Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Site clearing,leveling and filling

Once the Architect mark four boundaries of the place where your house will come up,you will have to clear that space by removing or cutting down trees or any other items that may exist in the space.

While cutting down trees make sure that you remove tree routes also.Removing root of the tree later will be difficult after cutting down top above soil portion of the trees.

It is better not to do any leveling or filling of the space before  foundation work except in case of piling foundation where you will require a clear level filled space.In the case of rubble foundation,you can do the filling after foundation rubble work is done.

After the site is cleared your architect will have to do set out of the building at site.In some cases Architect may issue a Set out plan of the house and work in charge may do this set out work.But it will be better to do this very important step of construction in presence of the person who designed the house as he will be able to make any minor changes if required on the spot.

Set out of the plan is nothing but drawing plan of your house on the land where it comes with strings and posts.Traditionally it was called as “Kutti adi”.Central line of the brick wall is  drawn by using strings and wooden posts.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Loosing technology of our elders

There are so many specialties of construction of houses in Kerala adopted by our earlier experts of House construction.Most of these die with that expert as he never bothers to pass on the knowledge to next generation.With his death ,the technology dies.

We have heard a lot on Perumthachan.There are  exceptionally great work of Architecture used in temple construction at Uliyannoor  near Alwaye where Perumthachan used to live.Whatever extra ordinary capabilities Perumthachan had in designing and building is not available in any books and nobody has made an attempt to study specialties of those buildings.Similarly the technology of making tiled roof with wooden rafters which was so common in Kerala of yester years is practically lost as it is very difficult to find people who know about such roof structure work now as nobody practically do such roof work now.In one of the houses which I built about ten years back,owner of the house(An Advocate of high court of Kerala,who is no more now) insisted on having such a roof for portion of his house facing a lake at Kadavanthra in Cochin.Even though he called me to see the work in progress,even I did not bother to learn the technique from those carpenters.

There are so many special features of olden days Kerala Architecture which are simply forgotten.It will be good if some one can at least make a study of such features by visiting such old buildings and houses in Kerala.Thekkanattu Parayil house at Thycattussery near Cherthala which is about 120 years old is one of those remarkable houses using olden days Kerala architecture features.

Locating position to build house

This is again something used to be done by Asaris as a part of their secret knowledge never explained how to anyone.The so called”Sthanam Kanal” will be done by the Asari by performing so many intricate steps like telling the owner of the house to cut a tree branch from anywhere in the plot.

Owner of the house is supposed to walk towards east and cut a tree branch which has flowing fluid coming out when you cut the tree branch.Some of the owners must be knowing this and they will walk correctly and cut the correct tree branch.If they do not do like this knowingly or unknowingly then construction of house is not supposed to be auspicious.

Question of locating position of house arises only when you have more space in the land.If you have a three cents plot and after leaving free spaces as per Building rules,you do not have much options.

I have tried to enquire with these sthanam kanal experts about how they go about locating most appropriate place for house in a larger plot,nobody was willing to part with the secrets.So I searched Vasthu books about this issue.

In a larger plot,you divide the land into four equal parts.Then position your house in the North east part and in cases where north east part is not big enough to have a house,keep it as close as possible to North East.North East in any case is Easanya which is the most auspicious place of the land.So this is as simple as that and you can find out the most appropriate place for house now without having to call an Asari who will simply make lot of exhibition of words and acts before he finally put that first wood post to mark location of house without ever explaining why he chosen that place.

Again as Per Vasthu books this first “kutti adikkal”(placing wooden post to mark beginning of house construction) should be done at the most auspicious time by consulting an Astrologer.This being the first act of construction is more important than usual Stone laying ceremony which is just a function and nothing more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vasthu compliance

