/ Home & Energy

Have you had problems with home improvements?

Have you ever had a home improvement project go wrong? A builder who starts work then goes off on another job or a plumber who never seems to have seen a tap before?

I’m about to start on some much-needed home improvements and was feeling quite excited – until I told others about my plans – and then the horror stories began.

Everyone it seems has one – a story about a builder that never turned up on time, or an electrician that wouldn’t leave.

So our latest survey about home improvements rang horribly true. We asked 2,000 people about work they’d had done to their home in the past two years and found there had been problems with half the projects.

The biggest problems with home improvements

tradespeople-take-longer-than-agreed graphWork taking longer than agreed and tradespeople needing to make more visits than expected were top of the list of complaints.

Mess not cleared up and problems developing after work was completed also featured highly.

And what type of jobs caused the most complaints? Well, loft conversions, although small in number, were most problematic with seven in 10 people having problems.

And more than half of those having extensions and adding a conservatory, or having a new bathroom fitted or a new kitchen, had issues to sort out.

Should I be nervous?

So, should I be nervous? To help those like me who’re planning work about the house and are worried about whether you can trust what a tradesperson tells you, or what to do if something goes wrong, we’ve written a guide on what to do before work starts, what to do about a problem and what action to take if it persists.

Why don’t we complain more?

Because the odd thing is that, despite all the problems, three in 10 people wouldn’t feel comfortable complaining to a tradesperson if they felt work hadn’t been completed to a satisfactory standard. In fact, four in 10 would pay to get another person to redo the work.

Working in the Consumer Rights team at Which?, I’m pretty well versed in effective complaining. And I wouldn’t start any work without a contract in place.

But I don’t want to embark on home improvements fearing I’m going to have a battle on my hands to get things finished on time, to a good standard and with minimal mess. Is this too much to ask?

Are you about to embark on some home improvements or have you recently had some work done? What have your experiences been? Do you have any tips or advice?


I have a friend who is in the construction trade and is a fount of interesting stories about nightmare builders, painful customers, and wimpy customers. The builders side is perhaps under-reported.

I wish you the best of luck in your improvements.

Is there a .pdf of the guide as it is awkward to read with limited information per screen.


It can be hard work geting home improvements done well, but it is rewarding. It’s best to start with a very clear idea of everything you want done and draw up a specification, or a simple list, and then work through that with your supplier or contractor.

To avoid some of the problems a lot of people nowadays choose their units or fittings from a supplier [e.g. Homebase or a local indpendent kitchen/bathroom company] who will do all the on-site measuring, help you select the items you want to fit the space available, and then produce a measured drawing and a quotation as the basis for a contract. The supplier will employ the installer and the customer has no say in who it is – the only thing you can rely on is the supplier’s reputation. The customer is thus one step removed from the installer throughout the process which might, or might not, be a good thing. The customer pays the supplier who meets all the costs of labour, materials and goods supplied. This is usually a more expensive way of getting a job done because you’re paying someone else to manage the project. It can also be less flexible or accommodating and you might not have a wide choice of fittings and units. However, if you choose the main supplier wisely it is probably the most certain way of getting exactly what you want with more peace of mind, reliable attendance on site, adherence to the project schedule, and help if things go wrong.. One word of warning – these companies [even the best] will try and trade you up to a pricier range, will suggest you have more cupboards or fittings than you really need need, and do have a tendency to go heavy on the electrics and charge excessively for any extras [e.g £40 to fit an MDF window cill], so if you’ve got a strictly limited budget you have to stay focussed.

The other way is to find a local independent builder/installer. Recommendation from friends and neighbours is a good way of avoiding pitfalls and use the Which? Trusted Trader website. There are other find-a-trader websites but the emphasis seems to be on helping them find work and cutting costs rather than on helping customers get a good job done at a fair price and value for money. Adverts in local papers and websites give no clue to the diligence, conscientiousness, competence, timeliness, and tidiness of the tradespeople or fitters. Once you’ve got a good firm lined up it can be useful to involve them in the layout planning and the selection of units/fittings/appliances before you buy anything in case there are any complications. This will give you an early insight into how well you are going to get on with them as the work progresses. Three things you will have to do yourself very clearly are (i) agree a time schedule and keep the firm to it, (ii) speak to the builder/fitter every morning to see what will be done that day and check the work at the end of every day, and (iii) take a look at the work from time to time each day to make sure it’s being done properly.

You will probably want the job finished as quickly as possible, and so will the people you employ, but bear in mind that rushed work will not necessarily be good work and it’s worth allowing a couple of extra days in your own timetable for any over-run.

In writing this I have had kitchen, bathroom and other internal refurbishments in mind. People contemplating major work involving structral alterations [like a garage conversion, loft extension, rear extension] would be well advised to engage a surveyor and/or architect at an early stage, and for the best result you will also need an excellent builder with a range of different trades in their direct employment or people they have had working for them for some time.

Whichever way you organsie the work you will also need to make sure that proper arrangements are made for rubbish removal and cleaning up, that any power or water switch-offs are agreed with you in advance, that certificates are supplied for any alterations to electricity circuits, and that on the final day everything is tested, explained and demonstrated to you and instruction booklets/manuals are handed over.


