I wrote this one the best part of 20 years ago and it has since been read by hundreds of thousands of potential home owners. So, David Wilson Homes probably wish that they had responded more positively to my letter. Alas, they did precisely nothing about all the faults with the property until a patch of brickwork fell off the building and damaged my car (falling exactly where my children would have been standing an hour or two later). The possibility of killing my children made them sit up and finally take some notice. Nevertheless, they continued to stick two fingers up concerning all the other problems. It has probably cost them millions of pounds in sales.
David Wilson Homes
Wilson Bowden House
Dear Customer Relations,
How NOT to Build a House
I am an architect. We architects are renowned for wanting to build our own houses and I am no exception. However, I don’t have the time. Indeed, I have so little time that it has taken me nine months to complete this letter.
Such is the pressure on time that when we decided to move house last year, we chose to buy a new house so we could just move in and get on with life free from plasterers, electricians and (especially) plumbers. It just so happened that a house was available on a recently completed David Wilson development in the village we wanted to move to. The house was nearly new (which was even better because it had grass outside and carpets inside). It occupied a particularly nice plot on what is a particularly nice development. It was a nice house.
Or so we thought.
Suffice to say that we bought it, moved in and got on with life as planned (and not a plasterer, electrician or plumber in sight).
As the months passed, we became aware that there were things about the house that were not entirely as they should be. Little by little, these initially minor niggles started to really get on our nerves. Now, twelve months later, they make our blood boil. Some of them, I expect you to do something about (and soon). Others I will describe only because I hope you will want to learn by your mistakes and avoid a repetition in future developments. Either way, I am going to list the problems because that will make me feel a whole lot better and you, I hope, will come to realise that your houses are not nearly as nice as we both thought!
First of all, I will deal with the outside of the property. Star prize goes to Mr. Brush the decorator who stopped painting half way up the gable of the house because his ladder was not long enough. Yes really, the barge board soffit is only half painted. Runners up prize also goes to Mr Brush for forgetting to actually apply the gloss coat to all the fascias, soffits and barge boards! (I’ve had a decorator look at it, he assures me that the paint job is undercoat only!).
Mr. Brush would also have come in third for the woodstain that is literally falling off the front of the house after only two years, but he is beaten to the bronze by Mr. Guttering. His unique guttering design on the rear elevation is a lesson to us all in how to piss-off a homeowner. Not only has he managed to leave a huge gap through which all the rainwater flows (making the downpipes entirely superfluous) but he has also managed to put it directly over the fibreglass mock-lead roof of the dining room bay window below! Whenever it rains, it sounds like we have the entire Nagasaki Drum Ensemble rehearsing in the Dining Room. Of course, we could pull the two gutter sections together to close the gap but I can’t help feeling that the resulting curves in the downpipes would look a bit silly.
Next, there is the matter of the nesting boxes that have been cleverly provided to each of the projecting gables on the front of the house. I’m all for doing my bit for the local wildlife but this is going too far. What’s more, the nesting boxes are particularly popular with starlings. I don’t like starlings. I positively detest starlings when six of the little sods are screaming for food at four in the morning just four feet above my pillow. When they are not screaming for food, they are playing relay races back and forth along the eaves (four feet above my pillow). At the other end of the house, where a second starling family now resides, my daughter has to endure a similar torture.
Possibly aware of the protection afforded to these flying rats, Mr. Roof arranged things such that it is impossible to get at the nesting boxes from within the roof void. So, without scaffolding, I can do absolutely nothing. I do not remember the last time we were able to sleep through an entire night.1
Staying outside a while longer, there are the less irksome but nonetheless significant matters of the subsiding block paving on the drive so not only do we have the starlings, but are soon likely to have a family or two of ducks at the pond which forms in the middle of the drive every time it rains. Oh well, in wet weather, we can always go the back of the house and sink up to our knees in the waterlogged back lawn.
Turning now to the inside, a relatively minor point (but nonetheless one of my favourites) is the airing cupboard. Here, Mr. Chip the joiner really excelled himself. Our house has a double doorset to the airing cupboard. On one side, there is the hot water cylinder. On the other, there are two shelves (four would have been a bit more generous but what the hell). As with most double doors, one side is bolted, the other opens on a latch. Guess which side opens? Yes, you’ve got it! Mr Chip evidently thought we would prefer to admire the hot water cylinder rather than air our linen. I know its no big deal, but my young daughter can’t reach a bolt which is nearly seven feet above the ground and you should try unbolting a door when you are carrying a pile of sheets and towels.
