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HANDY MAC: Beware of slipping standards

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Authorities are leaving more and more up to builders, so make sure you employ one with the proper qualifications

I need to start with a big thank you to all my readers. The column is almost nine years old and, with your support, I would like to get into double figures. I believe this week we have broken the record with questions and comments coming in – please keep it up.

The downside is space and time doesn’t allow me to print or answer all the questions, as I am still running a company. Hopefully, one day I will finally hang up my hard hat and have more time.

Where possible, please send your comments and questions via email; WhatsApp is next best. Also, I don’t mind you phoning, but please keep it outside 6am to 6pm, which are my working hours. I have snapped off a couple of your heads as we try to survive in this tough industry.

Many people are having doubts about the construction industry, and up to a point, I must agree. The authorities are leaving more and more up to the builders as government departments battle to fill specialised posts with suitably qualified people. In our own industry, training is slipping further and further behind, except with those of us who believe in being registered and compliant.

How many of you are accepting quotations from contractors with no formal qualifications, let alone with the proper paperwork for first aid, scaffold erection, safety and insurance cover? The results can be seen in the above picture.

One of my long-time readers has sent me the following comment: “Mark my words, there are going to be collapses in the not too distant future. It is my duty to inform and to educate… I’ll leave it in your hands. It is too late for me.” I don’t think I am capable of making that much of a difference but we all need to try.

Q and A

Test your borehole water before using it to top up your pool. Picture: Engin Akyurt

Abdool sent me something to read on buying a house on lay-by. It is built out of timber.

Q:What is your opinion on the attached method of building with timber? This aroused my interest, as am planning to build a house.

A: Well, now I have seen it all! In basic terms, this company wants you to give them your money and, when you have paid the money, over a five-year period (this can be longer or shorter depending on your pocket), they will come and build your home.

Please be careful in today’s failing economy when you do not get something for your money upfront. When the banks grant you a bond you can start building straight away – not after you have paid it off.

You also need to be careful when building timber houses as different municipalities have different by-laws on them. Regulations around fire protection are onerous and, unless you have 100% compliant insurance, if you can get it, will be expensive.

Lauretta has a pool problem:

Q:There was an article about using borehole water last February, with advice by Brannon. He said he had been topping his pool with borehole water for 12 years. I have been doing this. Here in Fish Hoek, the borehole water smells fine and doesn’t stain. But I now have scales on the side of my pool. It is quite hard and is unsightly. At our local pool shop the person said it’s because I used borehole water and there is nothing I can do. The person mentioned calcium. She said HTH contains calcium, but what else can I buy? I suppose I could scrape it off?

A: I have sent Lauretta a website to look at and it would appear that the make-up of borehole water can drastically effect the chemical balance in any pool. I had similar problems until I filtered my borehole water. It is essential to test what you are going to be putting into your pool, before you do it. pH levels are the key.

“Scale deposits can form along the waterline of your swimming pool. This is usually caused by either high pH, high alkalinity, or a high calcium concentration. “Constant temperature changes along with rapid evaporation will cause deposits to settle along the side your pool wall,” the website says.

Tip of the week

What’s needed in your toolbox. Picture: Supplied

Carrying on from last week let’s look at what you should have in your toolbox:

1 Screwdrivers

Be wary of large, cheap sets. Look for those with solid ends and a handle that fits your grip. A too-small handle means that you will not be able to apply the required torque. Go for three flat heads and three star or Philips – small medium and large. Keep a set of mini screwdrivers handy for putting the tiny screws back into your glasses and similar fiddly jobs.

2 Hammers

You need a basic claw hammer, to knock in nails and pull them out. I would advise you to buy an all-steel hammer with a decent grip.

3 Tape measure

Whether you’re building a cupboard or measuring to see if that flatscreen TV will fit in your lounge, a retractable metal measuring tape is a must. Go for the most expensive you can afford. The cheaper ones tend not to retract properly. Deciding what length to buy is a personal choice, but I would never get a tape shorter than 5m. Over that length they do tend to get a bit heavy and unmanageable.


I would like to use a visit to a reader’s home to highlight two points. First, the minute you are unsure of something, get a second opinion and, second, there are still some good contractors out there.

The question: “We recently had a renovation done, with a new cement floor laid. We now have too much moisture in the floor and I am concerned the builder may have compromised the damp-proof course.”

The reader had mistakenly identified the brickwork DPC under the first course of brickwork as the under-slab DPC. By the time I got there, the floor had dried to an acceptable level and work will progress soon.

Mistakes had been made during the renovation but the reader wrote: “It seems the issue may be that the floor needed more time to dry in winter, as you mentioned.

“The builder and flooring contractor have been pretty helpful, in general, and any repairs thus far have been for their cost. “I guess building is just a stressful thing!” It’s great to see a builder accepting responsibility – they get the star of the week award.

If you have a question for Don, please send it to or SMS only to 0824463859. 


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