Home Improvement

Windows and doors - a cautionary tale

One of the major things we wanted to do to the house when we bought it was to replace all the old windows/doors. The original windows were aluminium frame, they were double glazed, but not to a modern standard. The metal frames seemed to act as heat sinks, during the winter they were freezing to the touch. In addition to this we had a couple of specific changes beyond just replacing with newer versions. The first change we wanted to make were to the kitchen and bedroom windows, the originals consisted of 4 panels, the ones on each end open, and two fixed in the middle. This meant having a vertical strip of metal frame in the centre of the windows, and given the really rather lovely views we have, they sat right in the middle of the view. So the first major choice was to have a single large pane of glass in the centre. They look spectacular:

IMG_20150426_165832.jpg
IMG_20150426_165832.jpg

Before

wp-1435488035790
wp-1435488035790

After

The second change was the old french doors in the lounge that open onto a patio under a pergola. We wanted to replace these with bi-fold doors which would allow us to create a much larger opening in the summer to really connect the living space to the outside. The final major change was part of our complete change to the kitchen/dining room. I've written before about removing the wall that used to separate the two rooms, and removing the old kitchen to install the new. The last part of this is to turn what used to be a dining room window into another bi-fold door to the outside, leading onto a balcony that would have steps down to the garden.

This is a big job, and a very expensive thing to do to a house. Replacing all the windows, the back door, french doors, and introducing a new one. 

We first set about getting quotes not that long after we moved in, but we knew that the kitchen/dining room/door/balcony plan all hinged on getting planning permission for the balcony. That took a while longer, so the span of time involved has been about 10 months from initial quotes to now.

The first quote came from Crystal windows, they had a rep standing at the exit to B&Q, and they seemed as good a place as anywhere to start. And so they came and measured and spoke to us. We knew we wanted 3 quotes to compare, so we started looking for additional options. The second quote came from Essex Windows, the main man sets up a stall in our local market every Wednesday and Saturday. We spoke to him and arranged for him to come and quote us as well. The last quote came from local company Manor Windows. They have an office on the main road through Royston.

And so we were set three possibilities. Crystal came first, measured up everywhere and we drew some pictures of what we had in mind for a few of the above changes. From them we collected the measurements they made and passed them to the other 2 companies for the purposes of a quote. There was no need to have them all measuring at this stage as they would all return to do a 'proper' measure before ordering frames.

Ultimately all 3 quotes came in around about the same price, a little shy of 14k. I did say it was an expensive thing to do...

As we've been working on the house we have adopted a policy of buying local. Using local businesses where we can. We bought the carpet for our living room from the carpet shop on the high street, I used a local electrician and plasterer whilst sorting out the kitchen. So we chose Manor Windows, Which is operated by Roy Tucker. They seemed as good a choice as either of the other two, with the added advantage of an office within walking distance.

Big Mistake

Now before I get too far into the troubles, I will first state that the quality of the installed windows is great, the product is everything we wanted, the house looks amazing with the new rosewood frames. However, things have not gone smoothly and I ascribe this mostly to Roy being incompetent at communication and coordination. Physically installing windows seems to have been mostly pretty good, but I don't rate his ability to run and manage a business.

When we were finally ready to pull the trigger on windows, a long time had passed since the initial quote, and it was no longer valid, which we expected. This meant asking them to prepare a new quote. We had also determined in the interveening time that some of the measurements Crystal had originally taken were wrong. So we started again, measure and quote.

The first signs of trouble... The new quote was different to the previous by a not insubstantial amount. prices had gone up, again this is to be expected. However there was no real rhym or reason to the changes. In some places the glass was 40-50% more expensive than the previous quote, in others it was the same, or just 10-15% different. There were different prices for the glass at each end of our bay window, despite being identical pieces. All the handle colours where listed incorrect as gold when we asked for Silver. The only thing listed for the bi-folds was the price, no measurements. We took all of these issues to the office to find Jean. Jean is the person Roy pays to apparently sit in the office and play on facebook. I say this, because during the first few visits, every single time she was on facebook. Jean assured us that the software they use can be a bit 'funny' but that Roy would get it all sorted and update the quote. We really should have run away at this point. If they can't get these details correct, it really is warning sign. But we were keen to proceed, I was trying to time things to happen in time so that I could install the kitchen after the windows had been changed. And so we pressed on...