Far more annoying are Mr. Spark’s bathroom extract fans. Instead of being installed remotely in the roof space, these are fixed directly into the ceilings where they can resonate to their full potential. The fan units themselves are the Ladas of the ventilation world – cheap and nasty. They are also, without doubt, the noisiest fans I have ever encountered. They sound like a squadron of chinook helicopters hovering in the bathroom. Once again, it may seem trivial, but we just can’t use them. Because of the low temperatures in our en suite (more of that later) we now have mould starting to grow in the shower cubicle. For the sake of an extra five quid, you could have used a decent quality product and made living in the house a great deal more comfortable. Instead we curse you whenever we need to use the shower. It’s so stupid.
Now to more serious issues. Mr. Pipe’s plumbing installation leaves a great deal to be desired. Probably of most concern is that gallons of hot water pour into the garden at regular intervals through the pressure release overflow when the system is set to hot water only. Last summer, I found a borehole made by the escaping water at least three feet deep which I dug out and refilled to avoid undermining the foundations! Although the problem temporarily abated during the heating season, it clearly needs urgent attention as the hot water is once again pouring into the garden instead of the bath.
Still with the plumbing, we are unable to use the washing machine at night because of the ‘knocking’ that occurs when the washer stops filling. The noise has to be heard to be believed. Judging by the degree of rattling of the pipes, it appears that few, if any, pipe clips have been used in the floor voids.
Insulation has certainly been used sparingly. In the large rear bedroom, the radiator is required only in the very coldest weather. There is more than enough heat rising through the floor. The hot water pipework between the boiler and the hot water cylinder passes beneath the floor of the room. In summer, our son is unable to sleep without his windows wide open – it gets like a sauna in there. Its not like he needs to lose weight – he’s skinny enough already – but he doesn’t have a lot of choice as things stand.
Finally, there is the whining of the pump that wakes us at five most mornings (if the starlings haven’t woken us already). Had the pipework been properly fixed and insulated, this too would probably have been avoided. Plumbers have never been my favourite tradesmen but the plumber you used should be taken out at dawn and shot (preferably along with the starlings).
Now it gets really serious.
The most serious problem of all is the insulation of the house and of the master bedroom in particular. In short, during the spring, autumn and especially the winter months, the master bedroom is absolutely bloody freezing. This problem is not exclusive to our property. Some of our neighbours recently confided that they were planning to move out of the master bedroom for the winter! We seriously considered doing the same. I trust you agree that this is a matter for grave concern.
As an architect, I have some knowledge of the requirements of the Building Acts concerning thermal insulation. Seeking further information, I consulted the local Building Control Department and subsequently, the NHBC Inspection Department in York. I was staggered to learn that David Wilson Homes circumvent the usual requirement for a U-value of 0.45W/sq.m/deg C through the walls by using the ‘trade-off’ method of calculation rather than the usual elemental approach. In other words, you avoid the need to insulate the wall cavities by (theoretically) improving the insulation elsewhere. As a result, the U-value through your walls is only 0.7W/sq.m/deg C – the standard requirement of the 1976 Regulations – hardly a modern standard of insulation. The word ‘cheapskate’ springs to mind.
In any event, my own rough calculations suggest that there is insufficient insulation elsewhere to justify the inferior insulation in the walls. In my opinion, the insulation of the property is illegal. There is little point in pursuing the NHBC under the guarantee, because you used NHBC as your Building Inspector so they are complicit and are hardly likely to agree that it needs to be rectified.
Even if you did find a way to scrape within the minimum requirements of the law, the master bedroom is still bloody freezing in winter. We still can’t use the en-suite shower in the depth of winter because it is simply too cold in there. We still have mould growing in the bathroom because any steam immediately condenses on the cold surfaces (and we can’t use the fan). We still have to light the living room fire in winter and leave both the living room and master bedroom doors open so some of the heat will convect upstairs. We still put two continental quilts on the bed during the coldest months. It is not pleasant.
The fact that the bedroom has three external walls (with no insulation) and is situated over an unheated space (with floor voids not properly filled with insulation – I have looked) means that the bedroom is never going to be as warm as we are entitled to expect. I happen to think that you should do something about it. I also think you should do something about a lot of the other things that make living in the house so infuriating.
Your company gets a lot right. In general, your developments are well designed and cleverly laid out. There is much to be applauded. However, as a famous architect once said –“God is in the details”. Well at least He should be. Right now, the Devil has got a monopoly.
I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to put that right.
They didn’t. Now, 18 years later, I finally solved the last of the problems last summer when we stripped ALL of the plumbing out of the first floor and replaced it with plastic. I estimate that the cost of remedial action for defective workmanship etc taken over the life of the property is around twenty-five grand.
If you have read the later letter about Lynx Deodorant, you will know that I eventually got rid of the flying rats by spraying my son’s deodorant into the eaves. The starlings hated it every bit as much as I did. ↩