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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In search of a good Elevation

While dealing with house construction clients in Kerala,it is very common to hear from them that they require very good Elevation or appearance for the house.
Some people even send Elevations of houses they have seen in websites of builders and send it to me saying that I want my house to look like this.The person who make such demands is not even bothered about plan of that house which may be totally different from his requirement,budget and it may not even fit into his property.Who bothers about all these?
Most of them think that a good Architect is simply some one who can draw impressive Elevation from any plan of the house prepared by any one.Again usual Malayalee expectation of a house to be built is that the house should look impressive from outside.For them an Architect is some one capable of doing this from any plan.So you do not require an architect to draw plan of your house.A lot of people think that if they draw few lines and write whatever measurements they feel like,it will be the best plan for his house.
”After all,how can an Architect draw plan of my house when I am spending my money?.Let him draw a good Elevation for the house preferably one which look like a photo.I should know how the house will look,when completed”
A good elevation is possible only for a good Plan of the house.An Architect has to use the following during preparation of plan of a house.
1. His knowledge.
2.Years of experience in designing and building houses.
3.Structural engineering aspects to reduce construction costs.
4.Modern architectural techniques to enhance utility of every bit of built up space.
5.Ensure proper ventilation and lighting using sunlight in all living spaces.
6.Proper control and protection from sunlight,winds and rain for every living space.
7.Vasthu compliance
8.Reduction of cost by better utilisation of available resources.
9.Plan to obtain good external appearance for the building not only from front side but from every sides of the building.
Additionally for Malayalees,
10.Try to make the house look bigger than what it really is.
I can tell  many stories of experiences in dealing with clients about each of these aspects.But I will tell only two experience detail here.
At Punalur,I met an NRI who has become rich only very recently for design of his house in his existing plot.When I reached from Cochin with prior fixing of time,I had to wait at his rented accommodation for nearly an hour for the simple reason that my novae rich client wanted to make me wait for making me feel his “greatness” in front of me.
Before even proceeding to see the plot,he opened his laptop and showed me house pictures taken from websites of villa builders.
“I want house like this”
I said Okay.When I reached the plot ,the plot has only more cents which is only area of the land.It has very little width and the picture he showed simply will not fit into that plot.Even though I tried to prepare plan suited to that plot and his requirements,he was adamant that the plan does not suit with the plan he showed me.What will I do and how will I make him understand the fact?
At Irinjalakuda when I went to design and build a house father of my client had one simple demand.
House should look bigger than the new house of a film star nearby even though he cannot have 6500 sft plinth area of house of film star.He cannot go beyond 4000 sft.With 4000 sft.I designed and built house looking bigger than that 6500 sft house of neighbour.
Plan of the house is the most important, most valuable drawing of your house.Try to get the best talented Architect for preparation of that unique plan specifically suited to your plot,requirements and budget.A good plan will naturally give you a good elevation.But give the Architect time to dream and visualise a good plan and give him more time to develop a good and unique appearance for your house.Do not make him design in a hurry for you.Some times he may need more time to dream well for you.