Series following tradesmen and looking at cowboy contractors. Tommy Walsh meets a family who can't even get out of their own kitchen door thanks to a cowboy builder.
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When a crisis strikes your home...
-How can I help?
-I've got a bit of an emergency.
..or you want major work done...
It seemed to my mind, nothing had been done.
The roof itself was on the verge of collapsing.
..you need one of the good guys.
But you don't always get them.
You need to get a plumber in straightaway to fix that.
He has destroyed our dreams.
We will hear the stories of devastation and despair
left behind when building work doesn't go to plan.
He has damaged my house.
It is just basically shoddy workmanship.
And we'll tell you how to avoid becoming a victim yourself.
You still need building regs, whatever you do.
But most tradesmen are there to help.
And we'll follow the response teams who are there for you
24 hours a day...
..seven days a week.
We had a lot of carbon monoxide issues.
From plumbers to roofers, electricians to locksmiths,
we meet the men and women who help you out in your hour of need.
Flat owner Philippa's flooded out.
It is rushing water and you just do not know how to stop it.
And now, so is her neighbour.
There was no way anyone could have seen it coming.
The bird in the hand is one thing,
but a family of them in the chimney
spells trouble for sweep Christine...
There's a massive nest up there.
..and householder Darcy.
I reckon we have probably had 25 years of jackdaws putting
sort of rubbish and bits down the chimney.
And a dodgy builder leaves chaos in his wake.
But takes the money with him,
leaving this family rocked to their foundations.
He actually dissolved his company and disappeared.
Not with all the money, I hope.
Absolutely, yeah, every single penny.
What is the saying? Your home is your castle, right?
But it feels more like an invasion
when you get loads of tradespeople round.
But what you don't want to do is meet one who makes you wish
you pulled the drawbridge up before they had arrived.
So when you are planning a build, big or small,
you must do your research.
And if you're a beginner at this sort of thing, you can
never do too much.
If you don't, it could cost you,
as the Tugwell family from Kent found out.
You don't ever think it's going to happen to you.
But unfortunately, in our case, it did.
The whole situation is an absolute nightmare.
It has put a strain on my relationship with my wife
and my children. And it has been very difficult.
The couple wanted a raised conservatory at the back
of their house, with a storage area underneath.
With four children and Julie's job as a child minder filling
the house even more, it seemed a good idea to have more space.
My wife does child minding for a business,
thought she could use the extra space of a conservatory on the back.
And it was a great idea at the time.
And even the planners, when we went to our planning meeting,
actually said, "That is a novel way
"of using the space that you've got underneath there."
Chris works as a supervisor for London Transport
and cash is pretty tight,
but the couple decided to use money his father had left them
for the build.
Using his inheritance to me...
He worked for 40 years, all his life,
he didn't have an awful lot of money.
But when he died, he wanted all his children to benefit.
And obviously, as a memorial to him,
I wanted to use that money in the right way.
In fact, they handed over £20,000.
But as you have probably guessed, it all went wrong for Chris
and his family, thanks to a father
and son act who turned out to be a right pair of rogues.
The architect who did the drawings, his son was a builder.
He said he could do the work.
Here we are, 2 1/2 years later, it is a total mass.
I'm at Chris and Julie's to see the chaos they left behind.
-How are you?
-Nice to meet you.
I've come to have a look at your problems.
I need Chris to fill in some of the details for me.
You wanted to have a conservatory built rather than an extension.
We had a raised patio,
which took up the whole back end of the house. So we thought,
rather than just put a conservatory on top of that, we will utilise
the space underneath, dig it all out and have a basement storage area.
Chris felt he was going the right way about things.
It was the architect's son who was apparently a builder.
And he said, "Well, I can do it for you."
He said he had built some houses, which we went and looked at.
They seemed OK. And we thought it was fine.
We didn't realise there was any problem
until he started laying bricks.
The couple looked at the houses the builder claimed were his work,
but didn't talk to the homeowners - a classic mistake.
But they did get other quotes before unfortunately opting to
go for his quote of £26,000.
It was slightly cheaper, but there wasn't an awful lot in it,
and as we thought the architect had done the drawings,
it was his son doing the building work, we thought, if there are any
problems, it will be easier to smooth them out that way.
Chris did do some of the right checks.
But it wasn't long before lots of things started going wrong.
He seemed pretty punctual. He didn't have many men.
And we thought it was a bit strange he used to turn up in a hired van.
But after he had been to the local DIY store,
he had nothing delivered but a bulk load of sand.
