One man takes on the cause: Most houses in Barbados unsafe construction

Government not looking after construction quality – so Grenville Phillips II will

For over a decade one man in Barbados has made it his life mission to cajole, lobby, educate and embarrass successive Bajan governments to pay attention to building standards. For all his efforts, in this mission our friend Grenville Phillips II has failed. Barbados governments simply don’t care about building standards. Lip service, making speeches: yes. Actually making the Building Code enforceable law and devoting the funds necessary to make building standards a reality in Barbados: no way.

So Grenville changed his plan: if the government won’t act, he will. Grenville intends to educate and certify building professionals and to educate the public to demand that their building professionals be qualified, certified and adhere to proper standards.

We need more folks like Grenville Phillips II running this place. People who actually get stuff done.

(Grenville… have you ever thought of running as an independent candidate for Parliament? Go ahead, put your name on the ballot. Don’t even bother with a traditional campaign. You might be very surprised by what happens.)

Here’s an article where Grenville lays out his excellent plan for Barbados…

A Building Solution for Homeowners

by Grenville Phillips II

The process of building a house for most people in Barbados follows these steps.

1.  The homeowner contacts a draughts-person or architect who prepares drawings and an application for Town Planning approval.

2.  The homeowner presents these drawings to a building contractor who provides them with a price, which if accepted, builds what is on the drawings.

3.  The homeowner occupies the house and is frustrated with the numerous and avoidable maintenance issues.

Most homeowners believe that the drawings approved by the Town Planning office contain sufficient information to allow their builder to build a safe and durable house.  This is not so. The drawings approved by Town Planning contain no guidance to the contractor to build safely.  Worse, most builders do not know how to build safely, and most if not all homeowners are oblivious to the fact that most of them occupy houses that will be unsafe during a major earthquake or hurricane.

I have often wondered what many of the 300,000 who died in Haiti thought as their houses, which they truly believed were well constructed, collapsed around them.  I have visited Haiti several times since the earthquake and have spoken with hundreds of survivors.  I understand that the dead have a different experience, but I can postulate that in addition to the fearful dread of impending harm, there was also a stunning shock and bewilderment about how their house, that cost them so much money to build, could be collapsing so dramatically.

Let me reiterate.  The drawings approved by Town Planning provide no guidance whatsoever to the contractor on how to build a safe house.  The homeowner is essentially placing hundreds of thousands of building materials into the hands of persons who generally do not know how to assemble them safely, despite their best efforts.  I have spent over a decade actively lobbying successive Governments to facilitate the safer building of houses, but there has been little change in the quality of residential construction practices.   So what is the homeowners’ solution when no-one is looking out for them?

… continue reading this excellent post at Grenville’s blog: A Building Solution for Homeowners


Filed under Barbados, Building Collapse, Consumer Issues

19 responses to “One man takes on the cause: Most houses in Barbados unsafe construction

  1. williams

    I visit Barbados three times, and I stay with my sisters friends there, we drove around Barbados for 55 minutes, and I was looking at the home/houses. I keeping saying to myself my gosh. If wind to hit these home, 60miles per hour, this place will look like a desert, (1) foundation is unsafe, and the structure is worse, look like it there temporary for movie filming. Some Caribbean country you can go to live, and you can’t build any building, home/house without building code, and one of those country is SVG! They have beautiful house, with strong foundation and structures.

  2. Passin thru

    Why is it that our politicians don’t take care of the fundamentals of our society? Building code, sewers, reliable water, good roads? They always travel to conference s all over the world talking shite and we have no water in the tap back home.

    (DLP or BLP don’t matter, same same)

  3. Redeployment of Income Tax Dept. employees.

    WHEN we abolish Income Tax and the Income Tax Dept.
    all those Gov’t. employees will then go to Housing
    where they will function as on-site Gov’t. Inspectors of buildings
    while they are in the process of going up
    -and NOT an after-construction inspection
    because THAT is the time to catch the foolishness
    while the house is being built, not when it is done!

  4. Sunshine Sunny Shine

    Its one thing to talk about unsafe houses its another thing for the poor to acquire the materials and expertise to build such a house where building materials are not exactly affordable. Thats like telling bajans eat healthy when the foods they need to keep them healthy and vital cost an arm and leg. Chuuuuuuuuuuupse

  5. Hi SSS:

    You are promoting the popular myth is that a properly built house costs more to build than one built badly. Please note the following.

    1. A contractor can take a set of building materials and assemble them properly so that the constructed house is safe during hurricanes and earthquakes, and is durable (low maintenance).

