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THE BUILDING PROCESS
PROFESSIONALS

  • An Introduction to Professional Services
  • The Architect
  • The Engineer
  • The Building Designer
  • The Quantity Surveyor
  • The Cost Estimator
  • The Project Manager
  • The Building Contractor
  • Insurance

An Introduction to Professional Services

While there can be no substitute for experience, the ultimate definition of a ‘professional’ is someone registered with a body whose existence is aimed at offering protection to the public through statutory control. A notable tendency in the residential building industry is that more and more clients are attempting to ‘owner-build’ their new homes. The availability of specialist sub-contractors, covering most aspects of building a new home, is making the role of ‘owner-builder/project manager’ more viable. Changes in the residential building market have resulted in an extremely competitive industry, saturated with sub-contractors offering extremely attractive deals to the ‘untrained eye’. In short, the residential building industry is full of ‘fly-by-night, bakkie builders’ whose aim is to undercut all other quotes and then to make money by compromising quality.


The old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ seems more appropriate now than ever before. One’s best protection in this high-risk market is to employ the services of a professional. For most, the investment in a home is the biggest financial commitment one will ever make. Ensure that the best value for money is achieved by utilising at least one ‘professional’ on the list of consultants for the building project. While there can be no substitute for experience, the ultimate definition of a ‘professional’ is someone registered with a body whose existence is aimed at offering protection to the public through statutory control. Professionals are bound by a code of ethics, enforceable by law. There are many professionals involved in a building project. From the architect/designer, right down to the interior decorator. It is vital to check references, call up past clients and view completed projects (where applicable) before entering into an agreement. This section outlines various professionals involved in the industry.


The Architect

A registered architect is the highest qualified person who can be utilised on a building project. Although, in the domestic building industry most homes are designed by building designers – most of whom are qualified to undertake the design of domestic structures, up to 1500m2 and three story commercial buildings. There are major differences between the functions of an architect versus the functions of a draftsman.

Enough time must be allowed for appointing and briefing an architect as it lays the foundation for the eventual success of the project. This serves to eliminate misunderstandings about principles between the client and the architect and sets the pattern for further co-operation between both parties.

The client’s initial task is to inform the architect of his requirements with respect to:

  • the size of the structure
  • how many individual units will make up the structure (e.g. bathrooms, bedrooms etc.)
  • the type of structure (timber frame, face brick, plaster)
  • additional features required (skylights, swimming pools, water features)
  • project budget

INTERPRETATION OF THE BRIEF

The architect interprets the initial brief - to identify and weigh all factors that will constitute the makeup of the structure. This would involve determining site restrictions, feasibility and practicality. The architect then reports his findings to the client by way of a concise document, which involves all aspects of the project as perceived by himself and his findings. This allows the client to decide whether the architect should proceed to the design of the project or to change the brief.

DESIGN CONCEPT

The first task in consultation with the client is to adjust and expand on the outline brief on the basis of the report and include any comments the client may have. A sketch design would then commence, laying out the brief in visual form. Continuity of presentation to the client is essential to avoid repetition and misunderstanding. Design, technical documentation and approval.

Upon acceptance of the sketch plan in theory, the client will then instruct the architect with a final design proposal. It may be found at this stage that the original brief differs greatly from the current brief due to concepts and ideas visualised during the planning process. Information that the architect imparts can greatly transpose the original brief to a more effective and artistic one.

A final specification must be agreed upon and thereafter only minor deviations should be entertained as cost estimates, programme feasibility and other factors may be jeopardised.

The architect will then crystallise the design in as much detail as possible. Any information that is necessary to achieve this objective is collected, analysed and collated. Specialised items such as electrical or mechanical installations, special windows or doors or other specialised components are obtained from specialist firms. This allows the architect to prepare an elemental estimate of costs, which is reconciled with original costs quoted. Drawings and other documents are prepared in accordance with the requirements of the relative authorities.

Results of the design work are then submitted to the client and include:

  • the form and appearance of the building
  • structural design of the building
  • standard finishes
  • expected performance of the building with respect to physical well-being, upkeep and durability
  • recommendations on tenders
  • elemental cost analysis
  • programme for the erection of the building.

Upon acceptance by the client, the documents are then submitted to the relevant Local Authority for approval.