Almost everyone irrespective of religion and cast are now aware of importance of Vasthu in designing and building a house.Some people think of Vasthu as a superstitious belief.Vasthu is not superstition or blind belief.It is basically a science which deals with effect of polarity on human beings developed  by old sages of India.
Like many sciences developed by old Indian sages, several aspects of Vasthu are also lost especially those dealing with why certain effects happen.Such loss has happened mainly because of reluctance of our old sages to teach the knowledge they acquired till they find a student good enough for teaching.Sometimes they will never find that good student and the knowledge acquired by the sage will die with him.All science and other knowledge oceans we have are passed on to next generation through books and in normal case,next generation after studying and understanding knowledge already acquired try to improve upon that.
One area where there is no clear cut written information is  available is on House construction In Kerala.That is why I started writing these blogs using my experience in designing and building houses in Kerala.
During my years in designing and building houses,I have seen and heard the influence of Vasthu factors in the life of people living in houses.With these first hand knowledge I can tell that Vasthu as written in books are completely correct and it influences life of people.But Vasthu is one area where there are so many crooks with little or no knowledge in Vasthu but pretends to be experts in Vasthu .They emphatically tell people totally wrong ideas as vasthu factors.Most of them belong to old “Asaries”of Kerala.
As Per Vasthu there are four sections in a house.North East portion is called Eesanya.This is ideal for Pooja room and this area should be kept neat and tidy.This is the only area where there can be well for the plot.Our old asaris used to keep Kitchen in North East and some of those crooks who call themselves as experts of Vasthu insists on advising people to put Kitchen at North East which is not correct and it will give bad effects to people staying in the house.
Second zone is South east. It is called Agni kone and it is ideal for Kitchen.If you have a Bed room at South east it will give very bad effects.South West is called Nairudhi and North West is called Vayu corner.Ideal position for Bed room is at South west.In an office the Chief should sit at south west.North West can be second option for Kitchen.If you want to study Vasthu get book on Vasthu available at The Avenue  Press,25,D’Silva Road,Mylapore.Chennai-600004.Please do not simply believe all those self proclaimed experts on Vasthu who will definitely misguide you.
I had several experiences of these crooks misguiding my clients as I do not wear a Kaavi mundu and sport  a long beard to look like a Vasthu expert like these crooks.While designing house for a Marine Engineer at Edappally I have kept all rooms at Vasthu correct positions.But the owner of the house wanted to cross check with a Namboodiri who is the self proclaimed expert of Vasthu in Kerala and he get the maximum business for Vasthu consultation In Kerala.Almost everyone desirous of Vasthu compliance simply believes him and he due to his ignorance advice them wrong positions.Whatever plan of the house you take to him ,he will say that Vasthu is wrong.He has got a drawing section who will redraw the plan and will charge for redrawing the plan.Only if you redraw then only you can get money from the client.So he make money by misguiding people.
This Marine Engineer client of mine got the plan redrawn  by the Namboodiri resulting in wrong Vasthu positions.After few years he started getting wrong effects in the house and then he called another Vasthu expert who fortunately was knowledgeable on Vasthu.He told my client about wrong positions of rooms and then he called me.Fortunately I had copy of original plan with me untampered by the great Vasthu Namboodiri.So the new expert told my client that all changes made by the Namboodiri was wrong.I had several clients who go to him after getting plan from me and then he changes positions of rooms.Luckily in the recent past he made only dimension changes for a Plan I made and kept room positions as I kept.I do not know what happened to him.
Then there is this so called story of “Chuttalavu” and “Maranachuttu” talked about by our local Asaris which do not have any mention in Vasthu books.My attempts to learn this from old Asaris was not producing any effect as none of them was willing to part with the secret.Finally I got a fellow who after making me promise not to tell the secret to any one told me the great story of Marana Chuttu.I have not told anyone this secret even after years.This deals with chuttalavu or perimeter of plan of the house.Take this measurement in meters.Convert the measurement into old measurement system in Kerala.Instead of feet introduced by British people and meter introduced in India after independence,they used Kol as measurement unit.One kol is 0.72 meters.If you convert perimeter of a house into kol and divide it by a certain number, the result should not be a whole number.If it is so the owner of the house will die immediately after completing the house.This is called Maranachuttu.If it is exactly in between two numbers say something like 3.5,then the perimeter of the house is supposed to be highly auspicious.
I do not understand the logic of this.It is as good as assigning divinity to the measurement system called Kol and Angulam which cannot be true and hence this story of maranachuttu does not have any scientific basis and can only be a lie by these crooks.These local self proclaimed experts of Vasthu insists on having this safe perimeter for each room also and I do not follow these as in my opinion,this has no justifiable basis of correctness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Building Permit

When you want to construct a building anywhere in Kerala,you will have to obtain Building Permit and Approved Plan and other drawings related to that building from concerned Local authority like Corporation/Municipality/Panchayath as the case may be as per provisions of Kerala building Rules ,1998 ,subsequent amendments and related decisions/restrictions imposed  by the local authority concerned.Drawings prepared and Building Permit application will have to be signed and sealed by an Architect/licensed Engineer/Supervisor.

