Quantity Surveyors: Making Sure Buildings Are on Budget

While architects are largely responsible for the design side of a building project, it’s the quantity surveyors who ensure that everything sticks to budget. From negotiating with contractors to costing up highly engineered features such as basement extensions, their role is crucial in cost-saving, no matter how small the project. Brendan Hennessey, founder of Brendan Hennessy Associates (BHA), who has worked as a construction cost and project manager on many esteemed UK homes and commercial developments, explains his vital role in a building’s success.

In a nutshell, what does a quantity surveyor (QS) do?

The role of a quantity surveyor is to provide advice to the client and the designers on the cost and procurement of construction projects. The role can be broadly divided into three distinct parts, each linked to a significant stage in the construction process:

  1. During the design process, the QS, through a series of cost estimates, will assist the client and designers in setting a realistic and structured budget for construction works. This helps designers to design within budget and allows potential overspends to be noticed early enough for savings to be made.
  2. The QS will manage the procurement and tendering process and his input is aimed at obtaining clear and unqualified prices from tenderers so qualifications and exclusions from the tenders are dealt with.
  3. During the construction process, the QS deals with the contractor over cost matters and aims to obtain fair agreement to the cost of changes. The QS also agrees the final costs with the contractor.

At what stage (or stages) of a build are you generally called on board?

I’m nearly always appointed at or near the outset. On more and more projects I’m appointed before many other members of the design team and asked to provide advice on choice and suitability of other design team members.

Can you explain the importance of getting the QS right?

Correct choice of QS is extremely important. Any potential QS under consideration should be able to demonstrate a proven track record in the type and size of project in question and also experience of dealing with contractors and design teams for similar projects. Personal recommendation and references are essential.

The incorrect choice of QS could lead to wrong budget advice being provided at the outset when important decisions that steer the size and design of the project are made.

Are you mainly contracted by architects, or by private clients as well? Does it make any difference to the way you carry things out?

The QS is employed by the client to provide advice to both the client and the designers. It is important for the QS to work with the designers, but to be independent and not be unduly influenced by them.

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What are some of the factors that make the difference between a challenging job for you and a more straightforward one?

Without doubt the more challenging the project the more enjoyable and fulfilling it becomes. The challenging jobs are the ones that make you think harder. They may involve a new and relatively untested process, solutions to complicated engineering situations or simply challenging designs

How can a professional QS or project manager save a client money? Can you give an example of some successful ‘value engineering’ on a residential project?

The more influential cost decisions are made in the earlier stages of a project. This is where a good QS can really add value, by saving the client wasted time and money. I am often asked to provide early cost advice on the size, shape and use of basements for residential schemes as well as the viability of refurbishment versus new build.

During the design process the value engineering process will often involve questioning the use of certain materials, construction methods or suppliers in order to obtain the most efficiencies without affecting the quality of the design.

Pools are another area where decisions need to be made very early in the design process. There’s a lot more to a pool than just the pool plant and water filtration quoted by the pool installers. All aspects of pool construction costs from structure to finishes need to be understood before such a venture is undertaken.

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What are some of the broad trends that you’re seeing?

Sustainability and low-energy design are now part and parcel of construction. Planning consents often come with low energy and sustainability targets that need to be incorporated into the design. The QS needs to know not only the initial costs associated with these, but also the payback periods and any consequential costs associated with incorporating low-energy design solutions into a project.

Do you get a kick out of seeing that initial potential fulfilled?

I always get fulfillment in seeing the end product. It’s only natural to take pride in what you do or are involved with. If you don’t it comes across very quickly to others and your worth is lost.

Do you have any favourite projects you’ve worked on?

My favourite project has to be Antony Gormley’s studio in north London. He was a delight to work for and with, and the end product is also pretty striking.

My favourite residential project has to be a new-build house I was involved with many years ago, designed by Jonathan Woolf and built for two brothers and their families on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It possesses clean lines and simple uncluttered elegance.

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