How To Successfully Design, Procure And Project Manage A Construction Project To Quality And Budget In Thailand

Sticking My Neck Out Here – Is It Really Possible To Deliver The Promise In The Headline Above?

We’ll find out in due course – if this crazy idea ever becomes a project – and I’m doing everything I can to thwart it.

In the meantime – in case it does become a project – let me explain why I think I’m able to make that bold statement.

Our Experience in House Building and Construction In Thailand

My long-suffering wife, Kanyah, and myself have between us designed and had built our retirement house here in Pakchong, Thailand.

I sacked the Inspector I was paying to control quality and she sacked the first builder for poor quality.

At that time we changed from the fixed-price supply and build Contract to a Labour only Contract where we bought the materials ourselves.

The latter is the most popular, and in many cases the only possible, form of agreement you can have with a builder in Thailand. (Of course I am talking about domestic sized projects not huge factories or condominiums)

The complete story of our building adventure is recorded on this website for all to see. Actual construction starts here:-

Thursday 06 January, 2011, construction started at last on our retirement house in Pakchong (Pak Chong), Thailand! 

Do you think we know a bit about building and construction in Thailand?

You bet we do!

Are We Ready For The Challenges Of A New Significant Construction Project In Thailand?

Since completing the building of our house we have subsequently added an extension and had three-phase power laid on. During these minor works we applied what we had learned from building our house but still encountered the same problems:-

  • Lack of understanding by the builder of what we want (does it his own way) despite us providing clear drawings that they appeared to understand.
  • Sloppy workmanship and attitude towards the job.
  • Failure to take any form of responsibility at all.
  • Things missing from the worksite.

So do we really need another construction project in Thailand? No thank you says I.

Enter Kanyah’s Big Idea For A Mega-Project That Will Completely Destroy The View Of And From The Balcony

But Kanyah wants to build a mega-construction that will double or triple the ground floor area of our house. She calls it her ‘shade’ project. To me it’s a decidedly shady project.

What she wants is a massive structural-steel supported roof over the patio and driveway to provide shade from the sun.

I agree about the need for some shading but totally rejected this stupid Grande idea.

To avoid repetition, all the details of what she wants and my arguments against it are shown on the Destroying The Lovely Balcony Panoramic View Post, please read that before coming back here.

Or, if you have already read that Post, let me show you an impression of Kanyah’s project:-

Image showing Impression Depicting Kanyah's Shade Building Projec

Impression Depicting Kanyah’s Shade Building Project

My Secret Weapon To Get Her To Change Her Mind

As you will gather now that you have read the  Destroying The Lovely Balcony Panoramic View Post you will understand that Kanyah has no concern about aesthetics or losing the view from the balcony.

To her, and I have heard other people say this, the huge structural steel construction will become a status symbol – bigger (and therefore better) than anyone else has. And that makes her proud.

The Cost Of Building This Monstrous Steel Aircraft Hangar of a Sun Shade

Without doing any kind of calculation at I envisioned a cost of £8,000 to £10,000 (450,000 to 550,0000 Baht) – that’s half what we paid for the whole land. One Rai with Chanote!

At this kind of cost even Kanyah couldn’t justify the expenditure. So my secret weapon of  a plan to scupper the idea was to make a cost plan that came out in that price range.

It’s the first time I wanted something to cost more than I was willing to pay!

The next Page shows the initial cost plan and how it unfolded as we obtained quotations and made estimates.

But before we get to that let me explain the typical sloppy Thai approach to construction projects – specific to this decidedly shady  dream – and how I attempt to remove confusion, misunderstandings and typical Thai ad-hoc construction without a design basis.

Obtaining A Set Of Professional(ish) Structural Design Drawings

Kanyah put the word out that we were looking for a builder to construct this shady structure – optimistically called a car shade at the time.

And round came the hopeful builders, with wife and kids in tow, plus hangers-on of family, chickens and dogs. It was after they had finished their ‘proper’ job probably working on the farm so it was dark.

A lot of gesturing and pointing up to the house roof and to the Gods (since there were no stars that night) and knowingly mutterings about a Post here and a Post there.

They would have to come back tomorrow in the light an check it out was the general message I was getting.

“So what did they come round for tonight” I didn’t say.

The next day our neighbour, the one who had sent us those prospects the night before on the hope of earning(?) a commission warned Kanyah that those people were not real builders and were not capable of materialising that mega-structure.

That saved me a whole load of hassle. Coming from a Thai she instantly believed him. I would have had a long struggle to convince her of what was blindingly obvious to me. It frustrate’s the hell out of me (stronger phrases spring to mind) that time after time she (Kanyah) will believe the word of an unqualified Thai over my professional judgement.

