Benefiting from more than three decades’ experience of construction excellence, Smartbuild Ltd. has evolved organically into one of Ireland’s premier building conservation specialists. Building Ireland travelled to their Carlow base and met co-founder / Managing Director PJ O’Shea to find out more about this exceptional, industry-leading operation.
In high-end conservation work, Smartbuild Ltd. has found its niche. The business was established in 2005 as a general building contractor and initially forged its reputation delivering top-quality small- and medium-sized refurbishment and new build contracts.
However, today, PJ O’Shea and his team spend all of their time on prestigious conservation / refurbishment and high-end new build projects in affluent parts of the capital.
Backed by vast experience, the levels of professionalism and expertise inherent in the business are second to none, with unrivalled workmanship delivered on each and every contract. This has resulted in a steady flow of business and has enabled Smartbuild to focus exclusively on specialist conservation / refurb work.
“Around 80% of our work is in the Dublin 6 area,” notes PJ. “We’ve completed five projects in the Rathgar / Ranelagh area inside the last twelve months or so.” At the time of writing, Smartbuild was engaged on seven different sites in the capital.
Regarding how Smartbuild initially became involved in this specialist line of work, PJ reflects: “We did some work for a few professionals in Dublin – doctors, etc. – and they were happy with the work and our reputation spread through word of mouth. We didn’t need to advertise or anything. The work was done to a high standard and the clients were satisfied, they recommended us to their family and friends and fellow professionals and we earned a reputation as building conservation specialists.”
Once your name is out there, the next challenge is to maintain the high standards you have set for yourself and your clients. Exemplary workmanship is a given and only the best materials must be used.
“Often on conservation projects, you are using breathable products like lime render,” says PJ. “Some of these houses are in very poor condition before we start the conservation work and the work is very labour-intensive to get them back to their former glory.”
90% of the buildings Smartbuild work on are protected structures and they are therefore restricted in terms of the materials and methods they are permitted to use. “The work is meticulous and there are a lot of unforeseen situations that you have to be prepared for. Mostly, you are using specialist materials and you also bring in specialist subcontractors for damp proofing, dry lining and sash windows. Callaghan’s Joinery Ltd., for example, is our go-to subcontractor for sash windows.
“We also work very closely with a number of architects who specialise in conservation, including DMVF in Rathmines. Teamwork is vitally important. You have to work closely as part of a team with the architect / conservation architect, design team, structural engineer, etc.
“We also do a lot of work in monitoring costs for the client and we bring in cost engineers to get the best possible value. All of this ensures that we can bring the project across the line within budget and on time.”
As well as subcontractors, direct employment is generated for a team of 15, including vastly-experienced senior management with a strong hands-on ethos and an input into every project: “David Grant is my co-director and he has an enormous input,” adds PJ. “We also have three site managers and one engineer, all of whom are experienced and highly-skilled. I’m on site every day myself, while Dave is a stone mason / bricklayer by trade who takes a hands-on approach on a daily basis.”
Patience is a virtue…
“Repointing brickwork and cleaning stone is very slow and labour intensive. Many of the structures are very similar, with a lot of red bricks. These buildings would have no underfloor heating or heat insulation to make them comfortable, so heat is a big issue. And you have to stick to single-glazed windows, so it’s a challenge trying to retain heat.
“This is our bread and butter now. We’ve also done housing schemes and schools but we’re not actively chasing public work at present. Conservation is a nice niche and not everybody does it. As a QS myself, I price it and you have to find the right mark that works for everybody.”
Encouragingly, the order book is full at present and PJ says he won’t be taking on any new work until 2019. The fact that Smartbuild has worked for none other than Dermot Bannon on a number of projects speaks for itself regarding the high esteem they are held in.
Their passion for the business shines through at all times and every project is tackled with genuine enthusiasm and energy. “When a house is falling apart and you restore it to its former glory, it’s extremely satisfying,” the Carlow man concludes. “There’s a large amount of job satisfaction involved and you get a lot of emotional clients. When you see tears of joy in their eyes, there’s nothing like it.”
Tel: 086 6042861
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Building Ireland Magazine, November 2018, Vol 4 No 10