    2. Another contractor can take the same set of building materials and spend the same money in labour assembling them badly, so that the house is both unsafe and high maintenance.

    3. The amount of building materials that contractors typically use to build a house in Barbados exceeds the minimum requirements of the Barbados National Building Code (BNBC).

    Therefore, a house built to the minimum requirements of the BNBC will be less expensive, safer, and attract lower maintenance issues than the typical house built in Barbados. An economical and effective solution to the current national and regional building problems would be to properly train the construction foremen who are responsibele for directing the constrction activities on a building site.


  6. Hi BFP:

    I apologize for this delayed response to your suggestion that I consider running as an Independent candidate, but I had to carefully count the cost – which I have done.

    As I pondered your suggestion, coincidently, the same day’s Nation newspaper (Saturday Sun 26 May 2012) reported Gray ‘Doc’ Brome’s response to similar encouragements:

    “Not interested. Not interested in the least. I’m disgusted with politics. I’m disgusted with politicians.”

    If what followed was accurately reported, then in my opinion, Brome provided the most informed and honest summary analysis of the Barbados political system, that has been unmatched by my reading of any of the popular political scientists over the past 25 years. Brome’s analysis is instructive, since he appeared to have entered the political system with a desire to help people advance. The newspaper reported the following.

    “Brome blames people who enter politics for personal empowerment only for a lot of the problems facing the average constituent today.”

    Brome determined that it was in the politician’s best interest to keep people living “hand-to-mouth” “from pay check to pay cheque”, and concluded that the entitlement culture “had reduced the entrepreneurial spirit among young people.”

    In Barbados, we have seen politicians appear to attempt to ruin the reputations of anyone not in their current favour and without warning. They appear to use rhetorical language to divide us rather than unite us in a common goal. The question that I have periodically asked myself is: Why?

    Mr Brome has diagnosed two root causes of the problems with Barbados’ political system through his advocacy for a “new breed of politician” that is “less likely to go on power trips or get into politics simply to get rich.” Therefore, the root causes appear to be the motivating desire within our politicians for power and/or money.

    With Gray Brome’s informed perspective of the problems, and definition of their root causes, the solution becomes obvious – remove the money and power ‘magnets’ that attract the type of politicians who have a vested interest in keeping the masses at a subsistence economic level.
    How can this be done? The following appears to be an efficient and effective solution.

    1. Discourage the ‘career politician’ by removing any pension benefits from a politician’s remuneration. Therefore, they will have to rely on their pensions from their pre and post political careers. This should attract ‘Doc’ Brome’s new breed of politician who simply wishes to serve, rather than one who mainly wishes to get re-elected in order to secure a lifetime pension.

    2. Remove all discretionary powers from Ministers. If a law is badly written, then amend the law rather than allowing a Minister to repeatedly use his/her discretion.

    Is the current crop of politicians likely to want to solve these root causes of the problems with our political system? I do not think so. If they damage each-other’s reputations and eat their proverbial young when there is no threat to their pensions and powers, how are they likely to react when an actual threat is perceived? I do not even want to imagine. This presents another problem. How can Barbados benefit from a politician who is not attracted by power or money, and who simply wants all Barbadians to be healthy, wealthy, and wise?

    How can this new type of politician co-exist with the career politician gnashing at every perceived threat? Defined this way, the solution becomes obvious – feed them. Allow the current crop to benefit from a lifetime pension as career politicians, but remove the benefit for new entrants. This appears to be a win-win solution.

    So, will I run? I have no desire to endure the frustrations with career politicians that ‘Doc’ Brome reported. Neither do I want to experience the constant threat from career politicians and their ardent supporters who think that I am trying to “take bread from out of their mouths.”

    So I asked myself again – will I run? My earnest desire is to have Barbadians healthy, wealthy and wise. However, I am unwilling to pay the sacrifice demanded by the current political system. Therefore, I will only consider running if the pension benefit for all new politicians is removed. If it is not, then I will continue to publicly and privately (as politeness would dictate) offer my best advice, whether solicited or not – which I consider my active duty as an adult citizen.


  7. rastaman

    @ Grenville: Could not have said it better..Compare with the hand thumping response the MOF got yesterday with his revelation that VAT brought $184 million out of the pockets of poor Barbadians.