CONTRACT ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION

It is essential that all the following tasks are fully documented and performed timeously. All instructions should be issued via the architect to the teams contracted to site, avoiding delays and unclear instructions, which can lead to claims and unpleasantness.

The architect, under the client’s instruction, calls for tenders. The method for obtaining tenders must meet the approval of the client. He must be made aware of the importance of finding a contractor whose organisation is suitable for the work.

On receipt of the tenders, the architect will evaluate their content and report his findings to the client, with his recommendations. He will then inform the successful tenderer on behalf of the client.

A legally binding contract is then signed between the contractor and the client, the contents of which are vetted by the architect. Involving himself in every step of the project allows the architect to monitor cost control and progress on behalf of his client. His tasks therefore follow the procedure below:

  • issuing tender documents
  • reporting on tenders received and making recommendations
  • preparing the contract documents for signing
  • preparing sub-contract documents and awarding sub- contracts
  • approving sub-contract drawings and samples
  • supervising the site regularly and preparing supervision reports
  • attending site meetings
  • monitoring the progress against the proposed construction programme
  • valuing work in progress
  • issuing interim certificates
  • issuing instructions and additional drawings where necessary
  • determining hand-over procedures
  • adjudicating claims by the contractor
  • arranging for the making good of defects after the retention period
  • preparing and issuing the final account

The project is wound up with the issue of final certificates, for payment by the client, as well as payment of the remaining professional fees.

The Building Designer

The majority of prospective homeowners are under the misconception that employing professionals is only for the wealthy. This could not be further from the truth, and yet, vast sums of money continue to be spent on badly designed homes.

Badly designed buildings can create astronomical hidden costs and become poor investments. By not utilising the skills of a trained professional from the beginning, a dream home will quickly turn into a nightmare. For example, a roof structure makes up 20% of the building cost and if inexpertly designed, could double in cost. The functionality and aesthetics of the building must be taken into consideration, as well as budget constraints. In selecting a designer, it is of utmost importance to establish a comfortable working relationship, ensuring that the design of a home is a team effort. Before selecting a designer, one should view completed projects and speak to various clients for feedback.

The basic tasks of the building designer can be broken down as follows:

PREPARATION

Upon taking an initial brief, the building designer will produce a set of sketch plans, which should conform to the following criteria:

  • The house must be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical to live in
  • The design must fit comfortably on the proposed stand
  • The design must be positioned in such a way that it benefits from the elements that surround it rather than be hindered by them
  • The budget must be strictly adhered to.

Budgeting is an extremely important step to the final outcome and success of a project. Over-designing at the onset can be extremely disappointing when quotes or the bill of quantities state that the project is wildly out of reach of the proposed budget. This ultimately leads to an additional expense and time delays whilst the designer redraws the project. Most project costs can be established as early as sketch level allowing the client to elaborate on or reduce the design.

WORKING DRAWINGS

Once a design has been settled upon, the designer may now commence with full working drawings. At this stage, the client will assist the designer by specifying what types of finishes will be required and these will be included on the working drawings. Itemising even the smallest and most insignificant item will reduce the margin of error when construction begins. The designer will collate this information into a finishing schedule, and where specific items cannot be finalised, a reasonable budget for these items will be allowed. Final working drawings are extremely detailed and show elevations of the building from the north, south, east and west. Drawings will include sections and roof layouts, as well as a detailed floor plan with electrical and plumbing layouts. Research shows that less than 30% of the resources required are on the average drawing. A professional should provide a comprehensive set of working drawings to ensure that the contractor does not misinterpret plans.

BUILDING COSTS RELATED TO DESIGN

A badly designed building will generally cost more money than initially envisaged. If design elements are not thought through carefully during the design process, the building will almost certainly be faced with unforeseen problems. These problems cost money. Square metre building rates are the biggest myth in the building industry. No two structures can possibly be identical; it is therefore obvious that a general square metre building rate cannot be assumed. There are examples of homes equivalent in size that vary in cost by two hundred percent. There are four major areas in construction that one must take into account when considering building costs. These are listed below.

