Building your own fish-room

Discussion in 'Anything DIY related' started by Zoom, Nov 11, 2009.

  1. Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Hi guys.

    I've noticed a few people building/altering/additions to their homes to add a fish room, and the same questions always come down to how to build, what needs to be taken into consideration, and the most thermally effective way to do so.

    My dad is an architect, so I grew up visiting his sites over weekends, (Although he did shopping centres, office parks and casino's back then), and now I am in the construction game myself. I take for granted that people are actually very ignorant when it comes to building. A lot of people get taken for a ride, and unfortunately, good reputable builder's out there are few and far between... kinda like hen's teeth.

    So I'm going to do a "teaching" thread and give you all some practical advice for those of you who want to build on a fish room. I'll try do it step by step... so as not to bombard you all with information, and mostly because I don't have the time to sit and type out a 50 page manual in one go. I'll try do it in a logical sequence... and explain why there are often so many hidden costs that the builder never tells you about until he gives you the invoice.

    I'm going to chat about getting an architects involvement, an engineer, choosing a contractor, signing contracts with contractors, good building principals, what to expect, hidden costs, insulating your room. Good ideas that could cost you more in the long run. Expensive ideas that will save you in the long run. etc etc. If there is any specific topic you would like me to cover, send me a PM and I'll look into it.

    Unfortunately I am not going to go too much into detail with costing, as costing varies from area to area. And yes, the costing is VERY vast. In smaller towns you could build for as high as R7 - R10k per square meter, because building material isn't readily available. BUT, on the same token, if a small town has a very good building supplier, you could get it between R3.5 to R5k... as competition between contractors would be great. Basically what I want to do is give you the advice, so you can get a fairly accurate quotation from a builder.

    Feel free to throw in your advice/experience/questions...
     
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  3. Dolphin

    Dolphin

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    sounds good, tagging along...
     
  4. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    The beginning...

    OK, so where do you begin?

    Firstly I need to mention that I am basing my experience on the johannesburg municipality, and the laws do change from area to area.

    You've decided to build a room dedicated to your hobby... fish-keeping. You've got a general idea of what you want, and where on your property you would like it.

    The first step is to get an architects involvement. Architects offer different packages, but in a nutshell, you want someone to draw your plans, submit them to the council, and possibly offer 3 or 4 site meetings with yourself and the contractor during the period of the construction.

    In your area, there are dedicated pathways running between the houses called a "servitude". Basically these pathways are dedicated for (Stormwater pipes) (Sewerage pipes) (Electrical piping) (Telkom lines) (Neotel lines) (Water pipes) (Gas lines) etc etc. You MAY NOT build on top of these servitudes, as council need direct access to these servitudes, should a problem arise.

    These servitudes, along with the asthetics committee of the municipality, give arise to what we know as building line restrictions. You may only build within a certain distance from the road, from your neighbour, and from the back of your property. Sometimes the council will allow these lines to be relaxed.

    For example, my house is sitting 2 meters away from the boundary wall between myself and my neighbour. This is a council given 2 meter law. I decided I want to add on a small bathroom in this space. IF there is no servitude running beneath, AND my neighbour signs an agreement that he agrees to the addition, council MAY relax that line... allowing me to build within that space.

    Architects are hired on the basis that they will have the means and ability to get copies of the plans from council, whereby building restrictions and servitudes are shown.

    The architect will also help design and advise you as to what to build. You might want to build a west facing window, where the architect will advice you to rather put a north facing, as the west sun is harsh.

    Unfortunately in Gauteng, ANY external additions or alterations have to be submitted to council for approval. Rule of thumb, if you have to cast foundations, you have to submit. (Internal alterations may be done to a certain extent. If you plan on changing ANY plumbing, submission will be required... even if you only want to move your basin 1 meter)

    In order to submit plans, they HAVE to be drawn up by a qualified architect! 99.9% of architects will do the submissions for you as well, and do all that red-tape for you.

    Another glitch in the system, all submitted plans have to be stamped and approved by a competant engineer. You might find an engineer who will sign off the plans, give you the stamp, and letter stating he is the engineer, and will charge you a fee, and you will never see the engineer again. Remember, you get what you pay for.

    I have seen too many buildings poorly built because the engineer was purely hired on a "need-to-get-my-plans-approved" basis, and not someone who comes in and helps with the design work.

