Avoiding Common Mistakes

How you can take control and get sh*t done!

Being an owner builder allows you to take full control and responsibility for your project. It allows you to cut out those costly mistakes that can occur in almost every project. Especially, if no thought or planning has occurred.

Owner building can be very stressful and full of costly mistakes, but if you do it right, it can be highly rewarding.

Your role as an owner builder can vary depending on your skill sets, below are two main ways you can work as an owner builder on your project;

  1. You could take a hands-on approach and build almost, the entire project yourself! With the help of an electrician, plumber and air conditioning contractors to undertake specialised work.
  2. You may wish to project manage the build, this includes the hiring of subcontractors and organising materials etc you also undertake certain on-site tasks yourself, if your skill set matches.

Whichever way you decide to run your job the decisions ultimately are yours to make.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to take control, and blow your productivity through the roof! I’ll show you how to eliminate these common mistakes when managing your own project.

I’ll tell you what to focus on so you can save time, money and ensure progress on site is constantly moving, all whilst keeping your stress levels to a minimum.

Costly mistakes

As a professional in the building industry, I see an ever growing number of owners spend their hard earned money on rectifying mistakes. Mainly because they didn’t plan or consider certain processes of their build. Whether it’s before they started a certain task or even knowing what needed to happen before they started on site.

This is largely down to poor planning, and in some cases not understanding fully, what’s involved in the task at hand. Knowing what needs to happen and when it needs to happen is the main skill in managing any build or renovation.

Whilst a lack of foresight has a negative impact on your budget, it also adds extra time to your program.

One of the most frustrating things to happen on site is realising that you have missed something or you’ve made a mistake, and then, investigating to see if you can repair the problem or not. Worst even, is then finding out that you have to remove and redo the work again properly.

These kinds of mistakes are easily avoided if the works are planned and coordinated correctly.

Mistakes are human nature and unfortunately, we all make them. But we need to eliminate them as much as possible.  Mistakes ultimately cost you time and money, which can be hard to swallow.

Some common mistakes I’ve seen a lot are:

  1. Insufficient waterproofing to wet areas before your tiles go down.
  2. Joinery cupboards not being deep enough or are too high to access, especially in the kitchen.
  3. Take offs and quantities for materials such as wall tiles are ordered incorrectly.
  4. Nailing pipes inside the walls (very common).
  5. Not including any additional timber “noggings”within your stud walls to hang artwork or mirrors up when your house is ready to furnish.
  6. Having insufficient control joints or expansion joints to the floors and walls (this helps relieve stress on the building materials when the building moves under expansion and contraction through temperature changes).
  7. Not having a realistic budget or expectation of what things cost.
  8. Not reading through your contract/ not even having a contract with subcontractors.

Understanding processes in construction is essential for a smoothly ran project with minimal errors. When you understand the sequences of what happens and when, you can then start to begin piecing together the works. This will enable you to know how to budget for your works properly, How to schedule the works with a program, and how to organise the delivery of materials effectively.

Why plan?

Thorough planning of your project is paramount to its success. Instead of thinking that your project is one big task, consider it as many smaller manageable tasks that all come together to complete the build, much like a jigsaw puzzle.

Breaking up your construction project into smaller and identifiable tasks which identify trades as their own category whilst being dependant on each other is the art of understanding your project and building a plan to carry out your build.

For example, if you are pouring your ground floor slab make sure you remember to run and place any pipes for the services that you may need later down the line in the build. It would be a costly exercise to install these services after the concrete was poured or to find out that you have put them in the wrong location.

An integral part of managing any project is knowing how long it’s going to take you to complete. The most efficient way of doing this is to build a project program.

Project Program

The purpose of a program is to track your progress, know when you need to order materials, know when you need your trades on site and give you an estimation of when you will finish your build.

Whether you populate a Gantt chart or a simple date entry in a spreadsheet the idea is the same.

The result of your program will allow you to understand;

  1. What needs to happen & when it needs to happen (start date).
  2. When it finishes (end date).
  3. An idea of how long the task will it take (duration).
  4. Your progress on site.
  5. What task are dependent on others or which tasks can be carried out at the same time.
  6. Scope of works.
  7. The sequence in which the works take place.
  8. The relationship between each task (called “predecessors”).
  9. The Critical path.
  10. Shows you when materials & trades will be needed on site.

You do need some level of construction knowledge to fill this in accurately, however populating your own schedule is relatively easy.

A tip for you to include in your program is an allowance for rain delays (definitely needed before you have your roof on if you’re building a new house) and a contingency allowance, for the unexpected, especially if you are carrying out a renovation they can be full of unknowns.

An important element to your program is knowing when to order the materials for delivery and making sure your trades are locked in to start on site. Having a keen eye on delivery and lead times for materials are important, especially if you are ordering materials that can take several weeks to be fabricated or delivered.

