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Five epic building mistakes that are easy to avoid

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Deciding to build your own home, or take on major renovations is an exciting endeavour. Homeowners are sure to encounter many challenges and even possibly unexpected expenses in the process, and will have to take a few calculated risks to end up with the home they’ve always dreamt of.

But there are some building mistakes that are avoidable. Taking the right precautions and knowing ahead of time what the possible problems might be, will eliminate the scenario where a family finally moves into their brand new home only to start discovering all the problems as time passes.

Albert van Wyk of Gauteng Home Inspections, says that there are five epic building mistakes, that could cost a fortune to fix but are easily avoidable.

#1:  Not having a good relationship with your contractor, or slipping on admin while going through the process.

Good relationship with your contractor

Building? Here’s how you should pay your contractor. Click the pic

According to van Wyk it all hinges on selecting the right contractor from the outset, and making sure you understand the contract.

Don’t think that selecting the right contractor will be a quick ten minute Google search. ‘Saving’ time now is sure to cost you money and time along the line. Van Wyk suggests making a short list of suitable builders in the area and then looking at their work and talking to previous clients. “Good experience is a very important component of your decision. But above all you should look for someone with a good and accommodating attitude,” says van Wyk. “Remember that this is the most important project you have ever undertaken, for the contractor it is just another job.”

When signing the agreement you need to ensure that you understand the contract and have read and noted all the fine print.

Other important documents that you need to ensure are in place before starting construction is the finishing schedule and the construction programme. Not recording all details or specifications in the finishing schedule could cost a homeowner thousands of rands warns van Wyk.

Rather delay the start of construction by an extra month to spend the extra time on the plans and specifications; this will help you get your budget and specifications near perfect, advises van Wyk. Download a copy of a complete and accurate finishing schedule here.

Another significant risk when dealing with a contractor is the possibility of late completion. The financial risk here could be detrimental. You have basically been paying for two homes during the construction period and the interest on the building loan is now at its peak. If completion is pushed out the very real possibility of having to find rental accommodation for a short period increases. This will carry additional costs that you might not be able to comfortably afford.

Expert’s advice on successfully navigating the relationship with your builder and admin involved with building:

1: Insert a penalty clause for dealing with late completion, be it a daily, weekly or monthly rate, then monitor the progress regularly to identify early signs that late completion is a possibility.

2: Compile a realistic budget and stick to it! Do not overpay or pay the contractor in advance. Only pay for work that has been finalised to your satisfaction and National Building Regulations.

3: If you are building cash, and not with a bond, van Wyk suggests that you deposit the money with your bank and request that they do valuations and approve payments. It is important to remember, however, that banks do not do quality control but only value the work that has been done. Quality control remains your responsibility, it may therefore be a good idea to hire a professional to do regular quality control inspections and approve payments for you.

4: To ensure that the construction periods remains a pleasant experience it is important that you maintain a good working relationship with all the workers and the contractor.

#2 Not taking the natural flow of storm water into consideration.

No weepholes in boundary wall

Example of a property with no weepholes in the boundary wall. This will cause stormwater drainage issues. Click the pic for more information from Gauteng Home Inspections

Van Wyk says that the natural flow of storm water to and from the property should be determined as early as the design stage.

The last thing a homeowner wants is damaged to the home, garages, or any building really, from an extraordinary storm or the only flood to take place in 50 years.  For this reason it is best to invest in the services of a land surveyor if there is any doubt about the levels of your stand.

Keep in mind that water from the street and neighbours should always also be taken into consideration. Never attempt to block or prevent water to drain away, but rather make provision for that.

#3 Not ensuring the construction of a solid foundation

Cracks & damp 3

Cracks and damp forming on the exterior of a home. Click the pic for more information from Gauteng Home Inspections

The prevention of cracks begins with the construction of a solid foundation. “Plaster and settlement cracks can be repaired, but underpinning of the foundation is necessary to rectify some structural cracks,” says van Wyk. “This process can cost up to hundreds of thousands of rands, making it the most expensive construction mistakes to rectify five to ten years later when different structural cracks begin to develop.”

Hiring a professional to analyse the condition and type of soil will aid in preventing this issue. The engineer will then design the footings according to the soil results. It is also a good idea to ask that expansion joints in strategic places be considered. This will accommodate settlement and movement.

#4 Not installing a damp proof sheet between the brick courses of the plinth and the floor level.

House 18 mnths old, no joint at DPC level, cost to repair R500 000+

A home, only 18 months old, with no joint at the DPC level. This will cost in excess of R500,000 to repair. Click the pic for more information from Gauteng Home Inspections

Rising and lateral damp are evident in many houses. Everything looks fine in the beginning, but it will only manifest after about one to three years after construction. This is a major operation to rectify and stop the movement of moisture.

It can cost from R75,000 to R500,000 just 18 months after taking occupation of your new home. Plaster will have to be chopped off, then water proofing done, then plaster and paint again. You will now see a difference between the old and new plaster and then might choose to clad the plinth area.

This costly building mistake is very easy to prevent, at no extra cost to you. “As long as the damp proof course is done according to National Building Regulations and NHBRC guidelines it is preventable,” adds van Wyk. “It’s simply a matter of good building practice and basic knowledge.”

Expert tip: The plastic is usually installed by the bricklayer, often incorrectly, while the plasterer does not cut the joint in the plaster correctly. Building your home with face brick plinth is still the best way to hide rising damp below the DPC level.

 #5 Not knowing enough to ensure that good workmanship is applied to the construction of your roof.

Valley closed and full of debris

Here the valley is closed and full of debris. This will cause roof leaks. Click the pic for more information from Gauteng Home Inspections

According to van Wyk no roof design is more prone to leaks than another. “Some owners might say: ‘Stay away from flat roofs, they always leak.’ This is not true,” he adds “A flat roof which is correctly constructed has a better chance not to leak than a pitched roof.”

A major benefit of a flat concrete roof is its energy saving qualities: It is cool in summer and the opposite in winter. Be warned though, that it can be an expensive mistake when not constructed correctly.

It is important for a flat sheeted roof to have enough slope for water to drain away fast, no water should be allowed to pond on the sheets.

Top tip: A slope of 10 degrees is very effective when full length sheets are used. Do not accept any design with a slope of less than 10 degrees. Your contractor or architect might try to convince you otherwise, but your trouble will start long after they have forgotten about you.

The valleys of a pitched tiled roof are the most vulnerable places for leaks. The solution is again good workmanship and experience to prevent leaks. These leaks normally happen during a hail or snow storm. The valley gets blocked because it is wrongly constructed and the water spills over onto the ceiling.

Caution: The insurance company will not consider your claim favourably if the valleys are not correctly constructed to allow the free flow of water.

As an owner embarking on the joyous, often frustrating and stressful journey of building your own home or renovating to create dream space, the take-away from this feature is hopefully that your best bet is to educate yourself, to minimise the opportunity of an unscrupulous service provider potentially costing you thousands of rands you do not have.

Consider visiting The Proud Homeowner site, and purchasing the book The Proud Homeowner by Albert van Wyk to arm yourself with the knowledge required to make this journey as wonderful and exciting as it should be.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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