Malayalam there is a saying ,which means some one who does not know will learn by experience.So I leave him to realise the mistake by burning his fingers.But then it will be too late and you cannot correct it in the next house to be built as you may not build a second house.

There is also a wrong impression among most of the clients that after obtaining a plan,you do not need a professional.Your non professional contractor will not know how to convert that plan into reality even though he will talk as if he knows everything.An Architect closely monitoring and guiding every step and stage of construction is the last thing he need and he will try to keep him away to obtain maximum profit from the work.

Plan of the house is only the starting point of design of your house.You require many more architectural and structural design details for converting that plan into a house.So an experienced professional is required for detailed design,site visits,site monitoring and advices at every stage of construction till the day you can move into the house and start living.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Flooring for house-options

Just like in any other house construction features trends in flooring for the house keep changing with new trends,technology developments etc.Let us see the current options available.
Personally I feel clay tile flooring is ideal especially for bed rooms.As clay tile is made from mud,it is most ecofriendly and ideally suited to our climate.Unlike granite,marble and manufactured flooring materials like vitrified or ceramic tiles,you can simply walk or sleep in clay tile flooring without fear of flooring taking away your body heat and making you more prone to unhealthy conditions.
When I talk of clay tile,you may be thinking of clay tiles in old houses which gets worn off fast and does not even look decent.Look at picture below:
This is clay tile flooring done at bed rooms at our Vyttila site after polyurethane coating.In the nearby bed room they have done  granite tile flooring.Even though much less costly,clay tile  really looks better.Clay tiles are traditionally used for slope roofs just as in this picture again from our Vyttila site.
You can get more details on clay tiles at website of one of the best clay tile manufacturers in Kerala at
Cost of these clay tiles is approximately only Rs.15 per sft.While laying expenses will be same as that of ceramic tiles or vitrified tiles.I have done entire flooring of a 4000 sft house cum office of a sitting Judge of High court with clay tiles about six years back and it still retains its elegance and looks.He was more particular about using clay tile flooring than me at that time.
I also use clay tiles above flat roof concreting instead of usual roof top plastering.I have done this in many sites.Only additional cost to my client is the cost of clay tiles as laying expenses will be same as that of roof top plastering.Roof top plastering is likely to get affected by fungus and over a period of time,it will wear off with continuous exposure to rain and sunlight thus causing wetness in the roof concrete,finally leading to roof leakage especially if concreting is done without proper mixing and improper ratio of concrete aggregates mainly due to workers trying to lessen their work,ignoring quality of work which is very common.
When you lay clay tiles over flat roof,it prevents roof leakage and reduces heat inside rooms as clay tiles absorb most of sunlight heat.To prevent fungus growing over clay tile laid roof top,apply antifungal tile protecting paint preferably ICI make called Tile shield with type name Sunrise which gives original clay tile colour.
Vitrified tiles became popular about four years back .It was quite strong in construction and had added advantage of mirror finish quality just like granite.But recently competition has brought down price of vitrified tiles from nearly Rs.90/- per sft to Rs.25/- per sft and quality naturally has suffered.Now you can get good quality Vitrified tiles with smooth or rough finish from both NITCO or Johnson Tiles.If you go to their websites you will get details.
Compared to using single colour single design tiles,new patterns and designs can be made with combination of tiles selected and designed by your Architect thereby giving unique appearance for your bath rooms and living spaces.I am at present trying out this new trend in design for floors and walls at my Cherthala site in Kerala.
Vitrified tiles are highly slippery even more slippery than granite.Hence chances of falling down on the floor especially when wet are more.It is not eco friendly.
Granite slabs are quite costly with material cost alone about Rs.200/-Rs.250/-per sft.With laying expenses of about Rs.50/- per sft,it can take your flooring cost to about Rs.300/- per sft.As granite is a natural stone,it is more eco friendly than ceramic or vitrified tiles.Granite is a pre polished material and does not require polishing like marble.It has a clear mirror finish as you can see from pictures below.
With different colour combinations as per guidance from Architect,you can have better appealing appearance for flooring by using vitrified tiles,granite slabs or tiles and ceramic tiles.
Granite tiles which have similar appearance like granite slabs are less thick,smaller in dimensions and less costly.Price may range between Rs.60/- to Rs.90/- per sft.Laying expenses may not change much as additional dressing of sides may be required in the case of granite tiles.
In Kitchen,it is not advisable to go for clay tiles as clay tiles may get damaged due to acid materials used for cooking spilling on to the floor.Hence you can go for granite tiles which is not as slippery as vitrified tiles.
Ceramic tiles are now available in attractive colours and designs.Even anti slippery versions(anti skid tiles) are available with very good designs from various manufacturers.But cost is around Rs.30/- Rs.50/- per sft.Laying expenses does not change much.
Wooden flooring is very good  especially on ecological aspect.Among all flooring materials it is more comfortable to walk,sleep or move around.Maintaining it will be a problem if you have small kids in the house as water cleaning cannot be done as water will damage polished wood.Cost may range above Rs.300/- per sft.
Marble is not much popular these days.Marble being a natural stone,is like granite on ecological aspect.But it requires polishing after laying which is costly and time consuming.With polishing, laying expenses of marble can go as high as Rs.80/-  per sft which takes away lesser cost of marble compared to granite.Polishing will not last the effect after five years and you will have to re polish after every five years.Except for Italian marble which is costlier than granite slabs,marble available here does not look that good also.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cost of constructing a house