When scheduling the subcontractors time with the materials being delivered, you will start to get an overall picture of how long your project is likely to take.

If you are not sure how long each process or task will take, be sure you ask your potential subcontractors when you are sending out the works for tender. I recommend inviting 2-3 subcontractors to tender for each trade, this way you will receive a clearer picture with regard to costing and timing.

When talking to your subcontractors you should make sure you ask and understand their methodology for undertaking the works. Make sure you are aware of what you need to have in place before the subcontractor arrives on site and starts work.

Your site team

Having a great site team is extremely important for any project, especially when you’re owner building and don’t necessarily have the construction knowledge or expertise of a builder.

Finding subcontractors that come highly recommended should be a priority of yours especially before you start building.

My advice is to have a very skilled carpenter contracted to your job. Carpenters tend to be the glue to any project and it’s worth investing the money into finding a highly skilled one. Going to local suppliers or hardware stores asking for recommendations is a good place to start. Plenty of online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and the normal Google searches should provide you with plenty of choice. 

When selecting your subcontractors and suppliers you should base your decisions on the following factors, I believe using these guidelines will give you the best chance of running a successful and more enjoyable project; 

  1. Their ability to perform the works, which you are employing them to do.
  2. The price is reasonable. Remember the cheapest price isn’t always the one to choose.
  3. Delivery; are the subcontractors available to come to your project when they are needed? And do the suppliers have sufficient stock levels of what you need?
  4. Do they hold the appropriate licences, qualifications, insurances and do the materials come with warranties and have been properly tested for compliance and regulatory issues?
  5. Your first impression, how is your communication and do you get along with the subcontractor, do they seem trustworthy and know what they are talking about? Do you feel they will have pride in their work and carry out their job to the best of their ability?
  6. References, these are very important ask for previous employers information and ask for a portfolio of work that’s similar to the work you are asking them to carry out.

To enable you to run your site as efficiently as possible, it is vital to get as many contracts let and trades secured before you commence building on site. You should aim to have 60-70% of your trades locked in and contracted. Especially the structural trades.

This means you know who your site team is, what their scope of works are, you have quickly started to form a team of professionals to call for guidance and advice, who are now invested into your project needs.

Your main job whilst construction is ongoing is to make sure they have all the information they need to carry out their job and have all the materials they require if they aren’t in control of supplying them.

Remember, you are employing them as the “experts” in what they do. You should always ask questions if you think something isn’t right. However, from the subcontractors’ point of view, if they are constantly being watched over and feel that you don’t trust them they won’t enjoy working on your site.

If you can build a good relationship and culture you will find that you’ll have fewer delays, fewer problems and they will choose to come to your job when you need them. Rather than them choosing to go to another job they have on.

A great way to do this, is to constantly keep looking at whats next. Always ask your self, what needs to happen in 3-4 weeks time. This way you will discover any issues that could arise and more importantly, it provides you and your team, time to figure out how to solve any issues and formulate a plan.

Procurement Schedule

A fantastic tool to assist you with scheduling the works is a procurement schedule.

This schedule basically informs you when you need to order materials, or when you need a contractor signed up by. It’s easily created, and works hand in hand once your program is finished with all the start dates worked out for each trade.

This works by taking the start date of a particular trade such as tiling from your program. You then work backwards to give yourself a timeframe to procure the tiling contract and materials. You factor in the time it will take you to finalise the drawings and scope of works. The time to send out for tendering and reconciling all your quotes. Approving one quote and issuing a contract. Then finally factoring in any lead times (if applicable).

See the below table as an example.

Trade/ Item

Finalised Drawings & SOW


Issue of contract

Lead times

Start on site

Tiling 01/07/18 04/07/18 18/07/18 2 weeks 01/08/18


Above we have our tiling contractors start time on site as the 1st of August (date taken from our program). For this activity, let’s just say that the tiles and materials will take two weeks to be delivered to site. This then provides us with a date to issue the contract by, which is, the 18th of July.

Allow your self anywhere from 2-4 weeks tendering, this will vary how complex the trade is and how much time you have to meet 3 contractors, reviewing quotes, and maybe asking them to correct or amend their first quote etc but here we’ve allowed 2 weeks.

This now gives us our date of when you need to have the drawings and scopes finalised and start thinking about that trade.

Remember when I said as a project manager always try and think 4 weeks ahead!

I don’t recommend using a procurement schedule for every little thing you have to purchase, especially the larger your project is, but it’s an extremely useful tool to keep you ahead of the program when looking at the sequences of trades and knowing what comes next and when you have to action it by.

Your main job when managing your build is to keep your project progressing and your trades working. Successful planning before you step foot on site is a great way for you to achieve this goal.

Minimising your delays and maximising your productivity, will get you a cheaper and better quality result all the time.

If you have found the information in this post interesting and helpful, I’d love for you to share it with your friends and family who will also find the content useful.

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