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Do you know where your water meter is?

After a week back as boss of my old construction firm, I can totally understand why everybody is tearing each other’s throats out.

It has nothing to do with bad workmanship or bad clients; it is all to do with the speed that things are supposed to happen.

There is no evidence of piping in the cellar roof below so it is not clear where the supply and waste pipes run. Credit: sxc.hu

In this electronic age a financial adviser can move millions at the touch of a computer button, a dentist can sculpt your new crown with a laser, but the builder has to find a truck driver who isn’t on strike to collect bricks from a supplier who wants cash up front, and then deliver them to a client’s house.

And the client is already agitated because what we are building is not what she really wanted, despite what the plan shows, and having followed my advice in the past, she has no intention of giving me a deposit so that I can pay for the bricks.

So where do we go from here? We have to step back, slow down, and talk to each other. I was chatting to a fellow builder recently, who has had a week from hell –his brand-new site office was blown away in high winds and then he found his insurance policy did not cover the event (remember always to read the fine print). He’ll go home at 9pm tonight to a cold supper, a wife who is asleep, answer emails until 1am, then get up at 4.30am, because we don’t expect our workers to do things we won’t do, and his first task, I bet, will be to try to get his bricks delivered to site.

I know I am not supposed to rant, but once in a while I think I need to put in a message of support for those hard-working contractors.

Through this column I went to see a reader today who has the strangest problem which really needs some out-of-the-box thought.

They have a cellar under a sun room, and in the middle of the sun room floor is a skylight letting light into the cellar. The skylight is completely under cover, so rain cannot reach it, and the sunroom is above natural ground level. For the past two years – and never before that – they have had a continual drip of water from the four edges of the concrete slab that surrounds the skylight. It continues through summer and winter and stalactites are actually forming around the opening.

Where is the water coming from?

They have had a number of contractors in, who have all scratched their heads, just like I have done. I could see only one possible cause: in the middle of the sunroom, about 1.5m away from the skylight, is a prep bowl which others may have missed because it is hidden in a cupboard. There is no evidence of piping in the cellar roof below so it is not clear where the supply and waste pipes run. I mention this because sometimes we miss an easy problem because we are looking for a difficult answer.

So how do we find if we have a leaking pipe? Make sure all your plumbing is switched off and check to see if the water meter is moving. First you have to find the water meter; in this case the client was not sure where it was, but we eventually found it buried under an indigenous garden. One wonders how the meter reader finds it – maybe he just guesses. You should know where it is and it should be exposed.

I then asked the client where the main stop-cock was and got another blank look. It is imperative that you know where to switch off your water in case of a burst geyser or other emergency; you can save thousands of rands with this piece of knowledge.

But after two years in the house the client is still trying to find the geysers. So please get to know the details of your dwelling .

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