One thing Roy had told us when he came to measure again was that after deposit, it would take 14-17 days for everything to arrive and they'd set to work and it would take 4-5 days to complete the works. Once we had at least got the quote to show the right colour for handles and fixed some of the minor issues we decided to get things going and pay the deposit. This was a pain in itself as they used Paypal to accept payments. My bank blocked our attempt to pay half up front immediately. I had to phone them to get them to unblock it and allow the transaction to go through. And so we went to the office on another Saturday, to find Jean on facebook. We confirmed deposit had arrived, and asked when we could expect them to start work. At this point we were informed that Roy was now on holiday in new Zealand. For 2 weeks he would be uncontactable, and nothing would happen in his absence. This was pretty frustrating, timing is important and this immediately added 2 weeks to what we thought was really just a 3 week plan.

2 weeks later Roy was due to come on Tuesday after bankholiday monday to perform the measurements. he does not arrive, apparently a 'tooth problem' means he can't make it, he will be there tomorrow..., Roy and a crew of 3 others arrive the next day to get all the full measurements for everything. I was particularly keen to ensure the measurements for the new dining room door, since I would be altering the floor height and wanted to make sure they took note. Roy assured me that they would be checking everything thoroughly, after all, if he turned up with the wrong things I would be very upset. Oh. how right he was.

After some more chasing, another visit to facebook playing Jean, I finally extracted an estimated start date from them, a monday another 2 weeks hence, 5 full weeks from the point we paid the deposit and the week after my new kitchen units would be delivered.

And so the plan was set, I took a week off work, and I let them know that I would like them to start with the kitchen window and the dining room door. That way I could be installing kitchen whilst they did the rest of the house. The response I got was a terse single line. "we will be starting from the top down" I questioned if there was a reason they could not proceed as I had requested, and this revealed a sensible argument, they don't want to remove an old window above a newly installed one in case falling debris causes damage. Fine, I asked them to start with the windows above the kitchen/dining room. Then do the kitchen/dining room, before moving on to the rest of house.

Monday comes. at 7.30 I set to work on the kitchen.

By 10 I'm starting to get pretty annoyed that there is no sign of Roy. Just then I get an email... "Hi, we have loaded your windows this morning and ready to begin installation, there has unfortunately been a delay on the glass. The glass is being made up today and tomorrow and we will be on site to install on Wednesday. We have an extra man to help catch up and push things along. Apologies for the delay' Yes. and email. on the day that I have taken off work, expecting them to start, they felt this was appropriate. I phoned.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

I simply asked how the hell they get to the morning they are supposed to start, before discovering there is a problem with the glass being ready. This revealed that there had actually been a 'mix up' with the paper work, the glazing company did not have any requesting the windows. It's hard in these situations to know who is at fault, but I have a strong idea that a little less time on facebook and a little more time double checking suppliers and this would not have happened. Roy assures me he will bring 4 people and they will be able to make significant progress.

Wednesday comes, I'm getting close to the point I really want to install cupboards under the window, but cannot. 8.30 am.... 1 man arrives. He has no idea where Roy is, he has no idea where anyone else is. He has the glass on the van and proceeds to unload it into my living room. Jean doesn't really know where Roy is. Or where either of the other 2 people who were supposed to come are. She has nothing to offer. It later transpires that Roy had some tooth trouble. again. Apparently a lack of sleep, and emergency dental appointment, send him home to bed with painkillers. I don't know any of this because he contacted me, I only know through the proxy of speaking to Jean. The sole guy duly collects the window frames and moves them to the back of my house, but ultimately there is nothing else he can achieve on his own so he heads off.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

Thursday. 4 days into their timeline, infact the day they thought they would be done. 8.30 Roy and 1 other arrive. Roy apologises, and I tell him that I don't need an apology, I need progress. I ask about the extra people, but no, Roy says it is just the two of them, they will make progress. In this first day of actual work they do manage to replace the bedroom window, the kitchen window and the ensuite and dressing room windows. They leave at 3pm Call me crazy, but at this point I would like to feel that there is some sense of working to make amends for the delays. But no, 3pm and off they go.