I keep getting mails asking me to tell cost of constructing house without giving any data.Some people simply guess square feet plinth area of house to be built without even preparing a plan of the house by a professional ,qualified and experienced in designing house .

First of all any one thinking of constructing a house should understand that there is no universal square feet cost of construction irrespective of location,site conditions and design.In fact there is no such thing as square feet plinth area cost of construction.Most of the people think that constructing a house is as simple as going and buying rice from market.Just tell approximate plinth area of house you are thinking of  constructing and the builder will tell the cost!

In fact there are many non professional contractors who quote square feet cost of construction with several conditions applicable.These applicable conditions will come out in the open only after you give contract of construction to him mislead by lower square feet cost quoted by him.Contractor knows very well that once construction starts,you will have no other option other than agree to whatever extras,advances and additions he may ask for.In many parts of Kerala,other contractors will not even come to take up balance work left by a contractor and you will be forced to continue with the existing contractor whatever may be his fresh demands.In many places people think that you should not make house building contractor unhappy.It is supposed to bring bad luck to you.So much for protecting and enhancing interest of profit thirsty contractors who talk pleasingly in the beginning promising very low square feet cost of construction and threateningly as the work progresses as he knows very well that your neck is firmly in his grip.

There are so many factors which determine cost of constructing houses .At best,we can put square feet plinth area as one of the many factors contributing to cost of constructing a house.I will list few of them

1.Site conditions and soil nature

In places like Cochin you may get only land without even a trace of sand even if you go down by 40 to 50 feet depth.Naturally you will have to go for concrete piling and costly beam foundation with columns going up at all corners.This may raise up even foundation cost for a normal house up to Rs.10 lakhs

2.Level of the plot

In hilly areas there can be sloppy terrain where you will have to construct house.This will result in increased cost of foundation even if you are doing ordinary rubble foundation

3.Design of the house

This is a very important factor deciding cost of construction.Only a talented Architect with knowledge in structural engineering can design a cost effective house with maximum utility and minimum wastage of built up space.

Some people keep on asking me how he will find out who is the best Architect to design his  house.Qualifications even though important alone will not be sufficient for the best Architect suited for you.Experience in designing and building several houses is very very important as with each house designed and constructed Architect gains knowledge which cannot be obtained by reading Architectural or Engineering books.

4.Cost of input materials for house construction

Your house construction will take not less than one year.During this period cost of all input materials for construction will change,naturally upward in our conditions.Contractor if committed a fixed price will find some way to keep his profit intact when cost of input materials increases naturally compromising on quality of construction of your house.So it will be better to have cost varying term in contract to keep profit of builder and quality of construction for you.


Technology in every aspect of house construction is rapidly changing almost on a daily basis.To have the best and latest technology your specifications for house especially for works after structural work will have to be suitably modified in consultation with your Architect.A builder who has quoted square feet cost of construction will naturally take advantage of the situation and will demand higher and extra charges.Here square feet costing will act as a hindrance to you.

