Project manager checklist: off site

Project managing your own self-build project will require juggling a number of tasks at the desk.

Construction drawings: On the basis of your preliminary (planning) drawings, construction drawings will need to be prepared. You can get an architectural technician to do this or you could use the architect or engineer who may have helped you gain planning permission, depending on the nature of the project.

If you have no drawings (in the case of an extension exempt from planning permission, for example), then you will need to put some sketches together to get your ideas on paper. This may take much longer than you might expect – drawing up a plan will in all likelihood lead to about ten more, so give yourself plenty of time to do this. Once you’re clear about what you want, seek the help of an architectural designer to help you put together the construction drawings. You could do it yourself but be aware that the plans are likely to need to be vetted by a professional – Building Control in NI will require drawings at this stage (see Your Obligations below).

Obtain quotations, check what the fees cover and ask about any possible need for structural calculations. Remember that quotations are not final, they are a negotiating position and need to be agreed. The contract with your architect/draughtsperson must clearly state areas of responsibility for both parties and thus needs to be very detailed in order to avoid future problems. Some examples are insurance, materials, employment of sub contractors and site supervision.

There is a big difference between the planning drawings (outline plans) and construction drawings (detailed with exact measurements and specifications). Before the construction plans can be drawn up you will therefore need to do quite a bit of research as the drawings will specify exactly which materials to use. Do you prefer uPVC downpipes to cast aluminium? What kind of insulation do you want? The standard type specified may not provide the performance you need so if you want something different you’ll need to make that clear. Every detail counts.

In the case of a refurbishment project you may not need a drawing for every single phase but do get drawings prepared, or at least have a specification in list form for anything that could lead to confusion. A drawing is the vital proof and explanation of what needs to be done and with what. It leaves very little room for misunderstandings and provides an excellent basis to get the job priced by various tradesmen and suppliers.

Costing: The drawings should be done in conjunction with a calculator! Each decision you make will either add to the cost or save you money. You could get a standard spec drawn up and alter the plans later to specify a different finish or alternative building method, but it’s much clearer if you can work from the right set of drawings from the start.

Do as much as you can on paper, this will ultimately save you time. Source materials, including those for the internal fit out, before work on site begins. Take time to really think the design through, right down to the smallest detail. Changes once work is underway are very costly and cause hold ups.

To get your plans priced, you can avail of the services of a quantity surveyor, or you could put the figures together yourself. This will undoubtedly be time consuming so weigh how much of it will be spent doing this versus hiring a professional to do the job for you. If you have little experience number crunching, make sure to consider the fact that a QS has the contacts to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

If you do it yourself, you’ll need to send out your plans to various tradesmen for labour costs and to builder’s merchants for materials. Builders often quote for both labour and materials but you could ask that it be done separately. You may find some trades are reluctant to split the two.

From the builders’ merchant perspective, you’re likely to get a better deal if you get all of the materials priced at the beginning; if throughout the build you will require 30 tonne bags of sand, you’ll get a better deal if you agree to buy them all and put them on your account, as opposed to purchasing them one at a time.

That said, make sure you’re not given a lump sum quotation but rather one for each unit, for example, per lineal metre for flooring timber, as this will allow you to compare prices exactly. The quotation should include delivery dates and prices and a VAT number. Some less than scrupulous suppliers may omit this but still charge you VAT which never reaches the Revenue office. Always therefore obtain a VAT receipt. You can check for VAT registration with the Revenue office. As always, go to at least three suppliers for quotations.

Schedule of works: Once the plans are finalised and you have an itemised list of costs, it’s time to devise a schedule. You’ll need to think of which job will impact on the next – the most obvious example of the need to organise each trade is the division between first fix and second fix in plumbing and electrics.

Prepare a flow chart with sections for dates, building plan, materials, tradesmen and costs. This will require constant revision but it is your Bible so don’t let it slip or both you and the budget will suffer. Getting foundation and groundwork completed during the summer, and ensuring the building is watertight by Autumn are two proven milestones that can save lots of money.

Indeed, the normal sequence of work on a building project follows a methodical path but it is the project manager’s job to ensure that each section of work is planned into the overall project programme. This means coordinating with suppliers and operatives to ensure that their work schedule fits in with your build.

