The process of building a house for most people in Barbados follows these steps.
1. The homeowner contacts a draughts-person or architect who prepares drawings and an application for Town Planning approval.
2. The homeowner presents these drawings to a building contractor who provides them with a price, which if accepted, builds what is on the drawings.
3. The homeowner occupies the house and is frustrated with the numerous and avoidable maintenance issues.
Most homeowners believe that the drawings approved by the Town Planning office contain sufficient information to allow their builder to build a safe and durable house. This is not so. The drawings approved by Town Planning contain no guidance to the contractor to build safely. Worse, most builders do not know how to build safely, and most if not all homeowners are oblivious to the fact that most of them occupy houses that will be unsafe during a major earthquake or hurricane.
I have often wondered what many of the 300,000 who died in Haiti thought as their houses, which they truly believed were well constructed, collapsed around them. I have visited Haiti several times since the earthquake and have spoken with hundreds of survivors. I understand that the dead have a different experience, but I can postulate that in addition to the fearful dread of impending harm, there was also a stunning shock and bewilderment about how their house, that cost them so much money to build, could be collapsing so dramatically.
Let me reiterate. The drawings approved by Town Planning provide no guidance whatsoever to the contractor on how to build a safe house. The homeowner is essentially placing hundreds of thousands of building materials into the hands of persons who generally do not know how to assemble them safely, despite their best efforts. I have spent over a decade actively lobbying successive Governments to facilitate the safer building of houses, but there has been little change in the quality of residential construction practices. So what is the homeowners’ solution when no-one is looking out for them?
I have decided to dedicate the next 5 years of my life certifying the competence of persons who are most likely to be responsible for supervising the construction of houses in the Caribbean. These would include experienced artisans and construction supervisors/foremen. The certification will be provided through Walbrent College, a Caribbean training institution for builders that is registered with the Barbados Accreditation Council.
If you decide to allow your contractor to build the typical unsafe and high-maintenance house for you, then you and your household will have to live with the consequences of your decision. However, if you follow these simple steps then you should be OK.
1. Ask your contractor for the name of their certified supervisor or foreman.
3. If no certified foreman is directing the construction of your house, then insist that the contractor send the person who is responsible for directing the building of your house to the 10-day certification course, which is offered in the evenings (6:00 pm to 8:00 pm). The course includes an inspection of your site during a critical building activity.
The benefits to you and future homeowners is that you can avoid the typical frustrating maintenance problems, including: leaking pipes, cracked and blown floor tiles, rising damp in walls, cracked walls, and the premature loss of the roof and walls during natural hazards.