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You wouldn’t be alone if you thought that building a house was merely an exercise in getting a drawing prepared and a builder to bring it to life. In this article, Lomi Mokoka seeks to give housing consumers some insight into the different resources that are involved in building a house.

It’s true that in most cases the architect would be the first port of call when beginning a house construction project. The architect would design the house and prepare a set of building plans, based on the housing consumer’s taste and needs, which become the blueprint for the rest of the team. These are often called the ‘building plans’.

It is imperative to use an architectural practitioner who is registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP). Any individual who practices architecture without a valid registration certificate is practicing illegally and can be criminally prosecuted. Furthermore, the architectural practitioner must be registered as a professional in the category of draftsperson, architectural technologist, senior architectural technologist or architect. An individual who is registered as a candidate in any of these four categories must practice under the supervision of a registered professional in a higher or equivalent category.

Each of these categories indicates the complexity of work allowed by the architectural practitioner. The category of ‘architect’ is the highest category and can perform all work of any complexity. The complexity of work is progressively restricted as one goes lower down in the four categories with the draftsperson being the category allowed to perform the least complex work. It’s very simple to check the validity or category of an architectural practitioner’s registration by visiting SACAP’s website and inserting the individual’s name in “The Register” page of the website.

On completion of the building plans, the architect sends the drawings to the appointed structural engineer for his perusal and signature for municipality submission purposes. The plans are submitted to the local municipality for their scrutiny and approval. This is a crucial step that is often undermined by housing consumers who want to cut corners. Approved plans are playing a bigger role in recent years than they did before. Not only are they required in order to get an occupation certificate from the municipality, they are required by the National Home Builders Registration Council as well as more and more banks when purchasing a home.

The role of the municipality is to ensure that the house is designed according to the National Building Regulations and the South African National Standards. The municipality also ensures that they are able to provide the required services to the property as well as the capacity required. There have been many cases where municipalities have found illegal structures and obtained a court order to demolish after fruitless attempts by the municipalities to get the building owners to legalise them by submitting the plans for scrutiny.

Upon approval of the plans by the local municipality, the structural engineer would prepare a set of drawings specifying the sizes and materiality of the different structural elements of the house such as the foundations, the floor slabs, the roof and the walls. Generally, if the house is a single storey house, a structural engineer is not required. A structural engineer must be registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) in order to practice as an engineer in South Africa. ECSA is the regulatory body for the engineering professions. Like SACAP, a register of their practitioners can be found on their website to assist housing consumers and other entities when searching for or investigating the validity of a purported engineer’s credentials.

A structural engineer’s designs are informed by the ground conditions of the land on which the house is to be built. A geotechnical investigation of the soil type and other ground factors is carried out by a geotechnical engineer. Factors such as dolomite, sandy soil, clay soil, silt or rocky grounds influence the type of foundations that would be appropriate for the house. A geotechnical engineer’s report would be sent to the structural engineer before he/she begins in order to inform his designs.

The approved architectural plans and the structural engineer’s drawings are then furnished to the builder who not only uses them to construct the house but first uses them to enroll the house with the NHBRC. It is a legal requirement in South Africa to enroll every new house with the NHBRC. Only an NHBRC registered builder can enroll a house. It would be wise to first ensure that your builder is registered with the NHBRC before even obtaining a quotation for the construction. The National Homebuilders Registration Council is a regulatory body of the home building industry. It is mandated to protect the interests of housing consumer to ensure that builders comply with the prescribed building industry standards. The NHBRC also provides a warranty cover against structural damage during the first five years post the construction of a house. It is therefore important for housing consumers to ensure that their homes get enrolled with the NHBRC prior to construction so that they can enjoy the warranty cover and the additional layer of inspections provided by the NHRC to ensure good workmanship.

The above four service providers are the core team required for the construction of a house. In special circumstances, such as when a house is built in an area where the zoning rights of the stand do not allow for the construction of a house, a town planner’s services would be required. There are many cases where the land or property only has rights for commercial, industrial, agricultural or other purposes which are not residential. In some cases, the stand is zoned for residential purposes but has restrictions such as height, coverage or number of dwellings that are allowed on the stand which are not to the satisfaction of the housing consumer. In such cases, the services of a town planner would be required before an architect is involved. The town planner would prepare a motivation to accompany a rezoning or relaxation application to the local municipality so that when the architect’s building plans are received by them, the rights are already in place otherwise the plans would be rejected.

Before a builder can begin construction, the house would need to be pegged out. In other words, the position of the house would need to be marked out on the ground. This is to ensure that the house is positioned correctly and that there are no building line encroachments or other encroachments. The individual who would mark out the house position and the property boundaries is a land surveyor. The land surveyor does this using equipment that point out the stand coordinates. It is prudent to consult a land surveyor to mark out the position of the house before it is constructed because most municipalities require the land surveyor to issue a certificate confirming the exact position of the house on completion as well as the stand boundaries as part of the documents that must be submitted for purposes of obtaining an occupation certificate from the municipality.

While many clients rely on the quotation provided by the builder and derived from the building plans, in more sophisticated or complex residential projects a quantity surveyor is appointed. A quantity surveyor is essentially the accountant of the project. This role entails calculating the estimated cost of the works and quantifying every element of the house from the materials to the labour and all the financial requirements of the entire build. A document called a Bill of Quantities is prepared by the QS and distributed amongst the bidders or builders to price. The Bill of Quantities ensures that all the bidders are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ and are pricing for the exact same quantities thereby providing an accurate basis of comparison when scrutinising the prices submitted by the bidders.

Individuals such as interior designers or interior decorators are not a prerequisite for every house project. They do, however, offer a valuable service that can significantly improve the quality of the occupants’ living experience as well as the value of the house. If a housing consumer would like their home to have a designer’s touch and can afford the additional service, interior designers are a valuable addition to the team and work closely with the architect when preparing their designs.

Without the ‘core four’, it would be difficult to build a house legally in South Africa. In the absence of a project manager, an architect often plays the role of the principal agent as an additional service and acts on behalf of the housing consumer when interacting with the rest of the team. Such an individual is a valuable resource for housing consumers who are not well-versed with the construction process.

Lomi Mokoka is the MD of Seru Architects.

By Editor