Monday, 14 January 2008

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Builders, Part 2

In Section 1 we considered the various people who might (or, as is more likely, might not) turn up at your house when your building work is under way. We now turn our attention to understanding the things they will say to you. This is important, so please read it several times and make sure you understand.

Section 2. Things Builders Say
Builders typically have an unfussy attitude to langauge: they use words which are familiar but whose meaning is fluid (although you may not realise this until afterwards). Some examples are below.

i. Words relating to time.
There are two aspects to this: when a particular event (e.g. fitting of your shower screen) will commence, and how long it will take.

Everything will commence 'tomorrow'. This is quite simple: it just means 'at some indefinite point in the future', or in other words, 'well, we haven't started it yet'. There's no point pressing them on this one: if it was in the schedule, it'd be under way by now.

Of course, nothing ever starts 'tomorrow' on a Friday; on Fridays things will start on 'Monday morning'. This roughly translates to 'first thing Thursday week'. It should be noted that builders tend to start new jobs on Mondays; this will get your hopes up in week 1 because they seem enthusiastic. This quickly fades and after a fortnight they will not be seen much before Wednesday.

When it comes to estimating how long things will take, all measures of time should be considered elastic. Jobs which are to take another 2 hours can often be finished in 10 minutes if there's a cup of tea to be had, or it's home time; this is due to the builders' unexpectedly fluid definition of the word 'finished'. On the other hand, jobs which are initially esimated to take 2 weeks can still be underway 4 months later. The latter is due to what we might call 'Builder Days'. This is similar to the way your bank tells you that a cheque will take 3 days to clear, when in fact it takes 7, because they only count the days when they're actually open. Similarly, '2 weeks' is how long it would take if they came every day and worked solidly at it; since they won't, the time taken becomes much longer in real time. A better analogy might be to the concept of 'light years' as used by physicists - a concept dreamed up for no practical purpose other than to express unimaginatively long periods of time.

ii. Words relating to finance.
Builders don't really like to talk much about money; they like to pretend they do what they do for the fun of it, and that they ask nothing in return but to be allowed unrestricted access to your biscuit tin. A price will be quietly agreed at the start, and the only thing that will be said about it at that stage is that it is cheaper than they'd normally do it, but they're not too busy at the minute so they could do with the work (sidenote: at this point, ask WHY they're not busy. If they've just completed a big job a few weeks early, and you can get independent verification of this, then you're probably OK. If it's because they're bandits and no one else will hire them, then just say 'I'll think about it and get back to you', and then never contact them again).

It is of course inevitable that 'unforeseen' things will happen, and the price will rise (that this is due to a lack of foresight should not be mentioned; the unforeseen tends not to be seen until they've removed a wall of your house, and at that point you can't afford to upset them). This is indicated not by words but by the sucking of teeth, and, if it's really bad, by a little shake of the head. You just have to go with it.

The other main issue relating to finance is that there are always three options for every purchase (e.g. when he asks you which door you'd like, or what type of window or boiler, that sort of thing). This is a psychological trick; if you were only presented with one option, you'd complain that it was too expensive, but if you have 3 options you'll always choose the middle one and be happy. This is because you don't want to be cheap but nor can you afford the expensive one. The middle one is the one the builder has in the back of the van anyway, so he actually does this to life easier for himself.

Now that we have learned how to communicate with the builders and discovered that hopes should not be set too high, we can turn at last to what you should expect to happen during your building work. Section 3 will explain the different stages, and guide you through them.

3 comments: said...

Smiley, as a scientist you should know that a light year is a unit of distance. Shame on you.

whynotsmile said...


Anonymous said...

thanks for providing some amusement on a dull day! Looking forward to part 3...