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Choosing the right kitchen fitter
Last updated 20th Sep 2018
Kitchens are often described as the heart of the home, the warm and cosy space where many of us cook, eat and socialise.
Whether you’re simply updating a tired galley kitchen, or looking to install a top-of-the-range space that would make a celebrity chef jealous, with such an important room, it’s vital that you find the right kitchen fitter to perform the work. We spoke to some of the experienced tradesmen recommended on MyBuilder to find out the key things you should know in order to make the right choice:
- Look out for experience as much as accreditations
- Make sure you are comfortable with them
- Get quotes that cover everything
- Establish a payment plan
- Check their familiarity with building regulations
- Ensure there are follow-ups after the build
Keeping these points in mind can help you focus on what to look for when you’re meeting with tradesmen and getting quotes for the work. Carry on reading for more details on how to go about finding the right tradesman for your job.
Look out for experience as much as accreditations
Kitchens are far from a simple, off-the-shelf purchase. Although the basics of kitchen fitting may appear outwardly similar from job to job - installing some cabinets, plumbing a sink, fitting a cooker - the devil is in the details, and there are big differences between swapping in a few new units, and renovating a large kitchen with extras such an island work unit and underfloor heating.
As with many jobs, there are a range of available tradesmen who will be able to take on the project. At one end of the scale, there are firms that specialise in kitchen fitting, working with you on every element of the build, from designing the new kitchen to installation and decoration. At the other end of the scale will be more general builders and carpenters, who have the necessary skills to remove and fit a kitchen, but may outsource jobs such as the plumbing and electricals. Both have their advantages - while a specialised firm will likely deliver a very high standard to your exact specifications, the chances are it will be far more expensive than hiring a generalist.
When looking for a tradesman for your project, it’s sensible to speak to ones who have performed similar jobs to the one you have planned. As well as seeing previous examples of their work that they can show you as part of their portfolio, you may also be able to arrange through them to visit their previous jobs - they should be happy to put you in touch with previous clients they have done work for before.
As well as checking their references, there are other things you can do to check their experience. On MyBuilder, you can read honest feedback on the jobs they have undertaken for homeowners, as well as seeing pictures of the jobs they have taken on. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions as well, about any qualifications they may have, their length of time in the business, or how they’ll approach your own particular job.
Some tradesmen may belong to trade associations. As well as general trade bodies for builders like the Federation of Master Builders and the Guild of Master Craftsmen, kitchen fitters may also be part of the Kitchen, Bathroom and Bedroom Association (KBSA), which offers protection for consumers who hire KBSA members.
However, it is experience that is the most important thing to look out for. Nigel England of N England Joinery, a partnership which specialises in kitchen fitting, has more than 120 positive pieces of feedback on MyBuilder. He said:
My partner and I have a lot of experience in the business, training up from simple joinery all the way up to fitting - my partner was even a commercial shopfitter for years. We have qualifications like NVQs, but I think the bulk of what you learn comes on the job. With a few years of working together, we’re now B&Q approved installers for kitchens. We always have a portfolio of pictures for people to see the kind of work we do, and of course, they can see all of our feedback on MyBuilder - that kind of recommendation is really important, it shows that we have the experience.
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Make sure you are comfortable with them
As well as knowing if they are experienced with your kind of job, you should simply assess how comfortable you feel with the potential tradesmen. You can do that from your first contact with them; are they polite on the phone, do they arrive for meetings at the scheduled time, do they ask lots of questions about the project?
Kitchen fittings aren’t completed in a couple of hours - depending on the size of the job, it can last for as little as a few days, or up to several weeks. Much of that time, if your kitchen is out of action, with little in the way of cooking facilities outside of a microwave in another room, you may need to vacate your home while your tradesman works on it. Being able to maintain good communication throughout the project is essential. You don’t have to become best friends with them, but you should be able to have a professional relationship - you must feel comfortable speaking openly about any concerns that may arise, and dealing with any issues. James Woodham of Akiva Projects, which works on high-end kitchens and bathrooms, said:
I believe that every tradesman that comes into your house should be really friendly, really experienced, really clean and tidy. And they should be able to explain everything to the client. Every time we leave a project I like to think we leave them with knowledge as well. You can never provide a client with too much information. The more you ask them, the more they feel involved in the process, and the more confident they can feel in you.
Get quotes that cover everything
With many larger jobs, it’s advisable to meet with, and get quotations, from at least three tradesman. The detail and scope of their quotation can tell you a lot about their process. It’s important to make sure that all the quotations are like-for-like - do they include materials and labour, as well as any subcontracting the tradesman may do, and VAT? If the tradesman will be removing and disposing of the previous kitchen features, is that included? The only way to accurately compare quotations is if you are comparing like-for-like, and to get them from people who have seen the job in person.
Taking a sample of at least three quotations can help you spot any that seem unreasonably low - if this is the case, it could be the sign of a tradesman who wants to win the job, but will make up the true value by adding on extra costs during the course of the build.