So in my opinion,you should go for more scientific item wise rates for construction  rather than land up in trouble by giving work to whoever quoting lower square feet cost of construction

There are many more factors contributing to cost of construction.I will talk about all these in detail when you come to me as a client.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Desire for lower price for construction

Desire for obtaining lower price for construction from the builder is very common among people who attempt to build house. It is due to a common belief that the villain causing higher cost is the builder. It implies that the person who comes forward to arrange material and labour for construction of your house pockets a good portion of your money. So the person trying to build house keep on enquiring “square feet cost of construction” from all those who approach him for the work without realising the fact that there is no universal square feet cost of construction for building a house.

Cost of construction will vary from place to place and also depending upon soil nature and even level of land. Cost will vary depending upon design of the house. In clearer terms we can say that cost simply do not depend upon square feet plinth area of the house to be built. It depends more on material and labour cost inputs for the house which in turn depend upon design of the house. Thus by suitably varying design of the house (and definitely not simply square feet plinth area of house) cost can go up or down. This is where role of the Architect become important or crucial in deciding cost of construction. So it is not the person who takes up construction contract (builder) who has the key to construction cost. The key to lower or higher cost of construction is with the Architect. He uses this key right from designing the house.

Builder is not going to reduce your construction cost by deciding to forget or part with part of his profit. He is in the business of building houses simply for profit. If he cannot get profit by doing construction work in the most appropriate manner with good quality he will naturally  compromise on quality of construction to obtain his profit probably while trying to pretend in front of the owner about his “quality of work”. Hence for you to get a good quality construction with a bit of sincerity from the builder,you should be gracious enough to allow him to have profit for constructing your house properly.

I remember several occasions when owner of the house for whom I was building house,found it difficult to hide his happiness when input raw material costs for construction was going up thereby cutting my profit and pushing me into loss having committed for a fixed price  or rates for construction.As I was unwilling to compromise on quality of construction,I had no other option other than facing loss in my business.But some one like me as a builder will not be there and even my actions in keeping up my commitments even at a loss can only be treated as a foolish decision as a business man.A business enterprise incurring losses can only look forward to closure and nothing else.So later I changed my billing practices linking the rates of construction to input costs.Whenever input costs go up I increase rates and when it goes down I decrease rates.Even in this scenario,I give firm rates just before each stage of construction to be kept firm till completion of that stage of construction.

Recently I have come across a lady settled in Mumbai.She approached me for designing a house for her parents at her native village in Kerala.I visited the site and found that they have large area of land in a village atmosphere.So I designed a house suited to the land and village.Like many of my other clients she has decided in advance that the house should have a prefixed square feet plinth area and the Architect has to somehow adjust his design to suit that prefixed plinth area.This insistence on prefixed square feet plinth area for the house is simply due to wrong belief of cost directly related to square feet plinth area.With the same square feet plinth area,you can build houses with different cost and your Architect can guide you on cost control by suitably managing input costs while designing the house and monitoring each stage of construction.She was adamant on reducing plinth area of the house by 200 sft without knowing that 200 sft difference is not going to change construction cost much as I can advise her many ways of controlling cost during progress of work.

When you go to a doctor for treating your disease you are willing to listen and follow his advices.Similarly in house construction,when you hire a professional you should  follow instructions of the Architect.But many people think and talk as if Architect is some one who should follow his instructions and demands.”After all,I am spending my money.Architect should do as I said”If this is your attitude my advice will be that you should not simply waste your money on Architect.A professional should be given freedom of functioning.If you have budget limitations tell him openly about your limitations and he will suitably design the house for you within your budget constraints.If your requirements cannot be met within the finance available,he in turn will tell you about it.You can either postpone the project or better still,you can avail of long term housing loan which will give you house at today's price and payment after 10 or 15 years.By that time your property price would have appreciated many multiples.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why you need professional guidance for house construction

Even though almost everyone has a dream of building his own house preferably in his  own native place,mainly to show his local people about his newly acquired economic status,not many really make a study of how to go about for  constructing a house

When he makes initial enquiries in his native place usual reply he gets from any one and every one nearer to him is to approach a local builder usually called in Malayalam as mesthri.

“That mesthri has constructed many houses.He will do it well.Just be careful about money you pay him”

This is the usual reply.So just by approaching that mesthri who will supply men and tools and scaffoldings for construction,you can start construction.Then what about the plan?Answer is again simple-“You know what all rooms you want.Tell that draftsman about it.He will draw a plan and get papers ready for approval from Panchayath”

It is that simple.Where does Architects and Engineers come in this picture?Again usual reply is like this-“They are for bigger buildings  and not for ordinary houses”

This is how houses improperly designed and constructed come up every where without proper architecture or structural engineering.

