An Investigation of Modern Physics by Brian Williams
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  • Contractors in your House? Hints and Tips

    Posted on January 3rd, 2011 Brian No comments

    During my working life as an engineer I have often had to deal with contractors and sub-contractors. These have ranged from from major international contractors to local builders and plumbers. Jobs have ranged from new chemical factories and oil platforms down to minor modifications.

    In this same period of time, (being a married man) I have spent many happy hours/days and sometimes absolutely miserable ones, doing work about the house. This has included plumbing, drainage, joinery, brickwork, electrical wiring, central heating and almost every aspect of home modifications and repairs.

    The combined experience of both commercial contracts and the problems of house modifications and repairs has enabled me to help friends with the problems of having contractors in their homes.

    If you are having work done on your home, there is in principle, a contract in operation. The contractor will carry out work, for which you will pay him. However, both you and the contractor need to agree the amount of work entailed, and the amount of money to be paid. Usually a contractor will supply an estimate based on your discussions with him. This is not normally very helpful, because he may forget things that you mention, and you may have forgotten to tell him some things that are important. Plus the estimate may state something like ” To building 10 metres x 5 metres extension as per your instructions. – Estimate £15,000″. This is of no help to you because the final price could be £30.000, because it was only an estimate.

    A more rigid contract is required so that both you and your contractor know exactly the extent of the work and the actual cost.

    Type of contract.


    This is where the contractor specifies an hourly rate for his men and you pay for the total man-hours spent times this rate. Materials and deliveries etc. are added at cost plus a percentage. Generally not a good system, because you have no idea how much the job will cost you. This is only used when the time required for part of a job, (such as excavations)  is unable to be accurately determined before commencement.

    Fixed Price.

    The best method  but requires a good amount of preliminary work by you. It should be remembered that a ‘fixed price’ only applies to a fixed amount of work. Too often customers change their mind about aspects of the work which can rapidly increase the cost of a ‘fixed price’ contract. Always ensure that you clearly itemise exactly what you want doing, where you want things fitted, what type of doors, (including number of hinges and which side they should open on.)

    Changing something can cost more than fitting it in the first place, and fitting a door will normally cost more than the door itself. Once hinges and locks have been fitted, it is unlikely that the contractor will be able to reuse the doors again, and you will be charged extra for the doors plus fitting, and also for removing the hinges and locks from the original doors.

    Positions of lights and electrical sockets should be specified, because relocating them once fitted can be quite expensive, and would be a legitimate extra on a fixed price contract..

    Schedule of Rates.

    Not really suitable for household contracts, although 40 years ago you could buy data books that gave the costs of any type of work carried out. (Schedule of Rates). Still used on commercial contracts.

    General Hints

    There is usually a degree of suspicion by householders of any contractors carrying out work for them.

    This is partly due to having strangers within the household environment, partly to uncertainty as to the competence of the contractors, and partly due to the uncertainty of the final cost of the work.

    It is clear therefore, that there can be a considerable amount of worry involved in having work carried out in the household.

    Let us consider having strangers in the household. It is better for both parties if certain areas can be declared to be out of bounds to the contractor, but this could be a problem if the job entails rewiring the whole house, or installing a new central heating system. If possible remove all valuables and breakables from areas where work is to be carried out, or access required by the contractor. If these can be locked away somewhere all the better for both you and the contractor, as he cannot then be unfairly accused of breakages or stealing something that has just been mislaid.

    Toilet & washing facilities will have to be provided for the contractor. If the householder is unhappy about the workmen using the house facilities, then the contractor will have to supply his own. However, his price will have to allow for these facilities.

    Water & Electricity. These services will normally be supplied by the householder. It should be remembered that access to these must be available during the working hours of the contractor, even if the householder is not at home. If you are normally out during the working day, it may be advisable to have external water and power supplies fitted prior to the work commencing.

    Children can be a major problem and worry for a contractor. He is unlikely to have included for a child-minder in his price, and he could legitimately claim extra for time lost due to the presence of children. A workplace can be a very dangerous place for children.

    Access. There may be times when the contractor needs to be denied access to certain areas, i.e. the kitchen when preparing meals, possibly the bathroom and a child’s bedroom, at other times. Thought should be given to defining these times, and the contractor informed.

    Storage. If storage facilities are available for contractors tools, equipment & materials, ensure that your own tools & equipment are not stored in the same place. The person clearing the contractors equipment may be unaware of which tools belong to the contractor, and remove all the tools etc.

    Holiday Snaps & Memoirs. Remember that time spent showing workmen your holiday snaps, or discussing your wartime exploits, is time added to the job. The workmen get paid by the hour, and they get paid the same rate for looking at holiday snaps as for digging drains etc.. Which would you rather do ?

    Clean up. It is the contractor’s responsibility to clean up after the work is completed.

    Scams. There are millions of people around the world attempting to steal from the unwary. Many are involved in scams relating to work in and on houses. Never agree to have work done without a proper agreed price, in writing.
    Avoid gangs who arrive in unidentified vans, with no proper identification. Many have no skills apart from ripping you off. Never pay for work claimed to be ‘extras’ unless agreed beforehand.
    If you feel vulnerable always get a knowledgeable friend or neighbour to help out.
    Generally it is better to get a known local builder or handyman. [ Even I got caught out a few years ago. I was going to replace the felt on my roof, when a gang came round and offered to do it, using my materials, for a reasonable price. When most of it had been completed, (under my watchful eye), I had to go out on an errand. When I arrived back the men had gone and the job was finished. However, my wife said they had had to fill in the gaps in the brickwork above the windows and requested a further £15.00, which my wife had paid. These gaps were the vent holes over the windows, which I had clear out again over the next two days.]


    1. Never pay contractors any money before work commences, a good contractor will not ever request that you do. You cannot be liable for work not carried out, or goods not supplied. However, if you agree a start date for work to commence and you later change your mind about having the work done, you will probably incur costs.
    2. See BBC news item Builders Scam.
    3. For a small contractor it may be reasonable to use Stage Payments to help his cash flow. This means that he will be paid for sections of the work that have been satisfactorily completed. This should be discussed with the contractor to determine the completion stages, however, avoid situations that would leave you with problems if he was unable to continue further. If fitting a central heating system was part of the contract, then the completion of the complete system to a fully operational state would be subject to a stage payment. The partial completion of the central heating system for (say 3 bedrooms) would not justify a stage payment. The complete decoration of a room would be OK for a stage payment.
    4. It can be advantageous for you to purchase high price equipment if you have suitable storage available. This can save you money and help the cash-flow for small contractors. This only applies if you know exactly what you want, Light fittings, plugs and sockets, cookers, fridges, doors are typical items, but check sizes with the contractor before you buy them.

    More to come on this post.

    Author; Brian Williams