Typical Renovation Queries Answered
Though I’ve dipped my toes in the renovation waters before, I have steered quite clear of it for a few years now. It is a very time consuming and arduous process to say the least, so unless you’re willing to set reasonable levels of expectation and can resist the constant urge to scissor-kick your workers in the back of the head, it may be best to stay clear. Having said this, I am often asked questions regarding renovation and construction work, so I thought this week I’d touch on a couple of the more popular queries – obviously I’m speaking now from my own personal experience and I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, but…
We are often asked about allowing the Thai spouse’s family to work on a job. Anytime a foreigner seems poised to begin a renovation or construction job, it is quite standard for the girlfriend/wife/friend to suggest ‘someone they know’ to help out. Many Thais you speak with are sure to have a cousin/brother/friend/uncle’s ex-roommate that is in the construction racket – and they may very well have actually done some construction work in the past. Everyone understands the cost of Thai construction labour to be quite low – but just a glance around at any typical construction project will give you some serious insight as to how far apart the western and Thai standards can be. As industrious as your extended family may be, chances are, project management is not their strong-suit.
This could be a bit of a touchy subject, but my intention is not to insult Thai workers or the way that they operate. But it must be said that most of the time, the methods used don’t exactly line up with our western perception of how things should be done – which is where project management and supervision play such a vital role.
Any foreigner who has attempted to manage their renovation will tell you that it’s an uphill battle. A Thai contractor may forgo using a 100 Baht piece of material that is crucial to the job as they may view it as half a day’s wages for one of their staff. Another very serious consideration is that Thai’s typically do not receive criticism well, so a Thai supervisor may be very reluctant to point out even the most obvious flaws to his workers. It takes a great deal of diplomacy and patience that many of us do not have.
Remember: If it seems too cheap, it probably is. You will not receive a western standard paying minimal costs. Proper supervision and project management will make or break your project.
We are also often asked about the pros and cons of wood flooring as opposed to standard tile flooring. Actual teakwood flooring comes in a few different sizes and grades (which can obviously affect the costs considerably). Make sure you buy from a reputable shop as many will try to pass off lesser grades, or even different types of wood as top grade teak.
Teak flooring is usually sold as either parkay or planks. Parkay is about 10cm x 30cm with tongue and groove edges. Teak parkay comes in a few applicable grades. The cheap and dirty is the A grade. Unless you’re using this for industrial purposes, this grade is not for you, so let’s move on. The less expensive of the acceptable grades is AA and can make for a beautiful floor if installed and finished professionally. Typically the colours and grains will vary a bit more than a higher grade, but this can sometimes make for a nice effect on the floors. Also, AA grade typically contains more water, so it’s important to keep in a dry environment for at least a week before installing. Installing damp wood will result in ‘bowing’ and air pockets under foot. A nicely air-conditioned environment works well as air-cons also act as dehumidifiers. AA teakwood should cost you under 1,800 Baht per square metre installed. If you want a more consistent grain and colour which give a more elegant look, then you must insist on AAA grade. This will cost you about 1,000 Baht more per square metre, but you’ll see where the money went.
For the true wood connoisseur, teak planks are the best choice. Often called ‘old teak’ or ‘golden teak’, these planks typically come from more mature teak trees or may even be old flooring from an old house. In the past twenty years or so, Thailand’s ‘old teak’ was harvested almost to the point of extinction. Forests were then levelled in Cambodia and the wood shipped into Thailand. Because of this, Cambodian teakwood has become a big no-no and I even heard of a housing estate getting busted a few years ago for using Cambodian teakwood. Because of all this, ‘old teak’ planks come with a serious premium attached. ‘The bigger the board, the bigger the bucks’ is a good rule of thumb. Proper installation of these planks will make your floors a conversation piece. Incorrect installation will leave your floor with weak joints, swelling and possibly drying.
Laminate floor have come a long way in the past few years. The treatment of these woods far surpasses that of any natural wood flooring. Installation is easy and fast (a good wood laminate installation team of four should be able to install 200 sqm in a couple of days!) and the protective coatings can now withstand cigarette burns and virtually any stains. New laminate floors also come with a realistic wood grain feel and it can be tough to tell it from the real deal. A top quality wood laminate floor will cost between 1,000 and 1,800 Baht installed.