Electrical work undertaken by other trades?

"My Builders are pushing to undertake electrical works as well?Should I be concerned and what am I to be aware of?"

We get asked this question so often we decided to post a brief article about it and share a few tips that may be able to keep your refurbishment project running smoothly.

— by Brian Worsley, Builder
(35 years of refurbishment experience)

Finding the right tradespeople – this is perhaps one of the most debated and popular discussion you will find online as soon as you decide to go ahead with your redecorating project. It’s been out there for as long as anyone can remember and actually achieving this has been tricky but not impossible. Huge businesses have been build around tradespeople such as Checkatrade or Ratedpeople – these revolve and try to sort the very first challenge you will face when setting on with your plans. Not many can argue that this hasn’t been largely successful – all tradesmen are vetted, checked, endorsed and finally recommended or not by others. However, a great builder with lots of work under his portfolio and with great feedbacks can’t always undertake all construction jobs without subcontracting bits to other specialists.

Surely, a multi-trade company seems very convenient. It does sound practical and may save you time and financial resources plus you would think that you will get a big bonus when comes to saving time chasing all the trades that you need. If you’ve done any refurbishment work in the past, you probably know by now how difficult and frustrating it may become to keep chasing plumbers, electricians, joiners, plasterers, roofers, fitters, painters and decorators. And of course, all tradesmen should be in and out of the property at certain times. Unless the gas, electrical and plumbing works aren’t complete, you cannot move on with some of the other pending works. If your project gets delayed, all your bookings could be falling apart like dominoes which in turn will mean more chasing, more re-bookings, extra costs for the skip outside and so on – a frustrating and costly scenario which happens more often than you think.

A multi-trade building firm seems the best choice — but is it?

Like many other fields of work, everything is relative. You might be able to pull it off with just one company that is conscious enough to subcontract proper, qualified and well experienced specialists. However this is not the norm and in order to save time and reduce costs, sometimes a general building contractor will take some “shortcuts” – which in most cases will not be in your favour. One common such “time and cost saving solution” would be to have labourers doing bits of work for other trades for example: setting up pipework for plumbers and undertaking 1st fix for electricians. The reasoning behind this practice is that a specialist would eventually pop in, complete little final bits, test and commission the works but since the jobs weren’t completely undertaken by them from the beginning, they will charge only so much. What can be wrong with that you may wonder?

We can’t speak for plumbers but we will share our opinion as electricians. Imagine you found a builder that managed to keep costs within budget and in the agreed time-frame – a solid achievement so far. The builder asked labourers to install the back-boxes for sockets and pulled in cables around the building fabric, leaving the second fix for a proper qualified spark or a fully certified electrical contracting company. By the time second fix is due, everything should be close to completion. Walls plastered, skimmed and maybe painted, tiles lied on floors and walls, hardwood floors and carpets may be installed and covered with protective sheets – the refurbishment is close to completion and you’re happy with everything as you can see your project closing completion. Nothing could go wrong, could it? We’re sorry to let you down (hoping that’s not the case, keeping our fingers crossed) but at this point, there is a possibility these “shortcuts” may have ruined bits of your project. A few examples of how undertaking electrical works by unqualified workers can affect your project and tips on what to watch:

Slanted back-boxes"I wish I thought of that!"

Remember when the builder informed you that the existing height of sockets is not appropriate and how he had to raise them in order to be compliant and to accommodate the new skirting-boards? If the back-boxes were not installed completely straight and perfectly flushed to the wall, your sockets will now look like they’re an accident. Slanted to the right or to the left, partly in and partly out, the top may be level to the wall and the bottom may be outwards of sunken.. you get the point. And no, a good dab of silicone is not the solution. They will need to be removed by breaking the wall and adjusting the socket holes to proper sizes and angle. Remember the freshly painted walls and perfect plastering around them?  They will probably need some extra attention.

Missing grommets"Takes 2p to be safe!"

Sometimes something as frivolous and as simple as a missing back-box grommet can cause havoc within the electrical installation of a house. Grommets are designed and required to protect the entry point of a the cables behind the sockets and light switches back-boxes. Physical damage can occur where the PVC insulation of the conductor will be scraped off the cable thus touching the metal back-box causing a potentially very dangerous situation. Remember that most back-boxes are made of metal and need to be earthed too – and sometimes (more often than expected) these are not even earthed with a sleeved cpc conductor, which leads us to issue #3.

Overloaded circuits"Oh no! It's tripping again"

Though not a common issue, this can actually be devastating to a freshly refurbished property: overloaded circuits. If the design of the installation was not undertaken by a proper certified electrician, overloading problems are likely to occur. We actually encountered a few situations where the main contractor failed to address a proper specialist and employed unskilled workers to install a single ring circuit for a 3 or 4 bedroom house. If you consider all the electrical needs required for each bedroom (with it’s own TV, gaming console, electric heater, storage heater and so on, you’ll soon realise where this is going with an undersized electrical installation. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for such unlikely but possible event – and this can set back the work progress and project budget as it implies additional circuits to building’s fabric.

How to tell if your builder is doing the right thing and how to avoid potential issues.

You may not be a builder yourself so how can you tell if the contractor you employed is carrying works as it should? First off, before handing your refurbishment project to any contractor you must make sure they are properly qualified to undertake all the work they are advertising to be carrying. If you chose a small local builder which has one van and about 14 trades written on it, you might be in for a surprise – not a pleasant one that is.

For example, a proper qualified electrical contractor will need many certifications, qualifications and memberships in order to be able to “undertake all electrical works” – and that’s only for the electrics. One small general contracting firm is unlikely to be able to be fully qualified and certified for electrics, plumbing, plastering, tiling, gas works and so on for two main reasons: overhead would be edging the prices too high for current market average and the amount of fully qualified tradesmen on hand would turn a small firm in a medium one as it takes about 10-12 tradesmen to be covering all aspects of building. And that is without any office personnel at all.

Make sure your builder is employing properly trained specialists and that it’s employing certified competent persons to carry out the more skilled labour around your property. A NICEIC or NAPIT sticker on a van means nothing unless they are able to provide proof that they are registered in a Competent Person Scheme. You’ll need their registration number and you may check them online and see if their membership is up to date.

Also make sure you are informed at all times of how things are progressing in your property. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, in fact, make sure you know as much as possible and make sure you are informed at all times about how things are going. It’s almost impossible not to run intro issues but the most important thing is for these to be sorted before they become a real problem. Try to break down payments in stages – don’t pay too much upfront and don’t pay everything unless the works are completed.

Asked about an issue but didn’t receive a satisfactory answer? Why not asking for a second opinion? Feel free to contact another tradesman and ask him to pop in – maybe a different and impartial perspective would help.

Need a proper qualified electrician? Would you like a different perspective? Would you like to know if your electrical installation works are being done properly?

We’re always ready and happy to help. Ring us on our free phone, 0800 772 0305 and book a specialist to pop in today. Alternatively, drop us a line. We will get back to you shortly.