Who’s Who

Meet the people who will help you deliver on your self-build project. They will fall within one of three categories: Advisors, Tradesmen / Tradespeople, and those who deal with Quality Control.

Advisors

Architectural Designer

Probably the most important person to hire in your self-build journey. This is because everything flows from the original design: with a good design you will get a cheaper house to build and run, one that is suited to your exact needs, and one that fully complies with the building regulations and planning requirements as set out in the notice of planning approval from your local authority. Some architectural designers do have more than one skillset so it can be worthwhile to look for a multi-tasking designer who can fulfil a number of additional roles.

What they do & don’t do 

  • They turn your ideas into a design that is compliant with planning and building control requirements and broadly within your stated budget. 
  • Ensure the house meets your thermal performance target, which will often be above minimum standards, but they will not usually do detailed calculations, e.g. room heat loss calculations (see energy consultant below). 
  • Help ensure that the design is practical and liveable. 
  • Provide ideas and inspiration for design features. 
  • Provide contacts in the industry and ballpark costs for each; they may also source specialist products such as glazing. 
  • It is rare for them to do structural load calculations but they can commission this work and charge you for it, so you don’t have to directly hire an engineer. The plans will usually specify that these aspects are dealt with “as per engineer’s report”. Same with onsite wastewater systems as these are designed by an independent site assessor or by the product supplier. 
  • In NI, they are generally hired to obtain building control plan approval as well.

Qualifications 

They are usually registered members of the RSUA (Royal Society of Ulster Architects) or RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) or CIAT (Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists). The term Architect only refers to RSUA/RIAI members (it is a protected name under law). Engineers and building surveyors can take on this role too but it’s a much less common occurrence as they don’t tend to be specifically trained in architecture. In all cases your architectural designer must carry valid and extensive PI insurance; obtain and keep a copy of their cover.  

How are they paid? 

Either a fixed fee per stage or a percentage of the build cost and they will usually charge by stage but make sure you sign a contract to spell out exactly what services they will provide for what fee and when they are to be paid. Oftentimes self-builders only hire architectural designers up to the stage where the project secures planning permission.

Energy Consultant

This is a highly specialised role and is a critical element to a build. From a purely practical point of view they will help you find cost effective solutions to meet the required insulation levels, determine window and door energy performance, specify heat load requirement per room, offer advice on heating and hot water systems and renewables, provide advice on ventilation systems and balance all of these elements to come up with a cost optimal solution for your specific house design. Their calculation may result in some tweaks in the design.  

The latest round of the building regulations in ROI (2019 editionhave tightened up the energy efficiency requirements of newly built homes, and of major renovation projectsIn ROI the building regulations are so tight you will need considerable help to make sure the house is built to the minimum standards otherwise you run the risk of building a house that is not regulations-compliant and which will require expensive remedial work done to it before you can move in. Also know that airtightness and ventilation tests are mandatory in ROI and need to be done by an energy consultant. 

NI hasn’t kept up with thmove towards Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB), driven by European Directives, and although plans are afoot to make these changes it seems the Executive is looking at amending the fire regulations in a first instance. The airtightness test at the end of the build is also mandatory in NI. 

You do not need to employ an energy consultant (by law) in either jurisdiction, and you could for instance rely on the expertise of the likes of companies that manufacture heating systems, insulation products, or some builder’s merchants, to do the calculations for you 

What they do & don’t do 

  • Undertake a building energy performance calculation based on the initial design by your architectural designer, working with him/her to achieve the desired/required energy performance and compliance with building regulations including renewables, ventilation, heating requirements and glazing, by using energy modelling software which includes heat loss calculations.  
  • To prove compliance with NI building regulations, assessors use SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) and in ROI they use DEAP (Dwellings Energy Assessment Procedure). In both jurisdictions energy assessors may use PHPP (Passive House Planning Package) as a modelling tool to help them fine tune the energy calculations, but this is optional. The only means to prove building regulations compliance (Technical Booklet F1 in NI, Part L in ROIis with SAP or DEAP. 
  • They will not redesign the house or provide drawings.  
  • They can help you make decisions on different heating and ventilation systems based on your likely use of the house and current lifestyle (when and how you will use the house) and may suggest suppliers. 
  • They will often offer airtightness services, i.e. do the airtightness test, but not always.  
  • They traditionally do not design, install or commission (test) heating systems, which is usually the job of the product supplierThis is also the case in NI for ventilation systems. However in ROI, the 2019 regulations (Part F – ventilation) require that in a new build the client hire an independent person to check the design and commissioning of the ventilation system  
  • They will supply the energy rating (EPC in NI and BER in ROIat the end based on the finished project. You can’t technically move into your home without an energy rating. If you are getting a grant in ROI (renovations only) you must also get a BER at the start, of the existing house and of what rating you will get based on the design. 

Qualifications 

In ROI there is a list of building energy rating assessors on the SEAI website and a list of both airtightness assessors and ventilation commissioning assessors (there is considerable overlap in these two lists) on the NSAI website. In NI there is a database for energy performance certificate assessors as well.  

Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) or services engineers have usually trained for longer than energy assessors and are more specifically trained in designing and commissioning systems; they are often affiliated with a professional body such as CIBSE. They can be brought on board to help design your heating system, for example. Again, check for their PI insurance. 

