Our Driveway Contractor Misery: A Case Study

Much of the advice on this site is about how to find reputable contractors to do driveways and agree the work that needs to be done (see Using Professionals For Work On Your Driveway. But with the best will in the world, people can still find themselves with a problem drive, and little that can be done about it.

This is a case study of someone elses experience. We found an excellent drive-building contractor, and when he was delayed by fire and theft and changed the brief, it cost us nothing; but if we had chosen differently, it might have been much more costly to live with the result.

Assessing the Available Candidates

That’s what happened to Thom and Deidre Harper* who live in a large town on the South Coast. Their 1930’s semi-detached home has a drive with a slope from the road down to the house and from left to right as well. They knew that any driveway work would need good planning and attention to detail, particularly with regard to the Gradients and Drainage.

“We thought we were doing everything right,” said Thom. “We looked at five contractors, asked them all for quotes and asked to see other customers’ drives. But three never bothered to provide quotes, one got indignant about when we asked to see other customers, so we were effectively left with only one choice.”

Choosing in Haste…

“By then,” Deidre chipped in, “our old tarmac drive was coming up in chunks, and we were having difficulty walking in the house with shopping bags and things like that. We did go round to see a customer of his and they seemed happy with the work.”

“But they had a nice flat driveway with a gentle slope away from the house,” Thom continued, “something that we didn’t really appreciate at the time. Once he’d finished with our drive we were really happy, but the first time it rained properly there were puddles of water by the front door.”

…Repenting at Leisure

The Harpers tried to get the contractor back to see the problem. They had discussed drainage at length before the contract was awarded. The contractor had told them that a gully sited in the middle of the drive, near the house and leading to the drains about four feet away, would be sufficient. The problem was that the rain was running past the right-hand side of the gully.

“I don’t think our contractor was a conman, as such. But he certainly didn’t know enough about calculating the drainage requirements. I started looking at the internet to find out what I could, and there are all these calculations that you can do to find out what’s required. I became quite an expert!” said Thom. “But as soon as we started trying to get him back to look at the problem he kept putting us off, then not turning up, all sorts,”

Getting Professional Help

After six weeks the Harpers went to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who helped them word a letter to the contractor. They also suggested making a complaint to the local Trading Standards people, as the work hadn’t been done to the right standard. The advice generally seemed to be to give the contractor a chance to fix it but if he didn’t, or it wasn’t done properly, to get someone else to do it and then charge the original contractor.

“After we sent a few letters,” said Deidre, “he finally came round and took a look. Thom told him that he should have done these proper calculations and fitted a linear channel drain instead, whatever that means!”

Linear Channel Drain

Tom explained: “A linear channel drain in basically a long tube with a grille over the top. You have to dig down to put it in so that the top is flush with the driveway, then join it to the drainage system. If it was laid along the whole width of the driveway at the bottom, it would have taken water away fast enough and caught all of it.”

“But to put this in afterward is a real pain in the neck. You have to remove the gully and re-do the slopes in the drive, really tricky. The guy just wasn’t interested, just kept saying he’d done nothing wrong and that it was raining too hard. ‘Unseasonable conditions’ he kept saying.”

If You Want a Job Done Properly…

The real problem now is that Thom and Deidre don’t want the original contractor to fix it, as they have no confidence that he’ll do a good job. And they don’t want to risk using another contractor as they may end up with different problems, or have to pay more than they should. So where does that leave them?

“Well, having looked up a lot about how to do it, we think that we’re going to do it ourselves. I can’t do building work myself any more, that’s why we paid a contractor in the first place. So we’ll take out a small claim in the County Court to try to get some compensation, then a couple of my nephews are going to come for a weekend and we’ll do it together.”

It’s a real shame that someone who thought they’d done all the preparatory work in the right way still got bad service.

* Names have been changed

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