Property Clinic

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

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.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s site ( seai.ie) has a very useful guide on building an energy-efficient home ( iti.ms/X87Brn), which also references other more detailed guides.

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.

If he fails to respond within the specified timescale, then you should engage a new contractor to complete the works. You could also engage the services of a solicitor to advise you on the necessary proceedings in relation to the contract if required.

* Michael Barrett is a chartered quantity surveyor

Q We bought a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin in September and the heating bills seemed relatively normal. However, as it got colder, we noticed the bills started to increase significantly. We didn’t take much notice of the Building Energy Rating Cert at the time of purchase but have since found out that there is no insulation in the attic. This seems strange to us. What can we do to improve the energy efficiency and reduce our heating bills?

A Unfortunately, with older properties, it is not particularly strange to find that there is no insulation in the attic.

It is likely that all houses constructed post-1992, that is after the introduction of the building regulations, will have insulation.

However, even at this, the level of insulation will be much lower than current standards and expectations, as there has been a dramatic rise in the insulation standards required for houses over the past few years.

Many people have taken the opportunity to upgrade the thermal insulation standard in older properties over the past few years. However, there are still many older properties out there with no insulation at all, and it is clear that you have acquired one of these.

The Building Energy Rating (BER) Certificate should have identified this but, as you said, you didn’t take much notice of this at the time. A pre-purchase survey would also have clearly highlighted the shortcoming.

The situation can be easily improved by insulating the attic and there is a grant available towards the cost of this from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

The attic is perhaps the most important part of the house to insulate, as heat tends to rise and thus a lot of the heat loss goes out through the roof. You will certainly notice a significant improvement when the attic has been insulated, as well as a corresponding reduction in your heating bill.

There are other areas you could consider insulating, including the windows and external doors, and ground floor and external walls, and it would be well worth having these examined to establish the benefits of upgrading their thermal insulation.

All of the above measures will help give you a much better insulated house and, ultimately, reduced heating bills.

A further option is to look at the actual heating installation itself and see if it can be improved. This could be simply a matter of having the boiler serviced, to ensure that it is operating at maximum efficiency.

However, if it is an old boiler, improved controls could be added to allow for better control of the heating installation, or it could be replaced with a more efficient condenser-type boiler.

Again, there may be some grants available for this, depending on the level of work required.

* Val O’Brien is a member of the building surveying professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

Got a query?

Send your queries to propertyquestions@irishtimes.com or to Property Clinic, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2. This column is a readers’ service. Advice given is general and individual advice should always be sought