SITE ELEMENTS

Various site conditions may affect the cost of building. The first consideration is always the slope or gradient of the site. Visually, a site always seems more level than it actually is. A variance of only one metre across a two hundred square metre house (assuming a length of 20 metres) would increase the brick quantity by approximately ten thousand bricks. If one considers the price of the bricks, mortar and labour, this could amount to nearly R7,000-00. In terms of building regulations, the height of the foundation brickwork may also require that the thickness of the wall be increased; amounting to more cost. Sites with very steep gradients usually require retaining walls, which are extremely expensive, particularly when structural reinforced concrete is required. Retaining walls also require vertical damp-proofing and agricultural drains.

Natural obstructions such as trees and rocks cost money in terms of removal or incorporating them into the design. The roots of a large tree may require excavation of up to three cubic metres. Rocks are usually a lot bigger than they seem on the surface. The perception about building a house on a rock does not usually work in practice. If a structure is bridged across any rock, an engineer will be required to design specific foundations.

Unexpected obstructions can also cost money if not identified during design. These obstructions would include electrical poles, fire hydrants, storm water drains and trees planted on the pavement. An electrical pole blocking a proposed driveway could be a costly exercise to remedy.

FOUNDATION ELEMENTS

As mentioned above, the gradient of a building site will affect the cost of the foundations. There are however, other factors that may influence costs. Poor soil conditions may require engineered foundations. A 250 square metre home built in Gauteng in 1997 incurred an additional cost of R70,000-00 due to soil conditions and the necessity to use concrete piling. It is good practice to have the soil conditions tested by a geotechnical engineer before design and, if possible, before even buying the stand. Complicated structures with split-levels or columns will always increase the foundation cost, even if built on a level site.

SUPERSTRUCTURE ELEMENTS

These elements are contained in the structure between the foundation and roof, the major element being the walls. There are many elements that will influence the cost of the superstructure. Unlike the foundations there are doors, windows and types of materials utilised that present numerous variables when considering costs.

SINGLE STOREY VS DOUBLE STOREY

There are significant cost differences for a single storey dwelling and a double storey dwelling.

The Engineer

The traditional role of a consulting civil/structural engineer in the residential building industry appears to be a thing of the past. While it is true that this sector of the building industry has never properly utilised the services of an engineer, the tendency these days is that the sub-contractor who offers a turnkey package of design and supply of suspended concrete slabs, generally accepts the responsibilities of the engineer. The client is therefore, and understandably so, reluctant to appoint an independent Consulting Engineer, at an additional cost to the project.

The Consulting Engineer will offer professional advice on the following aspects of a typical residential development:

  • An overview of the preliminary designs, offering guidance as to the economies of the ‘structural system’. These considerations are normally discussed with the architect/designer and client.
  • An evaluation of the founding conditions on the identified site, so that appropriate foundation design is taken into account at the planning stage. The services of a geotechnical engineer / engineering geologist are often utilised in this regard.

The design and detailing of the final ‘structural system’ of the residence. This will include the following:

  • Foundation design where ground conditions render conventional strip foundations inappropriate;
  • The design of the structural elements. In particular this refers to multi-storey dwellings where the design of reinforced concrete slabs, columns and beams are typically required. Alternative designs in structural steelwork or timber are also an option;
  • The design or general overview of external services such as storm-water management, roads (pavements), etc;
  • The supervision of all of the above mentioned aspects of work. During the supervision of the engineering related works, advice on other aspects of building can also be given.

The fee a Consulting Engineer will charge is directly related to the work and responsibility he will undertake. Ultimately, the client decides on the role of the engineer.

The experience of building a dream home can be extremely rewarding. Whatever course of action one chooses to follow, be it the old conventional method of appointing a contractor for the full assignment, or the more challenging and risky method of owner-building, be sure to utilise the sound advice of a professional. A Consulting Engineer can offer advice on all methods of construction and is not therefore married to a particular product or method. Don’t be fooled by the contractor offering a cost saving if a particular kind of suspended slab system is used. The advantages and disadvantages of all methods of construction must be explained to the client from an unbiased point of view, so that the client can make decisions according to his expectations.

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The Quantity Surveyor

WHAT IS A QUANTITY SURVEYOR?