 My Personal Credentials As A Construction Expert

If you don’t know me already it is important at this stage for you to appreciate that I have been a Professional Engineer in the construction industry for around 40 years. I have a BSc in Mechanical Engineering and am a double Chartered professional engineer.

Read My Construction Industry Bio if you need convincing of my construction pedigree.

How We Were Cleverly ‘Duped’ Into Buying A Set Of ‘Professional’ Structural Drawings

From my long experience in the construction industry I know that the first and most important stage is to define as precisely as you can exactly what it is you want. That normally comes as a set of drawings which we procured from a Bangkok Architect to form the basis for the construction contract for building our retirement house in Pakchong.

 Enter Aeh Another Neighbour

I can’t pronounce his name. Sounds like “A” to me but after careful listening it sounds more like the Scottish “eh”.

Anyway this bright (not so) young man who had previously undertaken some remedial works on our house put himself forward as a prospect for the project.

He came round dressed smartly wearing actual proper clothes (unlike the ragged and barefoot ‘builders’ of the night before.

I made my philosophy (through Kanyah since he couldn’t speak English)  clear. I must have a proper structural drawing and a reasonably accurate cot estimate before I can give the go-ahead for the project.

A couple of days later he arrived with an equally credible person who put himself forward as a qualified structural engineer. He said he worked for a company called “Design” in Bangkok but sometimes worked from his home in Pakchong.

After another visit to measure up he came up with a couple of sketches and this proposal in response to my questions:-

  • He would draw up the sketches in pencil to see if I liked them.
  • If I did he would draw them up on a CAD system.

I probed him about structural calculations. I wanted fully computerised structural analysis since the structure was so huge and the winds in this area reach hurricane strength. ( I have a video of a hurricane blowing the roof off the neighbour’s out-house, never had time to upload it yet.)

This structure angles down like a wing on a Jumbo jet and the speed of that plane when it takes off is in the same order as the strong winds around here.

He go the point. So did Aeh and Kanyah.

At that time I stressed that before going beyond the pencil drawings point I would need an accurate budget before going any further.

And that budget had to fit within my expectations.

Otherwise? STOP.

I explained the above with the aid of a simple Flow Chart which they did understand – even the English word STOP.

I then asked how much these pencil sketches would cost me.

‘Next stage’ he said. Or something he cleverly contrived to to indicate along the lines that he didn’t know how long it would take and we could discuss this at the next stage.

Alarms Bell Ringing But I Let It Pass – I Knew Better

His tactic is typical Thai. Offer something without any cost then sting you for the cost later.

Happens all the time and you know it.

So why didn’t I demand to know the cost of the pencil drawings before agreeing to him producing them?

Another Thai tactic. Fatigue the Prospect. With the difficulty of the language barrier and me not wanting to be so ‘awkward’ after my  questions and insistence on good and proper engineering I was reaching the state where I would have said ‘yes’ to almost anything just to end the discussion.

(Kanyah does this to me with good effect for her all the time. I’ll whip out my wallet and hand over the cash just to get a bit of piece and quiet.)

A Few Days Later And The Pencil Drawings Appear Together With The Structural Engineer And Aeh

The structural engineer showed me his drawings and, yes, they looked OK. Similar to the thousands of structural drawings I had seen in my profession. I could see a few things not quite right but these could be sorted out at the next stage when (if) we appointed a builder.

Here are a few of the drawings just to prove to you that I dis receiver real structural drawings:-

The discussion then centered around design fees and labour costs:-

  • The pencil drawings would cost me 10,000 Baht.
  • If he sent them to his company to do them it would cost 30,000 Baht.
  • If I wanted proper computerised structural analysis (strength calculations)he had a friend who could do it for 30,000 Baht.
  • Aeh offered a fixed price for labour to build the structure (including metal roof) of 70,000 Baht. (About £1,300)

Note that there was no room for negotiation about the cost for the pencil drawings. He had already completed them and that was the price. Take it or leave it. I actually thought that 10,000 Baht for drawings of this quality to be a very reasonable price.

Now that I had the drawings I wanted to know the construction cost. If it was within my (undeclared) budget then we would go ahead, otherwise we would STOP right there.

Aeh offered a fixed-price for labour to build the structure. We had to provide the all the materials.

The biggest costs that I foresaw (apart from labour) were the structural steelwork and the metal roof.