How are they paid? 

You pay for the type of work usually on an hourly basis, e.g. for heat loss calculationsHowever you will usually be quoted a fixed rate for the energy rating certificate and airtightness tests 

Structural Engineer

Every house requires structural calculations to be made to ensure it is safely built, complying to the building regulationsQuite often an architectural designer will use one of their own contacts to perform the work so you may not need to source one yourself. Some self-builders used to hire engineers to act as their architectural designer, to save on costs, but this is becoming less common. Their input in the design will usually have to do with structural calculations and these may lead to tweaks in the design.   

What they do and don’t do 

  • Perform load calculation to ensure the foundations are correctly specified.  
  • Ensure that any load bearing walls or beams are specified correctly to take the load, e.g. any upper floors. 
  • Ensure that the roof design is capable of withstanding the loadings it might be subject to, e.g. wind and snow loadings 
  • On self-builds they often act as the person signing off on the various stages for the mortgage 
  • In ROI they are often relied upon in a quality control capacity. 
  • They do not usually deal with percolation/onsite wastewater issues. 

Qualifications 

The title of engineer is not protected in the same way as “architect” but in ROI only chartered engineers (members of a professional engineering institute) are allowed to act in the capacity of assigned certifier. Check for membership, e.g. Engineers Ireland, Engineering Council, and that they carry valid and extensive PI insurance. As with all building professionals you hire, you should always obtain and keep a copy of their PI cover. 

How are they paid? 

They will usually provide a quote for the work based on a review of your plans and on what services you want them to provide; as with the architectural designer make sure what they will, and won’t do is made clear from the start and when you are to pay them for what. Your architectural designer will often be able to give a good estimate based on experience. 

Planning Consultants

These are specialists who seek to provide expert advice to clients to help them gain planning approvalNot common to employ on self-build as your architectural designer will usually take on the role of advising you on the planning process, and on helping you secure planning permission. This is why they are usually brought in where there has potentially been a problem, e.g. being refused planning on numerous occasions, or in sensitive zoning areas, e.g. an area of outstanding beauty 

However planning consultants will provide more insights than your architectural designer can. Planning consultants are also often brought on board for conveyancing purposes, e.g. when there is an issue selling a house and planning has not been abided to or not been secured for an extension or other alteration. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They don’t design your home but they are experts in compliance and therefore may suggest alterations to your architectural consultant to help make it more acceptable to the planners. 
  • They are experts at meeting with the planners and understanding what the planners are looking for and even negotiating with planners over specific issues of concern. 
  • They have established relationships that potentially allows them to get more detailed feedback than might otherwise be available.  

Qualifications 

No qualifications are required, however, they are quite often ex-architects or may have previously worked for the local planning department. As with all building professionals, check they have PI insurance. The Irish Planning Institute has a list of vetted members; again it’s a good idea to hire a member of a professional body for dispute resolution purposes but also to make sure they are up to speed with the latest developments which is a requirement to be a memberAgain, check for PI insurance. 

How are they paid? 

A set amount followed by a success fee. 

Quantity Surveyor

Trained and qualified to advise clients and designers on matters relating to building costs. Whilst you may feel that only larger projects need a QS, on small scale work their skills are very valuable for setting an accurate budget, something that every self-builder needs. Perhaps even more so than the architectural designer, the cost of employing a QS is nearly always covered several times over in savings by the end of the project. The QS will also produce a Bill of Quantities (a list of every material and the amount you will need) for tendering (getting prices from builders). This will be set out so that you can compare prices from different suppliers on the same basis, for example, per lineal metre of flooring board.  

Many self-builders do not hire a quantity surveyor but instead rely on local knowledge from builders, getting quotes off the plans from tradesmen and from builder’s merchants. This approach leads to less accurate costings.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • They are not involved in fully designing your house but they will work with the architectural designer to advise them where they need to scale back their plans to make savings.  
  • Provide an independent notional cost based on their knowledge of local prices, broken down so you can see when you will be incurring expenditure (cash flow), what you should be paying for different aspects and, ultimately, ensure that the specifications are within your budget.  
  • Help you evaluate the quotes from builders (tender) and/or tradesmen. 
  • Provide you with very detailed quantities (down to the last unit) for items so you can then price every elemenin the current market. 
  • Provide ongoing cost control and monitoring to ensure that the project is kept within budget and that money is paid to contractors at the right time. 
  • They don’t sign off on the build from the point of view of building regulations compliance 
  • They don’t project manage the build although some specialise in this service as well.  

Qualifications 

Look out for their affiliation to either Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in NI or to the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) in ROI. Under the same legislation that protects the title of ‘architect’ in ROI, ‘building surveyor’ and ‘quantity surveyor’ are protected titles administered by the SCSI. Again, check they have adequate PI insurance.  

How are they paid?  

The amount will depend on how involved you want them to be. They often charge a percentage of the total project cost when kept on board from start to finish, but can charge a fixed rate for specific services such as drawing up a bill of quantities if that is all you hire them to do. 

