If you're thinking of taking time off to manage your own project, the best bit of background research is to learn as much about the work of the specialist trades as possible. You need to understand the methods and materials used by each trade so that you can pick up any problems at an early stage. Here's a basic guide to who does what on site.
By Mark Ramuz
Groundworkers often work in gangs run by a foreman. They will do the hardest physical work on a site - such as the digging out of the ground for the foundations. They will also be the group to call on for the drainage channels, trenches for utility supply pipes/wires and the ground preparation for hard landscaping and driveways. It sounds basic, but it's essential that the foundations be within specified tolerances for the building method used. Groundworkers will be experienced in working with their foreman to ensure that this is the case.
The level of foundation work carried out by groundwork teams will vary from firm to firm. Some will only pour the concrete for the wall trenches or a slab foundation. Others will also lay the blockwork up to the damp proof course, ready for the bricklayers to start work.
On the majority of UK homes, the brickie follows hot on the heels of the groundworks team. If you're building with SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) or a timber frame, the shell of the building will be put up first and then the brickie will clad the exterior with brick. On a block and brickwork building, their role is to build up to roof level, forming the window and door openings and working with the other trades to form any recesses or holes needed for supply pipes, drainage and steel beams.
If your groundwork team only poured the concrete foundation, the bricklayers will also have to build up the below-ground blockwork and ensure it's straight and level for the rest of the brick and block. They will work with the carpenter if you're fitting timber beams to support the floor levels, as these will need to be fitted into the walls as they go up. Although the bulk of their role involves the property walls, you may need to call them back at later stages of the build to add garden walling, brick fireplaces and other decorative features.
Who fits the windows and doors can be a grey area. Check with your bricklayer to see if he needs the window and door frames on site at the beginning of his work so that they are built in as he works. Sometimes complete window units are fitted afterwards, either by the carpenter or a firm that supplies and installs products.
As timber frame building begins to gain ground on brick, the role of a good carpenter is becoming more important on many sites. The carpentry team will be responsible for the building of suspended timber floors and either the installation of factory-made roof trusses or constructing a hand-cut roof-frame. They will work with the bricklayer on the installation of the doors and windows. Once the house is watertight, the carpenter will construct timber stud wall frames and complete the rest of what's called the first fix work. This is the larger scale timber installation needed to make a house, and includes the staircase and window boards, as well as the flooring and internal wall studs.
Try and choose your carpenter though recommendation, as they will often be the tradesperson who is on site for the longest period. Also, some slightly rough blockwork will be hidden when the house is finished, but badly fitted doors and windows will always be noticeable. As with all the trades, make sure you specify exactly what you want before work begins. Do you want the carpenter to install the kitchen? Do you need help with the decorative stages such as fitted wardrobes or a deck? Put it all in writing at the outset. Often, small jobs will need a mix of trades. For example, a carpenter will make the joints in a worktop and cut the recesses, but the plumber may wish to fit the sink unit themselves so that they can work on the exposed pipes.
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