And he started works, everything went OK.
Well, the first week or so was OK. They dug it all out.
One of the contractors they employed to dig it out said
he wasn't happy with what was being done.
He thought there was a problem with the foundations where
he was digging it out. Because the basement was going to
effectively go below, we had to underpin...
You would have to. If you are going below the foundations,
-you have to underpin it, yeah.
-And the contractor was digging it out.
He left the job. And then it really all snowballed from there.
Crikey! There were plenty of warning signs.
When you are building, there should always be official backup.
You have always got the safety net of the building inspector.
They issued what they call the yellow peril, but unfortunately,
they were just advisory notes, this is what the builder told us,
and he didn't have to do it.
So there is a stack of yellow perils which should have been done,
we understand now, but he never did them.
You know, the building inspector is keen.
-What happens, they inspect every stage of the construction...
..to make sure it complies with building regs and it's safe.
So normally, it is a good thing to have them
on board to make sure everything gets done correctly.
If a building inspector advises you he isn't satisfied with
the work, you have to put it right.
Without their sign-off,
work will not be passed as safe or fit for purpose.
By ignoring the notices he called yellow perils, the builder
left Chris with huge problems.
As the householder, he is responsible for the work.
So when did Chris catch onto how bad things were?
He had a bricklayer's mate...
-I thought I had seen advertised on the TV.
Yeah. And we thought that was a bit strange.
If you are bricklayer, you should be doing it properly.
So my wife actually said to him,
"You know what you're doing?"
And we were looking at some of his lines that he was putting up,
and it wasn't straight it all.
Cor! There were some real red flags waving with this builder.
And later, Chris has to face some pretty hard facts.
Looking at this, I think this is going to have to go
and this is going to have to come out.
It's Monday morning in Central London
and at the HQ of a busy plumbing firm, the phone lines are buzzing.
The call is from businesswoman Philippa,
who lives in upmarket Kensington.
Plumber Nick is dispatched.
It's his first call-out of the day, and it is urgent.
He is off to the rescue of two homeowners
having a very bad start to the week.
Just going to go in and see what the problem is,
see if we can resolve it for the lady.
The problem is in Philippa's ground-floor flat,
but it is also affecting her neighbour in the basement below.
-Oh, I can hear water.
Yeah, well, it has slightened a bit now.
-Really? Well, it still sounds like that.
The water is pouring through the bathroom ceiling.
He can hear it, but it is impossible to see where it is coming from.
Nick is determined to find out and put a stop to it before it brings
down the ceiling in both period properties,
costing thousands to repair.
I don't know where that is coming from, so I'll quickly run back,
get a letter, get in there and see if we can isolate...
The problem is, I haven't got keys for upstairs.
It may be coming from your property.
But obviously, you know, I need to jump up there first and foremost.
So, yeah, give me a couple of minutes and I will actually run back,
I won't walk.
He means it. Nick sprints to his van.
Damaged ceilings aren't his only worry.
Because there is water coming through a ceiling,
it has gone in the electrics,
so it is a bit more of an emergency than what you would usually expect,
so we just have to wait and see.
Nick needs to act quickly.
Water and electrics don't mix.
And it could already be threatening the basement flat's supply too.
Later, Nick identifies the problem.
Never seen a ball valve like this. It is a really cheap constructed jobbie.
And Philippa's neighbour surveys the damage.
Back in Kent, I am about to cast my eye over the chaos
left by a builder employed to create a raised conservatory
and storage area at the home of Chris and Julie Tugwell.
The couple didn't know it, but the local council's building inspector
had been issuing notices to their contractor to rectify major faults.
He didn't put them right but instead vanished with the couple's cash.
We asked him to come back and put all the stuff right.
And it went on and on and on.
In the end, he actually dissolved his company
-Not with all the money, I hope.
Absolutely, yeah, every single penny.
-All 26 grand?
He got £20,000 out of us. It was paid on...instalments.
A payment plan is a must,
but don't pay a penny until you know the work has been signed off.
So let's have a look at what Chris got for his 20,000.
Is that it here?
It would be nice if you could go out that way, but it's unsafe.
Unfortunately, there is about a ten-foot drop down into the hole.
So we've got to go out that way, through the back garden.
-All right, let's go then.
I can see why Chris didn't want me going out the back door.
-Cor, Chris, this is blooming huge!
-It certainly is, Tommy, isn't it?
It's quite surprising.
And, of course, it was obviously built for the vertically challenged.
Yeah. If you are short like me, it is not a problem.