Building Surveyor

They provide professional advice on all aspects of the construction of new buildings, including management and design consultancy services. They are best known for carrying out house surveys, oftentimes referred to as a structural surveyColloquially known as a land surveyor, a geomatics surveyor will in a self-build scenario usually be involved with boundary lines and rights of way. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They can act as an architectural designer but this is very rare on self-build projects. 
  • They will conduct a house survey for insurance purposes or to check for structural issues. The survey will cover both internal and external features and will highlight any points that they deem will require further investigation or repair, giving you an indication of whether or not that will represent a significant outlay and upon request, they can provide the estimated cost of doing so. Structural engineers often carry out building surveys too. 
  • They can act as Assigned Certifier in ROI and some architectural technologists are also accredited as building surveyors to be able to carry out this role.  
  • They can also supply you with a ‘snag list’ (a list of finishes that need to be rectified) or in the case of partially completed houses, a more comprehensive list of works that have to be carried out before it can be considered safe to inhabit.  
  • A land surveyor will map the topography or interpret existing deed maps, as an expert witness or mediator in boundary disputes, etc., and may also locate existing pipework and cables. They may also be called upon to monitor buildings for displacement, deformation and strain, for example relating to pyrite damage and unintended settlement. 

Qualifications  

Registered in the same way as quantity surveyors with the SCSI / RICS and the same criteria apply. Check they have PI insurance.  

How are they paid?  

A building survey comes at a fixed cost; land surveyors may charge an hourly rate depending on the case.  

Landscape Architect

The garden is often critical to building a home that is both a pleasure to live in as well as looking good (houses tend to have large expanses of glazing so you will want something nice to look out of) yet few self-builders have the foresight to hire a landscape designer early on. 

Knowing where earth needs moved at the start of the project can save money by avoiding double handling. Knowing in advance what your garden is meant to look like at the end, even if you don’t have the funds to do it early on, will help you plan ahead in stages. Think of the concrete patio area that you will want removed in a few years’ time 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They don’t provide advice on the placing of the house on the site but may work with the architectural designer to help frame views, although the architectural designer may view this as stepping on his/her toes. 
  • They will devise an overall outdoor landscaping scheme based on your specific site, much as your architectural designer does, including hard (driveways, patios) and soft landscaping (planting schemes). 
  • They can help with the planning application process where you need to provide information on what native plants you will be using, from trees to hedging, but they often don’t deal with sites with tree preservation orders – a plan for this management tends to be done up following a tree survey by an arborist. 
  • In the case of difficult sites, such as those that are sloping, a detailed plan of how and when to remove soil along with planting scheme. 
  • They do not do the actual work; landscape contractors have to be hired separately. 

Qualifications  

The main professional body is the Landscape Institute; again check for PI insurance.  

How are they paid?  

Usually they will scope out the work involved and then provide a quote based on your requirements.  

Builder’s providers

You will likely spend a significant amount of money sourcing products from the builder’s merchant, from timber to bathroom fittings, and so it pays to take time to find out where the closest ones are, their prices (your local may provide free delivery) and service levels. Building a relationship with them is a way to start to get to know the local construction community as they have a wealth of contacts. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • Some offer to take your plans and provide a quote for as much of the materials as possible. The plus side is that it reduces significantly the effort involved in sourcing all the different products from individual suppliers. 
  • Some provide design and professional services such as doing energy calculations for building control, but most are specialised in supplying products only. 
  • The will mostly stock standardised “off the shelf” items but may also help you source specialist materials. 
  • They may provide contacts for tradesmen in the area.  

How are they paid? 

Set up an account and you will be billed monthly with 30 days credit (terms and conditions vary); this can become an invaluable aspect of managing your cash flow. A credit limit will almost certainly apply and most undertake credit and identity checks. 

Project Manager

A specialist role and one that prospective self-builders should consider carefully before diving headlong into a direct labour build (hiring every tradesman individually)A main contractor will take on most of the roles and responsibilities. Having your own project manager means you are paying them yourself and therefore they are working in your interest only. 

Professional project managers do more than coordinate the sitethey also oversee off site responsibilities including administrative tasksAs site foreman the project manager specifically deals with coordinating all the trades. A main contractor will have a site foreman on site if they’re not doing it themselves.  

Remember too that in the eyes of the law the owner is the ultimate person responsible for any building project so you must put in place procedures that ensure compliance to the building regulations and health and safety regulations; if you delegate these functions it must be to someone you know is competent to do so.  

A project manager will normally get involved from the point of receiving full planning permission.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • Scheduling of works to ensure smooth, uninterrupted, but timely build. 
  • If you hire them early on they will be involved in getting prices in from the tradesmen for you. 
  • Ask them if they will take on the statutory role of Project Supervisor Construction Stage; this will come at an extra cost as it puts a legal responsibility on the person and requires that a risk management document is drawn up and submitted to the authorities. 
  • They will deal with health and safety in general, ensuring a safe site to be on.  
  • Usually do not organise site insurance. 
  • Ensure the site is tidy at all times. 
  • Responsibly organise waste disposal and minimise waste in procedures. 
  • On site supervision of the tradesmen, ensuring the last trade leaves site so that it is ready for the next trade, which may involve their own labour. 
  • In some cases they may certify compliance with the building regulations but they must be qualified to do so; the bank will usually require that the person who signs off on the stages is an engineer or architectural designer with PI insurance. 