    A good reputable engineer (will at a minimum):
    1) Sign off plans (if he/she is happy with the plans)
    2) Request an open site inspection whereby he/she will inspect the soil conditions, and design the type of foundations required.
    3) Inspect foundations BEFORE casting concrete
    4) Give you a list of specs to build to. A lot of engineers will actually over-spec, which means you are going to be safer than sorry.
    5) Design and inspect any slabs for second floor (Usually not the case here)
    6) Inspect and sign off the roof structure after the roof trusses and tiles/zinc is on, BUT BEFORE the ceiling is in.

    So in summary... my first recommendation is to have a general idea of what you want. Hire a reputable architect, as well as a compitant engineer. Make sure that what you want to build is legally allowed, (with regards to building restrictions and servitudes), and if necessary, get relaxation permission from council with the help of the architect.

    Building can be very rewarding if you have skilled competant people to assist. Trust me, you DO NOT want to have to deal with the council.
     
    small_fry likes this.
  5. small_fry

    small_fry Fish King

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    can we come to you when needing references for good/reputable builders/engineers/architechts????

    by-the-by, very nice and informative article here! thumbs up!
     
  6. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    You more than welcome to contact me. If you are nearby to my office or sites, we will also be more than happy to help you out with a quotation.

    I'll be putting up a thread soon on how to choose a contractor.
     
  7. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Choosing an architect is pretty much as simple as looking up a few references of people you know who have built, pulling out a Homemakers magazine etc. When it comes to architects, word of mouth advertising is always good, as well as sitting with the architect at his office to get a feel for what type of work you are wanting. Generally speaking, adding on a small fish room doesn’t take rocket science, so any qualified architect will do. Remember the decision comes down to you who you use.
    You get what you pay for.

    Choosing a contractor can be a bit more difficult. Your friend might have had an awesome build with one contractor, but that same contractor might give you a terrible head-ache. Unfortunately every builder (in Gauteng at least) HAS to be registered with the NHBRC in order to construct in the residential market. So opting for that route is not necessarily key. I can only make suggestions based in Gauteng, as I do not know the governing bodies or associations else ware. In Gauteng there is an association called the Gauteng Master Builder’s Association, (GMBA). This is an optional association for a contractor to belong to, and the contractor actually has to pay in to belong to it. So your “Joe-soap” builder generally speaking will not necessarily belong to the GMBA.

    For choosing a contractor, I would suggest:
    1) Word of mouth advertising from your friends, family and collegues.
    2) Contact the GMBA for a list of their contractors available (I know this is available online too.)
    3) Take a drive through a residential estate (golf estate/equestrian estate etc) and look for contractors.

    Secondly get in contact with them. Ask for a meeting, preferably at their offices. (This now gives you an idea of how professional they are.) Fly-by-night contractors usually run their businesses from home, and are not highly recommended. A contractor who actually has an office, is 9 out of 10 times registered with the correct associations, and will not be doing any mid-night-dashes on you with your money.

    Do not only contact one contractor. Get a few contractors details. Visit them all. Obviously you will by now have the plans, and are at least going through the process of submission to council. You don’t want to get a quote, and only start the projects 6 months later. The contractor would have lost interest by then, and prices would have risen.

    Your decision on what contractor to use is based on (IN THIS PRIORITY ORDER)
    1) The contractors track record. His work. His level of skill. His finishes.
    2) Your “gut-feeling” about the guy. Does he come across as someone you can trust?
    3) LASTLY- price!
    YES… you should NEVER- NEVER- NEVER base your decision on which contractor to use based on his price.

    A good reputable contractor will generally be about 25-40% more expensive than the cheapest quote you will get. Generally the quote you want to go for is the middle of the road price range.

    The cheapest contractor has undercut his price so that he can get the job. He is sure to come up with huge additional expenses that he didn’t include in the quote. The expenses you did not budget for, because you chose him based on his cheaper price.
    The most expensive contractor is probably not really interested in the job, but to be fair, he gave you a quote. If he get’s the job, then he knows he is at least making huge profit.
    Both the cheapest and the most expensive will show little interest with regards to on-site activity. You will find very little site supervision, and will land up more than likely firing one of them.

    The contractor you want it the guy who shows interest in the project. He get’s a quote to you within a month. (Generally speaking quoting can take up to 6 weeks for a big house… less on an alteration/addition). The contractor follows up with you after a few days to find out if you’ve awarded the tender to anyone. This contractor within his quote has tried to cover every base, but will ultimately give you the choice whether you want to go for the more expensive finish, or a cheaper finish. (The cheaper contractor will only let you choose a cheap and nasty tile, because that’s all he’s allowed for!)