  8. Pingback: Grenville Phillips II: “I’ll run as a candidate for Parliament if … “ | Barbados Free Press

  9. Sunshine Sunny Shine


    I am no engineer nor do I wish to counter your response with a response of my own. If what you say is true please provide me with a break down as to how much a well constructed house will cost,, what are the engineering and architectural specifications needed for well constructed house and a list of contractors with the expertise and integrity to build me an affordable house in the context of how expensive building materials are on this island. Because I am certainly dubious with respect to what you are telling me.

  10. rastaman

    I am not an engineer either ,but I just had a quote of Bds $200-220 per square foot for construction depending on quality of finishes

  11. Hi SSS & Rastaman:

    You will find most answers regarding construction in the Construction section of Weighed in the Balance. I cannot refer contractors, but you should ensure that your contractor has a certified foreman on the job. You can visit Walbrent’s website for the current list of trained and certified foremen.

    Rastaman, as far as cost estimates go, you will normally get significantly higher estimates from what I call a Manager Contractor than with an Artisan Contractor. A Manager Contractor simply contracts out the work to artisans. An Artisan Contractor is an artisan who manages and builds on-site.


  12. Yambelly

    Thanks for your efforts Grenville
    Is there a guide/compilation of recommendations you recommend that the non professional can read to ensure he/she is receiving the basic standards?
    I have the Barbados Code but it is not user friendly.

  13. Hi Yambelly:

    I put a compilation of recommendations in the Construction section of the ‘Weighed In The Balance’ blog.


  14. Crusoe


    Truthfully I also was going to object to increased rigour on the basis of exorbitant costs of building today. Seeing the latest (low income/ middle income) houses being sold at $300k upwards I wonder how people are expected to afford such and still eat.

    But your assurance that a better built house is not necessarily more expensive is comforting.

    ‘What do you think of the idea that there could be say, three or four basic floor plans in the housing department for purchase by a small fee, with detailed drawings, so that low income and middle income earners could buy such plans and build based on these recognised plans, using a contractor?


  15. rastaman

    @Crusoe: This makes a lot of sense and I think it is done in the USA

  16. Hi Crusoe:

    I already offered to review their plans and include the necessary structural information free of charge, so that the owners may have safe and low maintenance houses, but nothing happened. I also offered to train all of the Town Planning inspectors in Barbados free of charge (I have trained those in Grenada and Dominica for a fee) but nothing came of that either.

    I already explained that you would have a significant cost difference using an Artisan Contractor versus a Manager Contractor. However, regardless of the contractor that is chosen, you are probably assured of getting a house that will be unsafe during natural hazards, and high maintenance. A proven efficient solution is to properly train construction foremen.

    I am still utterly shocked that otherwise sane persons would place hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of building materials, which they have to mortgage the next 30 years of their lives to pay for, into the hands of people who, despite their best efforts, cannot assemble them properly. It makes no logical sense. I can only surmise that the euphoria of having access to 30 years of earnings all at once blinds people to the consequences of their actions.

    Let me shamelessly encourage all of you interested in building to register for the free building seminar, hosted by BRC, to be held on Thursday 14th June at 6:00 pm. The registration deadline is 6 June 2012. Yours truly is scheduled to make the feature address – with lots of visuals.


  17. Yambelly

    Hi Grenville
    The seminar is booked out unfortunately.
    Will you make the materials available on your site?

  18. Hi Yambelly:

    Yesterday, I attended a seminar hosted by the BNSI and BCSI titled “The Revised National Building Code”. I left the seminar feeling shocked and saddened. The current building code is designed to be understood by building contractors to allow them to build a fairly stable house. Many homeowners should also be able to understand it in order to check that their builder is following this national standard.

    In my opinion, the proposed ‘Revised’ code cannot be understood by most builders and homeowners – it appears to be designed to be understood only by designers. Certainly, only structural engineers can understand the Structural section of the “Revised” code, while most builders should be able to understand the structural section in the current code.

    In addition, the homeowner will have to provide detailed construction drawings for Government approval. This is likely to increase the cost to the homeowner by approximately 15%. This additional cost is not due to additional construction materials, but the cost of paying designers to prepare the detailed designs.

    The current building code contains most of the technical information normally provided by designers (Engineers and Architects). What is so disheartening is that all of this useful information that can be understood by building contractors and many homeowners has been removed.

    For the past 2 decades, designers have endured the entirely false charge that the enforcement of national building standards will financially benefit them. What is certain is that if the proposed ‘Revised’ building code is enforced, then the designers will be the principal financial beneficiaries. I am unaware of any designer who has lobbied for this ‘Revised’ code.


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