The importance of building from the ground up

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What’s the most important feature of a building? The harmony of the materials it’s built from? The ergonomic “flow” between each room? The natural way it integrates with its surroundings? Actually, none of these. Sorry.

These may be exciting parts of a build, but the most important is, and always will be, the foundation it’s built upon. It can be tempting to rush through this less than glamorous stage of construction (after all, it will be totally hidden upon completion), but the subterranean layer of your building will have a far more critical long-term impact than the colour of its brickwork or the exact location of its plug sockets, and should absolutely be one of the most carefully considered aspects of your project.

The trouble is that it’s so easy to get fixated on the details that we can see, because we so rarely witness the engineering that goes on below the ground. We take structural integrity for granted, and we really, really shouldn’t. Here’s why:

We don’t like the outdoors getting indoors

Just because in the UK we don’t have to worry about earthquakes and hurricanes, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the weather. Floods, storms and severe frosts causes the ground to swell and contract, posing a problem for the building above – especially if the soil composition isn’t uniform across the whole base. Nobody will care that the ‘arctic dove’ shade of grout you chose really made those basement floor tiles pop if it’s beneath two inches of water because the subsoil wasn’t properly sealed off. Proper excavation and site levelling can counter this, and strong foundations add additional stability and waterproofing.

Beauty isn’t on the surface

Some people find beauty in imperfections and slight height variation across the ground level of a dug out plot might not seem like a huge deal. Fast forward a few months when the car park is flooding in patches, the floor in the foyer is warping and the eastern wall is literally breaking away as it slowly sinks into the ground, and those people might change their mind. At best, these consequences are annoying to manage and look unprofessional; at worst, they turn into a major health and safety hazard. To avoid this it’s vital that the building’s foundations aren’t compromised by an uneven excavation.

Keeping the roof over everyone’s heads is important

Any project manager will attest to the impact that early mistakes can have later down the line - no matter how small. While a few millimetres of concrete in the wrong place might not seem like a problem initially, this error will put the flooring measurements out... which will affect the wall construction... compounding all the way up to the roof, which now may be too large or too small, depending on the initial discrepancy. This can be costly and time-consuming to account for, especially if the local planning authority decides you’ve broken the original planning agreement and you’ll have to demolish it and start again. Every. Millimetre. Counts.

The simplest solution to preventing all of these headaches is to hand the groundworks over to a reputable contractor. Although it does vary, many firms that specialise in groundworks will be able to deliver:

  • Ground inspection

  • Site clearance / excavation

  • Providing safe access routes for construction machinery

  • Create drainage for surface water and sewage

  • Foundations, substructure and ground stabilisation

  • Surfacing, driveways and landscaping

Ideally, work with a local team, as they’ll have a valuable existing understanding of things like the regional soil composition, and be able to reliably identify and source the correct materials for your build. A specialist groundworks services firm will also be able to install specific requirements for your industry (for example, different drainage or waste disposal systems), and recommend innovative solutions that a general Project Manager may not have considered.

In the early stages it might seem like a better idea to spend your budget on stainless steel fixtures rather than a team dedicated to constructing a part of the building you won’t ever see, but you might feel a little bit silly when your building is ‘complete’ and you’re repairing very serious (but very preventable) damage due to a fault that you now can’t easily get to. Settle for chrome-plated, and sleep easy knowing that at least your building will stand the test of time.