Q I’m planning to build a new house and I’m keen to ensure that I can keep the running costs as low as possible for the future. Can you give me any advice?
A The size of the house will greatly influence the running costs and warrants a thorough deliberation at the outset, as the temptation can be to build as big a house as you can afford, as opposed to building one that meets your needs and that you can afford to run. In this regard, it is vital that you sit down with your building surveyor or architect or whomever is designing your house at the outset to develop a clear and well-thought-out brief.
Running costs, which are influenced by what you physically build (as opposed to property taxes, which can be more influenced by where you build), primarily relate to energy efficiency.
The building regulations set out minimum requirements and there are a number of useful internet sites with helpful tips on, for example, increasing insulation, using solar and alternative energy sources and the benefits of highly energy efficient boilers or fitting.
It is important not to overlook the building fabric and finishes, which can have a significant impact on air tightness and general maintenance and upkeep. For example, a brick-faced external wall needs significantly less maintenance than a rendered wall, which needs re-painting at regular intervals.
Ultimately, you should ask your designer to advise on the various options specific to your house, and their extra construction costs and estimated payback periods. A qualified professional should be able to provide you with a detailed report on lifecycle payback calculations, energy consumption and carbon savings, so that you can make an informed decision.
* Tomás Kelly is a member of the western regional branch of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie
Q I recently engaged a plasterer to do some work on my house. However, after starting the job, he disappeared and I cannot get hold of him. I have been trying to contact him for the past three weeks and am left with a half-plastered wall. I paid a small deposit up front for materials. Should I cut my losses and hire a new plasterer or would I be liable to pay him if he shows up unexpectedly?
A This is an unfortunate occurrence and situations whereby building works have been left unfinished have become increasingly common in both the public and private sectors, primarily due to the economic downturn.
In my experience, below-cost tendering, where a contractor submits a tender at a sub-economic price just to get the job, is to blame for many of these occurrences.
In relation to your situation, my advice in the first instance is to continue to try to contact your existing plasterer before you engage a new contractor. Is it possible that there could be another reason for the contractor not returning your calls? I would try to find out, if possible.
Secondly, I recommend that you photograph the works carried out and the material delivered to your house. You will then have a visual record of what was completed and what wasn’t.
Thirdly, I advise you to formally write to your plastering contractor and detail to him your attempts to make contact with him and give him an opportunity to complete the works within a specific timescale.
You should also inform him that if he fails to respond you will terminate his contract, and it is your intention to employ a new contractor to complete the works.