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Piling: talking to the contractors; (now) not so clueless of Lancaster



Ah, heart-in-mouth stuff this. The phone goes - new number - no half second when you can adjust to the person you know is on the other end because the name flashes up on the screen.

Starting a phone conversation with a technical  expert, but hoping for an emotionally literate, customer-focused, technically easy to understand response is not a pleasant feeling. Add to that a mobile phone with a hiccup and a slightly distracting tomcat (Sid) who fastens himself to my leg in mid-sentence, a recipe for miscommunication.

Semi-Undaunted because I've done a bit of homework. I prepared a Briefing Pack for the Piling Contractors. They've got all the information I have got in front of them and I've asked for an initial chat. Important this: first impressions and all that.

Imagine then my delight when I hear a man's voice says, you don't need [This Company X]  because .............. and it would be better for you to use a different piling system because............ Customer Focus. Yippee! (PM me for the details of who and which company). And he proceeds to give me the low down on why screw piles are likely not the best system. Our Soil Investigation makes it clear that our land is not suitable for piling with screw piles.

He's just saved me a lot of money. A lot. And I'm grateful. And they do MVHR and this and that and the other for new-builds. 

Who am I going to contact and ask for a quote for MVHR, this that and the other? Right. No brainer.

 Interesting then that another company [ Company Y] has already submitted a quote '... based on the information [ I ]  have provided...' (which was exactly the same as to the former company)   amounting to £23,000.

Company Y  manufacture the piles and licence an installer to do the work for them. In this case I would need to be really sure who takes appropriate professional responsibility for using screw piles - and be able to explain why they were not using another system instead. And in dealing with one quote which involves two companies, I'm asking myself where's the potential for conflict of interest?

 This sentence in their quote set my teeth on edge...

'...As you are no doubt aware, some piling schemes are installed to a ‘set’.  This means that the actual works and final costs can invariably increase on the day of installation...' 

'Can' and 'invariably increase' written next to one another. The best I can say is that the sentence wasn't drafted with care.

The Plot Thickens

One contractor (PM for details) rings up and says.

" Your piling requirement is for about 200Kn, so it can't be done with a mini piling system. So for the spec you have it'll need CFA (Continuous Flight Auger) piles - or some other system.  Mind if we pop round to have a look at the site? I've had a look at the briefing pack you sent us, looked at Street View on Google Earth and I'm a bit concerned about access to your site. I just need to have a quick look. Will Wednesday morning be OK?"

Customer focus writ large. Before the guy arrives (this is written on Tuesday, the day before he comes) I am well disposed to his company approach. He's told me that the two quotes I already have need to be re-read in the light of the access issue - and that one of them - the company that wants to use mini piles - probably hasn't read my briefing pack well enough. So that's why I changed the title of this post to [...], not so clueless of Lancaster

So now I'm wondering whether the TAF (Temporary Amphibian Fence) forced on us by our  blessed newts (I love them really) have screwed up access to the site. And in any case, this exercise has taught me that access needs to be considered for every large delivery. That is bigger than a 7.5 tonner.

Hmm, how to do that efficiently? Ideas on a postcard please..... (06:00)

Tuesday 08:10: See this comment by CalvinMiddle, and his further reference to this document...... (here). Bottom line; do your basic research. Interesting day ahead. Oh dear  another over-long day ahead. Fun this retirement lark!


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Great post.  It's frustrating that the entire building trade is so busy at the moment that even complete numpties and charlatans can make a living off those who don't (and indeed can't) know better.

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Time and time again throughout our build a remark made by an army chap that worked for me years ago comes to mind, "Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted".

I also became absolutely convinced that very few companies treated self-builders seriously, especially on the civil engineering side (and we had a LOT of that on our site).  As an example, I'd done a fair bit of research on gravity retaining walls, how they worked, how to calculate the various loads acting on them, etc, as originally I was thinking of building either a gabion or Permacrib retaining wall.  In the end, the wishes of the neighbour to have stone boundary wall on top ruled those systems out, so I had to get a structural engineer to design a vertical concrete retaining wall.  In fact I did the design first, to see what the cost would be, before going out to both retaining wall specialists and a few local structural engineers for quotes (I already had a full hydrogeological report detailing the strata beneath the site).

Quotes from SEs ranged from around £360 from a local chap, for a design, calculations, drawings, steel spec, etc (backed by his professional indemnity cover) to £1200 for an "initial sketch design, plus site visits at £250 each, as required, plus additional fees for steel specifications and working drawings" from another local firm.  Needless to say I rang the cheapest chap, he seemed a very competent and helpful bloke, said he knew the site well, as he'd already done some preliminary designs for a motor home secure parking area on there (for the previous owner).  He got the job, and produced a nice set of hand drawn sections, specifications, calculations and a steel specification table (clearly "old school", as he didn't even use email.........). 

Out of politeness I emailed all those who'd quoted but not won the job to tell them.  The most expensive firm, emailed me a questionaire, asking if I'd fill it in for feedback as to why they'd lost the job.  I did this, fairly and honestly, with the exception that they asked for the names and prices of the other quotes.  I thought it unethical to give names, but did agree to give approximate prices.  First I got a fairly rude phone call from a lady in their office saying that the other companies were all going to do a poor job (the second most expensive quote was around £700, IIRC) and then a day later I had one of the partners in the firm ring me, again telling me that I was taking a significant risk by not using them.  At this point I told him that I had double checked all the calculations, using the method in BS8002, BS5628 and Eurocode 7 and found them to be correct, so what was his problem?  He immediately changed tack and said "Why didn't you tell us that you had already done the engineering calculations?", from which I assumed that he originally thought I was a self-builder numptie that could be hoodwinked into paying three times the price.....................


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