I will give here a few important provisions of Kerala Building Rules

1.You will have to leave minimum 3M on road facing sides of plot.

2.You will have to leave 1M and 1.2M on either sides of plot.

3.You will have to leave 1.5 M on rear side.

Building Permit is issued for three years and can be renewed after that period against specific request to that effect.

There are restrictions imposed by Coastal Restricted Zones Act of Central government on building near rivers and lakes.There are restrictions for construction near main roads and National Highways.There are specific Zones assigned by concerned local authority restricting certain type of construction in that zone.

There will also be frozen areas where construction is prevented by local authority.Due to these reasons,it is always better to get the plot checked by a professional familiar with these restrictions in the area concerned before you purchase land for construction.You can also directly cross check with concerned local authority on restrictions if any before purchase of land.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cost of constructing house

This is one area where there are many controversies and confusion.Quite a lot of  people think that there is a so called square feet cost of construction.Local contractors who does not know anything about Engineering Estimate or Quantity estimate of each item of construction had no other way to quote their price other than offering a” square feet rate” of construction.

When they give such a rate,they include some items and conveniently put some other items as extra.For some items they will put substandard or unacceptable quality as their standard offer ,knowing very well that client will not accept such items.So they will ask for extra charges for acceptable substitutes.

Even for items which forms part of basic essential structure,they will try to use substandard material,less material than what is required so that they will continue to make profit in spite of spiraling up cost of all inputs during construction..Client will not be able to understand the compromises in quality and quantity of materials used or easier working methods adopted to reduce labour cost.After all,contractor has to make profit and a sizeable profit as per his expectation.Why should he worry about quality and structural stability about which he does not know much.If at a later date as and when quality problems may crop up,he can wash his hands saying that he is not technically qualified and hence not aware of all those intricacies.

Neither the contractor nor the client has heard about structural engineering.Each steel reinforcement used in concrete has to be properly designed by a structural consultant.What actually happens in nearly 98% of house construction sites in Kerala,is that the main mason will decide what and how many steel reinforcement to be used simply based on what he has seen his earlier “asan “(teacher of work) do.If something is inconvenient he may even reduce that part.

I remember the case of putting steel bars for concreting of roof for a house at Chengannur for which I acted as consultant.After the scaffoldings were placed in position,the main mason told me that steel work will be completed in two days.Then I asked how he know about it as he has not even received drawings from me for steel reinforcement.This time it was his turn to get surprised.”What drawings?I know how to put steel bars for roof concrete”Normally client believes these words.So it is easy for him to put steel rods as he feels comfortable to work not knowing about structural requirements of steel reinforcement.You need a structural Engineer to design steel reinforcement and when such a design is used steel required will be more than what the mason was thinking of and the labour involved also will be more.Will the contractor who has taken the work for a “square feet rate” will be willing for increasing cost of material or labour?

All square feet rate contractors talk of plain work with plain sunshades,no slope roofs ,no design work etc.For all these they will charge extra.Person who construct the house might have given the work to a contractor after getting attracted by his low square feet rate.This continuous procession of extras and extra charges,compromises in quality of construction to increase profit of contractor , unknown to him are never expected by him earlier.When the work near completion if you mildly ask the owner of the house about square feet  cost of construction he will naturally say:”I some how has to complete construction.House warming date is fixed.I am borrowing money from wherever possible”

So my advice to you is simple.Do not get into this trap of square feet cost.Even flat builders never put their square feet cost in their advertisements and they add a proportional area of common spaces to all flat areas.So when you buy a flat of 800 sft and if you measure it,it will not be anywhere near 800 sft.Flat builders keep increasing their square feet rate from beginning of project till completion .As project near completion their price increases.In their case,no customer will come and check how they do construction.When I asked a flat builder about extreme poor construction quality,he said;”Who is going to see all these? Customer will come only after painting.Then everything will look good”

Then how do you arrive at cost of construction if you go with professional design,structural engineering and quality construction?

Using Engineering Estimate methods,an Engineer will be able to give you quantity for each item of construction in the structural pat of the building.Cost for these unit quantities will be correct or near correct if the same engineering agency is doing construction as they will be aware of current cost variations.An Estimate thus prepared can give you somewhat fair idea of construction cost of course variable with each passing of day as no builder or contractor is going to absorb increase in cost of material and labour.In Kerala conditions cost is going up almost everyday and only escape from this cost increase is to get your house constructed as fast as possible with or without external financial assistance.