    Please guys, I’m being dead serious when I say this… do NOT base your decision on what contractor to use based by his price! You WILL regret it! Think of it this way… why buying your filters for your fish… do you base the decision on price, or on quality??
    When you have chosen your contractor, be prepared to add an additional 15% to the quote. This will allow for variations, and unforeseen expenses that can, and most definitely will occur. Be warned, you will NEVER pay ONLY the quoted amount!

    Now you have chosen your contractor, you have seen his work. You have taken time out to go and visit his sites. You have a fairly good idea on what he can do… now what? Shall I give him the keys to my driveway gate and ask him to start next week. NO!!!

    Now is the time to sit with the contractor (go out for lunch/coffee somewhere) and discuss the finer details. He has obviously got a set of plans. Now to get to the contract. Listen, if any of you hire a contractor, give him 50% upfront, have no contract with him, and he does a duck on you… then you deserve to be called a fool!
    The contract between you and the contractor is to protect both parties. There are a number of them available. The NHBRC has a standard one you can use. The JVCC contract is an excellent water-tight contract. The BIFSA contract is also good, but more suited to alterations and small additions. A good contractor will have his own contract, ideally drawn up by his lawyer, and will favour both parties.

    The entire contract is very important, as it should cover every detail. Google a few building contracts and see what needs to be covered. It’s too numerous for me to go into detail here.

    Oh, and MAKE SURE you get a completion date set by the contractor, and if the contractor agrees, have a penalty clause in that he will be liable to pay every day/week that he is late on delivery.

    A final word of warning on contractors. NEVER pay more than 15% up front. A contractor that has cash flow issues from the beginning will rip you off in the end. Have predetermined dates or goals whereby the contractor may receive progress payments. It is also a good idea to work in a 3-5% retention on each payment… thus ensuring the contractor finishes, and when he is complete to your satisfaction, the retention can be paid out. Generally the contract will state the retention you are allowed to with-hold and for how long.
     
  8. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    What you can expect in the beginning.

    OK, your contractor is appointed. Your plans have been submitted and approved. Your architect and contractor have met each other. (Assuming the architect is still involved. Some architects will now hand over responsibility to the owner- depending on what package you took- which is also recommended as you are only adding on a fish room aren’t you?)

    From signing the contract, you can expect your contractor to move onto site within a week, unless a different date has been set and agreed upon. Your contractor will arrive with tools, equipment, and more importantly, building material.

    Guys… I’m warning you beforehand… and don’t ever say you were not warned! Your house has now been invaded by a bunch of builders, contractors and labourers. Your relationship with your spouse is GOING to be tested to its limits. Your garden is not only going to suffer, but it will more than likely be destroyed. If at all possible, replant that prize plant/tree/shrub in a secure place. Get the dogs locked up in a secure place, or send them somewhere else for the duration. I promise you this, the builders do not give a rats-a$$ about your loving Fido who get’s through the gate and runs away. Don’t lock your dogs up in the pool area unless you have trained your dogs to swim to the steps. I heard a horrific story a month ago where an owner’s dog drowned because he fell in the pool after being locked up in the pool area whilst painters were repainting the house.

    Your pavement is going to have big loads of sand, cement, stone, bricks and all sorts dropped off onto it. And pretty soon the rubble will start piling up outside too. You will be horrified to see the amount of rubble a builder can generate! Your driveway IS GOING TO GET cement stains on it. (please be patient, the stains do wash off within a few weeks/months of rain.)

    9 out of 10 renovations for some unknown reason are always at the back of one’s house. Therefore it becomes necessary to move all the material from the front, to the back… usually done with labourers and wheelbarrows. The wheelbarrows are going to leave indentations in your lawn. With the builders walking back and forth, you are going to have paths walked into your lawn. You can expect lunch packets, cement bags, and an unbelievable amount of coke bottles to be left lying all over the place. This is besides the scaffolding, the planks, and the tools. Guys, I’m serious, for the duration of the build, you will loose your garden.

    Most contractors will try to keep a building site as clean as possible. We work on a basis that if a site is not cleaned every day, money get’s cut on payment. If the site is not “surgically” clean on pay Friday, no wages is paid until Monday.

