In March's Installer Matters column in GGP magazine, Faisal Hussain, Chief Executive of the Double Glazing & Conservatory Ombudsman Scheme (DGCOS) looks at how we measure and police competence in the fenestration industry, and the implications for installers.
As the Ombudsman scheme, we have access to lots of data relating to consumer complaints, not only how many there are, but also what type of complaint they are. As you’d expect, problems are wide-ranging and in the main relate to installation issues, including dropping doors, condensation and failed units, discolouration, and issues with trims and seals. Again, probably not surprisingly as they can be a complex structure, a significant number of complaints relate to conservatories in particular. So what is going on and what problems are installation companies having that causes these complaints?
Skills, Training and Education
No one designs or installs a conservatory to fail, but common issues that homeowners are having relate to leaking roofs, guttering issues and water ingress. It is almost certainly not down to the design of the product, but most likely the installation. Building a conservatory - and it is a building - takes an expert team, and the current combination of a lack of skilled labour and a training gap is clearly having an impact. To compound this, smaller conservatories under 30m² are exempt from building regulations so sub-standard installations could go unchecked. Therefore, as there is no realistic measurement of installation competence, conservatories often suffer from what would seem to be a disproportionately high number of complaints, Only vigorous measurement and policing will see those complaints fall.
Training the labour force remains an issue with companies reporting difficulty in managing succession planning and bringing new, skilled labour into businesses to replace older team members who take years of experience out the business when they leave. This is a subject that keeps recurring and being spoken about, but nothing seems to change as years go by.
Low inspection rates, high call-backs
In addition, Competent Persons’ Schemes cannot possibly inspect every window and door installation across the country. It’s so labour-intensive it’s just not feasible to have that manpower available which results in circa 1% of installations being checked. The way we measure competence is not robust enough to negate the levels of consumer complaints and until this changes, we will see the same issues coming across our desks. This has a direct impact on installers because for every box gutter or muntin bar that hasn’t been sealed properly, for every leaking roof where the beading has failed, it’s a call-back that the installer has to rectify, and there’s a time and financial cost for doing that. In the longer term insurance premiums could go up, so it’s a much wider issue.
Exclusions apply in guarantees
But what happens when it isn’t down to lack of training? What happens when it’s just because of older product and the laws of physics? During the hot summer of 2022, we saw many instances of glass shattering – spontaneous glass breakage. Consumers, who rightly refer to their 10-year warranties, reasonably contact their installation company to ask them to fix it, but this kind of breakage is not due to a failure in the installation or a faulty product. It’s down to extreme weather, usually on south facing aspects, causing older glass to spontaneously break: it’s outside anyone’s control and can’t be mitigated against. Yet, because of the long guarantees, installers are frequently going back to the home and fixing the glass at their cost because it’s quicker and easier to do so. To protect installers against this type of expensive call-back, installers should look at the wording in the guarantees they offer homeowners, to ensure exclusions like this are included. Acts of God (or physics) should not be rectified at the installer’s own cost and it again raises the question: Should these guarantees really be in force for such a long time?
Taking proactive steps
The issues, behind the complaints we see therefore, are two-sided. On the one hand, we have a need for more robust and comprehensive inspection schemes, combined with a need for more skilled labour and higher training standards. This is the only way installer errors, and therefore customer complaints, will reduce. Installation companies become more competent, householders are happy, call-backs are reduced. On the other hand, we must look at the installers’ guarantees and give them more support in ensuring they do not become responsible for failures that cannot be predicted within such a long period. This is where DGCOS can help. We have a broad range of materials and practical advice that supports installers within their businesses, including for example, template homeowner guarantees. Actively approaching the issue from both sides, will help significantly in preventing installers wasting their time and eating into their bottom line rectifying issues that can, in the vast number of cases, be avoided. In partnership with our installer members, DGCOS is committed to help do just this and tirelessly continue to raise industry standards.