After structure work,you have to again sit with your Architect to plan finishing work for your house considering money left with you,funds available through banks and other sources.One more Estimate will have to prepared by your consultant also considering latest trends in finishing works for the house.Here again your professional consultant will be able to guide you properly and save your money by suggesting cost effective options.

Elevation for the house

For the same plan there can be several possibilities for Elevation.When you ask an office of an Architect for an Elevation of the house,naturally the junior most person will prepare an Elevation using usual Elevation techniques.Chief Architect or the person with proven creative capability in that organisation may give general guidelines for the junior.The thumb rule in this case is simply that it should look good when presented to the client.Sometimes even works which may not be possible to do or which may be difficult or costly to do also will be included in the Elevation.As long as it looks good  for the eyes of the Client,it is fine.

Same Elevation when drawn in three dimensions with photo like qualities just like the picture at the top of this blog, will be pleasing for the client.Nether the client nor the Architect office do not bother much about practical difficulties for building like that and cost implications and other technical problems involved.In short Elevation prepared can at best be a gimmick to fool the client.

With over 200 houses directly built by me and that too most of it with excellent external appearance,I have to admit that not even one of these actual good elevations developed by me were exactly same as the Elevation I gave to the client initially(usually within a week of finalising plan).

For developing a good Elevation I need time to think and dream.I cannot give such an Elevation within a week or two.During the progress of work I think about various possibilities and then slowly I develop a good Elevation.For doing such a work,I need a client who trusts in me and give me time and freedom to develop a good Elevation as the work progresses.

I have given a desktop Elevation(Elevation prepared immediately after finalisation of plan to satisfy and impress client) to my client at Edappally who was very particular about the Elevation.Luckily as the work progressed he went out of India on assignment and I got freedom to develop a real good Elevation for the house in his absence.On coming back after his trip abroad,what he saw was impressive enough.So he did not bother to enquire about difference with original Elevation given.My clients at Kalady,Nilambur and Chengannur wanted to see completed picture of the house in advance.So I simply given them a copy of Edappally house.

At Irinjalakuda,client did not know much about house construction and so did not bother me much about Elevation.So I developed a real good Elevation which gave different appearance from different angles of view and still retains exceptionally good appearance for the building.At Vyttila,client was a Civil Engineer working in Construction industry but in Africa.Even though he pestered me a lot on giving an Elevation in the beginning,I some how convinced him to give me freedom to do Elevation slowly and he was happy about the final result.At Cherthala,just like Irinjalakuda I slowly developed a good Elevation with excellent result.At Koratty client after seeing Cherthala work,wanted me to copy it for them.

So I will not suggest you to get a desktop Elevation prepared by your Architect simply to fool you.Give time to the Architect..Let him dream enough to get you a real good External appearance for the building.At least I need that freedom if I am your architect to get you the best possible Elevation for your house.

Plan for your house

Preparing plan for your house is not  that simple.Many people think that it is so simple and insist on drawing some lines on their own and telling the Architect to draw the plan as per that sketch.For most of these people Architect is some one who draws plan of the house as directed by the client.Mostly Architect for them is some one who can draw a good Elevation using line sketch prepared by client.

A day back some one from gulf contacted me and asked for my rates for designing plan of the house.After hearing my rates he said,being a Civil Engineer,he can prepare all the drawings by himself and I only have to tell my”square feet rate” for building the house.

Any person whether he is a civil engineer or not  cannot prepare the most appropriate plan for your house.It require more than just five years study in an Engineering College.

First of all the designer should have the ability to visualise the house to be built in the land chosen like a dreamer.So the Designer, first of all should be a dreamer.In Engineering Colleges they do not teach anyone to dream.What they teach is only the craft of how to draw.Creative capability is something which is and cannot be taught anywhere.

Another person (again an Engineer) once wrote me saying that he is well versed in Auto CAD drawing and then sent me a plan of the house drawn in Auto CAD.I said if you have already finalised the plan what should I do? He said-“prepare a good Elevation  for the Plan”.In spite of being  an Engineer he thinks that Elevation is not dependent upon Plan.Finally some how I made him understand that the plan prepared by him need not necessarily be the most appropriate plan for the plot and when I finally prepared the plan after visiting the site,he could understand that any Engineer or any one trained in preparing  AutoCAD drawing cannot  make that all important plan of your house.