-That's where we were just now, in the kitchen.
-It is, yes.
That is the back door.
As I said, if you want to walk out there, it is quite a large drop.
All jokes aside, as far as I am concerned,
this build is an absolute disgrace.
-It's all a bit rough, isn't it?
-Well, now we realise it is.
We had never done anything like this before, so we didn't know.
We were relying on what we thought was a good builder.
It looks to me that whoever built this didn't really know
what they were doing.
This work is shocking,
not to say dangerous. And I've got some very bad news for Chris.
Looking at this, I think this is going to have to go.
And this is going to come out.
Unfortunately, Tommy, I think that is the case.
And it is going to be an awful lot more money,
an awful lot more time.
Chris' garden has been a building site now for two years.
The kids can't use it
and the Tugwells are trying to find the money to put everything right.
It has ripped the heart out of this family.
-What do you plan? What is next?
-We have got some quotes coming in.
And then we have got to try and fund it.
We've got a certain amount of money which we have put aside,
but if it is going to come out at £40,000 or £50,000, which it
looks like it is going to, we are not going to be able to afford that.
Whether we just have a conservatory, something smaller, I don't know.
But we can't... I don't think we can have it all any more.
Chris and Julie have been the victims of an unskilled,
unqualified builder, recommended for the job by his dad.
The failure to protect the foundations threatens
the safety of their home.
Their next door neighbour's land has been affected,
they've lost the money his dad worked for all his life
and to put it right, they'll end up heavily in debt.
They are not alone.
Dodgy builders like this are a curse of the trade
and attract more than 100,000 complaints a year.
On Chris's behalf, we have chased the builder by phone and e-mail.
He has refused to answer and now changed his numbers.
We have also checked out his father's credentials to find
he isn't a qualified architect but an architectural consultant,
and that is a title anyone can claim.
All I can do is try and stop Chris making the same mistakes again,
and there is something that he needs to know.
Our team has found out that one of the people that
-you are interested in coming in to do this, a basement specialist.
Well, apparently, there is
a website dedicated to people who are dissatisfied with his work.
So you need to check that out.
-Either eliminate him from your selection process.
-Which would be my advice.
-Thanks for making us aware of that, Tommy.
We wasn't aware of that.
-Thank you very much.
-I hope you have success with this.
-I'll give you me hand and me heart.
-All right, mate.
You know, because of those yellow peril notices the builder ignored,
Chris is technically responsible for this substandard build.
It's a real shame that Chris has had to learn the hard way.
It just goes to show, even if
you hire a so-called professional to run the job and do the job
properly for you, the liability for the work is still yours.
Building Control have lots of rules
and regulations in place just for that.
So let's keep our fingers crossed that the second time Chris
attempts to complete this project that it will go smoothly for him.
So what can we take away from Chris and Julie's experience?
One - if a builder shows you works he claims to have done,
don't take his word for it, speak to the customer.
Two - if other contractors on the job express concerns, take heed.
And three - keep in contact
with Building Control
and make sure their recommendations
are followed to the letter.
Back in London, plumber Nick is attending an emergency
in Philippa's flat in upmarket Kensington.
Water has flooded through her bathroom ceiling
and is also leaking into the flat below.
Nick has found a small loft above Philippa's flat.
He climbs up, squeezes into the tiny space
and crawls towards the problem.
There is more than one old-fashioned water storage tank up there.
Luckily, the first one he examines is the cause of the flooding.
This tank is overflowing.
The water level is literally here.
It is full to the brim.
I was leaving the house this morning,
I heard water pouring
in the bathroom,
which I thought it was my shower, for some reason.
And then I just saw water pouring through the lights.
This is how the ball valve was sitting in the tank.
A ball valve is supposed to sit like this.
But on arrival, the ball valve is down like this,
hence water can still flow.
I've never seen a ball valve like this.
It is a really cheap constructed jobbie.
It is quite a panicky situation when you have water pouring.
What doesn't help is the overflow on this is so high, at that end,
the actual tank is slanted,
hence the reason why the water was pouring over here.
This end is wet and not that end.
When it first started,
it was a huge rush of water.
And so my whole bathroom basically flooded.
You do get into a panic because it's rushing water
and you just do not know how to stop it.
It is just now a case of draining down and repairing.
Nick has some good news for Philippa,
but she is concerned whose cold water storage tank it is.
-At the moment, I have isolated it...
-..to stop the water coming through.
-I've always understood...
-I've been here 20-odd years.
-..that that is the header tank for downstairs.
But downstairs say that they don't use that.
