Shopping around for a builder is always a difficult task and when it comes to a conservatory, this task is no easier. As the law has relaxed for the building of many extensions there are even greater possibilities for the cowboy builder to offer what seems like a great quote and then build you a conservatory that is not fit for purpose. Even when you obtain references first, this does not entirely safeguard you against such an outcome, because every property has its own individual context and quirks. A good, reputable builder will thoroughly investigate your property to offer you a realistic quote based on the specific circumstances of your particular property.
This is perhaps the most important element in the conservatory build process. Selecting a builder that plans to construct standard footings on ground that demands a more specific solution where the standard method is not deep or stable enough is potentially throwing your money away.
Some conservatories are constructed with footings of just 50 cm in depth. This is almost always inadvisable and the minimum you should expect is one metre. This demands more work and in some circumstances, near trees for example, the digging can be very time-consuming and so expensive work for the builder. Avoiding deep digging, even when it is necessary, is a simple way to drive down a quote and make it attractive to the customer, but as we all know, building on poor foundations is asking for trouble.
A builder providing you with a quote must have first inspected the ground on which the conservatory is to be built, if they have not done this then you are putting yourself at risk if you accept their quote. It might be cheaper, but they have no idea what they are facing and this might mean the quote will become unrealistic if they subsequently find problems or they will simply go ahead regardless with a seriously sub-standard build.
In some circumstances where the ground is found to be abnormal, ‘piling’ solutions will have to be employed. Piling is a method of driving steel or concrete deep into the ground, a little like drilling through plaster to brickwork to provide a strong support. Piling will add to the cost, but if the ground is still unstable at a depth of one metre then it is essential to pile drive to a stronger, more stable depth.
The Absence of Control
Many conservatories are built now without planning permission and this makes the process cheaper, but it also adds risk. Removing the planning department from the process removes an element of control. The council is so often seen as an unwelcome participant obsessed with health and safety, yet it is worth remembering that building control exists to protect people from sub-standard and dangerous building practices.
Even if your conservatory does not require planning permission it is important that your choice of builder demonstrate that they conform to building regulations and control standards without you needing to ask them.
One requirement for a conservatory build where no planning permission is needed is that the existing outer structure of the property be left intact. One reason for this is to retain the insulation qualities of the existing home, in terms of its windows, walls, doors, roof and floor. Yet it is inevitable that if the conservatory is used on a daily basis, it will be treated as part of the home, with the doors left open. In this case the insulation qualities are still lost particularly at night and the home is then only as warm as the conservatory. A good builder will recognise this and offers you high-quality insulation materials for the conservatory build, ensuring that you can use it as part of your home and not lose heat. As energy prices continue to rise steeply, this becomes more important every autumn and winter.
When obtaining a quote for any building work, it is best to obtain at least three. Ask questions and as you go through the quoting process you will arm yourself with valuable information. Watch the builder as they inspect the ground and make sure that each quote addresses the specific conditions of your property.