My brother in law Marco is an architect in South America and we got talking the other day about the differences in construction techniques between here and there. I am no great expert in the matter but my Dad is, so I mainly listened to the two of them and ended up engrossed in the subject.
Labour vs. Machinery
Probably the most noticeable difference is that in the UK labour costs are higher while machines cost less than in South America. For example, where Marco works the builders charge ridiculously low rates but the machines are all imported from abroad, so this means that they are either wildly expensive or simply not available for normal construction jobs. This means that it is much cheaper to get a group of builders to work in the old fashioned way rather than get a machine to do it in a fraction of the time.
There was a bit of disagreement about this point. Marco clearly didn’t want to talk down the standard of construction methods in his own country but it is hard not to see the UK being better in this respect. As well as access to top quality machines, there is a much wider variety of building materials of offer. He was amazed when we took him to the local DIY superstore and showed him how anyone can buy from an extensive range of materials for relatively low prices and take it home right away. He gave us the example of how there are only 2 ceramics manufacturers in his city and they regularly run out of stock, so anyone looking to finish off their house might have to end up waiting months for the ceramic products they need. In the UK that is just about unthinkable, and it got me thinking about the luck we have in being able to choose from such a great selection of building products.
I have never built a house in the UK but my Dad says that the process isn’t usually as bad as fly on the wall TV shows make it out to be, as there are so many professional firms to help you out. In South America things are bit different and the home owner usually has to make a trip to the local hardware stores a couple of times a day to buy cement, nails, screws and whatever else the builder asks for that day. He was quite subtle about criticising the builders in his own country but it was clear that Marco had been very impressed by the standard of building professionals in the UK. Of course, that comes at a price, which leads me on to the final point we covered in our discussion.
The one big point which South America has in its favour is the low cost of building work, although we have to remember the cost of living in general is so much lower there and that people generally earn a lot less money than in the UK. However, what this means is that if you earn a decent wage you can probably build a bigger and nicer house than you could in the UK in an equivalent situation. Marco showed us the plans for his house and it is an incredible mansion. It was quite hard to get exact figures but he reckoned that for £100,000 you can build pretty much any type of house you want without scrimping on anything. I saw my Dad’s eyes light up at that remark and I think he would quite fancy selling his semidetached house to get his very own South American palace.
The ease with which we can build in the UK is shown with the likes of the latest concrete mixer and concrete pump models available.