Quantity surveyors are the financial consultants of the construction industry whose training and experience qualify them to advise on cost and contractual arrangements and to prepare contract documents. They act in liaison with architects, consulting engineers and contractors to safeguard the client’s interest. They are independent experts who operate in a specialised area of the construction industry. The title quantity surveyor was reserved under the Quantity Surveyors’ Act of 1970 for exclusive use by those who had obtained the necessary qualifications and experience prescribed under the Act. In terms of it, such persons must register with the South African Council for Quantity Surveyors before they may offer their service as consultants to the public. Quantity surveyors are required to comply with a strict code of professional conduct which includes responsibility to their employers or clients and to their profession having full regard to the public interest, conducting themselves so as to uphold the dignity and reputation of the profession and discharging their duties to their employers and clients in an efficient and competent manner with complete fidelity and without undue delay.

THE RANGE OF SERVICES OFFERED BY QUANTITY SURVEYORS

Firms generally offer a wide spectrum of services to their clients but naturally tend to gain experience or concentrate their services in specific fields. Before commissioning the services of quantity surveyors, prospective clients are advised to investigate the particular experience and the services in which they specialise.

The services they offer could be:

  • Estimating and cost advice
  • Estimates and cost advice during all stages of the development of a project are essential if the correct decisions with full awareness of their financial implications are to be made. Sophisticated techniques, extensive cost data banks and an intimate knowledge of building and construction economics enable quantity surveyors to provide reliable cost advice.

COST PLANNING

Clients want to know that they are receiving value for money, not only with regard to the capital cost but also in respect of the running and maintenance cost of a project. Cost planning enables decisions on various design alternatives to be made with actual costs being constantly monitored against original budgets.

PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT ADVICE

A building should meet the functional dimensional and technological requirements for which it was designed, should be aesthetically pleasing and meet the cost limits of the client’s budget. A quantity surveyor is able to provide pre-design feasibility studies involving technical and/or economic investigations thereby enabling a client to decide whether, and in what form, to proceed.

HISTORY OF QUANTITY SURVEYING

The quantity surveyor emerged in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century, although the firm of henry Cooper and Sons of Reading was established as early as 1785. Prior to the first recorded usage of the term “quantity surveyor” in 1859, the terms “measurer”, “custom surveyor” or “surveyor” were used.

In those early days the quantity surveyor acted for the master tradesmen, measuring the work after completion and frequently submitting partisan Final Accounts to the building owner. As a direct result of these activities it increasingly became the practice of building owners to have work executed under contract and to call for tenders before any work was undertaken. A procedure therefore developed whereby building owners would approach an architect to design a building. Drawings and specifications were distributed to selected master builders, who would then submit tenders for the total price rather than a collection of prices from master tradesmen.

The task of arriving at an accurate estimate of cost or tender can be carried out in only one way - that of measuring the quantities of all materials and labour necessary to complete the work, i.e. preparing bills of quantities. As each builder had to prepare his own bills of quantities for each project, they realised that it would be more economical for them as a group to employ one surveyor to measure quantities for them all. They would thus share the cost of the surveyor, obtain an identical Bill of Quantities which ensured that they would all be tendering on the same basis.

The building owner subsequently realised that it would be to his personal advantage to appoint and pay the fees of the quantity surveyor.

Thus the independent professional quantity surveyor gained consultant status.

ADVICE ON TENDERING PROCEDURES AND CONTRACTUAL ARRANGEMENT

The choice of an appropriate form of contract for any given project will depend on the nature of the project, the circumstances under which the work is to be carried out and the particular needs of the client. Quantity surveyors, in collaboration with architects are able to advise their clients on the most advantageous procurement methods available, including: Contracts incorporating bills of quantities, provisional bills of quantities and schedules of rates.

Negotiated, lump-sum, managed and cost plus contracts, Package deals, turnkey offers, etc.

While Bills of Quantities are generally regarded as the most economical and best method of obtaining a competitive price, the alternative methods and types of tender documentation available need to be carefully examined in consultation with the quantity surveyor, architect, etc. before a final decision is made. Financial control over contracts.

  • Valuation of work in progress
  • Cash flow budgets
  • Final account in respect of the contract

The quantity surveyor’s duty is essentially one of cost control. They measure and value work in progress, determine the value of variations ordered by the architect or engineer and ensure that a fair and equitable settlement of the cost of the project is reached in accordance with the contract conditions. In conjunction with the architect and other consultants the quantity surveyor will ensure that the financial provisions of the contract are properly interpreted and applied.

