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Why Do Plumbing Jobs Go Wrong?

If you are one of those fortunate plumbers who always has three months work lined up then, be honest, and tell any potential new customer what the time lag is before you can do the work for them. There is no point in wasting time, and theirs, if they want the work started immediately.

To many people, the fact that you are booked up for some time ahead is indicative that you do a very good job and they may well then be prepared to wait to get a good professional to undertake the work for them.

Find out from the customer an idea of their budget for the project. It is often the case that they are seeking advice and this is where your professionalism comes in. For example, what type of heating system you would recommend, what are the pros and cons of combination boilers, system boilers and simple boilers with connections to an existing system or indeed ripping out a complete system and providing a replacement.

This is where todays modern plumber needs to be articulate and technically aware to what is available, also, what is permitted under Building, Water and Gas Regulations. Never be persuaded to contravene any of the Regulations to satisfy a client’s demands. There is only one loser in those circumstances, you!

When carrying out your Risk Assessment, make sure that you note the important dimensions and the positions of existing services. There is nothing worse than arriving on site for a boiler installation and finding that the boiler you have selected is too large to fit the space that is available, or, that the space available does not allow the correct discharge of the flue.

If the customer has used an Architect to design a new system, it may well be that three dimensional computer plans are available in their IT system which would give you exact dimensions and also working area configurations to avoid such problems. Remember, if you are designing a system for a client, and even if you are installing it, you are responsible for that design and may well not be insured if the system does not work upon completion.

In the case of mains pressure hot and cold water systems, make sure that the incoming water supply tap is adequately sized and that the dynamic water pressure is sufficient. Also be aware that power flushing and old existing system before installing a new boiler often causes leaks. Each leak is a separate occurrence and is covered under your insurance but you are responsible for an excess for each leak!

Whilst it is appreciated that this is not always the case, best practice is to provide a full written quotation along with a copy of your Terms and Conditions before the quotation is accepted and work commences.

Make sure that your quotation details all of the inclusions but also explains what is excluded and what may be additional cost. It is sensible to have a set procedure in place for dealing with the changes and variations, which often arise during the course of the works installation. Written quotations should be provided for any variations, which alter the original quotations that have been provided. It is unwise to leave additional costs undisclosed until the end of the contract.

If you are not competent at lifting and re-laying carpets, for example, you should recommend that the client has this done professionally or by themselves.

There are still clients who mistakenly believe that they will save money if they buy sanitary ware for a bathroom or kitchen and then engage a plumber on a fit only basis.

Some less professional suppliers of bathroom equipment are notorious for missing one or two vital pieces of kit without which you cannot complete the job and therefore cannot get paid, as the job is unfinished. You need to make it clear that you will not start the job on this basis until you have checked that all of the equipment is compete and that it complies with all European Standards. If it is inferior quality goods and you have installed it, if anything goes wrong you may be responsible under the Sale of Goods Act for its installation.

Upon completion it is a good idea to agree with the client beforehand, who will be responsible for making good any redecoration. Although many plumbers are multi skilled you must make it clear if it is outside your range of expertise and will not take on any work for which you have not been trained.

A subject, which is often featuring in complaints, is electrical work. If you are not qualified to undertake electrical work and are not certified under Building Regulations Part P, say so and either get the client to get their own electrician or use an electrician that you know is competent having of course checked that they have adequate insurance before allowing them onsite. Do not forget, if you are employing a Sub-Contractor electrician, plasterer or tiler, they are in fact Sub-Contractors to you and you are responsible to the client for their work as well as your own. If they do a poor job and the client refuses to pay, that is your problem. Although you will not have total control over the job, it may be better for the client if they employ these other trades people direct.

Inform your client that on completion of work, you will meet with them on site to explain the systems that have been installed, answer any questions and deal with any snagging items that are felt necessary and make arrangements for payment of any outstanding monies, by mutual agreement. In return for this, it is not unreasonable for the client to expect a prompt response to any problems, leaks or aspects of the work, which they do not feel, comes up to standard.

The controls wiring for heating and hot water systems must satisfy the requirements of the Building Regulations Part L1 which on larger houses with several heating zones can be complicated and is often the source of complaints. Incorrect wiring can result in the system not performing as you and the client intended. Make sure that the electrician that you employ knows how you want the system to function and what you want each component to do. Make sure that when the system is complete and commissioned, you explain to the client how it works and how the control system works. You are required to do this under Building Regulations Part L1.

From experience, the biggest source of problems is the installations of bathrooms. Your client will have visited a bathroom showroom where they will see beautiful equipment fitted in a showroom environment, perfectly level, square and plumb with no pipes visible. Unfortunately, in a real building, particularly those that are getting on in age, the plastering is often uneven, ceilings are cracked, corners are not upright and floors have either shrunk or are not level.

The client will have probably decided that the original layout it to be changed completely with no consideration on how the waste is to be connected and where mixer valves and boosters can be located. When planning a bathroom and to avoid injury to users, leave sufficient clearance between toilets, heated towel rails, general operating space around the installed equipment. If the corner into which you are installing a shower tray is not square, consider carefully how you intend to let the tray into the plasterwork, making it waterproof and finish the wall tiling down to the tray. If the existing plasterwork is poor it may be worth stripping off the plaster and using one of the modern purpose wallboards, fixed to the walls, which will then eventually receive the tiling on a much smoother and level basis.

You must always remember of course to examine the equipment that you have purchased or the client has purchased before installation to make sure that they are free of scratches and cracks that have been incurred during delivery. You do not want any blame directed to you if there are damaged goods.

Lastly, when making arrangements to start a job, make it clear to the client at what time you expect to start and what time you expect to finish each day and that of course you will require access during these times. Agree who is going to provide protection to existing furnishings and carpets, or their removal and make it a responsibility to have adequate clean sheeting and protection mats for any existing floors and staircases, especially when working upstairs in a property.

However, if you do cause a leak, which then causes subsequent damage to floor coverings or ceilings, it is best to notify your Insurers immediately against any potential claim that could come your way. Certainly do not negotiate settlement details with the client before taking instructions from your Insurers. If this is a minor leak, then call in a reputable professional cleaning or drying company if you intend to deal with the matter yourself and not involve Insurers. Always remembering, what may be a minor incident to you could, after investigation, necessitate notifying Insurers and of course you have to comply with the notification conditions in your insurance policies, which demand you must not admit liability or negotiate settlement prior to their involvement.

To conclude, many problems can be avoided if you and your workers have been kept up to date with continuing professional development in the form of attendance at trade and technical evenings, demonstrations and manufacturers training courses. Often it is not what you know but who you know as you may need to call upon someone should something go wrong or if you need further guidance or assistance with an installation.

Always check your insurances are arranged by your Broker to provide as wide a liability cover as possible, including full Professional Negligence (Professional Indemnity) cover and Employers Liability even if you only have the occasional assistance from a friend or other tradesperson.

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