Once we have looked at this water,
I will then go in and find out what is yours, what is theirs, etc.
Nick and Philippa head to the basement flat.
It is owned by Georgia.
She had to dash off to work, but not before begging boyfriend
Mike to come over, monitor the damage and mop up.
She said she was having a nightmare.
She had a leak through a light in the roof.
And could I come over and
operate her saucepan system here.
She started a new job last week,
so she really couldn't hang around and deal with it herself,
so that's what I've been doing, and swapping these saucepans around.
A quick test and Nick discovers the overflowing tank is Georgia's.
The water is stopped.
So if I went back upstairs and turned that 22 mil gate valve
on that is working, this hot water would start working again.
So the lady is right, the tank is property of this.
At one stage, this would have been one house.
So what happens is, when they convert them, obviously there is
a nice loft space there, so they put these tanks up there.
It is just common, especially around these parts.
But what was good news for Philippa is bad news for her neighbour.
-OK, it is your tank.
-Of course it was.
Why I say it, gone in there, turned the hot water on, hot water stopped.
So, what is the next step?
First and foremost, we have replaced the ball valve.
-You have got a couple of isolation valves which are faulty.
So you will want those replaced. But the tank is not level.
To lift that up, it's not going to be an easy job.
You can't just lift one end and put a plank of wood under it,
because then the bottom will start to sink.
It's not like a table in a restaurant?
Yeah, stick a coaster underneath, that's it.
Fold it in half and prop it under.
It was a disaster waiting to happen.
Mike will need to break the news to his busy girlfriend.
I'll give her a shout and explain to her what's happening,
see what she wants to do.
And even after Nick has put everything right,
they are still not home and dry.
What happens to, like, the electrics down here?
Well, I would obviously advise is that an electrician is called to
dry out any light fittings and stuff like that.
There'll be a lot of expense.
Now I am going to have to redo the ceiling, lighting...
In fact, really that whole bathroom, maybe the floor.
But it could have been worse.
Had it happened later in the day,
then there would have been more damage, I think.
The place could have been totally flooded.
But thankfully, it was caught first thing this morning.
Nick is still hard at work, when basement flat owner Georgia
dashes home during her lunch hour to hear the bad news in person.
Do you think it is a case for a lick of paint?
It will be, but it will take quite a while to dry out.
You can't just go straight over wet...a wet surface
because the dampness will come back through.
It is going to be weeks before the damage can be repaired.
And it is very frustrating for Georgia.
She has lived in the flat for two years
and thought the offending water tank was no longer in use.
Both myself and Philippa were under that impression. So just didn't...
There was no way anyone could have seen it coming.
But she is just relieved she had a backup team when the crisis struck.
Very inconvenient, but between Philippa and my boyfriend,
it got resolved.
Nick thinks Philippa and Georgia had a very lucky escape.
It is all cosmetic. But I think long and short, they got away lightly.
For the amount of water coming through,
I think they have got away lightly.
It you light a fire when a chimney is blocked,
it could cause toxic fumes to come back into the house
and the whole chimney could catch alight.
And that is why Darcy Gilley in Glossop, Derbyshire,
has had to call in sweep Christine O'Keefe.
It is a blow for Darcy, who's looking forward to her first
winter in her new home with a roaring fire.
We're having the family to stay and we thought it would be a really nice
sort of thing to have the open fire, make things a little bit more homely.
But there is a major problem.
Generations of jackdaws have used her chimney as a home.
As this special camera shows,
it is blocked by a nest.
Lighting a fire could cause toxic fumes
or even a dangerous chimney fire.
It is fairly obvious if a chimney is blocked.
If birds are using your chimney, you will see and hear them.
And when you light a fire, the smoke will have nowhere to go
and come back into the room.
So it is a good idea to get the sweep
in at least every couple of years.
It can cause anything from £45 to £90,
depending on where you live.
The roosting birds may also have caused hidden damage
inside the flue,
but until they are evicted, there is no way of knowing.
It is Christine's job to find out.
We did look up the chimney.
I could reach up and touch the nest, so I reckon we've probably had about
25 years of jackdaws putting sort of rubbish and bits down the chimney.
Sweep Christine arrives ready to tackle the job.
There is a massive nest up there.
Hopefully, we will get the offending item out today.
-Hi, Darcy, you all right?
-Yeah. Come on in.
It's going to be mucky, but Christine's come prepared.
Right, what I intend to do is I'll sheet out the entire room,
like we discussed,
then I'll use my rods and brushes to try and pull the nest down in bits.