The cost of your project will of course be affected by the scope of your work - if you are looking to hire a firm to design your new kitchen as well as fit it, it will be considerably more than a simple installation project. The cost will also change depending on whether or not you purchase the kitchen yourself, either from a store, or the internet, or whether you employ a fitter first and get them to purchase the kitchen. In some cases, this can work out cheaper, as fitters may have relationships with manufacturers, or be approved installers, and can pass their trade discounts on to you, as Nigel can do with B&Q kitchens. This also minimises the risk of buying elements yourself, only to find they are substandard, or don’t fit your space. If you do choose to make the purchase yourself, it is important that you communicate with your fitter to make sure they are familiar with the particular brand and comfortable with fitting it. If you do buy the kitchen yourself, make sure your timing works out regarding when it is delivered and when it can be fitted. Nigel said:
If you’re ordering online or through a store, it can take four to six weeks to get it delivered, so you have to work out your timings when it comes to having it fitted. All of the units and everything can take up a lot of space, and you don’t want to keep them outside or in a shed or garage where they can get wet and cold - plus, work surfaces can warp if left on their sides. At the same time, if you keep them in your living room, it’s going to take up a lot of room. I’d always advise people to talk to their fitter first to make sure it all happens on time.
I’ve had people try and explain jobs on the phone, but I tell them I’m sorry, I have to see it in person to talk it through - it’s the only way to give a good, accurate quote. You have to get everything out up front, give all the information, so everyone knows what’s included and what to expect. It should be clear about things like materials too - you have to use quality materials, it’s all in the detail.
Establish a payment plan
After agreeing to a price through an accurate, written quotation, make sure you have a payment plan in place that you are comfortable with. A written contract is the best way to ensure you are on the same page, with no misunderstandings.
A reputable tradesman will generally not expect, or ask for, the total value of an expensive kitchen job upfront. However, a small deposit is not uncommon. While many builders buy materials on account from trade suppliers, and will not request money up front to cover these costs, if it’s a small firm working on a large build with high costs involved, this may be worked into the plan.
Usually, payment will be deferred until after the build is completed. Many tradesmen will be happy to deal in cash, but most should now accept cheques or bank transfers, which allow you to keep a better record of the transaction.
Check their familiarity with building regulations
Your kitchen job will almost certainly involve electrical work, either with changing lighting, installing electric oven and extractor fan, and may also include gas work if installing a gas cooker.
All electric work should be carried out by a qualified electrician. The vast majority of electrical work carried out in the home must be done in line with legal standards, and to be approved, it must be either:
- Approved by the Building Control department of your local authority
- Carried out by tradesmen registered with a competent person scheme, who is qualified to self-certify their work
This is to ensure that all the electrical work is safe, and will not pose a danger to yourself and other people in your home. If the work does not come up to standard, your local authority can insist that the work be corrected, while you can face difficulties selling your home if you don’t have the correct electrical safety certificates to show that the work has been done.
An electrician who is qualified and registered with a competent persons schemes is allowed to self-certify their work, issuing you with a certificate of compliance on completion, and dealing with Building Control on your behalf. If the kitchen fitter you are interested in hiring is not qualified, ask if they will bring in an electrician to do the work, or, if they plan to do it themselves, if they will bring in someone from your local authority’s Building Control department to inspect it and certify it afterwards. Building Control inspectors can be busy, so this can cause delays in the project if not planned for.
Similarly, if any gas work is involved, the tradesman dealing with it must be on the Gas Safe Register. Nigel said:
We’re both experienced and can do a range of different jobs - I like cutting down the work surfaces and the units, Neil tends to do more of the plumbing side of things, and we both enjoy tiling. But when it comes to electrics, we don’t do it ourselves - we have a friendly electrician who we regularly work with, and have him come in to do any electrical aspects of the job and have it all certified. We’ve seen some really bad electrics out there and had to clean up after it - it has to be done safely.
Ensure there are follow-ups after the build
With a project like kitchen fitting, there is chance that there will be complications along the way. Often, these issues may not manifest themselves until after the work is notionally complete, and the tradesman has moved on to other jobs. That being so, it is sensible to hire a tradesman who is happy to return to the build to follow-up on their work and make right anything that may have happened since the work finished.
Some builders will put something to this effect in their initial contracts with the homeowners, while others will offer a more informal arrangement. Kitchen units themselves may also come with warranties, which is worth double checking if buying through the fitter. Builder Vasile Ghinda of V Ghinda Builders, who does a lot of work installing kitchens, said:
I like to put it in the contract with them, just to give them peace of mind. I will generally come back after one month, to make sure everything is as it should be, then sometimes after six months as well to check in. Usually I can sort out small issues without payment, though it depends on what happens.
If the tradesman is willing to put you in touch with previous clients to see their work, then it is a good sign that they have maintained good relationships, taken pride in their work, and ensured that they have followed-up on any issues that have arisen.
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