This is a key factor in doing work to ones home. We look for various things in a builder:
Recommendations from others
Skills / competence
What we don’t look for is any underpinning knowledge of buildings.
Unfortunately builders are not trained to understand building types, they are trained in skills. So a competent builder probably has no idea that old terraced houses need to have different materials used on them compared to more modern building types. This is a major problem that it only just starting to be addressed by the colleges, even then it is not well co-ordinated or taught.
So the vast majority of builders do not understand the importance of concepts like airtightness, breathability, water and energy efficiency? If they don’t understand or place any weight on these factors then the quality and suitability of the work will suffer. So if you want a; draughty, energy inefficient or damp, piece of building work then fine, go with the cheapest. However, if you want a home that is airtight, dry, low maintenance, energy and water efficient then you need to find a knowledgeable and competent builder.
Asking builders some open questions (that you know the answer to) is a great way of identifying whether they can fulfil the tasks that you want of them. Don’t ask Yes / No questions as they might be able to guess which answer you are looking for. So questions lie:
What do they understand by the term breathability and how this relates to the different types of lime or cement?
How will you achieve good sound insulation?
Will this product save me money and inconvenience in the future?
How will you ensure that the building is airtight?
Is this the most appropriate insulating material for my property and why?
(For the answers have a read of the other posts in this blog!)
Getting the right builder is so important. None are cheap and the cheapest often turn out to be the most expensive as you spend the time and money on the next builder trying to solve the faults from the first one. So it is a bit like finding a good relationship were they are able and willing to do the work and you are happy to trust them (within reason) to do it right. Remember that many builders use sub-contractors (their mates) to do parts of the work – electrics, plumbing, carpentry etc and so these people must also be ‘on-board’ with what you are trying to achieve. So communicating well with the builder is so important, as they will need to be reminded that their colleagues will also need to understanding what is happening, what you are trying to achieve and what they must do in order to facilitate this rather than wreck it. This is so important in areas like breathability and airtightness. No point using lime renders and plasters if the Painter and Decorator covers it all with plastic paints! Again no point installing great airtight membranes if the Plumber drills through them to fit an outlet etc.
Don’t blame the builders though. Remember they were not taught about sustainability in college, so you might wish to send them to the Eco Home Centre for some additional awareness raising before starting with them. This is so important for older buildings or high performance ones.
There are starting to be some safeguards though. The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has a register of MasterBond builders. These are not schooled in sustainable practices, but they can offer a guarantee for their work.
At the Eco Home Centre we are also building up a base of builders who do understand older and high tech buildings and how to install the right products for the house, so if you are stumped to find a reliable, intelligent and knowledgeable builder please do get in touch and we shall endeavour to find you one from our database. Contact via: email@example.com