Qualifications  

A site foreman’s main qualification will be based on experience but a professional project manager is likely to be affiliated with a building surveyor, architectural or engineering professional body. Check they have PI insurance 

How are they paid?  

An agreed fee for each element, or by the hour. 

Other specialists

You may need to hire site specific consultants to fulfil a request for further information from the planning section of your local authority 

An arboriculture consultant will map out your site and set out a preservation plan in what’s referred to as a tree survey, which will list individual trees of interest and how to preserve them, along with a description of the various zones and how to care for them. The services of such a company will be required on a site with mature trees that are protected with a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) – the plan will in most instances have to be followed as a condition of planning approval.  

An ecological consultant specialises in insects, small mammals and other, including batsprobably unknown to you, inhabitants of your site, especially if you are thinking of buying a house and have seen signs of their presence. Pest control companies can come out to you for free to assess the situation but it’s preferable to have someone who is unbiased to have a look at it. They will also be able to advise on issues pertaining to rot and moisture problems.   

An archaeologiswill be required where remains of historical interest may be present, which is rare. Fees can be high due to the number of people required and the time it will take to carry out the investigations with resulting delays to the planning process. It could make building on that site prohibitive.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • Conduct a site survey to establish what is there and recommendations of what to do, if any.  
  • Generally will not carry out the actual work they recommend. In the case of tree surveys, the consultant will not carry out the work of pruning, felling, planting, creating a zone of protection around trees, etc. tree work contractors’, more commonly known as tree surgeons.  

Qualifications 

The main professional body for the arboriculture industry is the Arboricultural Association. 

How are they paid? 

For a report, a flat fee is most common. 

Solicitors

Necessary for the buying and selling of property (known as the conveyancing process) a solicitor will also advise on any thorny issues that may arise, e.g. building disputes.  

Remember that conveyancing for a site is equally as important as for a house. It is critical that the boundary lines are accurate and that your solicitor checks for any restrictive covenants, rights of way or any other issue that might cause problems further down the line. It is usually much easier to sort out any issues at this stage before any deal is completed, rather than retrospectively. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • Do the paperwork for the deeds, both on site and house, which includes checking for and putting right any issues such as rights of way, etc.  
  • In the case of a mortgage, hold money in escrow between stage payments.  
  • In dispute resolution, the solicitor advises you on possible recourse and may represent you when dealing with the grievance. 

Qualifications  

The Law Society (ROI lawsociety.ie, NI lawsoc-ni.org) is the educational, representative and regulatory body of the solicitors' profession. Check their PI insurance. 

How are they paid? 

Usually an agreed amount plus standard fees for performing searches and registering documents. Conveyancing costs can run upwards of 1k for the solicitor’s fees alone, and the same amount can be factored in for the fees that you have to pay for registration and administrative charges. 

Dispute Resolution Specialist

No one wants to think about it but you may need help if things go wrong. This is why putting in place a contract with both your architectural designer and with your main contractor/builder is highly recommended. 

The first step towards dispute resolution is trying to resolve the matter with the party you are having issues with directly, keeping a record of all dealings. If you are having problems with a building professional, check what their representative body can offer with regards to dispute resolution.  

If that fails, hiring someone to help, often in the form of a quantity surveyor specialising in this type of work (because cost is usually at the heart of the issue) or through your solicitormay progress the discussions with the party.  

If that fails, arbitration is usually the next step where proceedings are behind closed doors and chaired by an independent arbitrator. This arbitrator can be any of the building professionals, oftentimes an engineer. Litigation is the last resort and it is the most uncommon path due to the high costs associated with it (solicitor fees) and the fact that judges prefer to see issues resolved through arbitration. 

Bear in mind that a good sensible building contract drawn up at the start by your architectural designer will help to minimise or avoid potentially costly disputes.

What they do & don’t do 

  • Advise you on your options including interpreting contracts, but they cannot represent you in front of the courts. 
  • Represent you at arbitration meetings.  

Qualifications 

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators operates in both NI and ROI, arbitration.ie. Check they have PI insurance. 

How are they paid? 

You will usually pay a set fee based on an expected volume of work; if you end up in arbitration you will need to split the cost of the arbitrator with the other party.  

Interior Designer

Where architectural designers are traditionally concerned with the external appearance of the building, the interior designer will focus on the nitty gritty of the internal details, from choice of colour to furniture placement, and are trained to help you find the style you like and that fits your lifestyle 

In a new build their input from day one will be the most useful as placement of joinery and furniture, as well as appliances, and finding a style that is tailor made for you will have an impact on the layout. Architectural designers are trained to help you with this, but interior designers will ensure the emphasis is placed on these elements 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They do not design the house but advise the architectural designer on the practical aspects of fitting out actual furniture, cabinets and fixings and the knock-on effect this has on the design, e.g. window placement. 
  • They are brought on board once the design has been finalised to help fit out an existing space with furniture placement and how to dress features, e.g. windows with curtains, blinds, etc. 
  • They do not carry out inspections but will oversee the aspects that they have designed. 
  • Some offer a project management service and have tradesmen they work with on a regular basis to fit-out the house to their standard. 

