Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Before You Alter or Convert That Building, Consider This - Engr. Osaz’ ENOBAKHARE


Sometimes the only way to maximize the use, function and value of a building is to either alter or convert it. Although to alter a building is technically different from converting same but most people use these two words interchangeably. In the Nigerian context, alteration involves changing the capacity or appearance of a building to meet new requirements i.e. the shape, form, view, space allocation, reduction, expansion etc while conversion means changing the use, function or type of a building. A block of 4 nos. 3-bed flats that was changed to several units of 1-bed self contains was actually altered not converted. If the same building were changed into an open plan office, then it was converted because its use has changed from purely residential to commercial.

Whether you are planning an alteration or to convert your building, it is important to carefully consider the following key factors before you get down to work;

Compliance with statutory Planning regulations: If the area where the building is situated has been zoned as commercial and you plan to convert the building into residential or mixed use, you may have to seek special permission from the town planning authority or you’d be inviting their ‘wahala’. There is also the issue of maximum building height that is permissible in some areas. Even a process as simple as altering a building to change its orientation (i.e. where the front of the building is facing) may be affected by existing regulations. Some areas disallow the use of certain building materials while you may be required to obtain a new development permit before you even start any work etc. Bottom line is you have to ensure your new move is in tandem with the current building/planning regulations.

Legal issues: Sometimes you want to alter or convert a building that is still partially occupied. This may throw up a lot of legal issues that you never really pre-empted. Some developers have been sued for attempting to do refurbishment work on an occupied building without seeking the indulgence of the occupiers even when it is to their benefit and they are trapped with various claims of damages. Even the effect of work on your building in relation with other adjoining buildings might raise issues.
The cost implication: It is very important to look critically at the estimated cost vis-à-vis your budget. There is a danger in embarking on such work when you don’t have enough money to complete it. If work stops prematurely, it could make a mess of the whole idea and even further reduce the value of the building; sometimes rendering it useless for the time being.    
4 The structural formation: The load-bearing and non-load bearing components in the building needs to be properly identified as well as their relative capacities. There is a danger in knocking off load-bearing components ignorantly. Even the strength of the foundation has to be determined to know if it is capable of sustaining the new load and form in relation to structural balance. Where necessary, an underpinning operation might be needed to increase the strength of the foundation.

5 The method of construction and materials to be used: I have successfully underpinned and altered a defective building that was partially occupied by adopting the right construction method and processes while the occupants carried on with their normal daily activities. For instance, working under such condition, I avoided the use of very noisy equipments and enforced safety regulations strictly. Because alteration and conversion aren’t done everyday, it is advisable to use very durable structural and finishing materials to reduce the cost of future maintenance.

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