Recently I went to meet a prospective client at Cherthala.They were having a plan of the house prepared by the local draftsman.I was sent by the daughter working away “for a second opinion” on the plan.The plan which I have seen has not considered any of the architectural and structural engineering aspects forget about proper utilisation of space,Vasthu factors and appropriate design and better appearance.

I was amused to notice that they were talking as if the plan prepared by local guy is the only plan possible suiting their requirements and budget.Most important factor according to them is square feet area of the house.They simply think that square feet area is the most important deciding factor for construction cost.





Look at pictures above.Mr.Saseendran working in gulf has called me to NIlambur about an year back for design and construction of his dream house.Pictures above are that of his completed house and he sitting in balcony charupady.

He called me not because he was aware of importance of proper architectural design and need for proper structural engineering factors to be ensured while constructing his house.But today after completing his house he is aware of all these factors and he also knows for sure that he got the best possible design,workmanship and proper house about which he cannot feel bad at any time.That is because he was wise enough to have professional guidance in every step of construction right from beginning to end.

When you have professional expertise available which will not only save you lakhs and lakhs of money otherwise spent without any proper scheme or plan,you will get the right and best considering all aspects of engineering,vasthu,latest architectural features and above all best value for your hard earned money.

First you have to get the best possible plan suiting your plot,requirements,budget,dreams without spending money unreasonably.

Just see pictures of the plot where house shown above now exist when I first reached site before even preparing plan of the house.



See how the place has transformed.Old house seen in the picture was really the old house of Mr.Saseendran where he was born and brought up.

Look at what all you require step by step for constructing your house.

1.A plan prepared by a qualified professional well experienced in designing and building houses(With each house construction I study continuously and my expertise and knowledge grows and the next house is going to be better designed and better constructed compared to more than 200 houses I have directly built)

2.Local authority submission drawings

3.Detailed item wise Engineering Estimate giving you a clear picture of expected cost for each item of construction

4.Foundation engineering details based on modern Structural Engineering ensuring proper stability for your house.

5.Set out or drawing plan in your plot in presence of the Architect  and client so that any last minute changes considering plot conditions can be made.

6.Monitoring of foundation work with professional assistance

Like these several steps are required to reach your dream house properly just like how Mr.Saseendran has reached his dream house working in gulf.

In short you need proper professional assistance and guidance for every step of construction.Workers engaged in construction however close or familiar to you will always make compromises to make their work easier and less trouble some while smiling and assuring you that “every thing is done properly “knowing very well that you do not know exactly what is right and proper.

I will put some more pictures of house of Mr.Saseendran at Nilambur.





