How to get quality building supplies

Construction materials such as cement, timber, steel bars or iron sheets (right) should be tested and approved before use. PHOTOS BY ISMAIL KEZAALA

When planning to construct a house, some prospective house owners purchase construction materials from different outlets. On the other hand, one may choose a supplier who will be in charge of delivering all construction materials.
Sometimes a supplier may not fulfill his/her promise. In this case, most Ugandans remain silent when they discover that the construction materials they purchased are damaged or don’t comply with what they requested for.

With this culture, it becomes difficult to seek assistance because they think that they won’t be compensated. Worse still, the supply contract is usually used by large scale suppliers or manufacturers.

This deters one from seeking compensation, especially when they are given a receipt that declares, “Goods once sold are not returnable.” But people should not settle for that. After all, you have paid your hard earned money to buy these materials. Below, we look at some ways you can make sure the materials you get are genuine or at the very least, if you get fake ones, that you are compensated.

Use a supply contract
One of the ways to ensure you get good materials is by having a documented contract with the supplier. With the supply contract, the project manager or buyer and the supplier sign an agreement upon which the materials will be provided. This is accompanied by a certificate confirming that the right materials have been procured.

To make sure you are getting the real deal, Mr Nilax Bhatt, the general manager of Steel and Tube Industries Limited, says, “In case you want to get some materials for your home, you must come with the specified details done by the technician working on your project,” he explains.

At this point, a proforma invoice (a quotation in form of an invoice prepared by the seller and given to the customer with the items that will appear on a commercial invoice in case a buyer orders them) listing the items, quantity and the price is issued. The proforma invoice works as the agreement showing what you have decided to purchase. If it does not match the specifications, the buyer is compensated with the right one.

He adds that in case you are operating a government project, you can enter a full supply agreement for a particular bid. This bid is presented by the contractor who is responsible for purchasing the required materials for that project.
The invoice is then drafted based on what was stated in the proforma invoice.
The contract also entails the delivery period in terms of the time in which the supply will be done. It might be in phases, especially for big projects like universities and hospitals.

In case there is breach of contract
Mr Bhatt says in case the contract is not followed, the client might discover some problems along the way where it will be difficult to rectify them without substantial evidence.

In case there is evidence that the contract was not followed, the client has the right to file a complaint against the contractor or supplier stating his or her problem.

Therefore, a client should make sure that there is someone monitoring the work at the construction site to ensure that there is value for his or her money.
When a party fails to do what he or she agreed to do, he is said to be in breach of the contract and will pay the charges for damages caused to the aggrieved party in compensation for any loss.

Guiding standards
However, if the supplier or manufacturer wants to sell building materials of good quality, there are four widely recognised standards upon which a product is rated to be of quality. These include; the national standard, the East African standard, African regional standard and International Standard Organisation (ISO). These instruct the specifications and test methods that each product must meet before it qualifies to be of quality.

Mr John Okumu, the senior materials engineer at Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), says a material is deemed to comply with the standard when the product is tested and conforms to the requirements in each quality control test (a test is performed on samples taken from production or finished products to establish whether the products match the standard).
Therefore, the manufacturing company or supplier should apply to UNBS to confirm the quality of the product. The application is then assessed and the factory is inspected basing on the standard. Following this, the samples are picked and transported to UNBS. Once they are found suitable, the factory is issued a permit to supply. When purchasing construction materials, there are different aspects to look out for as stated below.

Clay bricks
Find out how durable they are and their water absorption capacity. There are some tests you can perform individually. If the brick turns white when immersed in water, then it’s not strong enough,” Mr Okumu says.

You should avoid buying cracked and deformed bricks because that shows that they are not strong enough. Such bricks are deformed because a lot of water is consumed in some areas of the brick; making some parts swell excessively. A good brick dries in a uniform way such that it retains its shape.

Roofing tiles
These should easily be interlocked; with an even shape such that water trickles down easily when it rains. The poor quality tiles (warped) become uneven; leaving room for water to trickle through easily to the building. That’s why you find sometimes people putting polythene bags (buveera) underneath the structure of the roof to control water from entering the rest of the building. This happens when one is not sure about the quality of tiles used.

Floor tiles
You can differentiate them through the shape and amount of traffic they can hold. As you buy these, you may have to consider the type of traffic and the cleaning methods you are likely to use to protect them from scratching easily.

Cement
This may be less than the amount you request for. The standard measurement of cement is 50kg, but it might be reduced to 35kg or less.
“What happens in such cases is that it might be well packaged, but some fraudulent people end up scooping out some from the bags,” Mr Okumu explains.
But this usually happens when the buyer is not sure about what he or she wants. If one knows that cement is graded according to the classes of its strength, then this would hardly happen.

Timber
You should always look out for the strength and moisture content. It is also graded. “If it’s of a good quality, it feels heavy contrary to a light one which is weak,” he clarifies.

Steel bars
For steel bars, if you bend it and it cracks, this means it is not of good quality.

Payment conditions
The supplier should offer insurance and bank guarantee on these materials in case he fails to supply as agreed. “When one party to a contract fails to perform his/her obligations under that agreement or gives an indication of his/her intention not to do so, there is a breach of contract,” Mr Okumu says.
He adds that the supplier should agree to offer the best material such that in case he or she fails, he has no way out, but to compensate the buyer. If the supplier does not issue the guarantee and insurance, there are high chances of missing out on the deal.

Sometimes the contract requires the buyer to pay an advance fee as security that the materials will be purchased. Nevertheless, there are also instances where the buyer delays to pay for the materials. This is one of the most dreaded moments for any supplier.

“Since the contract does not permit the supplier to take back the materials that weren’t paid for, we start negotiating until we get the money,” Mr Bhatt explains.

Tips for purchasing materials
lAlways look for quality. The biggest problem here is that people rush into comparing prices and deciding according to the cheapest item. But this could get you into paying for the damages that might be over the amount you spent earlier.
lLook out for the expiry dates because sometimes we take things for granted. You might be surprised to find that you didn’t know that cement also expires.
lHandle the materials with care. Avoid stacking more than six bags of cement together because the strength decreases.

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