Qualifications 

In NI, their professional body is the British Institute of Interior Design and in ROI the Interiors Association is a professional body with a members’ list but many interior designers aren’t affiliated. Check they have PI insurance, are trained and have experience.  

How are they paid? 

Usually a fixed fee for specific work; if involved in the build, a project management fee (percentage of total cost) might apply.  

Lighting Designer

A lighting designer will put together a coherent and functional lighting schedule, which is the blueprint your electrician will work to, showing on a plan where the sockets, switches, lighting points and so forth, are located in each room. In many cases this is left to your electrician to figure out, or your architectural designer, and while in some basic room configurations there are simple rules of thumb to follow, in more complex spaces such as an apex ceiling or in the kitchen, you will benefit from the expertise of a professional in the field. Artificial lighting is one of the most common things to get wrong on a self-build and therefore worth investing in.   

What they do & don’t do 

  • Create a lighting schedule. 
  • Advise on how to light each room and come up with a plan to combine design and function. 
  • Possibly help source light fixtures and fittings. 
  • They are not involved in the design of each room but in how to furnish it with lighting. 

Qualifications 

Often part of the interior designer’s remit or hired through a lighting supplier, insofar as Selfbuild is aware there is no professional body in Ireland for lighting designers.  

How are they paid? 

Usually a flat fee for the lighting schedule. 

Brokers, estate agents and claims assessors

Brokers act on your behalf to find the best products or services. Insurance brokers will put your file to the insurance providers they work with to get you the most competitive quote, similarly mortgage brokers will present your file to secure you the best interest rate and terms. Having one point of contact helps you shop around as filling out mortgage applications with all of the providers will represent a lot of work; much easier to make one application and have someone do the legwork on your behalf.  

Auctioneers (residential surveyors) may comment on the overall condition of a property, in mortgage valuations for example. However for a detailed report on condition/defects you will be hiring a building surveyor or structural engineer to carry out a structural/inspection survey. 

Claims assessors come into the picture in the event of a claim on your building or house insurance, e.g. due to a fire or floodSelf-builders hire claims assessors to achieve their full entitlement under the terms of their insurance.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • Brokers present your file to multiple providers; used for insurance and mortgages.  
  • An estate agent will help you sell your house, organising viewings and holding the buyer’s deposit pending completion of the sale.  
  • Estate agents also make valuations; as a potential buyer you can get one done to provide you with the peace of mind when making an offer on land or house to renovate. 

Qualifications 

Surveyors are affiliated to RICS/SCSIin ROI a recent claims assessors professional body is the Irish Claims Consultants Association. Brokers Ireland is the representative body for insurance and financial BrokersCheck they have PI insurance 

How are they paid? 

Usually a fixed fee; brokers are paid by the bank so you shouldn’t get charged

Tradesmen

Groundworks

You will need someone with a digger tboth clear the site, which may involve very little work or a large amount of excavation if your site is sloping and you want a level one to build on, and to dig foundationsThe actual work that has to be carried out will be set out by your engineer, surveyor or project manager.  

In order to prevent damage to underground services, the final external drainage systems including treatment and discharge of the foul and surface water are usually left until all the heavy plant, equipment and machinery has left the site. The digger operator will complete the drainage, backfilling, laying clean hardcore or gravel on the driveway and tidying up the landscaping.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • They will excavate the foundations and any preliminary drainage and also form the access to the site along with any bunding needed to prevent pollution from contaminated water runoff. 
  • They are not usually involved with the pouring of the foundations but can help to reach areas which the concrete lorry cannot. 
  • They may or may not own the digger; in both cases the cost of the digger is likely to be separate to their own labour cost. You may have to hire the digger yourself, which can cost in the region of £120/€150+ a day, so check this in advance and organise it if needs be 
  • They are only there to carry out the excavation; where to put all of the earth/stone/vegetation will have to be planned in advance so you can tell them where to dump it. In some cases you will be sending material off site and you will need to plan for this in advance. 
  • They will also spread any hardcore for hardstandings required for safe access for plant and equipment such as delivery trucks, scaffolding, etc.

Qualifications 

Plant and machinery operators should have an up-to-date Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) card, either as a Trained Operator (red card) or a Competent Operator (blue card). There are no set qualifications but the operator will have to be experienced. You will usually find the tradesman through word of mouth locally.  

How are they paid? 

By the day, based on an hourly rate. Digger rental cost is extra.  

Carpenter/ Joiner/ Roofer

It can depend on what part of the country you are in, but carpenters and joiners are often labelled under the general term joiner or even chippie. When the roof structure has been erected, the tiles, slates or cladding can be fitted by a specialist roofer, but more often than not, this work is carried out by the carpenter/joiner. Some specialist roof coverings, e.g. green roofs, will be installed by the company from which you buy the roof covering materials. In most cases you buy the roof covering yourself for the joiner to fix. Some roof types such as green roofs require a specialised company to design and fit the product, which may have structural implications for the supporting roof structure. 