Sunday, November 1, 2009

Your dream house in Kerala

One day a young lady came to my office without any advance information and caught hold of my hand unusual for a Kerala lady and said-“I am coming from New York.I want to build a house.Can we discuss about it?”
That is how design and construction of house at Irinjalakuda started.Problems with her in making her dream house were many.
1.She has nobody except a retired father in law to look after construction.Even he is quite new in the place where they plan to construct house and hence cannot do much about construction other than watching in silence.
2.Father in law has already located a local builder and made a plan of the house.She is not so confident about capability and trustworthiness of that builder.
3.Communicating with that local builder from USA will be a problem and for monitoring and observing progress of work,she will have to depend solely on telephonic reports from father in law
4.Even she or father in law is not aware of technicalities involved in construction and hence there is no way to monitor or ensure quality of construction.
5.Accounting for work done needs a proper transparent arrangement which the local builder cannot ensure.
6.Just by looking at plan of the house made,she is not able to make out how the house will come out when finished and what features and facilities the house will have.
in short she is simply searching for a reliable professional who can guide them properly,manage finance for construction reliably and someone who can be fully trusted to make her dream house a reality.
After completion of the house ,she told me that many NRI malayalees like her really want to buy land in Kerala and construct a dream house where they can come and stay for few days of their vacation and come back and stay after retirement if they come back to India or sell at a later date at a good price if they do not want to come back and settle in Kerala for retirement.
But she also told me that in spite of having money most of the NRIs are not daring to venture into buying land and constructing house in Kerala as they are not hopeful of finding some one reliable to make their dream house a reality.
We have been trying to become this non existent reliable professional group who will fully take care of converting your dream house into reality with communication through blogs and emails making you feel like seeing your dream house coming up right in front of your eyes sitting in any far away corner of the world.
We have done many projects like that.For a Delhi based person working with a MNC without time to come and monitor construction of house at Kalady,for Dubai based persons at Ranni and Nilambur, for Botswana based Engineer at Cochin,For USA based persons at Cochin and Perumbavoor and the list go on .
We have recently started construction of  a house at Koratty.Husband is director of a pharmaceutical MNC based at Delhi travelling around the world and wife senior official of a foreign bank.Even though they are originally from Kerala,they were not having own land in Kerala and was nurturing a dream for a land and house in Kerala.
We have located land for their future house in Kerala.Did all documentation for land purchase,designed house,obtained building plan approval and now started construction.Sitting in any part of the world they can see pictures of work in progress of the house almost on daily basis through blog,communicate easily through emails and transfer funds through net and receive periodic bills also through net.
For doing all these,we are just billing clients practically on cost basis and quality of construction is strictly the best you can hope for with professional guidance and monitoring ensuring latest technology and best quality standards followed in each item and activity of construction.
Every house we design and build is normally offered for sale at almost double our billing amount by prospective buyers and we continuously get enquiries for purchase of houses which we have designed and built even though we always advice our clients not to sell the house as it will be practically impossible to get a similar house at the same cost.
Speciality of our design is that we have carefully chosen a  unique style of design which always give a bigger and appealing external appearance for the house as every malayalee client hope for.At Irinjalakuda we were building a 4000 sft house when a film star was having a 6000 sft house nearby.Half jokingly my client asked me-“Is it possible for our house to look bigger than that house with lesser area?”
I said –Yes and I kept my word.House really looks different,big and unique in its appearance.A still better looking design with 1000 sft less in plinth area is coming up at Cherthala.
So we are improving and reaching new heights in architectural excellence,quality of construction,better communication with client and definitely much much more value for the hard earned money of our clients many of them living and working in different parts of the world.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Building your house-How do you start?

Designing and building a house require systematic planning preferably with professional assistance
First step is to formulate your requirements for the house like how many rooms and other facilities you are looking for or dreaming for the house
When you communicate these to the Architect, he will have many more questions to you to get a better picture on your needs and dreams for the house.
A site visit by the architect is essential as just any other plan of the house taken from websites or builder sites may not necessarily suit your plot and your needs. Information on which direction house will face, nearby roads and surrounding nature can be collected by the Architect during site visit
Above all, Architect will have to dream and visualise your future house in the plot selected so that you will get the best possible plan ideally suited to your plot.
It will be good if the Architect can consider Vasthu aspects, Structural engineering aspects in additional to modern architectural features and of course good elements of traditional Kerala Architecture.
Cost of the house is one aspect that cannot be estimated simply by knowing that you are going to construct a house. Before any approximate estimate can be worked out, following data is essential even to guess the possible cost.
1. Basic plan of the house
2. Soil nature and features of land where building will come up
Square feet cost is a vague term which is not an accurate indicator for the expected cost of building. At best it can be a guess. Your Architect will be able to work out a more correct cost indication after the Basic Plan is prepared using Engineering estimate method.

Basic Plan is the most important document for construction of your house. Your Architect can  bring in his expertise, years of experience, creative talent and lots and lots of common sense along with his knowledge in structural engineering and Vasthu factors to get you the best and most appropriate basic Plan ideally suited  to your requirements and exactly suited to your plot and surroundings.

As a professional, your Architect will be more interested in giving you best value for your money and the best house which you can truly call as your dream home.Not so qualified or experienced persons will be able to give you a plan of the house possibly without even charges possibly as a bait to get contract for house construction.But remember a proper professional plan from a good architect can not only save you lakhs of rupees but the space saving better utility design features he will be bringing in will be understood and appreciated by you only when you start living in the house.

Similarly defects and lack of good features of  good design by using a non professional plan and building a house without professional assistance will be known to you only after you start living in the house.At that time you simply will not be able to do anything about it.So better be pound wise rather than being penny foolish.I have just used the old saying”penny wise pound foolish” in the reverse.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tall claims and Ad campaigns

Our marketing division was supplying an electronic component to a stabiliser manufacturer on a regular basis.When the unit wanted an extension for their building naturally we got the job for design and construction of that building.