    This is not intended as a derogatory or a prejudice comment at all, so please accept my apologies if it comes out as such. 90% of the actual hands on builders come from locations and/or squatter camps. The Labourers are usually the poorest of them all, usually because they come from a rural settlement to earn money. The Labourers usually do not speak English or Afrikaans, and get paid the absolute minimum. We need to understand that the “squatter camp” and “location” culture is very different to home-owners, and therefore the definition of “neat/tidy/clean” is very different. Just to define for you... in a team of builders, you will have the skilled (bricklayer/tiler/plasterer), the semi-skilled (person learning) and the Labourer. Each get paid according to their skill. And sadly, the Labourer, who does all the manual hard work (pushing wheelbarrows, mixing dagga etc) is paid the least.

    I think it is so sad that even before the contractors have moved onto site and started any major work, I have had to warn you of the mess. But my belief is this: if you are EXPECTING the mess, the damaged lawn, the material on the pavement, then that will make your building experience just that much better. If you are not expecting it, when it happens… you are suddenly unhappy, and want to rant and rave.

    So yes, it was a bit of a negative post, but I think in the greater scheme of things, it needs to be pointed out.
     
  9. OP
    Zoom

    Zoom Retired Moderator

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    Foundations

    Foundations are possibly the most important part of any building. It sits under the ground. You almost NEVER think about them... but without them, our house just will not stand! And it is so funny how people try to skimp on foundations.

    Let me put it try liken it to your fish tank…

    You: “Hi there sir, I’ve got a 500litre tank and I’d like a steel stand made up to hold it.”
    Manufacturer: “Sure, it’ll cost you R 123,45, and will look like X.”
    You: “Woaw… Can you build it for R 12,34?”
    Manufacturer: “Yeah, sure. But for that price it will only be 4 legs on a square frame.”
    You: “Hey, that’s awesome. I don’t care what it looks like, cause I’ll put a wooden box around it to hide it!”

    Ok… so now we all know that a square frame with 4 legs ain’t NO way’s gonna hold 500 litres of water, and the first time you fill your tank up with water, the bottom is going to crack through… and you then going to blame the Manufacturer for poor quality workmanship.

    You will slap yourself silly laughing when you see how many homeowners try to make savings on their foundations… with the mentality of “Hey, that’s awesome. I don’t care what it looks like, it’s under the ground!”

    We all get taught that the foundations are the most important part… so why not practice what you been taught.

    Foundations are a little more detailed than just digging a hole and putting concrete in the hole. Ideally you want an engineer to design you foundations. When the contractor starts on site, he will generally dig out the footings (the foundation length) to a certain depth. (between 500 to 750mm deep). Before he puts the concrete in, he should get the engineer onto site to test the soil conditions, and design the type of foundations to be cast. Sometimes the engineer will request a “test pit”, which is just engineer’s jargon for a deep hole. (Between 1.5 to 2.5m deep). This will give the engineer a very good idea of what soil conditions they are dealing with.

    Based on the soil conditions, your engineer will then specify what type of steel reinforcing required within the concrete, how deep you need to dig, if you need to re-compact any soil, and how thick and wide the concrete should be. If your contractor is just going to pour foundations without the council of an engineer, then you need to be aware that the onus is on you to take responsibility if you land up with crack within your walls.

    Foundations can vary drastically. I’ve experienced soil conditions where a simple 600mm wide by 250mm deep 25MPa concrete strip is required. Usually foundations require a certain amount of steel reinforcing bar, from a few lengths of 8mm thick steel, all the way up to 10 lengths of 30mm steel bar tied in a cage like format. Recently we have encountered 2 houses in a housing estate where the soil conditions is so bad that I had to over excavate the foundations by 2m wide, and 2m deep, and then refill that hole and compact the soil in 100mm layers.

    So please, do yourself a favour and ensure that your foundations are designed correctly. Even though they are under the ground, they are key to your structure staying in place. You can expect to pay anything between 15 to 25% of the total price on the foundations. Don’t try skimp on the foundations. You will regret it.
     
  10. wito-zn

    wito-zn

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    Thanks Zoom this is very interesting.
     
  11. Wimpie

    Wimpie

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    Thanks Zoom, cant wait for the next update
     
  12. corylyle1

    corylyle1

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    Very interesting reading!! Thanks Zoom!!! Would love a fish room someday!!!
     

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