Friday, The same 2 arrive again at 8.30. Still no additional resource to catch up. They set to work and replace the remaining windows on the first floor., and set to work on the back door. I come down from working on the kitchen to see how things look as they are packing up for the day. I am greeted by this view of my back door:

The door is on backwards, the window is the old window cobbled back into the hole. It is at this point that Roy comes to explain, apparently there was more plaster on the wall than they expected, and it would have interfered with the hinges, so they will need to order a new frame with more padding to compensate. The window was just wrong, made to the wrong measurements. Realistically it will be 2 more weeks before they are able to put this right. In the meantime the door is at least secure. End of the week the job was supposed to be completed and I'm not terribly happy. We're just about to go into another bank holiday weekend. When will Roy be back? not Saturday that is for sure. They will be back Tuesday. I ask if they will be able to install my dining room door then, and it is at this point, at the end of the week, for the first time... Roy reveals that there is no delivery date on the bi-fold doors yet.

He apparently didn't think this was worth mentioning before hand, given everything else that had screwed up, perhaps he was hoping that by the time they'd messed up everything else, they might finally arrive. He leaves me with promises to call the company and see if they can get the doors out to them for next Tuesday, he says that if the problem is merely delivery he will go collect them himself.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

Tuesday comes...Roy and 2 others arrive. 3 whole people! I'm busy in the kitchen and Roy does not come to talk to me. I Assume this is bad news on the doors. They set to work on the bay window, and to pointing in around the frames of the already installed windows. I decide to leave confronting Roy until later in the day. At this point I know I will be angry, and there is no point doing that early in the day. When I notice that they are wrapping up I wander down, I find one of the other workmen and ask if they will be back tomorrow to fit my doors. He claims ignorance, they only find out each morning what the plan is for the day. I'll need to talk to Roy... but Roy is not here. I'm told that he has gone to fetch a board that they can lay over the roof of my pergola to do the pointing for those windows. This makes sense. I check..."So Roy is coming back?' oh yes I'm told. 2 hours later, no sign of Roy, I've not left the house because I expected him back. I try to call him. No answer. I call the office. Jean informs me that he is actually out at another survey, she knows nothing of any plan to return. The doors have not come in. They *might* ship on Friday. Through some text messages I find that Roy is not intending to return. But he is expecting the doors the following Tuesday and they will be back to complete the job.

For those keeping track we're now into my second week (which I had to extend my holiday for) The subsequent week I have to return to work. I inform them that I will need to make arrangements to work from home on Tuesday, so I need to know that this is going to happen. I also check if they will install both doors in one day... They don't know, it depends when they arrive. So I also need to make plans to be available on Wednesday. My wife will be working from home so that is an easier day to cover.

I check on the Friday, "you are still on for Tuesday?" yes, doors will be coming.

I get back to work on Monday after 2 weeks off, and immediately have to re-arrange meetings for Tuesday so that I can work from home. We're now 7 full weeks since deposit paid and entering the 8th.

Another Tuesday, and I am working from home. 10am...Jean calls - Yes the doors are on their way, she will call again when they have them at the yard. I ask - shouldn't you be here starting to remove the existing doors/openning the wall. If the doors are definitely coming today... But no that is not what they want to do. The day passes... 2pm comes. Jean Calls.. The doors are 'nearly' at the yard. Roy has gone to pick them up. But there is no time now to actually do anything with them other than drop them off, he'll be with me in about an hour. They will be back tomorrow to install.

I am angry. But I do not shout.

I do suggest that I should invoice them for every day that I have re-arranged my life to be in the house waiting for them, on days they have told me they will be working, only to find they do not turn up. 3 hours later...no sign of Roy. I call the office. but it is 5:00:01 and of course there is no one there. I text Roy - I was told you were coming with doors to drop off. But no, apparently he has now decided they'll just come tomorrow, and start at 8.15.