I had a kitchen extended, which included the fitting of a new boiler by a tradesman subcontracted by the builder. Five years later, the boiler started to corrode because, based on the expert report of my usual plumber, the system had not been drained and flushed at the time of installation. I had fortunately paid the builder for all his work on four different credit cards. I therefore chose the card issuer that I liked the least (as they were all jointly liable) and successfully made a Section 75 claim for over £3,000 for the cost of a new boiler. Always pay by credit card whenever possible.

Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme says:
7 May 2015

We found this to be a really interesting read, thank you Eleanor.

It’s unfortunate that despite there being many reputable and trustworthy traders the industry still gains a bad reputation from an unscrupulous minority that can put many people off considering home improvement projects in the first place. It’s also really interesting that you mentioned that 3/10 people mentioned that they wouldn’t feel comfortable complaining to a trades person.

Thankfully there are already a number of readily available to consumers to tackle the problems you have highlighted.

Organisations such as DGCOS (Double Glazing and Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme and others offer the ability for homeowners to search for accredited installers and regularly check their performance, ensuring that consumers are protected from rouge traders. If you use these installers and something unfortunately doesn’t go as expected we offer a range of free services to ensure that you’re not left at a disadvantaged. In fact we recently announced that this year to-date we have managed to resolve more than 78% of complaints within 7 days.

We recommend that anyone seeking an installer looks carefully at the badges and accreditations displayed and understand what sort of protection these offer before proceeding with any work. These are your lifelines should something go wrong. There are schemes such as ours available across the home improvement industry and it’s important to know what they offer before something goes wrong.

If you are a homeowner and have any questions our team of advisors are on hand and happy to answer any questions you may have.


On the year to date figures you mention 78% within 7 days which is very laudable. Can you give an idea how many cases that represents?

A little background information from Wikipedia which seems to be primarily written by an informed source. I have no problem with that as it is a good background read. And I feel inclined if I were going to do anything in the areas covered to seriously look at this scheme..

Garry Coyle says:
9 May 2015

In 2012 I had solar thermal panels, new hot water tank and the associated plumbing installed in my property by the same company that was installing my solar photo-voltaic panels. The company came recommended and had good reviews on their own and independent websites. The hot water installation was to be capable of adding a heat pump and underfloor heating at a later date during phase 2 of our project in order that it would be a simple plug and play to hook up the underfloor heating and heat pump to the existing hot water system This was all laid out in the original specification and quotes prior to accepting the quotes and starting work.
Two years later and we have saved enough to commence phase 2 of our project involving an extension and major refurbishment I went out to quote to other companies regarding installation of heat pump and underfloor heating. The three companies I requested quotes from all came in with similar figures but one major observation. The currently installed hot water tank was not suitable for use with a heat pump, and would have to be changed. I contacted the manufacturer and they confirmed that the tank would not be compatible. In November 2014 I contacted my original installer to inform them of the issue. It is now May 2015 and I am still asking for rectification and redress which they have agreed to over the phone but every week are telling me that it will be next week. I am most frustrated and have luckily managed to avoid the tit for tat that the company director is obviously wanting to get involved in. He seems to constantly want the last word. That would be fine if the last word was the correct tank being fitted. I am now in the position that I have been promised the tank would be installed by a certain date and I had my builder ready to break ground as it has previously been agreed that the hot water system be installed before moving on to the building work. I have now had to cancel my builder and postpone my works for at least 3 months as he has taken on another job, for which I could not blame him.
I have no idea where to go with this as I dont believe it would be cost effective to employ the services of a lawyer and I am not sure where I stand. I am getting frequent rude and questioning almost accusationary replies to my now weekly emails requesting updates on the status of my tank order and delivery informing me he ‘fails to understand’ why the delay in fitting the new tank has held up my build. In my mind it has been previously agreed with his company, myself and my builder that the hot water system would be in place before ground was broken on the building.
I wish I had gone with my first gut instinct regarding this particular person as he came across a little bit ‘Arthur Daily’ at first, but he was local with seemingly good credentials. In the months after the solar installation I have also recommended them to many of my friends, some of whom have had installations done by this company and are also seeing poor post delivery relations making me feel rather embarrassed.
I would like to get my tank fitted and break all ties with this company the only problem is that they hold the warranty for all the solar installation and I believe I may have to go back to them should any faults occur within the warranty period. To add to matters I work offshore (5 weeks on/ 5 off) and I am now feeling that I would not trust this guy or any of his employees/ subcontractors in my property without me in attendance.
Some of me wishes I had just bought a new house that needed no work! This is only one small aspect of our modifications, so it makes me increasingly nervous thinking about the work ahead and the requirement to have many more trades working on my house.

Dave says:
10 May 2015

Garry, I know how you feel.I think you have reached the point when it is time to send a copy of the above account to a lawyer as you have given the trader every opportunity to put things right. A letter from a solicitor to the trader might just be enough to get the job done but if you have to take matters further I think you are unlikely to lose out.


Interesting problem. In the old days there was a Which? forum where members with experience for plumbing etc came and gave advice. That diappeared about a decade ago and the new one is struggling. What I will do is direct a couple of the old-timers to the thread. I know they are heavily into their solar production figures!

They may offer the same problem that I suspect you are suffering from in that solar specialists may be a little lame on heat pumps which is for both the hot water system and underfloor heating. One thing for sure is the technology of heat pumps has advanced immensely in the last few years and they now promise things unthinkable a very few years ago.

I shall give them this thread to look at. One advantage is they will be looking from your side! : )