Electrical contractors are listed on the roll of the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEI C); they may also be members of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA). These contractors are qualified (and required) to work to the lEE Wiring Regulations. You can get a list of local NICEIC contractors from your public library, Citizens Advice Bureau or Electricity Board Showroom – the Electricity Boards are themselves affiliated to the NICEIC. Or you could look under electrical contractors in local directories.
With most improvements and alterations you probably have a clear idea of exactly what needs doing and can give the person you employ a specific brief. Electrical work isn’t always like that. Even if you think you just want a new socket-outlet installed, an electrician may find that there’s a lot more to do on your wiring than that and if he’s competent he should refuse to add to or alter an existing system that’s at all suspect. So before you employ an electrician to do any alterations to your electricity circuits it’s best to have an inspection made.
In the past Which? has found that the Electricity Board often does the most thorough (but also the most expensive) inspections. In practice of course you could expect an electrician to quote for the new work and any remedial work on the basis of the one wiring inspection.
There’s no shortage of plumbing firms advertising in local newspapers and shop windows or with entries in local directories. The problem is choosing one that will give you good service at reasonable cost. There are various sources of information that may help you. The Institute of Plumbing (IP) is the professional body of the industry with over 5,000 registered plumbers on their books and will supply a list of those in your area. These have satisfied the Institute with their qualifications and experience that they are competent plumbers. Some firms use the IP symbol in their advertisements and you can check whether a plumber is registered by asking to see his pocket certificate.
The Business directory of registered plumbers should be available at a public library or the office of your local water authority. You can contact the National Associations of Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical Service Contractors, or the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation, for a list of their members and the Federation of Master Builders has some members who are plumbers.
In a survey of Which? readers carried out some years ago, we found that, when looking for a professional plumber, most people turned to one they’d used before, or had a plumber recommended by a builder, a d-i-y or hardware shop, or by a friend. With plumbers getting three estimates is often quite difficult, but perhaps all the more necessary for that.
For a straightforward plumbing job, such as installing pipes and taps in a new extension, a quotation may be the better sort of costing to agree to. On the other hand, replacement plumbing or work in older buildings which might involve hidden problems may encourage plumbers to make higher quotations to allow for such difficulties – and you still have to pay the agreed price even if the job goes smoothly – so an estimate is probably better in these circumstances.
After the job is done, if you have any complaints about the standard ofthe work done (or if you think you have been grossly over-charged) by a member of the Institute of Plumbing or any of the trade associations; they will investigate your case.
If you’ve got a water leak which is wasting water, your local water authority may help with the repair. The work is usually done free of charge, but is likely to be limited to rewashering of taps and cold water storage cistern ball valves (not WC cisterns); and water authority plumbers won’t come to council houses – if you’re a council tenant, contact your local housing office about plumbing repairs.
CORGI – the Confederation for the Registration of Gas Installers – is governed by a National Council with representatives from British Gas and from building, plumbing and heating trade organisations. It provides a register of firms considered capable of performing installations or servicing in compliance with Gas Safety Regulations, relevant British Standard Codes of Practice and Building Regulations. (For a list of those on the register, ask at your local gas showroom, Citizens’ Advice Bureau or public library.)
All work carried out by CORGI registered firms can be inspected at any time by CORGI inspectors, either as part of routine monitoring or as a result of a customer complaint. The work of every registered installer is examined at least once every year. Although using a CORGI firm cannot guarantee you good workmanship, it is a useful safeguard because of the registration and inspection requirements. And CORGI will deal with complaints about the work of installers on their register: they have a local office in each gas region.
Registration with CORGI is not compulsory for firms installing or repairing gas appliances, though by law gas installations must be made by a ‘competent’ person and must comply with the Gas Safety Regulations and the relevant building regulations.
A small building company will often subcontract part of the work to specialist tradesmen, and there’s nothing to stop you doing this direct if you can find tradesmen who are interested. For these sort of people local knowledge may be not only your best, but your only source. As well as the main trades of plumbing and electrical work, trades like joinery, bricklaying and plastering can be contracted out. Which? readers who’ve done it have usually been successful, but it’s an unorthodox way of building which carries an element of risk. Ask for a fixed price based on your designer’s drawings and make sure the price includes everything on the drawings – it’s worth putting a clause in your agreement to this effect. Always get an agreement in writing. A letter simply confirming your verbal agreement is all that is required.