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Help needed - dodgy gardeners

Discussion in 'In the Garden' started by TeeDub, 24 Jun 2019.

  1. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Hello,

    This is my first post, but I'm pretty desperate and a little afraid!

    Over the past 5 weeks we've employed a gardener/builder to do some landscaping on our garden. We have a 1960s mid terrace property which hasn't had the garden remodelled in decades. We wanted extra space by replacing a patio and replacing an existing retaining wall further back, and build a new patio and retaining wall further up the incline. In-between there would be a path, grass and flower beds.

    To cut a long story short the building work isn't up to our expectations and some of it is well below what I expected in short. Every time I've questioned the builder he's responded with "we know what we're doing - trust me". As a lay-person I have been trusting them, but something inside has made me feel uncomfortable with the work. We've asked for a second opinion before any remediation work is done and we've given him a clear time in which we will contact him next (Friday, so 4 days). He has become rather aggressive (although not threatened us) and has said he's well within his right to come around and take photos of the work "before" any second opinion has taken place. His tone of conversation, belittling language and more aggressive nature had lead me to become fearful of him and lose faith in his work. He has also had a go at my neighbour who also had concerns about the level of the ground and the DPC.
    Does he have the right to come in and take photos of the work as he said? I'm fine with him coming (aslong as I have a companion with me as I'm afraid), but I don't know if he'll be aggressive in person or try and fix anything then, which is not what I want - I want a second opinion first.

    The longer story -
    -The drains have been filled with gravel.
    -The existing bottom patio hasn't been removed and have been slabbed over. This has meant the patio level has risen so that it is around 1inch below the DPC. Gravel has been placed on top of the "old" concrete to allow drainage in the (now gravelled in) drains.
    -The bottom wall is fine, but nearly all of the "slabs" on top of it as toppers are coming off.
    -The steps up to the wall were built in such a way they weren't "staggered" so they've come loose in the week after we've been told we can walk on them.
    -The path up the garden hasn't been set in anything or dug down, so it's just sitting on sand and dirt.
    -The top retaining wall is a two skin with concrete blocks behind. There is a gap in the wall which was left for access.
    - The top steps are sitting on a concrete slab with no foundations and that is just on dirt/sand - they are not staggered into the wall.
    - The original steps were just buried under earth - this has already lead to problems with drainage as it's heavy clay soil.
    - The same issue with patio and gravel level up to within 1 inch of the DPC on the top patio against a garage wall.
    - The material underneath the top patio has not been compressed. There is no hardcore underneath, just the clay and bricks from where they've removed material. They've put a "tarp" material as a membrane (it could be proper weed membrane - I'm not an expert) but it does have ties eye holes around it like a tarp. It doesn't seem water permeable. Under the tarp is not flat. On top of this is builders sand and then the slabs. The gaps between the sand is filled with "pavoiur" sand. He said this is a special sand with concrete in it which will solidify and hold the slabs in place.
    -There are actual cavities underneath the patio slabs and the anti-weeding material. This is evident where the edge slabs have come loose and I can lift them see underneath.
    - The put new turf down, but rotorvated the original turf into the ground and lay the new turf on top.
    - The top wall is a double layer cement blocks with a facing brick. This cement block wall is incomplete in places and is just one layer thick. It's around 1m high... is this going to be strong enough?

    I'm really concerned and this is causing me lots of stress and anxiety. Is any of the work he's done above acceptable or normal practice? The brick work on the walls appears acceptable from the outside, but I feel everything else is really substandard.

    I can add photos on request. Thanks in advance for any help or advice, it's really upsetting me.
     
  2. Harry Bloomfield

    Harry Bloomfield

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    It really needs some photos!
     
  3. Notch7

    Notch7

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    I am sorry to hear of your problems. Sadly posts like yours are quite common. Sometimes bad work is due to a well meaning but incompetent tradesmen, sometimes its just deliberate.

    If you could post a few pics that would really you get some good advice.

    I hope you havent paid in full......
     
  4. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Thanks for the reassurance. I will post some pictures of the bottom here. We have paid roughly half for materials, but not for labour. We don't intend to pay until the work's complete anyway, and I understand I'm in within our consumer rights to withhold until it's sorted and I have to allow the builder to complete the work to a reasonable care and skill.
     

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  5. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Further photos...mostly of the path, wall and the top garage. I'll get a whole picture in too.

