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“What it was like managing a deep retrofit by myself,” Faizel's Story

Retrofit 3 mins

Faizel’s story:

Often the perception of the energy efficiency industry is that it’s a wild west of builders, electricians, plumbers, and architects, turning up late, putting things in wrong and over charging you. This is an issue that Furbnow is here to change, not just negative perceptions from the public, but also providing a reliable service that shows up on time and charges you a fair price. Generally making the process as painless as possible. 

While we believe the industry is young and there’s a lot to be improved we also believe there’s an army of amazing individuals and businesses that get the job right and work hard to make homes more energy efficient. That said it can still be a headache if you don’t have a project manager and plan in place from a business like Furbnow. 

You can book an assessment of your home to see exactly what you need to make your home more energy efficient and receive a plan to take it forward here.

To get a sense of just how difficult it can be we spoke to Faizel about his experience managing the deep retrofit of his home: 

Furbnow: Hi Faizel, would you mind giving us a run through of your property before the work?

Sure so it's a 1920s house, just to give the context to the property, and it was all solid. So double line brick walls basically, no cavity, the windows were wooden, single glazed windows at the front. They had quite a nice look to them, but they had secondary glazing, you know, that horrible aluminium sliding internal window. So that was one of the first things that we wanted to get done. So I replaced those, we got double glazed, wooden windows. Because again, I wanted to try and keep at least the front of the house still looking traditional. 

We were getting all sorts of leaks coming through because the roof is quite unusual with a very shallow pitch.. And I think as the roof aged and sagged, the water came back up the beams and then leaked in. So we needed to get that whole part of the house properly re-done. So that was also quite a big task and that's been fine actually. We've not had a single problem with the roof since all that was done.

We really liked the property when we moved in, but I really should have thought more about things like the roof. Maybe I should have thought it through a bit more, you know, things like the concrete base in the kitchen and if you're gonna be able to move that to underfloor heating easily, you know, the insulation of the building, the fact that there was no insulation on the front at all.

Furbnow: How did you kick off the work and what was the experience like?

So to begin with we got these drawings done and this dragged on a lot more than expected. And so this was the other thing it took about a year from when I thought we’d start work to when it actually began. So you know, it really did go on.

We finally got something that worked within our budget. Then we went out to builders and it's just a minefield. I wrote a request for proposals and we attached the drawings, and I did a schedule of some of the things that we needed and I'm not kidding, I got ranges of offers from basically £50k right up to £200k. So that gives you no confidence whatsoever. I ended up going with someone who’d done work for my friends so at least I had some level of confidence, but they were towards the top end. I don't know what happened with them in the end. They started off quite well, but then, it just deteriorated. I think they were too busy. When they were doing my friend’s house, they had like a dedicated sort of foreman on the site, with us that didn't do that.

And I think that was one of the big problems. There's nobody really coordinating on a day-to-day basis and just leaving it up to the individual contractors, and there were a lot of contractors needed, the electrician, the plumber, you know, all the rest of it, and they just didn’t talk to each other. I'd be on site sometimes and I'm having a conversation with the plumber and the electrician’s next door or whatever. And I'm like, well why do you just go and talk to each other? They’re in the next room and they just refuse to talk to each other.

Whereas, if you had somebody doing that integration in the home, I think the work would have been massively different. 

Furbnow: What work did you get carried out and how did it go?

When the work started they put loft insulation in the attic and I wanted some insulation put in the roof overhangs, which due to the odd roof style, are very difficult to get to from inside the property. I'm not even sure if that actually happened in the end because I can see the builder put in some bits but not all. And I can’t check it in some parts because the loft space is so small in some areas or not accessible at all. 

When we moved back in there were basically no showers, no heating. We kind of moved in in a very basic way and we had all sorts of problems as well because that autumn, 2019, was one of the wettest autumns that you could imagine and the builders didn't properly seal the house when they took the roof off, so the house just got absolutely soaked. So we had to bring in all these heaters and dehumidifiers. 

I have checked my energy usage and it is lower than what it was before, which is interesting because I have a lot more radiators and more floor space. But I'm actually using less energy than before. I've got a plug-in hybrid so it's a little bit hard to monitor the electricity side, but the gas side has definitely dropped. 

One big issue was that basically the floor dropped below the master bedroom and what we worked out was because you could see there was no movement above the floor, that it was the joists that had been so wet that basically as they dried out they shrunk and then, the floor had dropped down. So we had to have all of the ensuite taken back out, the shower taken back out and the floor raised, and then put back in again. 

Furbnow: Were you compensated for any of the shortcomings?

Yes, I refused to pay 10% of the overall bill, so it would have probably been more like £170k for the total. There's probably about £20k that I didn't pay in the end. 

You can ask to see their insurance policy and they do have insurance, but I'm sure there are so many loopholes there. Because is it them or is it the third party? The other thing is that you become the integrator of all these contractors, right? So just to use one example; I had to procure the windows. I could do it through the building firm, but then they're going to do a 25% markup. So I go directly to the window contractor and then who's taking the liability for the windows because is it the fitting of the window itself or the wall holding the windows? You know there's all sorts of ways that people could get out of any sort of liability.

What I think is so frustrating is the number of change orders, right? Because you have absolutely no idea whether they've actually worked those hours that they say they've worked, whether they've gone and bought whatever materials they've gotten and used. So you get these big change orders, and it's like, “well, you know, we had to do this extra bit of work on the roof. It's another two grand” and you’re like, well, how do I know that the work is needed, and I have no idea if it should be that cost. So you’re constantly challenging them but you've got very little evidence to counter whether or not that's what it cost them to do the work, you know? So it just becomes a constant negotiation every time because you say what that sounds ridiculous to me, but you can’t be certain. 

Furbnow: So it seems like other than the architect, it was all down to you to organise everything?

Yes, it’s all been mainly me. And it has been hard because you, you know, obviously, you don't have a huge amount of time. You're not sure if you’re picking the right solution. You're not sure if the person you're talking to will understand what you're talking about and whether they will actually implement what you’re trying to get them to implement. Then it's the contrast between the different disciplines, you know, in terms of the electrician talking to the plumber. So it's me making sure all these things connect well.  

So yeah, it's really not easy. I'm pleased with the outcome in the end, but I'm sure we could have saved more money if we did certain things in a slightly different way and that could have got some of the outcomes that I've wanted like, the under-floor heating and other things like that, you know, maybe if there was a different way of doing it.

Furbnow: Do you think an all-in-one service could have improved your experience?

Yeah I think with the service that Furbnow are offering, you can factor in those sorts of things because getting any sort of accuracy, again, any sort of confidence of any timelines, is literally impossible by yourself. 


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Written by

Oisin Teevan