This stabiliser manufacturing unit was manufacturing stabilisers for a well known brand along with many similar units run by Christian priests and nuns.They will do procurement of raw materials and components from sources identified by the marketing company,employ school and college drop out girls for the assembling work.After manufacturing and testing they will pack the product and deliver to retail shop selling the product as per directions of the marketing company in whose brand name product is being sold.

One day I checked up the price indicated on the packed stabiliser and asked the priest in charge-“How much you get out of this price?”
Price figure indicated by him was really surprising to me.It was just one fourth of the selling price of the product.Nearly three fourth of price goes as possibly marketing expenses including advertisement expenses through media and Point of Purchase ad material costs,margin of marketing company and profit for retail seller.
So while watching colourful advertisements in TV and news papers we never realise the fact that we are paying for all these ad campaigns possibly with an added percentage of margin to the marketing company for advertisement expenses.

I have been watching construction of a four story apartment project just in front of my office and another apartment project for three story near my house in the recent period.
The project in front of my office was done by a fairly known builder who advertise and sell his apartments.This builder regularly buy land in Cochin,build similar apartments on a regular basis and sell apartments also on a regular basis.The other project(I will call it as Project B) is being done by an unknown builder who may be selling apartments through contacts and possibly they may not continue to build like this unlike Project A

Project A has regular workers to whom they are paying almost half the wages prevailing in the industry.They simply do not care about quality of work.Their only attempt is to finish the work as early as possible.North Indian workers staying at site without much facilities are persuaded to do overtime work even during night so that work will get completed fast.

I have noticed with shock that for four story building they are doing excavation for column footings simply by Jcb excavation to minimum depths.Mat footing concrete is using not even sufficient size steel bars and just four nos 12 mm steel bars are used for columns with stirrup spacing as  high as 30 cm or more.I asked one of the supervisors-“Will it not fall down if you do like this?”
He simply smiled and said-“We are regularly doing like this and so far nothing has fallen down.After all buyers are going to see building only after painting.At that time it will look good”

In our country there is no government machinery to check and enforce proper structural design for buildings being constructed and any body can do as they pleases and ordinary house building owners simply do not know anything about structural design or importance of proper structural work for the building ensuring structural stability of the building.They are only interested in getting lowest”square feet cost” of construction for the building they construct.Who bothers even if the builder does not even use proper steel reinforcement? If you use adequate steel reinforcement with professional guidance from a structural consultant,cost of construction will go up.When the customer is interested only in getting lowest”square feet cost” of construction why should builder spend more money to ensure structural stability of the building?

Recently I was rather shocked to receive mail from a qualified experienced engineer working abroad on construction projects asking me to quote my square feet cost of construction.So much for the lack of awareness even among professionals thus allowing crooks to flourish in the industry

I was watching Project B running construction from the beginning.They were doing the construction strictly as per the best procedure with proper professional design and quality.They are not well known builders.They do not advertise heavily through internet,media and hoardings.Probably they will not be getting buyers like usual players in the trade and may not get same high prices and thereby higher profits.
It is high time awareness about proper construction methods and procedures are known to potential buyers.Most of the bigger players in apartment business do not do anything other than marketing and reaping profits.They simply subcontract entire work on smaller players to earn huge margins from buyers who simply trust more advertised names.For them it is very easy to build lakhs of square feet within the committed delivery period.After all who bothers about quality?
“With painting and finishing works nobody will be able to notice defects initially.After purchase the apartment society will worry about quality problems and manufacturing defects”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Laying of concrete-Kerala practices

Having worked with many workers in different work sites in Kerala,I can tell you one fact which is common among all these workers.They give only lip service to quality of work.
When you ask them about quality of work,all of them tell that they are not like others and they do the work in the correct manner irrespective of supervision or lack of supervision.But this is  just a  hollow promise without any intension of following it up with action.In reality they will do only that which has less physical strain and they will try to make the owner of building believe that what they are doing is the correct manner of doing work.
While laying concrete usual follies or mistakes done by workers are the following
1.They add more water to the concrete so that it is easier for them to level the concrete or compact it in case of beams and columns even though more water in excess of allowed quantity will reduce strength of concrete.
2.They reduce quantity of coarse aggregates(3/4 inch metal if I use usual terminology) so that it will be easy for compaction especially when compaction is done manually without use of vibrator.They increase quantity of fine aggregates like river sand,again for less physical strain in mixing and compacting.
3.Cement quantity will be reduced only if material supply is also being arranged by the contractor.Otherwise cement will not be reduced as it is not affecting physical strain of concrete mixing and laying.
4.For beams and columns they talk as if concrete with more water is essential.After hearing it for some time any one will start thinking that columns and beams require concrete with more water.