    I've had excellent work done in the past by different people (especially plumbers and heating engineers). This is our first foray into gardening/building as this is our first house and it's been long and arduous. If the builder had been a bit more professional and been like "yes we expect some issues. When can I come and take a look" we wouldn't be having a problem. But he was like "this is all just snagging. I know why you're bringing this up - you don't want to pay me! You're really patronising you've been questioning my work all along. I've got 20 years in the building trade, I know what I'm doing." I've got it on a recorded message, so that's lucky. All i did was send him a message with most of the faults found and he freaked out. Since then I've decided I wanted a second opinion as I don't trust him saying that everything is fine... I need to get to the drains for maintenance for example!

    We're going to let him come and take his photos, but I've arranged for someone to be here as he was rather intimidating. We're also going to say that we're going to get a second opinion as we're not confident all of the work has been done with reasonable "care and skill" and we'll give him a list of thing we'd like done in order for him to get paid. We also want an invoice, which he hasn't provided.
     

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    Last edited: 24 Jun 2019
  6. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Final photo... "finished garden". The walls look fine, and we're going to spread that topsoil around and start planting. Otherwise when you look close things aren't level, pointing isn't done, the bricks are coming off the steps, the drains are blocked, the path isn't stable, all of the slabs there were fixed, are not fixed (the mortar or cement was far to dry and didn't stick and is crumbling) etc etc.
     

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  7. conny

    conny

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    My first concern is this 'drain' filled with gravel.
    bottom_drain_04.jpg
    There is no way all that will be able to be removed so some will remain at the bottom and some may get washed down into the main pipe which could reduce the flow rate.
    The gravel just below the dpc 'may' be acceptable as it will help prevent splashback from falling rain, though I am not a builder/gardener so this is just my opinion. I can't comment on the brickwork for the same reason. If the 'weed control' is a tarpaulin with eyelets then it certainly isn't permeable and will not allow water through to the subsoil. This in turn will cause drainage problems. Is the higher section higher than your neighbours garden? If so then this may lead to flooding on their side due to inadequate drainage on your property. The water will simply find the easiest course of run off, which will be from the sides of your property on to theirs.
    You really do need to get a professional landscaper in to give a written second opinion. It may cost you but it may save you a lot more then you owe the original guy, especially if it ends up in court.
    Keep us informed as to what happens.
     
  8. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Thanks for the response. The builder assured us that the gravel in the drain wouldn't pose an issue. I then stated I'm concerned it'll go down the drain and he said it'll be fine as there's a metal grate (the original) down there. Now I can hear it's going down there and it's obviously sinking in too as it's raining. It's raining fairly heavily today and I've not seen any issues so far with pools of water etc, but we'll see.

    About the gravel near the DPC. I have read it's OK for a "DIY" or "bodge" and may not lead to damp, but the building regulations state 150mm... which is roughly two bricks deep. He had ample opportunity to dig out the old concrete material and relay the hardcore... thus meaning that new drains and drainage would be put in at the same level as what it was (originally it was 2 bricks below the DPC). Instead he's just paved over it and filled in the edges with gravel. I guess as the edge slabs are not secure and just on builders sand with kiln dried sand in between they'll migrate toward the unsecure gravel edges eventually.

    I have asked a professional landscape gardener to come and take a look at it and give his written opinion. If some of the things are not acceptable or done without reasonable care and skill I'll ask for them to be rectified - if stuff like the DPC is "okay" or a "maybe" then I'll have to agree to disagree with the builder. A small part of my real-life job is managing risk, so I'd have to seek someone else mitigate that extra risk, as I'm not happy with it as a long term solution (there are regulations for a reason, yes?).
     
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  9. Harry Bloomfield

    Harry Bloomfield

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    I will only comment on the gravel in the drains...

    It just should not be there at all, it demonstrates a complete lack of care, skill or supervision on site. I managed to accidentally get gravel down one of my gulleys 40 years ago, caught in the U trap. It caused restrictions and subsequent regular blockages for much of that time, until around 10 years ago, when I acquired a wet vac and was able to clean the U out properly.

    I can confirm that if you build up your level above next door's, then you might find next door might be complaining that your rain run off floods them. My next door causes me exactly that problem, every time we get heavy rain.

    The rest of the problems sound horrendous. Is this a proper company with office and landline, or just someone doing odd jobs via a mobile number?
     
  10. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Thanks for the comments.

    We're about a brick's worth over our right hand neighbour... as we all have garages out the back, the garage on the right of the whole picture photo is the neighbours. He's not gone within 2 bricks of his DPC, so we're roughly one bricks worth higher. It required us to put an extra gravel board in... incidently the builder thought a 6inch board would be fine... even though it would not match any of the bother boards we had. We also needed to stack two of them just to get the fence out of the dirt.
    Also the builders didn't go up to the fence with soil etc... they left a 12inch gap and filled it with gravel (for drainage).