First Cost Estimate of Kanyah’s Shady Structure

This is my first stab at estimating the possible cost of the shady structure:-

Note: Total cost estimate of 431,532 Baht (£7,991) is precisely within my original guesstimate of £8,000 to £10,000 (450,000 to 550,0000 Baht)!

This kind of cost would hopefully rule out the project on cost grounds.

Image showing First Rough Estimate Of Kanyah's Mega-Structure

First Rough Estimate Of Kanyah’s Mega-Structure

Some explanation is necessary:-

  • Item 1) I took the structural steel cost as being equal to the metal roof cost having nothing else to go on.
  •  Item 2) We had earlier visited a metal roof supplier and obtained the budget of 153,679 Baht. This was the result of an ad-hoc drop-in into the supplier as were driving home from a pleasure trip to look at an old steam engine.The drop-in to the metal roof company was completely unscheduled and I wasn’t prepared with drawings and dimensions etc. The information we gave them for the budget was the best as I could recall at the time.

Here is a copy of that first quotation for the metal roof:-

Image showwing  The First Budget Estimate For The Metal Roof

The First Budget Estimate For The Metal Roof

There are a couple of comments to make about this quotation:-

  • The total area is given as 20 x 18 m = 360 m2. (Remember that)
  • That was a size I made up on the spot based on my image of the shade in our garden.
  • The total quotation is 15,679 Thai Baht (about £2,846)
  • Apart from that the quotation means nothing to me,I can’t make any sense of it nor can Kanyah.

In Conclusion It’s All Good News – This Budget Estimate Is Way Above Our Expectations And What We Are Prepared To Pay!

But I have to go through the motions and get a proper quote for the steelwork and a better fix on the ancillaries costs.

The details will follow on the next page.

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4 Responses to “How To Successfully Design And Manage Building Construction In Thailand”

  • mel:

    well done, but surely kanyah will read this blog. and the rouse will be defunct. every one fine here, i have put my paperwork in to try and take over the pub in my own right. (ppc contract runs out in november). howard has spent up, rent in arrears etc. shaun still working at teh running horse fri,sat. have recovered from my wedding weeken (mark and pauline/daniel and lianna.


    admin Reply:

    Hi Mel and great to hear from you and The Plough as always.

    Kanyah reading??? Kanyah and computers? Websites, Blogs?

    Yeh, she’s into all that here in Pakchong. Doesn’t give a damn about the garden any more.

    The only reason she wants the shade is so that she can sit outside with my laptop and actually see the screen when it’s 32 deg and sun blazing down.

    But my ‘secret derailment plan’ is no secret to Kanyah at all. In fact she agrees that there has to be a cost limit that can’t be exceeded. My objective is to make sure that the project is so expensive that it falls in that ‘too expensive’ bracket.

    Then I’ll have to get her one of those PC screen UV filters that let you see the screen in blazing sunshine…

    Good news about taking over the pub. I’m sure you’ll be accepted and that you’ll make a great success of it. Shame I’m not there to help out on the EPA sales.

    Not surprised about Howard, but such a shame. A bit too warm just yet for a Malvern deep-freeze job. He’ll have to stick it out for a bit longer.

    Please pass on my best wishes to Mark and Pauline on their wedding. You should’ve stuck to the EPA.


  • Good luck on that one but Thai women have a sneaky method of getting their own way!

    I’m dreading our house build whenever that will be – not speaking the language is a big minus as it abolishes my control freakery! I’ll have to leave it up to the missus, as she has had a house built before and we’ve seen the work of a local builder and it looks good. One owner did say though we have to keep behind him to push things through and make sure the spec is complete with things like number of power points, etc., etc. Otherwise, on go the “extras”!

    Kind regards.



    admin Reply:

    Hi Mike and thank you for the comment.

    I hope what I am about to say puts you off building your own house because Thai builders are a xys??@@ nightmare.

    Better if you can find ready-built and do it up to your standards.

    If your ‘e a control freak (I’m not a control freak but I do need to know what is going on and is it correct) you’ll certainly freak out with Thai builders.

    I have run several building and/or extension projects here in Thailand and they always end up wrong in more than one way.

    For the main house I had a full set of Architectural and structural plus M&E drawings made.

    But the builder didn’t follow them – just did what he wanted.

    Some recent projects have gone slightly better but not what I wanted despite having detailed drawings.

    Part of the quality control problem is that my Thai wife, Kanyah, will always swallow what the builders tell her and take their side in any dispute.

    Does my head in. I am double Chartered and had 40 years in the construction industry and she takes a half-literate local builders word above mine.

    Steer clear mate!


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