Technically speaking a joiner builds things by joining pieces of wood, such as doors, windows and stairs and often works out of a workshop (as a bench joiner) but can also be found on site, depending on the processes required. The carpenter, meanwhile, cuts, shapes and installs timber to make roofs, floors and timber frames, and fits components such as skirting boards, architraves, doors and windows, during the construction of the building. Both professions can be responsible for cabinetmaking and furniture building, e.g. kitchen units and wardrobes. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • Once the block layer is up wall plate level, the carpenter or joiner will begin work on preparing for the roof and making temporary stairs if they are needed; make sure this is part of the agreement if they are necessary 
  • When the roof structure has been erected, the tiles, slates or cladding can be fitted by a specialist roofer, but more often than not, this work is carried out by the joiner. Again, always clarify from the get-go what you expect from the tradesmen and to what specification. 
  • At the appropriate stages during construction works, the joiner or steelwork contractor if there is one, may be needed to erect temporary works such as hoarding or safety fencing and propping or shoring to walls, floors, excavations or embankments.  

Qualifications 

Experience is the main thing to check for but carpenters will need to have completed training during their apprenticeship to achieve NVQ and/or City and Guilds qualifications. In ROI, an apprenticeship under the Statutory Apprenticeship system, leading to a qualification at level 5 to 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications, is the recognised way that people are trained and qualified in their trades.  

How are they paid? 

They will often charge for labour plus materials for either you to source or for them to find. Most tradespeople prefer regular cash payments but this practice has been greatly diminished by the recent health crisis and it is now much more common to transfer money electronically. Whatever the method, it is up to you the self-builder to find out when payments and deposits are required, to keep labour and materials paid up to date and to avoid delays.

Block layer

A competent person will oversee the pouring and levelling of the foundation concrete. This is often the block layer who will then begin to build the footings, sumps and bases after the concrete has cured. Someone, ideally the plumber, will need to ensure that waste pipes and services ducts are correctly installed through footings and subfloors. Usually it is the block layer who is given the next job of fitting the radon barrier and/or the dampproof membrane. Following on, the block layers or bricklayers will come back and build up the walls to wall-plate level. 

The solid ground floor insulation and floor screeds can be installed by a specialist subcontractor, especially where liquid pumped anhydrite screeds are used, but the traditional sand/cement screed can be brought on site ready mixed and levelled by anyone competent, e.g. the block layer. The block layer may be also be involved with building fuel tank stands and external walling where necessary. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • Oversees the foundations and lays the blockwork and may install board insulation but check with them first if they have experience in doing this; the insulation installation may come at an additional costPumping the cavity walls with beads is done by a specialist company. 
  • Usually organises equipment: cement mixer and related hand tools but check in advance and make arrangements if notIn the case of pouring of foundations, the self-builder usually arranges for the cement truck with the mix having been specified by the engineer who designed the foundations 
  • Materials are usually bought by the self-builder based on block layer’s shopping list: bags of cement, sand, blocks, wall tieslintels, wall capping. 

Qualifications 

Mostly based on experience but they will need to have completed training during their apprenticeship to achieve NVQ and/or City and Guilds qualifications. In ROI, an apprenticeship under the Statutory Apprenticeship system, leading to a qualification at level 5 to 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications, is the recognised way that people are trained and qualified in their trades.  

How are they paid? 

A fixed rate for the job, often based on a day rate, plus materials.

Plumber

Plumber is a catch all term to describe the person who deals with the installation of all plumbing and heating. This includes water softener systems for hard (limescale) water, and pumps to increase water pressureAt the foundations stage, they need to ensure that waste pipes and services ducts are correctly installed through footings and subfloors. 

At first fix, (before plastering), the plumber will run the pipework for all water and wastewater services and for heating pipework as well. Where underfloor (water) heating is installed, the plumber will be required to fit the pipework and test it before the screeds are poured. At second fix phase, the plumber and electrician will install the heating system and fit all their final pipes, flues, sanitary ware and ductwork. Renewable energy systems would also be installed by the supplier during this phase. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They are only responsible for the pipework and installing appliances, so in an existing house this will usually include chasing (cutting) walls to run services and associated work and running services on new builds 
  • If there is a main contractor the plumber may or may not ask that they deal with external aspects, e.g. sewage pipe vent or sewage connection to wastewater treatment system, manholes, etc. Specific responsibilities for each job need to be allocated before work starts. 
  • They will supply their own tools and ask you to pick the level of quality of materials but will generally supply them, e.g. copper piping versus plastic, same for fittings.  
  • Some plumbers will have specific brands of heating systems (heat pump, boiler) they work with while others will ask you to choose. They will usually supply the radiators and underfloor heating pipes unless you make a specific request. 
  • All sanitaryware, kitchen taps, etc. will be left for you to buy directly and for them to fit. 

Qualifications 

Plumbers in NI should be members of a recognised trade body such as the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE); or be employed by a member of the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF). In ROI, look for a member of the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors of Ireland (APHCI). In both areas, by law gas fitting requires certification which not all plumbers will have, so this also must be checked if installing a gas boilergas cooker or other gas appliance. Check the Registered Gas Installers register in ROI and the Gas Safe Register in NI. 

How are they paid? 

Upon completion of key stages, usually at first and second fix and upon final commissioning (testing) that the systems work.  