See what all inputs I use while preparing a plan for your house.

1.Data obtained by observing your site and surroundings

2.Kerala Building Rules

3.Your requirement details

4.Traditional Kerala Architecture features

5.Modern Architecture inputs

6.Vasthu factors

7.Structural Engineering aspects.

Most important inputs are

1.My creative capability in designing most appropriate house for you

2.Treasure of my experiences in building and designing hundreds of houses in Kerala .

In my opinion even if you take second and third consultation before finalising  plan of the house,it is worth it as Plan of the house is the most important document for your house construction.

A good Architect will be able to discuss with all family members and find out from  them what they really need or dream for the house and make them understand what all among those dreams and needs can be fulfilled in the house within the budget constraints if any.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Designing a house-Different types of houses

There are basically four type of houses in Kerala scenario.

1.Functional House

2.Status symbol house

3.Farm house

4.Luxury house

If you are having few cents of land just sufficient to build your house to meet your basic needs for a house,you will have to think in terms of a functional house.

If you want to construct your house in your native village with sufficient and more land for house construction and if you want the house to be built to establish a new identity of affluence to all those neighbors and local people who till today considered you as a small fly,you have to get a house which will speak loudly for you about your newly acquired financial status.This house can be called as a status symbol house

If you have cultivable large piece of land which can be used for agricultural use and if you simply want to have a farm house to spend your holidays and vacation once in a while ,when you come for a holiday from your job abroad,it can be called as a Farm house where  bare minimum facilities with more emphasis on comfort and convenience rather than on show is required.

Luxury house can be built in towns/cities or even in village areas when money is not your constraint.You need facilities,comforts and splendor to show off to talk of your prime position acquired in society using your hard earned money.House should have all modern facilities to talk of your affluence and to make you feel happy and comfortable about your financial achievements in life

Financial planning for house construction

How much a house will cost?Do I have the money to construct a house? These are questions which come to the mind of any person thinking of building a house

About ten years back if you had with you about Rs.6 lakhs,you could have constructed a 2000 sft house with not less than three bed rooms attached with all the usual common features like Living,dining,sit out,car porch etc.But in 2010 after about ten years you need at least Rs.30 lakhs to complete the same house.I think you will now get a feel of how much increase take place in construction cost in Kerala.

About ten years back,river sand was available freely at price which you cannot even imagine these days.Foundation of building was even filled with river sand ,those days.Now even if you are willing to pay anything ,river sand is almost impossible to get.You have to use crusher sand which nobody was even willing to use about 5 years back.One mason used to be paid Rs.100/- per day about ten years back.Today he will demand nothing less than Rs.500/-..Even then you may not get a mason.So if you plan to construct your house after five years,even with Rs.60 lakhs,you will not be able to construct 2000 sft house.

Look at land prices.About ten years back you could buy one cent of land in Kaloor at Cochin for about Rs.50,000/- Now even if you are willing to pay Rs.15 lakhs per cent you may not get the land.After five years from now unless you are a very rich person you cannot buy land in Cochin and build a house.You will have to think in terms of buying a flat only after five years.

So everyday you delay for buying land or starting construction of house is going to literally push away those dreams forever from you.So the most important golden rule is-Buy that land and start construction immediately with whatever money you have and whatever money you can get from banks as house loan.If you delay or keep the decision pending,you will never be able to construct house.I tell my clients usually to start construction even if you money for foundation only.At least that part will be over.If you do not have money to buy land,banks are willing to give loan for buying land also.Grab opportunity in front of you today.DO NOT WAIT FOR TOMORROW.

Building your dream house in Kerala-How to start

Even though all of us see several houses on our way while moving around state of Kerala,most of us never bother to study or understand how to build a house.Even when your Father constructed house where you now stay,you might have simply not bothered to worry much on how your Father went about building your house.Of course while living in the house,you might have found out many insufficiencies in the house and might have simply dubbed it as carelessness or incapability of your Father.

Building a house is not that simple.After designing nearly thousand houses and building more than 200 houses directly in Kerala state,I am still learning about house construction with every new projects.I come across problems and issues which I never faced earlier and new developments are always thought of and considered while improving on what I did earlier.

I am going to take you through steps from beginning about how one need to go about building your house