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Choosing the right window fitter
Last updated 9th May 2017
When choosing the right windows specialist, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Arm yourself with some basic knowledge first
- Check that they are registered
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- Find out how the tradesman will be sourcing their materials
- Make sure they understand planning permission and Building Regulations
- Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
- Never pay in full upfront!
- Consider using a smaller firm
- Ask who will actually be doing the work
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Arm yourself with some basic knowledge first
Before you get any windows specialists round to quote on your job, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with some basic knowledge of the subject. That way, you’ll be much more able to tell the difference between the products that are mentioned, and work out whether the quotes you’re given are reasonable.
The Double Glazing & Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme website is a good place to start learning about the different types of UPVC windows that are on offer. You can also find out about the difference between timber, UPVC and composite doors.
Check that they are registered
There are several Competent Person Schemes that cover the windows trade in the UK. FENSA and CERTASS are probably the two best-known schemes. The others that cover windows and doors are the Assure scheme and Stroma Certification.
It’s a good idea to choose a tradesman who is registered with one of these schemes. They work with thousands of windows specialists, aiming to raise standards within the profession and offering homeowners extra legal protection if anything goes wrong.
MyBuilder member Infinity Doors Ltd provide composite, aluminium, PVC and engineered timber windows and doors. Director Debbie Simmons explains the difference between FENSA and CERTASS - and highlights why choosing a tradesman who is part of a Competent Person Scheme is so important:
Being registered with CERTASS, a tradesman pays them per job, rather than paying a fixed rate fee as you would with FENSA. That’s why a lot of smaller companies would use CERTASS. And it still offers homeowners the same level of protection. They come out and look at our work in progress - to make sure we’re keeping up to standard.
If you’re CERTASS-or FENSA-registered, you also have to register with the Independent Warranty Association (IWA). They cover the homeowner - so if my company was to go bust, and one of my customers needed their window repaired, they would have an insurance-backed guarantee to ensure that happened.
Finally, we have to log all the jobs we do with CERTASS - and then they give a certificate directly to the homeowner. After that, CERTASS can contact the customer directly, and go and check our work at any point. And they really will make people go back and fix the work, if they’re not happy with what a tradesman has done in any way.
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Choose someone with lots of specific experience
It’s important you choose a windows specialist who has specific experience of the sort of work you want done. For example, a tradesman might be expert at installing new double glazing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he understands how to repair an original sash window.
Once you’ve found someone with lots of relevant experience, ask to view some of their recent work. Debbie emphasises:
I always suggest to local customers that they visit a nearby property that we’ve worked on - even if it’s just doing a drive-by.
If someone is paying a lot of money for something - for example we had an enquiry from a customer who wanted a huge aluminium sliding door set installed, which will cost around £5,000 - then they should definitely go and see something else we’ve done, of the same quality.
Debbie suggests customers also ask to see samples of materials, so they can examine the quality of what they’re being offered:
There are just so many different sorts of windows that customers can buy - from very cheap to very expensive. And they should check what grade of glass they’re getting, as well, because the different grades have different thermal properties. You should really just go for A Grade glass or above, unless it’s going in a shed or garage or something like that.
Find out how the tradesman will be sourcing their materials
A good windows specialist will have an established relationship with their materials supplier, says Debbie:
We’ve been to the factory - we’ve seen where it’s made, all in the UK - we’ve felt it, we’ve fitted it. And if there are any issues, we know we can ring someone up and usually get something couriered out that same day.
Many homeowners hope to save money by sourcing materials themselves - often online - and then giving them to the tradesmen to fit. However, tradesmen are often wary of using materials provided by the customer, so it’s important you ask whether there will be any issues with this in advance:
If the materials haven’t been sourced by us, we can’t offer any guarantee on them. Whereas if we’ve provided them, you’ll get a ten or 25 year guarantee on them.
If you buy something cheap online, you can never be 100% sure what you’re going to get. We had a customer who bought a cheap conservatory online - and it turned out to be lots of the bits that hadn’t been cut to size. Not only was it pretty flimsy, but we had to make a lot of extra cuts - which we obviously had to charge for. Buying materials cheaply online can prove to be a false economy!
Make sure they understand planning permission and Building Regulations
Building Regulations may apply to certain window and door installations. And if they constitute major changes to your property, they may need planning permission.
You should do some initial research on this yourself, before you hire a tradesman. For example, it’s worth finding out whether your property is in a Conservation Area, and speaking to your local council to make sure the work you want to have done is likely to be approved.
However, a reputable windows specialist should also have a good understanding of the planning and Building Regulations issues that commonly affect windows installation. If you don’t feel confident about navigating the process yourself, many companies will be happy to advise on how to proceed, and may even be able to complete and submit the paperwork on your behalf.
Get a detailed quote from each tradesman you’re considering
Contact at least three windows specialists, and get a quote in writing from each one.
You’ll need to be able to compare like with like - so make sure these quotes include any and all possible expenses, like labour, materials, the cost of hiring any scaffolding, the disposal of waste and so on.
Never pay in full upfront!
It’s not unusual to be asked for an installment upfront, especially for larger jobs. Anthony Etheridge of A & E Glazing has been a member of MyBuilder since 2009, and has an excellent customer feedback score.
In terms of payment, I work on the basis of a 25% deposit and the rest on completion”, he explains. “That’s just an indication of commitment on both sides. Generally speaking, the 25% doesn’t even cover the cost of materials; it’s just a demonstration of commitment from the customer.
Never pay the remaining balance until the job is complete and you’ve fully inspected the work.
Consider using a smaller firm
There are certain big double glazing companies that are virtually household names, in part due to the large sums they are able to spend on advertising, and their proactive, ‘door to door’ sales style.
However, you don’t need to choose one of the big, famous firms. In fact in some cases you might end up paying more if you do, as their reputations mean they tend to charge more for their services.
Anthony explains why choose a reputable smaller firm could be the right thing to do:
We’re a small independent firm, so we’re local and can offer good rates. We don’t use sales representatives - I go out and give them the price myself. The big companies - they tend to use all the old sales tactics - ‘buy it now’, ‘sign up today’, etc. I hear it all from customers; they can sit there for two hours sometimes, and a lot of sales are commission-based. I don’t work on commission.
Ask who will actually be doing the work
When each tradesman comes to quote on your project, make sure you ask them who will actually be doing the work. You need to find out which aspects of the job will be carried out by the tradesman himself, and which elements will be undertaken by other members of his team, or sub-contractors.
Many good tradesmen subcontract out certain tasks - this is not necessarily a problem. But it’s important you find out the extent to which work will be outsourced - and crucially, who will take responsibility if there are any issues or problems.
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