Electrician

Electricians, along with gas installers, are the two professions that are strictly controlled by the authorities. Electricians deal with running electrical cables for your lights, sockets, and any fixings or appliances that require an electrical input, e.g. ventilation or heating systemsThey also deal with broadband cabling in the home. At the first fix phase their preliminary work will include running the cables. Progressing to the second fix they will work with the plumber to install the heating system and fit all their final pipes, cables, vents, extract fans and associated ductwork. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They can advise on where to locate lights and sockets but will not usually draw up a plan for you. Your architectural designer is likely to be able to help in this regard; specialist lighting companies may have their own designers who will be able to draw up a lighting plan for you. 
  • They run all cables, fit the fuse board, install RCDs and other safety points. 
  • Liaise with the electricity network operator for the fitting of the meter, but it is the network operator who does the installation. Electricity cables from the pole to the meter is also done by the network operator.  
  • Liaise with the plumber for any of their requirements, e.g. room temperature controls/stats. 
  • Organise outdoor lighting and electrics along with any temporary connections you might need for the build. 
  • Electricians will usually have everything they need and will sort out their own materials after confirming what level of quality is required, but the rest of the materials will generally be left to you to organise, e.g. light switches if not the standard uPVC, light fixtures, etc. 
  • Some electricians can specialise in the design, specification and installation of ‘smart’ wiring and wireless controls systems.

Qualifications 

In NI, electricians must be qualified to the current edition of BS7671 (the Wiring Regulations) and be a Registered (Installation) Electrician, holding the appropriate Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) card. In ROI, your electrician must be a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC) with the Register of Electrical Contractors Ireland (RECI). They are subject to spot inspections by the authorities.  

How are they paid? 

Upon completion of key stages, usually at first and second fix and upon final commissioning (testing) that the systems work.  

Plasterer

The trade consists of mixing plaster and applying it as a wall finish, either internal or external. The most common type for the internal finish is gypsum based and for external finishes, cement based. Alternatives include lime and clay for both external and internal applications. Pre-mixed plasters and renders are becoming more common, providing convenience and better consistency of the batches.

Their job is not one that requires regular visits to site; the internal plastering is completed in one go, as is the external plastering although these will be applied in a number of layers. 

The first layer of internal plastering generally comes just after the external windows are installed. The plasterer will skim (apply a thin layer of plaster) internal walls and ceilings and after the drying out period the joiner will lay timber floor finishes and the kitchen suppliers will start to fit out the kitchen and utility room. Fixing the skirting boards, architraves and other decorative trim is best left until after all ‘wet’ trades (plastering, tiling, spray painting, etc.) are finished.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • They will have their own tools which are specialised for their trade and should maintain their own equipment. This includes hand tools and mixers for the plaster, dust sheets, etc. They are likely to give you quantities of material they need for you to source from the builder’s merchant and arrange to have on site for the day they come. 
  • They will plaster around vents and windows but are in no way involved with fitting these. 
  • They may install plasterboard although the joiner would often take on this task; if the finish is drylining then the plasterers are more likely to take on the task as it requires attention to detail.  

Qualifications 

They will need to have completed training during their apprenticeship to achieve NVQ and/or City and Guilds qualifications. In ROI, an apprenticeship under the Statutory Apprenticeship system, leading to a qualification at level 5 to 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications, is the recognised way that people are trained and qualified in their trades.  

How are they paid? 

Payment is usually upon completion of work having been completed satisfactorily. Most tradespeople prefer regular cash payments but this practice has been greatly diminished by the recent health crisis and it is now much more common to transfer money electronically. It is also essential to know who works for whom; for instance, will each trade pay their own labourers, or will some expect you to foot the bill?  

Tiler

The tiler will install the tiles you choose in your home, usually only for the internals, so for rooms like the bathroom, kitchen, hallway any other areas you wish to have them. Whilst they will start working in your house as the second fix stage, consult with them early on in the process as they will have seen most configurations, room sizes and sanitaryware placement, and should be able to guide you as to what kind of tiles to get, in terms of size but also depth as this will need to be figured out before the floor is in place so there are no issues with tiles kicking against doors. Room sizes and placement that require minimal cutting are usually best.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • They will not design your bathroom but will be able to give you advice as to what kind of tiles to choose and this may have a knock-on effect on the design.  
  • They will prepare the tile adhesive and grout to fix the tiles in place. They are not involved with building subfloors but may put in a levelling compound where one is needed.  
  • They will supply basic materials such as grout and adhesive, and will have their own tools, but you will supply the tiles.  

Qualifications 

They will need to have completed training during their apprenticeship to achieve NVQ and/or City and Guilds qualifications. In ROI, an apprenticeship under the Statutory Apprenticeship system, leading to a qualification at level 5 to 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications, is the recognised way that people are trained and qualified in their trades.  

How are they paid? 

At the end of the job, for labour plus materials.  

Specialist companies

Specialist tradesmen usually come in the form of a company that sells the product and installs it for you because the installation requires expertise in that specific product line. Basically anything that’s not a DIY job.  

So for instance if you plan to install a stove you are likely to buy it from the same company that will fit it, as there are both building regulations to follow and specific guidelines from manufacturers. Same goes for specialist insulation products, the main ones being spray foam, EPS or external wall insulation – if you install these the company you buy the product must also install it as they are trained to do so (equipment and know how required)Usually these companies are licenced to use a specific brand and a condition of the manufacturer supplying the brand is to train the employees in correct installation, and maintenance. 

