Sometimes life seems unfair. Here I sit in Cape Town dealing with an endless stream of people who don’t want to pay for services rendered. Add to this my continual moan about non-registered contractors “stealing” work left, right and centre, and you really begin to wonder if it is worth staying in the building game.

But that isn’t the main reason I feel life is unfair. While I’m here complaining, my better half is sitting on my favourite stoep in Clanwilliam “supervising” the erection of our new boundary fence, which is the first step in our planned migration 250km north. Hopefully now our fruit trees will be protected from the local “help yourself” brigade, and one of these days I will be able to sip home-grown fresh orange juice as I sit on the stoep, writing these columns.

The fence was initially a bit of a sore point, pricewise. My long-time friend, the local builder, came in with the highest price, but was the only local tenderer. Initially I was inclined to go with one of the lower prices, but they had been pricing blind and although they knew a bit about Clanwilliam, they did not know anything about my property.

Then I remembered to take my own advice: don’t just read what is in the quote; it’s usually what is not in the quote that makes the other contractor cheaper. Because he knew the local conditions, the local tenderer included provision for all the necessary concrete and brickwork to give the fence a level base, and knew he was going to have to break up a fair amount of rock.

So ensure that the people who tender know exactly what you want, and are familiar with local conditions. It is important with any new building work where there will be excavations that all parties know what may be lurking under the ground.

Excavating in or through rock can cost anywhere from 10 times the cost of digging normal ground.

Questions and answers

A great batch of questions and comments arrived this week.

Deidre has feedback on her lifting laminated floor: the cause of the lifting laminate seems to have been twofold. But the gist of it is that first, laminate flooring should never be installed over existing parquet flooring (apparently that is a rule from Flooring Installation 101) because it is only a question of time before it lifts. This is according to the SA Wood and Laminate Flooring Association, who were most helpful and professional in dealing with my query. (It is also a very good idea that one’s installer is a member of this association as there would be some form of accountability.)

Secondly, one should not take for granted that, if there are no visible leaks inside one’s home, there are no leaks. A few damaged roof tiles could allow the rain to penetrate through the gaps in the external walls and thus cause moisture in one’s substrate. A moisture test would be able to determine this.

Need I say more? Deal with companies that are part of a recognised organisation and you are halfway to ensuring that you will get a half-decent job.

Whatever you are doing, it is always a good idea to check for moisture. If you do not have access to a testing machine, simply tape a small piece of plastic, like a clear freezer bag, over the area you are unsure about, ensuring that all the edges are well sealed. Leave it overnight and if the area underneath is damp there will be moisture droplets under the plastic the next morning.

Gail asks: Once you had a list of companies that the insurance companies use for damp problems. We have damp issues (water coming in via the window frames), a roof leak and a leaking pipe in the wall causing damp on our interior walls. We continue to procrastinate to get these issues seen to in fear of the job not being done properly (we have had some awful building experiences in the past).

Where do I look for accredited companies/contractors relating specifically to damp?

Answer: Go through a recognised representative body. In this instance I would suggest that you contact the Waterproofing and Roofing Association Cape on 0861 192 722 or visit their website

Also give the Master Builders and Allied Trades Association Western Cape a call on 021 685 2625, or the website This association also produces a directory of all their members, and included in the directory are helpful tips to help you solve a variety of problems relating to building. It is a great booklet and I suggest that you pop into their offices at Belmont Square, Belmont Road, Rondebosch.

* Keep your questions or comments coming to [email protected] or sms only to 082 446 3859.