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HANDY MAC: Building guidelines

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Coming up: more tips about what you should do and whom to employ when facing construction and renovation

An office colleague has asked that I look at some prices her sister has obtained to do building alterations. I thought that over the next few weeks I should publish some guidelines published by the Master Builders Association Western Cape.

Guidelines to successful building

Follow these guidelines to maintain a good relationship with your contractor: Planning Before calling in a contractor for a quotation, draw up a specific and detailed plan of what you want done and the amount you can afford.

◆ For substantial work, obtain a detailed cost estimate and adjust requirements to suit your budget.

◆ Find a qualified person to draw plans, determine specifications and submit them to the local authority for approval.

◆ Choose a reliable building contractor.

◆ Ensure your contractor is registered with the necessary legal or statutory bodies such as Workman’s Compensation Insurance, Bargaining Council for the Building Industry and the Receiver of Revenue.

Obtain references from all contractors and be aware contractors are not obliged to be members of the MBA, but that MBA members will give you a level of protection.

Current legislation also requires if you are building a new house, your contractor must be registered with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC).

Registration with the NHBRC for alterations, additions or renovations is not required. Registration takes about five weeks so don’t be caught out by starting to build and then finding out the bank wants a certificate of registration before making its first payment.

Be extremely wary of engaging people who claim to be “project managers” and say they can save you thousands by supervising your build. Always ensure a project manager, if not a member of the MBA, is in possession of a professional qualification.

Q and A

A reader developed a rash after her bath was reglazed. Picture: Mitchell Orr

is itching for me to help with her problem: 

Q: The managing agent in my block had my bath resurfaced, and I have a severe allergy to the product used. The franchise owner said no one has ever had this reaction, but he checked with head office and people have been known in testing phases to be sensitive to xylene used to resurface the bath (it’s one of the main solvents in the product). I have a terrible rash and can’t use my bath. Help.

A: I could easily go off track here as Anon has touched on two of my pet hates, baths and managing agents. I am a hot, strong shower man, unless I am in an area with an unlimited water supply and a huge hot water geyser and I have hours to waste for a deep, long soak. I think I had a dig at managing agents the other day.

There are some great ones who care about their clients, but many more who are supposed to look after property but don’t know the difference between a nail and a screw. This is the first time I’ve heard about a bath resurfacing causing an allergic reaction.

I have had many baths reglazed for clients over the years, including two floors of a hospital with baths in many of the wards, without any comeback. 

However, I began a Google search (thanks to Mrs Mac, who bought me a new laptop for my birthday) and what’s the first thing I find? At least 14 workers have died since 2000 as a result of using stripping agents containing methylene chloride during bathtub refinishing.

Many stripping products (including those that may also be available to consumers) contain high percentages of methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is extremely dangerous when not used correctly.

In February 2012, a worker using a product containing methylene chloride to refinish a bathtub was found dead, slumped over a bathtub in an unventilated bathroom.

In September 2011, a worker using a product containing methylene chloride to strip the glaze from a bath collapsed in the tub and later died. It would appear the dangerous part of this operation is the initial stripping.

I wonder if you have come into contact with something that has been left behind, or whether during the finishing process, which usually involves sanding down which causes a fine powder residue to hang around in the air or on surfaces. The contractor failed to clean up properly. I believe that would cause skin irritation, especially if there is any fibreglass involved.

Unfortunately, every human is unique and not every product can be tested on an entire populace, so there is always going to be – with respect – the odd person who will suffer a bad reaction.

This case proves once again there is danger lurking around every corner and that we need to check every product with which we come into contact. There is absolutely no reason for any contractor to blame ignorance about the products they use as modern technology covers every angle of daily life.


Rain drainage must be kept away from buildings to avoid damage and damp problems. Picture: Supplied

Jane writes:
A few weeks ago, you wrote about rain drainage and keeping it away from the house. Please look at my situation and evaluate. The previous owner had a band of cobbles about 80cm wide laid around the entire house.

However, there does not appear to be a watertight join between them and the walls. They also do not appear to have been laid with any slope away from the walls. Also, one of the roof downpipes goes into another that disappears under the house between the garage and the kitchen. They share a wall.

I have had a plumber put a camera down and he says it ends somewhere under the house and apparently does not extend on the other side. I have put a pipe in to lead off as much rain as I can, but the fall of the drive cobbles slopes down to this drain. Am I sitting on major disaster?

So far, I have not seen damp or cracks on the walls. 

I have summarised Jane’s note to give feedback on two points.

Firstly, in an ideal world all water should be drained away from a house, but this is never going to be achieved 100%.

Just keep it to an absolute minimum and wherever possible never have flower beds next to house walls and don’t install sprinkler systems in these beds as they will leak and eventually lead to some interior damp or subsidence. The pipe disappearing under the house worries me.

You say you have diverted the water from the downpipe. Please make this a permanent diversion and ensure nothing goes down that pipe. I am shocked your plumber says the pipe goes nowhere. He should investigate further. You do need to do a second test and I would suggest a second plumber or company like Roto Rooter.

*Please keep your questions or comments coming to or sms only to 0824463859


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