Is my builder dodgy AF?

I recently had the educational experience of working with a builder best avoided. Let’s call him El Malo.

There are some builders who are disorganised, have trouble, make mistakes, or get the quote wrong. Like El Feo. It’s bad luck to get a builder like that but with enough flattery, threats or bribery you can usually get 95% of the outcome you were hoping for. 

Builders like El Malo are not like that. When they take on the job, they have no intention of delivering what they think will be a good scheme. They only want to take your money. They make for the horror stories of the building trade. 

The play

El Malo is looking out for clients who need work and can be fooled into paying out money without the work being done. He then offers them a low price, an early start but also an emotional connection. He then convinces the client to hand over increasingly large amounts of money, sometimes for no visible site progress. As long as the money keeps coming, so do the promises. Whenever the client behaves the way El Malo wants, he tells them what they want to hear. Whenever the client asks questions or delays payment, El Malo responds with threats – risks to the project, danger of delay, aggression or intimidation. The client wants to believe the promises and is afraid of the bad side. This is how after months of disaster, the client can still be handing over money. 

The signs

Is your builder like El Malo or are you just stuck with an El Feo? One is a bit incompetent, the other malevolent. If your builder has no address, or a fake address, no landline, no Google history, no paper invoice, no company number these are danger signs. Also look out for a really low price and early availability. But what are the killer tells that you are being double crossed? The key is that you are being emotionally manipulated into believing the lies. Try this. Ask your builder to do something extra that you know should cost money – El Feo will try to charge you or avoid adding it to the contract, El Malo will use it to control you – it’s no problem, no cost, but it will make it more important that you make the next payment. 

What you can do

Say goodbye to your money and your project. Don’t make it worse. If you try to negotiate or confront El Malo, he will look for your emotional vulnerability. Go to trading standards or citizens advice. You can try to go to court, but make sure trading standards are on board. With no contract, no address or even the name of the builder you have a problem. Warn your neighbours. 

El Bueno

El Bueno can give you a reference. He (or she) is not the cheapest. You will get a letter contract or a written agreement with a real address. You will pay VAT (unless it is a specialist micro project business like stained glass or Minton floor restoration). If you want to hire them, you will wait. If you want something extra, it costs money. El Bueno gives you a payment schedule, which can include a deposit, but the payment stages and amounts are defined. El Bueno wants to get the job done and make a profit but they also want to walk away knowing that you will give them a recommendation. 

Start on site – Colebourne road

  
We have the start on site today for one of my smallest projects ever. As is so often the case, this is a something from almost nothing scheme. We are taking out a really tiny kitchen, extending by just enough to get in a bigger kitchen and knocking through to the kitchen dining room. Small, but perfectly formed. Enjoy the picture, wheelbarrow fans!

Can’t touch this (thermostat)

Nice review of the Nest smart thermostat here from the Guardian. The smart thermostat learns your heating requirements, your schedule, how long your very own Castle Black takes to warm up and if you go out for the weekend without so much as a note on the fridge door, it knows. According to the review you could save about twenty percent on your heating energy consumption. What it does not address is whether it will still be possible to secretly adjust it without your partner knowing…

Gimme Tudor baby / uh-hu uh-hu

And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white and black sixteenth century construction technique. 

  
Blakesley Hall is a classic late Tudor crib in Yardley, showing mad skillz in oak framing construction. According to my guide, the building was made up in frames on the ground which were then tilted up and pegged into each other. Which must have been tricky, considering how irregular the elements are. Once the big oak frames are up, wattle (woven split timber laths) are woven into the gaps and covered with horsehair plaster which is then painted white and the timbers stained black, making the striking and beautiful patterns on the outside. 

Look carefully at the patterns. They are not random, but the happy congregation of artist and engineer. On the ground floor the beams are packed close together. This is partly a demonstration of wealth, but also responds to the additional load. The floors are fixed into the uprights and project by about eighteen inches or so. Because the timbers are joined by cutting a slot (the mortice) in the receiving piece and a precise projecting tongue (the tenon)on the end of the joining piece, we can’t have the joints in line – we have to break the pattern so that the mortices don’t weaken the pieces and the tenons don’t interfere with each other. The ground floor wall tenons fix into the floor beams of the first floor. The floor plate (the horizontal beam at the base of the timber wall) is joined onto the ends of the floor beams and the next wall is built off it. The uprights can’t line up – when they do, at the corners, we need extra reinforcement. Above the ground floor, where the posts are so close together, we have bracing – herringbone (mirrored diagonals) at the first floor and split semi circles at the attic storey. Nice. 

Uno dos tres cuatro cinco cinco seis