Wednesday comes. and I go to work. Leaving my wife to deal with what will hopefully be the final day of this mess. 8.15 they arrive, and they set to work. One begins to cut into the wall under the dining room window, Roy begins to remove the french doors. Progress is being made, despite myself I'm a little happy, things are finally going to be done. I'm finally going to be able to lay the floor in my new kitchen/dining room.

Around about midday I notice on my security cameras that it looks like the livingroom bi-fold has been installed. I ping Kat to ask how things look. a few minutes later she asks me to phone...

The door is set to open the wrong way around. Our french doors opened from right to left. Our bi-fold should do the same, this would leave the doors opened up against the edge of the house. However these doors open left to right. This means that the doors hang out into the middle of our patio when they are open. The other door is apparently also wrong. The plan is for there to be a balcony with stairs on one side. The door should have opened from right to left, but it opens left to right, so if installed it would block the stairs when open.

Everyone is angry. There was apparently some shouting.

We had clearly explained our requirements to everyone that quoted us. Whats more our requirement is obvious in the lounge. No sane person would set up doors to hang into he middle of the patio. Roy claims that we gave him a drawing that showed them this way around. The drawing he is refering to was one from 10 months ago, one which we provided for initial quote purposes. And one on which we had drawn the doors, from the perspective of looking from inside the house to outside. The same perspective as we had drawn the windows. Roy claims that the 'convention' is to draw windows from inside looking out, but to draw doors from outside looking in. He believes it is our fault, apparently we should have know this ridiculous convention, he felt that he had done what the drawing showed. We felt that we had explained verbally what we wanted, and drawn something that matched this. He had repeatedly said they would check all the details, but under pressure apparently this only counts for the measurements. Roy refuses to accept responsibility for his mistake.

During this exchange he also informs Kat that Jean has resigned, because of me... Now I find this pretty hard to believe. Kat took Jean flowers to apologise if this whole situation had impacted her personally. Because Kat is an awesome human being. I am not. However, as previously noted, I never shouted at anyone through this, I never swore or called people names. All I ever did was tersely ask them to explain to me how they had made the latest mistake, essentially I wanted to hear them admit and accept that things had gone wrong because they had messed up, or here them admit that they had lied to me. I'm sure these were not great conversations to be on the other end of. I doubt though that they would be sufficiently uncomfortable to resign over. If what they claim was true, in that this has all been a rare confluence of mistakes that simply don't happen normally, then I am at worst a single angry customer who would be out of their hair as soon as they finish. However I have a better theory. I suspect that I am far from the only angry customer, that actually this kind of thing is frequent, and Jean is sick of being in the middle of an angry customer and an incompetent Roy. I guess I'll never know.

All the delays and stupidity seem like such minor concerns now, against this massive screw up. Roy offers to install the wrong doors, but knock £1250 off the price. This is about 25% of the cost of the doors. But there is simply no discount level at which we will accept them the wrong way around. We never plan to move again, this is about making our home awesome for the long term. Days pass, with sporadic responses to text messages. Roy initially wanted to 'check' his paperwork. but that amounted to nothing. Eventually we are presented with 3 options. Accept the wrong doors and the £1250 discount. Stump up an additional £5000 to have him order the correct frames (which will also be 3-4 weeks before they are ready) or have him finish everything else and take the bi-folds away. He won't charge us for them. And we just find another supplier.

We choose the last option. And at time of writing that is were we are. Everything except the doors is completed now, the read door is now installed correctly at a window of the right size fitted. We have one incorrect door in the lounge, and a large hole in the brickwork beneath the dining room window covered with a plywood board. We have a new company coming to measure up to provide the doors, and I guess another 4-5 weeks to wait before they can finally finish the job. When they are ready Roy will remove the installed door. Another 4-5 weeks before I can put floor down in my kitchen.

I am angry. but I do not shout. except on the internet, where I caution you...ask around, ask your neighbours, get personal recommendations, and most of all, if there is even a tiny hint of not paying attention to details...run away. Oh and, if you live in Royston, I'd strongly advise against using Manor Windows.

(Update: the time came and new company installed new doors and make showed up on time to take their away. Great to finally get everything finished.)