    This is a "legit" company with website, landline, and found on RatedPeople.com.

    Do you know if he's well "within his rights" to come take photos "before an independent person comes poking around". I think he just wants to come to argue with me and try and intimidate me into paying. All I want is a list of work to be done, so when he finished it I can pay him. This (according to deep down hidden reviews on ratedpeople.com) has happened to him before.

    Instead of creating a new post I'll append here:
    After a bit of drizzle and rain today for about 3-4 hours the patios are a mess. A lot of the "jointing" sand has been washed away and also sand underneath the slabs has been removed. This has exposed some fist size cavities under the weed material that is apparent from the gaps between the slabs. A lot of the slabs now move and appear to be sitting on a water/sand mix which squishes down when stepped on.
    The path has had the sand washed away in places, mean the slabs have moved, or can extremely easily be moved underfoot.
    At the bottom, the water has just gone under the slabs and into the sand and now when stepping on the patio slabs it squelches and squeezes out the water! Not happy.
     
    Last edited: 25 Jun 2019
  11. NotSoNewboy

    NotSoNewboy

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    Sorry to be so blunt but the entire project smacks of either a cowboy or somebody who has no idea about what they're doing.

    1) Drains - no professional would ever cover gullys with pea shingle. Either lay the patio at the correct depth or fit a gully riser and bring them to finished level.

    2) The membrane (if it can be called that) is not a membrane - it looks very much like a cheap B&Q tarp, totally unsuitable.

    3) The step look to be built on top of the slabs. They are uneven and the rise changes from step to step. The tread depth is also odd with small pieces of brick varying on each step. I would bet that they are not tied into the wall.

    4) The retaining walls doesn't appear to have any weep holes.

    5) The slabs laid on sand (or possibly a dry mix) will be moving as soon as the bedding is washed out.

    6) The retaining wall nearest the garage doesn't appear to have any returns and seems to rely on on the fencing to provide lateral support.

    7) The finished level is way too high - as your own research has shown it should be two courses below DPC.

    8) Slabs are not finished with kiln dried sand (as used for block paving). They should be pointed with mortar.

    9) Where the slabs have been pointed (lowest retaining wall), the mix looks to have way too much cement in.

    10) Where the slabs have been used on top of the retaining wall, if the same mix has been used then the bond will almost certainly fail - it's usual to either use a SBR/slurrey mix to ensure a good bond (especially in the warmer weather)

    11) Slabs cannot be laid onto earth (your description in your OP).

    12) Leaving a gap at the side of the new patio and filling it with gravel is not even a bodge - it's a mess.

    13) Have the blocks and bricks been tied in or are they two separate walls and do they have a proper foundation?


    Last but not least

    NO - THE CONTRACTOR HAS NO RIGHT TO COME ROUND AND PHOTOGRAPH HIS WORK PRIOR TO A SECOND OPINION BEING SOUGHT.
    HE HAS NO RIGHT TO COME ONTO YOUR PROPERTY WITHOUT YOUR EXPRESS PERMISSION.

    Personally I would not part with a penny for the 'work' done so far as I suspect that a significant amount of remedial work is going to be required.
     
  12. TeeDub

    TeeDub

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    Wish I'd read this first. He's come around to take photos and then had a go at me (as I expected). He'd cited that he's "spoken" to a solicitor and that me saying that the work was finished and all set in on Friday (when he left) means that I said I was happy with the work and that I have to pay him. Ha! We just said we don't have to pay him a penny until it's actually finished, even if we thought it was.

    To address some of your points (don't worry... I like blunt!)

    2) The membrane looks to me like a tarp. It is the same material and a single sheet covers the entire patio. The edges of it have eyelets. I know there is blue weed proof membrane (I didn't know this at first) but I've never seen one with eyelets.

    3). The steps are on top of the slabs (that are inturn over earth and builders sand). The steps are not tied into the wall.

    4) There is one weep hole in the bottom wall (on the far right of it). No other clear ones anywhere else.

    5). The slabs on the sand are already moving as it rained today.

    6) You're right, they just built the wall and didn't consider filling the gaps. The gravel and sand is now running out of the gap between the wall and fence.

    7) I did originally want the top patio to be up to the bottom of the garage door for a really cool way to walk in and out, but he convinced me out of it and said that you can go above 150mm if you put gravel down. On that information I said ok. I've done further reading on it and I'm uncomfortable with it still, but "had to trust him".

    8) Most of the kiln dried sand... that has been washed away in a lot of places.

    9) This was my guess. It's really brittle and it's shrunk huge amounts since it has dried and is useless now.