ACT IN DISPUTES, ETC.

Quantity surveyors possess knowledge and expertise in the fields of costs and contracts which equip them to prepare valuations for fire insurance, to advise in the settlement of insurance claims and to be called as expert witnesses or act as arbitrators in any court or arbitration on building disputes.

MATERIAL LIST AND VALUES

Quantity surveying services in respect of civil, mechanical, and electrical work
Property economics
Project management
Fast track construction

REMUNERATION

Quantity surveyors are remunerated according to a recommended scale of fees, set out in the Tariff of Professional Charges published by the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors.

Fees are generally based on a percentage of the value of the work handled, varying in accordance with the type of work done or the scope of services rendered.


The Cost Estimator

The cost estimator can be seen as a complement to the quantity surveyor. The cost estimator relates prices and costs to resources and items measured by the quantity surveyor. Generally, quantity surveyors focus more on the formal market and less so on the domestic market. The quantity surveyor deals more with ‘items’ as opposed to ‘resources’, for example:

  • a quantity surveyor measures a given structure in square metres of brickwork
  • a cost estimator measures a given structure at resource level (bricks, sand, cement, etc) and prices them.

Reports generated by cost estimators can be likened to Bills of Quantities or Bill of Material, although they go one step further by applying an estimated price or cost to that specific item. The independent cost estimator has, in recent years, become an acceptable means to establishing costs of domestic and commercial projects.

Like the quantity surveyor, the cost estimator requires a set of working drawings to measure off, and for a single wall will quote numbers of bricks, cement, sand, stone and other related resources and price them. This method of pricing a structure can be considered as one of the more accurate, and with the assistance of computer technology, can produce information quickly, consistently and accurately.

A badly designed building will generally cost more money than initially envisaged. If design elements are not thought through carefully during the design process, the building will almost certainly be faced with unforeseen problems. These problems cost money. Square metre building rates are the biggest myth in the building industry. No two structures can possibly be identical; it is therefore obvious that a general square metre building rate cannot be assumed. There are examples of homes equivalent in size that vary in cost by two hundred percent. There are four major areas in construction that one must take into account when considering building costs. These are listed below.

SITE ELEMENTS

Various site conditions may affect the cost of building. The first consideration is always the slope or gradient of the site. Visually, a site always seems more level than it actually is. A variance of only one metre across a two hundred square metre house (assuming a length of 20 metres) would increase the brick quantity by approximately ten thousand bricks. If one considers the price of the bricks, mortar and labour, this could amount to nearly R7,000-00. In terms of building regulations, the height of the foundation brickwork may also require that the thickness of the wall be increased; amounting to more cost. Sites with very steep gradients usually require retaining walls, which are extremely expensive, particularly when structural reinforced concrete is required. Retaining walls also require vertical damp-proofing and agricultural drains.

Natural obstructions such as trees and rocks cost money in terms of removal or incorporating them into the design. The roots of a large tree may require excavation of up to three cubic metres. Rocks are usually a lot bigger than they seem on the surface.

The perception about building a house on a rock does not usually work in practice. If a structure is bridged across any rock, an engineer will be required to design specific foundations.

Unexpected obstructions can also cost money if not identified during design. These obstructions would include electrical poles, fire hydrants, storm water drains and trees planted on the pavement. An electrical pole blocking a proposed driveway could be a costly exercise to remedy.

FOUNDATION ELEMENTS

As mentioned above, the gradient of a building site will affect the cost of the foundations. There are however, other factors that may influence costs. Poor soil conditions may require engineered foundations. A 250 square metre home built in Gauteng in 1997 incurred an additional cost of R70,000-00 due to soil conditions and the necessity to use concrete piling. It is good practice to have the to have the soil conditions tested by a geotechnical engineer before design and, if possible, before even buying the stand. Complicated structures with split-levels or columns will always increase the foundation cost, even if built on a level site.

SUPERSTRUCTURE ELEMENTS

These elements are contained in the structure between the foundation and roof, the major element being the walls. There are many elements that will influence the cost of the superstructure. Unlike the foundations there are doors, windows and types of materials utilised that present numerous variables when considering costs. Presented below are a number of costing models to demonstrate how costs vary depending on the elements used in construction.