As majority of houses and other buildings in Kerala are being constructed without professional guidance and supervision,there is also absolutely no structural design by a qualified Engineer.Workers will lay steel as they feel comfortable so that steel tying and fixing can be the minimum possible to reduce steel work.

I will tell you about two events among my varied experiences in dealing with unrelenting work force in concrete work.
We were laying concrete somewhere near Angamaly for a convent building.Suddenly mother superior of that convent wanted me to meet her.I went and met her
“Why are you concreting without sufficient water in concrete?”She asked.In fact I literally had to fight with unrelenting workers to reduce water in concrete to desired level and now this lady is finding fault with me for that.See how these workers have misinformed general public to believe that the follies narrated by them are the right of way of doing work.
At ranny at the time of first roof slab concreting my client has called a few of the local contractors of building work who were quite unhappy for not getting work of this house as my client has chosen to get me for the work from far away Cochin.He called them to be present at the time of concrete to check whether the Engineer from Cochin and his workers are doing the concrete properly.
After the tea within half an hour of commencement of concrete laying all of them left the place saying that ” now he will do it correctly as we have come”
I asked my client-“What do they say about steel reinforcement work for roof concrete?”
He replied-“They say that you have put steel for four houses in this roof”

I have put steel only sufficient and essential for the work.Of course this sufficient and essential is four times according to worker as more steel means more work for him.As the work is taken up on square feet rate basis more steel work means lesser profit for him as the labour wages will increase due to more steel work.
Who is bothered about structural stability of the house?The concreted roof should not fall down immediately after removal of supports after curing period.Whatever happens later,the worker will not be around to face it.Even if he is locally available,he will wash his hands saying “You gave the work to me knowing very well that I am not an Engineer?If you were so particular about stability of the house,you should have engaged an Engineer for the work”
At the time of negotiating to get contract for the building if you ask him “Should we not go for an Engineer to design and supervise the work?”
He will reply like this-“Why you have to waste money on an Engineer?I have built hundreds of houses without any Engineer.Nothing happened to any of the buildings.If you have more money to waste,get an Engineer'”
Concrete mixing practices are different in different parts of Kerala.
In Nilambur they use a sloping wooden case where they keep cement and aggregates at top side and as these are brought down mixed with water using hand tools,concrete mixed is received at end of sloping wooden case.
At Alwaye they  use long spade to mix concrete.This make movement of spade and mixing easier.
At Cochin and many other places there is a bad habit of dumping aggregates one above other and trying to pour water and mixing whatever is available at one end.This practice prevents proper mixing of concrete.But here again who bothers?Worker will vouch vehemently to the owner who does not know anything about concrete mixing that what he does is the correct and most appropriate method.
Many people think that by using a manually operated mixer machine concrete is mixed properly.First of all workers will not put aggregates in proper proportion to reduce their strain in levelling and compacting concrete.Secondly the operator of mixer machine will not turn it sufficiently for proper mixing as he want the work to be over faster ,mixing or no mixing.
The best way out in recent time available in major towns like Cochin are ready mix concrete.As the mixing and laying is done mostly by machine without much man power involvement,worker introduced excuses for low quality work will not come into play.Only precaution required is that ready mix supplier should be given instructions about quantity of water as they will again try to increase water content for easier pumping of concrete.
Vibrator is the best option for proper compaction of concrete after laying on roof or beams.The old method of using hand compaction with steel bars is likely to be affected by worker laziness and fatigue.
Another advantage of using ready mix concreting is that you can avoid too many workers running around roof to be concreted with all sorts of confusion and shouting at the time of concreting.In some places there is a practice of giving continuous run of  food and drink to these concrete workers including liquor to make them happy for doing a lousy  irresponsible job for concreting roof of your house to be built only once in your life time.
Another important aspect to be noted is curing required after concrete laying.Many worker turned contractors will advise house owner that spraying water once or twice is sufficient  again to reduce his labour charges.Concrete laid will have to be kept under water for minimum two weeks.In case of slope roof,jute bags will have to be kept above slope roof with frequent spraying of water on it to keep concrete surface wet and cool.