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Spaced Out, Bob Doesn’t Mind The Gaps

Sid Bourne on giving Bob the builder a wide berth

I WAS recently commissioned to investigate some major issues with a prestigious installation in a new large sports facility. The dates of the grand opening had already been advertised so they had no time to lose.
However, the installation had not yet been handed over to the client for the official opening due to major problems with the wood floor.
The problems concerned large random gaps of over 40mm between the flooring; there were very uneven paint marking; there were also large gouges in floor with chatter marks. The finish was generally rough.
Before going to site I requested and received all the information of who, what where and when all this had started. Initially the tender was awarded to a local wood flooring retailer and a local builder, apparently a relative of Bob the builder.
The specification was for battens kiln dried and preserve treated and 18mm plywood with all the fixings centres and so on. It was actually a very good specification, even if I say so myself.
The architect told me that the local wood retailer had been extremely helpful in giving advice on the project, even though he didn’t get the job.
So I immediately contacted the retailer in question and asked him if he had any information that could help me get to the bottom of the case. He revealed that the particular builder who ended up doing the job was actually related to the person who made the final decision. Furthermore, this builder apparently had a bad reputation locally for carrying out poor installation work on wood floors.
The wood retailer additionally told me that on several occasions he had been brought in to replace flooring after problems which the builder has refused to rectify, let alone admit that he was at fault. As a result the clients had given up arguing and were left having to pay a second time for the new flooring.
So I had an idea of what to expect, or so I thought. Now let me say that over the years that I have seen loads of problems. I thought I had seen everything and that nothing would surprise me. But when I first viewed this particular installation at the gym my mouth just fell open. I froze like a statue, and stood there for what seemed like minutes.
Even standing at the doorway of the sports hall I could already see major open gaps between the flooring. When I took my shoes off, I found I could not move; it was as if my socks were being adhered to the floor like Velcro.
The architect stood there with a smile on his face, having a little laugh at my expense. He had already experienced the same problem. So on went my shoes to continue the inspection.
I began by examining to the flooring to see what was causing the large gaps. What I found was that the battens used were not kiln dried, but rough sawn.
They had been installed end to end. The lone side of the flooring was finished at the end of a batten, and the next half was fixed to the other batten. So the floor was not connected and both ends went in different directions, leaving gaps and causing the floor to move. The worst gap I measured was 63mm.
I also noticed that no plywood had been installed as required in the specification. So it was decided that due to all the major issues, the flooring had to be completely uplifted.
So this is what we started doing, only to find that the floor was fixed with brad nails from a gas gun. One row was fixed while the next two rows were not fixed in any way at all. Following on from this we found that there were as many as five rows which were completely floated. They were kept in place by the row which had been opined.
However, even worse was to come. The battens were all twisted with varying lengths from 2.4 to as little as 600mm and others at between 1.20 to 1.50 in length. I have never in all my life seen such disgraceful workmanship and to be honest it is an insult to call it workmanship.
Before uplifting the floor there were issues with the paint marking which the builder had done. The lines painted on were uneven in width by over 12mm and ran out the length of room by over 250mm. The gouges were caused by someone using an electric planer to remove the chatter marks. The list of faults was endless.
On taking photos of everything. I must state here that although I was given permission to do a write up on this project, I was asked not to let anyone have the photos in case they could identify the venue in question where the installation has caused such a major embarrassment. I could fill CFJ with these photos alone but such is life.
I sat down with the architect and the gym personnel and in a very few words I was able to let them know what had to be done, short of stringing up the builder in question.
Due to the fact that the retailer was particularly helpful I ask why he should not be commissioned to carry out the installation of new flooring. I said I would help him with any technical questions. This would be most sensible and would save time rather than having to put the whole job out for tender again.
The retailer who was literally a walking distance from the gym came to the site and we went through all the major issues involved. He was very happy and confident he could carry out this work. It turned out to be a great success. The retailer used a guy who done line marking for him in the past.
Another he also recommended carried out the sand & finish. All in all, the job went brilliantly. So in the end it was the retailer who saved the day.
Just for the record, due to the major cost of this mess, the person who made the decision to use Bob the Builder, his relative, was suspended from the project.
This was clearly a case of who you know. In fact, as it turned out, this Bob the Builder was well known by Trading Standards.
Moreover he was a local ‘celebrity’ having appeared in the district newspapers, but not in any way that did his reputation any good.
One final bit of information which I have been given permission to disclose is that Bob the Builder was over £5,000 more expensive than the retailer. In fact, it was a great deal more than that taking into account that Bob used no plywood; he employed the wrong battens and made a total c%^& Up.
I don’t ever expect I will see such a case of poor workmanship ever again such as this job, but you never know. So watch this space. CFJ n T: 01564 703900
T: 07841 500940

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at