    11) Not sure quite which part you're referring to. The top steps are sitting on a slab, that is straight onto the dirt. The top patio slabs are sitting on builders sand, underneath this is the membrane and then a random assortment of bricks and clay. The bottom patio is sitting on the old concrete slabs and builders sand or clay/dirt and builders sand (as the old patio didn't extend all the way).

    13) The blocks and bricks on the retaining walls are not tied in. The concrete block wall is around 1-2 inches away from the brick "skin" wall. They do not touch at any point. There is a proper concrete foundation (I don't know what depth) that sits under both the block wall and brick wall. The bottom wall foundations were done in two sections (the didn't remove the steps when they first built the wall) and built half the wall and then the second half when they remove the steps.

    The more I'm looking into it, the more I'm disappointed with the work and I'm worried that things are hidden which I won't know about. He keeps on saying he's confused why I was saying it was finished, but yet the next 2 days I've said I've found lots of issues and that I'm breaking some kind of "terms and conditions" which I haven't seen or been sent. He's willing to come and fix it, but I don't trust his "fixes" so am getting another professional to come in and have a look in person. He states that he must know the name and contact details of the professional. I've refused this as he didn't even need to know we were getting one. If he wants an independent third party we can agree to one together I guess, but if he's so confident as he said, then why are there so many issues and why is he afraid of the second opinion!?!?
    Even by looking at pictures you can see there's issues! I'm a lay-person when it comes to building (though rapidly learning) so I am not qualified to say whether something is done or not. I've said I'll next speak to him on Friday with the list of remedial work.
     
  13. Notch7

    Notch7

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    Unfortunately, to my eye the pics dont tell a good story.

    My concern, which I expect is also yours, is that the visual defects are symptomatic of more construction errors hidden below.

    The post above by NotSoNewboy has pointed out quite a list of concerns.

    I would add I wonder if the walls have correct foundations.

    The retaining walls shouldve been returned so that the fences are just covering the returns -it looks like the fences are acting to retain the soil which is of course wrong.

    Legally a contractor has the right to correct any faults, but my guess is that the job needs doing from scratch and the problem is that your builder doesnt have the skills.

    The biggest problem is that your builder does clearly not have the skills or knowledge and is out of his depth. it seems to me he has made it up as he has gone along. a skilled builder would have set it out correctly so it all tied in neatly avoiding the issues that are now visible. Sadly a skilled builder would probably have done it quicker, because if you set out correctly, it all falls into place.

    Lets hope your pro landscape gardener can advise you what is doable

    note: update Ive just seen you post and you say the walls have proper founds -maybe some of the work can be retrieved!
     
  14. NotSoNewboy

    NotSoNewboy

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    No - you do not have to pay for work that is sub-standard. I suspect the 'I've spoken to a solicitor' is nothing more than a scare tactic.

    Technically you have to offer him the opportunity to remedy any defects otherwise he could have a claim against you. That said, given the apparent 'quality' of the work done so far I'd be doubtful of his ability to remedy the defects.

    I would (quickly) get an report from a chartered surveyor detailing any defects and, equally important, remedial works required - don't just find another landscaper who is prepared to write a report as it may not (in the eyes of a third party) have any validity.

    From this point on only communicate with the existing contractor in writing (email or SMS are fine) as there is then a written record of the dispute rather than a he said- she-said record.

    Make it clear that he is not to visit your property without your specific invitation (and if he does or threatens to visit and you feel intimidated then call the police)

    Let the contractor know that you have concerns about the quality of the work and that you are in the process of obtaining a professional report - if possible give him a timescale. Advise him that once you have the report that you will be back in touch to progress the matter (as I said previously - do this in writing not in a telephone conversation)

    If the contractor tries to call to discuss then don't reply but send a message asking him not to call until the report has been completed (again email or SMS)

    Log as much detail as you can - dates/times/events etc.

    I almost hate to ask these questions but here goes:

    1) What was the total cost quoted?
    2) Do you have anything in writing about the works and the cost?
    3) How much, if anything, have you paid so far and if any payment, how was it made (cash/card/transfer)
    4) Do you have legal protection as a part of your home insurance?
    5) Does the contractor have a landline number and full address on his website?
     
  15. Harry Bloomfield

    Harry Bloomfield

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    I agree with the posts above, the work is appallingly poor. I just don't rate RatedPeople at all. The suggestion I have heard are that those offering the services, pay to be listed on those sites and they have friends and relatives post recommendations for them. The site owners never vet those offering their skills. It is in the interests of the site owners, to have as many as possible offer their services via the site and its no good complaining to the site owners about bad workmanship.

    Please don't pay this guy any more than you already have, until it has been properly sorted.
     
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