Christine needs to make sure the mess from the chimney doesn't
go all over the house.
Then she needs to employ her tools.
The easiest way of getting a nest out is to first send
a very small brush up.
And then start pulling it down in sections.
And then this larger brush basically goes up
and makes sure that everything is then pulled down and through.
It's all in a day's work for the sweep,
but for Darcy, it's a nerve-racking experience.
It's actually my first chimney ever in a house,
so this is all quite new and exciting.
But with roosting jackdaws, you can never count your chickens.
And Darcy is worried about possible complications.
One of the things we still don't know is even when Christine gets
the nest out, are we still going to be able to use the fireplace?
So, she's explained to me that we've actually maybe got a bigger problem.
Getting the chimney swept is the first stage.
The camera up the flue shows how badly blocked it is.
The nest means smoke can't escape,
which could cause a build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide fumes.
When the nest is gone,
there could still be loose masonry or damage to the flue.
Christine is about to find out. But first, she needs to kit up.
Soot is quite nasty stuff. It is actually carcinogenic.
And long exposure to it won't do me any good whatsoever.
And it can actually absorb through the skin,
so I always wear a jacket to keep covered up.
The other obviously very absorbent bit is your head,
so I always put a hat on as well.
And then the other bit is, obviously,
I don't want inhale anything.
Christine is never really sure what she is going to find
up a client's chimney.
The jackdaws use everything to make all sorts of nests.
They're a bit like magpies.
So you can end up pulling wire down, lighters.
I've even pulled marbles coming down.
There's been all sorts of rubbish.
So... I've not found a crime scene yet, luckily.
Christine's working blind,
but the camera shows just how far up the nest is.
I'm just going to see if the small brush has come out the top.
See the birds flying round?
-Probably just ruined their home.
What I'll do is I'll send up another couple of rods
because I'm just probably into the stack now.
And hopefully get out the clot.
An hour after she first started, the brush appears...
..to the annoyance of the jackdaws.
And 30 minutes later, the nest comes down the chimney.
That's sort of say... It's quite a small-medium nest.
A really large one, like I've taken out in the past,
will fill the entire chimney.
Being a chimney sweep is an unusual job for a woman.
There are only about a dozen in the UK.
Christine used to be a landscape gardener,
but has been operating her brushes now for three years.
Even in Victorian times, they had women, lady sweeps.
So it's not a new thing.
And as long as you're fairly physically fit and you don't
mind getting a bit dirty, it's a good job to be in.
It's been a good afternoon's work.
And Darcy's back to see the results and reward Christine with a cuppa.
-That was a successful job, I feel.
-I'm pleased about that. It's always quite satisfying when you...
..pull a nest out.
And from what wasn't a working fire is now working.
And Christine's got a bit of advice for novice fireplace fan
Darcy about how to deal with the evicted jackdaws in the future.
They will come back year after year after year and use the same
nest site, so what you need then is to put a bird cowl on there.
The blighters can't get back in again.
A cowl is a cover which caps the top of the chimney,
preventing birds from nesting but still allows the smoke to come out.
Darcy will need to get one fit before the jackdaws attempt
to take up residency again.
But the good news is, there's no damage to the chimney.
-All right, thank you.
-Thanks a lot.
-No, no problem.
-We appreciate it.
-Yes, and I hope you have lots of fun with your fire.
Darcy is delighted with their newly swept chimney.
I feel much more informed and better able to manage my fireplace now.
I am quite excited about having a fire, never having had one before.
So I think it would be quite cool to use it as soon as we can.
Anyone of us could be in a situation such as we have seen today,
whether it be an emergency in our own home or falling
foul of rogue workmanship.
So take note of my top tips and hopefully it will be
home sweet home.
Well, Chris has done just that
and is doing all his checks before employing a new builder.
Following their water tank leak in the attic,
Philippa and Georgia got an electrician to replace the lights,
but there is still work to be done.
The redecoration hasn't been done yet,
but, yes, I plan to get it all re-painted and re-grouted.
And we need to discuss what is going to happen to the tank.
And in Derbyshire, Darcy has fitted a cowl to her chimney
and lit the fire. Her cat loves it. The jackdaws...
Well, they have moved elsewhere.
Tommy Walsh travels to Kent to meet a family who can't even get out of their own kitchen door. A builder took their savings but left behind a dangerous half-finished extension.
It's double trouble for plumber Nick when he responds to an emergency call-out at Philippa's home, only to find water pouring through to the flat downstairs.