There are many other examples where specialist trades are desirable or essential, such as the erection of timber frame and SIPs structures, passive house construction, working with environmentally friendly materials such as stone, cob, hempcrete, straw bales, earth walls, etc., the installation of structural composites and glass products, metal work including steel, stainless steel, aluminium, brass, cast iron, etc., security systems, mechanical and renewable energy systems, special acoustics, stairs, self-levelling screeds, terrazzo, water recycling, etc.

To a lesser extent polished concrete is another example although you would commonly get the concrete poured by a specialist company, based on the specification from the polishing company which will polish it for you. 

Same goes for ventilation systems: the company you buy the kit from usuallinstalls the ducting for you, and checks the system (commissioning). Note in ROI the latest round of the building regulations requires that commissioning for ventilation systems be done by an independent person, usually an energy assessor. In NI it is still common practice to have the company check the system and not involve outside expertise – but they still need to certify it.  

Heating systems, even heat pumps, are usually installed by your plumber who will train with the manufacturers directly on how to use their products although there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, a ground source heat pump would involve a number of trades.

What they do & don’t do 

They usually both supply the materials and kit, as well as the labour. You could ask how much DIY you can do to save on the quotation. 

Qualifications 

Experience is the main thing to check for here – the company’s credentials and level of service as well as what documentation they will give you at the end of the job to certify compliance with the building regulations, where relevant. Check for warranties but read the fine print. 

How are they paid? 

Depending on the project they can be paid in stages or all at once upon satisfactory completion. 

Quality Control

Building Control inspector (NI only)

In NI each local authority has a team of building control inspectors. Their role is to ensure your house is being built in accordance with the building regulations 

In ROI, fire and building control officers are usually the one and same person in a local authority, and they are mostly concerned with commercial buildings (which require a fire certificate). They rarely check self-build sites unless they are carrying out a spot inspection, which again, is rare.  

What they do & don’t do 

  • Process your application. 
  • Validate your construction drawings and make suggestions where necessary before validating (this may lead to tweaks in the drawings/design) 
  • Make periodic inspections to check the house is being built according to the construction drawings.  
  • They are on call if you want them to visit the site, at any time, to check on any aspect of the build that pertains to the building regulations. They will provide advice as to changes/alterations to rectify any aspect that is not building regulations compliant.  
  • Issue the completion certificate, which you will need to file your claim for a VAT refundThis certificate may be issued before you move in or before the house is complete: its purpose is to certify all building regulations have been abided to and this can happen before any of the internal finishes are in place.  

Qualifications 

They are directly hired by your local authority and the inspector will be appointed to you through the building control application process. 

How are they paid? 

Through the application fee. There are no callout charges if you ask them to come check anything on site.

Warranty surveyor

If you take out a structural warranty on your self-build, which usually provides 10 year defects cover (i.e. they will pay for repairs to rectify any structural issues)a surveyor from the warranty company will come inspect that the work is being carried out in accordance with the building regulations.  

If you take out the policy after work has started, the surveyor will have to carry out a far more detailed survey which will result in a higher overall cost of the warranty cover. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • The surveyor will carry out four to six inspections during the construction stage. The first site visit will be when the foundations are being poured. 
  • They do not supply completion certificates and are in no way affiliated to the building control functions of a local authority.  

Qualifications 

They are usually building surveyors and are hired directly by the warranty company. 

How are they paid? 

The cost of inspections is included in your warranty cover.  

Certifier

A certifier is often a qualified and experienced architectural designer, engineer or building surveyor. 

Usually required by a mortgage provider to inspect the build as it proceeds, the certifier will report back to the bank on the satisfactory progress of the build, by issuing completion certificatesMoney is only released when the bank receives the certifiers confirmation, through your solicitor, that a particular stage is satisfactorily completed to the building regulations. The Professional Indemnity cover provides the bank with insurance should something become defective at some stage in the future. 

In ROI, where there are no building control inspections (although surprise inspections by the authorities are possible, they are rare on self-builds), self-builders will often hire a certifier in the form of an independent engineer to check on progress – even if there is no mortgage. When filing for your commencement notice, you will be asked to either “opt in” or “opt out” of appointing an Assigned Certifier. The Assigned Certifier is a qualified professional you must hire directly, either affiliated to the RIAI, SCSI or a consulting engineering body. Self-builders usually opt out because of the additional cost and administrative burden, even when they hire a professional to project manage the build. 

What they do & don’t do 

  • They inspect the work as it progresses, with at least four to six site visits at key stages but you will need to call them out much more often than that in practice. 
  • They do not project manage the build for you. 
  • They are in no way affiliated to the building control functions of a local authority. 
  • They will not design the house for you and even though you can hire the same person to act as the designer and the certifier, it’s more common to keep these roles completely separate to allow for thorough double checking. 

Qualifications  

Dependent on the profession they hold; always check they have adequate PI insurance. 

How are they paid?  

Fixed fee quoted at the start for a set number of inspectionsabout 20 may be required for a house although the bank will only generally require about five inspections for the purposes of releasing funds (for the stage payments). 

What do you think?

Written by Site Support

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