SINGLE STOREY VS DOUBLE STOREY

Costing models show the difference in cost for a single storey dwelling and a double storey dwelling. Basic models show that a double storey structure costs 4% more than a single storey structure. In practice, very few double storey dwellings are built with equal floor area on the ground and first floor. The average is closer to 60% ground floor area and 40% first floor area. In this case, a double storey dwelling would cost less than 4% more. When the excluded common elements are included, the percentage difference drops even more. It is therefore safe to assume that the difference in cost between a double storey and single storey is negligible.

TYPES OF WALLS AND RELATED COSTS

Depending on slopes and other issues thicker walls may have to be built. The thicker the wall the more it will cost.

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The Project Manager

Project managers have been involved in various industries for decades. The responsibilities of a project manager will vary between industries and projects. Within the formal sector of the construction industry, and on larger building projects, the responsibilities of project managers are fairly well defined. Responsibilities within the less formal and domestic industry vary radically and the term Project Manager generally carries misconceptions.

The significant difference between a building contractor and a project manager is:

  • a building contractor carries the risks involved in a building project.
  • a project manager is employed as an overseer and the employer would carry all the risks.

This fundamental difference can easily be overlooked and misunderstood and the result, due to a lack of information, could drop both the project manager and employer into hot water.

Within the domestic building industry (homeowners, developers and even contractors) the use of project managers is widespread. There is a perceived saving of paying management fees rather than a fixed contract price and a certain flexibility is enjoyed.

The project manager’s fees can vary greatly and are usually higher on smaller projects. Fees can be a percentage of predetermined cost and fixed upfront, or a percentage of the final project cost.

Activities and responsibilities of the project manager and employer should be carefully considered and contained in a written agreement.

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The Building Contractor

Building contractors range from one man businesses to large national organisations.

The smaller contractor takes on the challenges of a highly complex industry with minimal resources. The contractor ultimately wears the hat of the salesman, quantity surveyor, accountant, buyer and project manager. Very little professional assistance has been used by smaller contractors in the past and in particular, assistance with pricing a project accurately. The success or failure of a contractor depends largely on his ability to quote profitably and work efficiently.

Bearing in mind that a contractor will quote a fixed contract price, which generally includes materials and labour, the margin for error is great. It is human nature to push for a bargain and the result is generally that one party will lose. The ultimate scenario is where the homeowner is paying a fair price, and the contractor is making a fair profit. The onus falls on the homeowner to check the market rates with respect to labour and materials.

Contractors generally charge a percentage of the total project cost and yet again, these percentages can vary radically. This obviously affects the final quotes tendered by contractors.

If a contractor has not allowed for overheads in the contract cost, a small percentage markup is usually applied to the contract price after the profit mark up.

The profit is dependent on market conditions, complexity of the work and the risk involved, to name a few. The contractor should concentrate more on establishing an accurate cost and then applying what he feels is a reasonable profit.

Insurance

PROTECTION AGAINST LEGAL COST RISK

The construction industry is fraught with claims, disputes and high financial risks. Creation of a dispute is easy! It is the resolution that is time consuming and costly. CPS (Construction Protection Services) is aimed at minimising the financial consequences of the dispute situation, whether disputes are settled through mediation, arbitration or the courts.

WHO WILL IT COVER?

All parties who are involved in the contracting industry can be covered. A typical construction project is between the Employer, Main Contractor, Sub-Contractors and the whole range of material and service suppliers. Disputes can occur in any one of these contracts.

WHAT IS THE PROTECTION PACKAGE?

  • A unique combination of consultancy and insurance aimed at minimising risk.
  • Insurance cover for the costs of the employment of consultants and the legal team in pursuing or defending actions arising from contractual difficulties.
  • Analysis of claims and/or disputes to identify resolution options.
  • An on-line telephone advisory service.
  • Minimising the cost impact if the dispute situation persists.

WHAT TYPES OF PROBLEMS ARE COVERED?

  • Delays
  • Extensions of time
  • Loss of productivity
  • Acceleration
  • Penalties
  • Set-offs
  • Variations
  • Performance & retention
  • Defective workmanship

In fact, almost all disputes except those which fall under a PI policy.
 
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