/ 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! : )

My experience is a little different.

My dental practice is part of a large group and still offers NHS treatment. They are always upfront about the charges and provide a printed treatment plan. They do charge seperately for the hygenist but you still get a rudimentary clean as part of your regular appointment.

The problem I have is getting a written quote for private treatment.
I am advised I need implants for two front teeth.
I have had an initial free consultation to assess me, and a verbal indication of cost, but I cannot get a printed treatment plan out of them, to enable me to confirm all the details and discuss options. All I got was a phone call to ask me to book a 90 minute appointment.

I have been trying (as you might expect) to get 3 quotes so I can compare prices and options.

I managed to get to talk to one very helpful private dentist (although I narrowly avoided a private check up) but he wasn’t part of an implant association and he also wanted to take control of my dental care before hand to ensure my mouth was in a fit condition for the implants. Understandable, perhaps, but an open ended cheque for additional treatment prior to the implants.

The other places which advertise implants seem to want at least £100 up front just to discuss what might be involved.

Is this normal for private dental care?
All other businesses I deal with offer free quotes.

Grrrrrrrr…….tablet has thrown a fit and posted this to the wrong thread!

I must admit I was thinking you were going to tell us how you had all your teeth taken out and a new kitchen installed!

gina says:
18 August 2015

I recently had my bathroom refurbished , what a nightmare, company promised delivery of goods on Wednesday, bathroom suite arrived but no wetwall boards until Friday afternoon which meant installation was really done back to front. Plumber said wallboards first, then tiling, then installation of suite .wallboards arrived while I was at work and installed when I got home they were the wrong colour, they also delivered the bath taps and basin tap also the wrong product but had been installed while I was at work. To make matters worse a crack has appeared on the rim of the bath, I just dont know what to do next. I bought and paid for middle of the range goods surely a £200 bath shouldnt crack but I cant prove when it happened , before delivery or during installation

Surely the installation company is responsible for remedying your cracked bath problem. If you had no access to the products and were not using them I don’t see how you can be liable for any faults. Your contractor must leave you with a satisfactory bathroom including all the products you specified and should not abdicate responsibility for any defects or deficiencies arising from delivery problems since they organised the supply and delivery of the fittings.

gina says:
19 August 2015

But I cant prove it was cracked on arrival.

Gina – I don’t think you have to prove anything. The installation company was responsible for your bath until the bathroom refit was handed over to you. As I understand it they procured the bath you had selected and arranged for its delivery to your house and installation. In accepting the bath into your house to await installation you were not taking ownership of the bath. They must leave you with a complete and undamaged bathroom. The installation contractor is also the retailer and you have rights against a retailer if a product is faulty or not fit for purpose even if you have made the final payment. I believe the bathroom company should replace your bath. Their only escape from that would be to prove that you damaged the bath after handover. A bath that develops a crack on the rim so soon was either manufactured badly or not installed properly. Baths are designed to withstand the weight of water plus the weight of an adult and the stresses that the transfer of that weight into and out of the bath will impose on the material and the supporting framework.

gina says:
23 August 2015

Thank you for your help , on reading the brochure the bath has 5 year guarantee, the tradesmen are coming back this week to have a look, m thinking it will have to be replaced regardless how much disruption it will cause.

Yes you should have the bath replaced. A crack on the rim could spread over time. Ensure all the plumbing and tiling are made good and test the taps, and especially the drain outlet, to make sure there are no leaks before you accept the installation. If there is a shower over the bath, check that the grouting of any tilework that was disturbed is sound. Good luck.

The saga continues the plumber offered to arrange the bath doctor to repair the crack, which was repaired which I am still £90 out of pocket, however a further 2 cracks have appeared across from the first one, thistle bathrooms are not helping andnit has been passed to the manufacturer, awaiting a phone call from them. I fear im stuck with this bath as Thistle dont know about the original repair.

Fill the bath with water before accepting the installation – to make sure it doesn’t sag below the tiles.

I invited a ‘builder’ in January 2016 to complete some works for me in August 2016, by the 28th of that month, as the house was rented out from the 1st September 2016. His website looked wonderful, but somehow the words of praise for him didn’t register in my mind as all being remarkably similar.

I made contact with him in June to ask whether he might want to come earlier to start the works, which involved knocking down some small walls internally, to join a small kitchen with a small conservatory and the lounge, to make one big room, estimated costs £7847.00 plus £315.00 for a skip to remove all the detritus. He refused, saying he was busy and that he would make contact with me closer to the time…he didn’t.

On the 6th July I received a demand for £1632.40, being 20% of the total sum above, and I paid it there and then. On the 3rd of August he arrived at 1020 with two men to rip out the existing kitchen, which was to be repositioned, he left after one hour as did the two men by 1430…..then, nothing for ten days, until on the 11th August I received an invoice for £792.00 for steels to support two walls, plus, included in that invoice an amount of £3000.00 for labour and materials and being told that unless I paid it immediately, the steels would be returned and the job delayed. I paid. He now had the sum of £4632.40 for labour and materials, with just the work of two men for four hours to show for this cost.

On the 13th August I received an email to say that one set of steels was in, and he informed me that the house was badly built as there was no internal lintel to support the wall. My comment was that didn’t he think that a house built in 1872 just might have fallen down by 2016 had the proper support not been there! I found it in the room later. This steel was put in out of level by two inches and I asked him to acrow it up for there was a large horizontal crack in the bedroom wall above, and also on the exterior wall. He ignored it all.

Many disasters were to follow, including his two carpenters being unable to fit some corner wall units, which I did during an evening, the carpenters installing the kitchen incorrectly, despite having my comprehensive drawings of it all. The two worktops installed with gouge marks where a router had slipped. One worktop being snapped in two after a cut-out had been made for the sink, subsequently another being found that was not quiet the same, but again installed and chipped. ((After they had all gone I found that the worktops were not level, and in order to get a dishwasher under the tops, a piece of the expensive floorcovering had to be removed!))

All the while I had more invoices come in, informing me that unless I paid for these ”extras”, he would remove the labour, and he did so several times, knowing very well that I was under an immense deadline. He had several tricks up his sleeve to get me to pay for other things too, like asking me to collect a polycarbonate dome, which I paid for.

The second set of steels were installed and I am positive that the joists above were not picked up, the Building Inspector being misled as the ”builder” had bricked up either side of each joist. And afterwards in the bathroom above, the floor subsides slightly. I also had to remove the bottom part of the door to the bathroom as it would not shut. I do have photographs.

He never followed the Architects plans and despite my telling him that the roof was too low, he just ignored it all and carried on.

The roof membrane was not glued down properly, this was on the last day, now the 30th, and in the night, it rained, with water coming through onto the newly plastered ceiling and floor, which I had to dry out by renting a heater, for the floorcovering was coming in a few days.

To cap it all, he went away without putting in the lead flashings, there was no guttering system, the roof wouldn’t drain as there was a lip to the membrane where it ought to have gone into the non-existent guttering, the windows and door were installed crooked and not finished around the edges.

Then most of all, the whole of the back garden was full of detritus from the job, despite having paid for a skip.!

So, builders, what a shower of ineptness, but I blame myself and while I have sent him a long letter of complaint as requested by the Consumer people, not the Trading Standards for they are not interested, I expect to get nothing returned, though I will endeavour to ensure that he doesn’t do this to other people, but am unsure how to achieve this at present.