By the time the builder arrives on site, you should already have your contract running smoothly for you.

Getting off to a shaky start because you didn’t specify good site preliminaries can set a tone of contractual adversity throughout the remainder of the contract.

Most jobs should have a survey plan and soils test report done as part of documentation, to be used for information for tenderers and the builder. These packets of information are classed as site information. It needs to be specified that if there is any difference between site conditions and site information, the site conditions take precedence. Of course, tenderers can’t be expected to check all this information against the site, but at least a directive is in place in the event of a discrepancy, and most people can work with that.

It should be specified that the builder engages an independent surveyor to set out the site and building work. This work requires specialist skills usually beyond the capacity of the builder to do on their own. The surveyor can also check building verticality and heights as the building progresses. The relatively small cost of the surveyor can save a lot of problems later if building work is misplaced, especially for things like retaining walls and fences encroaching onto neighboring properties or the building height exceeding what is permitted in a development approval.

Pre-work dilapidation records, to be produced by the builder, can also be badly handled. Many specifications have it that the architect, builder and respective property owners meet on site to agree upon the condition of adjacent properties and on-site remaining fixtures so that any damage that is attributable to the builder will be fixed by them. This sort of meeting is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to arrange, and the whole process is very onerous. To avoid all this hassle, simply specify that the builder is to submit a record of existing pre-work conditions, and if there is any later question of damage to existing things, the builder is to fix it if that record cannot prove otherwise.

Builder access to adjoining properties is another area which can cause problems if not specified correctly. This access can only be permitted with the adjoining property owners written consent, and the builder is to provide the adjoining property owner with indemnity from any damages claims caused by the builders access. The truth is, the designer should eliminate, or at least keep to an absolute minimum, the need for this access in the first place. All it takes is for an adjoining property owner to say “no” and you’re in trouble.

Another site consideration may involve an owner who occupies the site during construction, as would be the case when work on part of an existing large building or complex of buildings is necessary. The owner needs access, including emergency services access and emergency occupant egress, and all these different types of access need to be safely provided by the builder with minimal disruption. All of this needs to be specified.

How the builder deals with general types of disruption to the occupant and adjoining property owners also needs to be covered. Control of dust, noise and odour has to be a contractual obligation. Construction traffic access and construction storage areas also may need to be documented.

Temporary facilities should be specified, including the builder being responsible for temporary power and water. One thing which can cause trouble in extensions or refurbishments is not specifying that the builder provide their own power and water supply, connected and metered in their name. If this is not done and the existing power and water supply connected in the owner’s name is used by the builder, the owner can be surprised and compromised financially by big power and water bills. Also, if the owner’s power is used and there is an electrical accident, the owner may bear legal responsibility.

Poor minor earthworks documentation can cause conflict. How on-site top soil is dealt with is one such issue. Is it to be removed off-site or reused? Also, getting tenderers to present separate normal ground and rock excavation and removal rates for when excavation extra to that documented is necessary. Additionally, what is the builder to do when things of a forensic, archeological or paleontological nature are uncovered?

Many of the things mentioned are not big things, but if they are not documented properly, arguments and disputes about who is to pay for them will result. Even if you are lucky and no contract price variation results, you will have a builder who has been made hostile from the outset, and a client who is unhappy that things have not gone smoothly from the start.

Check that your master specification has these issues dealt with. If you are going to choose one of the three masters available on the market (ArchiAssist, Natspec and Specpack), do the same. The last thing you want is to be fighting with the builder first up.