before you build

Owner Builder – Important tips

  • Creation Date: Tuesday, 14 May 2019

 03 April 2019

As an owner-builder all aspects of project managing the job fall on your shoulders.  Here are some important tips to print out and pin up on your project storyboard. 

Read them every day.

  • • Get a proper contract in place, better still, get a Quantity surveyor to prepare a bill of quantities. This ensures that you get comparable quotes.
  • • Be on site as much as possible. A present owner ensures a decent/cost-effective building.
  • • Invest in a good quality spirit level (check before you buy for accuracy), builder's square and four-pound hammer. AND USE THEM - OFTEN!!!! If a wall is not level/plumb, use the hammer. Don’t play around, knock it down! Same goes for the square. Remember it is your money, you can demand that everything is plumb/level/square. You usually just have to knock two or three walls down and word will spread: Don’t try to do a dodgy job – it gets broken down.
  • • Sand and cement should be mixed dry BEFORE any water is added. The mix should be a constant/uniform(looking the same in colour) before any water is added. This is also a SABS requirement.
  • • Mortar/dagga should not be mixed in too big batches, as this will lay for too long before being used. The drying of cement is a chemical process, not a drying action 'per se'. The moment cement and water mixes, the process starts and is irreversible.
  • • NO leftover cement is to be used the next day!
  • • Keep the concrete damp after it has been poured. Yes, even over the weekend. Will not crack and will set properly if it is sprayed down +-2-3 times during the first two to three weeks.
  • • Bricks should be watered down before building. This is actually a SABS requirement. This will ensure that the moisture from the mortar is not absorbed into the bricks, which will then crack/be weaker.
  • • All pipes/conduit should be chased (cut) into the walls before plastering. If left until after plastering, the plaster will have to be fixed again, but it will never be matched to the original plaster.
  • • TEST the water pipes before plastering. A good idea is to keep the pies under pressure at all times. When someone knocks/drill a hole into your pipe, you will immediately know about it, it can’t be hidden by a bit of plaster, etc.
  • • If possible at all, install geyser(s) on an outside wall as this makes future maintenance much easier. Make sure the installer is a qualified plumber and has done some training in respect of geyser fitment, e.g. Kwikot Benchmark training. This means that he/she will know that the water supply to the geyser has to be in at least 20mm diameter pipe, two 22mm vacuum breakers, safety valve to be pointed downwards, a METALLIC pipe(in22mm) runs from the safety valve to the OUTSIDE of your house, not into the compulsory drip tray, which also has to be piped to the outside of your house. And lastly a pressure reducing valve, aka Masterflow, Kwikot Highflow, etc.
  • • Get the drain approved by the building inspector before it is backfilled. The drain has to laid by a qualified plumber, who usually has to be present when the inspector comes around.

In general, if you don’t feel happy/comfortable with anything, ask for it to be rectified to your satisfaction.


Remember the builder works with mostly unschooled labour. Therefore the way you see things, the builder will see it in a different way and the labourers, well, mostly, see nothing!

Information source & author:

Thabo Grobler