You will also need to put together the site rules and the health & safety file, as well as gather all relevant documents in both hard and soft copies. Your dates may dictate which subcontractor you can use and their price must become part of your defined budget if you are to maintain control over your final costs. It is essential that you plan your build and finalise your budget in tandem. Check regularly to ensure that each party is still on track to begin work as expected. If they don’t hear from you they may assume you are not ready and they may start another job. Project managers plan, they don’t react.

Risk management: Contingency plans are essential – what if someone doesn’t show up on site or the foundations are proving to be a problem? Indeed, weather conditions and many other factors outside your control can impact on progress and provisions will need to be made for these unforeseens.

Some design concepts can prove difficult or impossible to build and when faced with them you must be pragmatic as well as empathetic. Remember, tradesmen do this every day so they are really the experts.

There are risks associated to you as well, both physical and mental, e.g. how will it affect your ‘day job’? Building sites are dangerous places so it is vital you have the correct insurance and warranty cover (see Spring 2011 issue for details), for the rest, e.g. workforce disputes, you will need to have a backup plan. If there were no problems then there would be no project managers! Some Health & Safety issues are a legal requirement, you can get information on this as well as general site safety guidance from the HSE (NI) or the HSA (ROI).

Placing orders: When ordering products check the fine print and confirm delivery dates. Phone in advance, (one week or longer depending upon whether the item is in stock or on order – windows especially are known for delaying schedules), to make sure that the materials are arriving as agreed.

Make sure the building materials are on site when required and provide suitable (safe, dry and secure) storage for them. It may be cost effective to have the majority delivered at once, with the exception of cement powder and plaster which need to be fresh but only if you have the space, which may need to be covered, and security – theft from building sites is notorious. Ideally, all heavy items should be left close to where they will be used, but this again raises issues of security and keeping materials dry. Covering up of sand may sound odd but a pile of it is a magnet to the local cat and dog population for whom it is either a giant outdoor convenience or has a bone buried at the bottom.

Accounts: You will need to get money released from the mortgage company via your architect/engineer and solicitor in stage payments, as well as pay the various people and suppliers contributing to the build.

Keep on top of costs at least weekly, with a watchful eye on cash flow. As seen above, the management of the project will go hand in hand with the accounts. You’re unlikely to require an accountant but if you don’t want to deal with all of the receipts and intend to claim VAT back then you might want to consider it.

Indeed, in NI VAT may be recoverable on all or part of some of the costs of materials and services for newbuilds at the rate of 20 per cent. Recently, there has been some help for a listed building if it has been unoccupied for a ‘considerable time’. Guidance on this is that it is a minimum of two years (HMRC Notice 708 October 2013) and the rate of VAT chargeable is 5 per cent. The conditions are quite specific so read the guidance carefully. However, if you are using the self-build DIY route you will have to pay this money out in the first instance, which can have a serious impact on cash flow.

In ROI the Home Renovation Incentive applies to home improvement projects, including extensions, worth over €4,405 excluding VAT.

There are legal obligations placed on you as the owner, especially in the form of deeds or covenants which may restrict what you can do. This is particularly common where a house has been built in what were the grounds of a larger house, and may include ridge heights, positioning of windows, amount of glazing on certain walls and clearance to the boundary. Insurance and warranties will also need to be put into place and changes in circumstances conveyed to your provider while binding contracts, e.g. with your bank, will require the intervention of your solicitor.

From the project manager’s perspective there are two clear sets of obligations to bear in mind and these have to do with building control (NI and ROI) and health & safety. You will of course also have to abide by the conditions of the planning permission granted to your build. This includes possible requirements with regards to waste water or those made by your local authority’s conservation officer (planning permission is required for all works done on a listed building).

In fact if your plans, however small, involve a listed building, a possible archaeological site or are in a Nature Conservation Area (NI), or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ROI), contact your local authority as an exploration or assessment of the building or site may be legally required.

Also don’t forget your obligation to get an energy rating done on your property before you move in.

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Written by Andrew Stanway

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Project management checklist: on site