I’m going to do this the wrong way round with pictures first and words after. Unless you’re contemplating something similar you probably won’t want to read the full story.
Suffice it to say that our nasty concrete driveway has ben replaced with a block paver driveway and looks a great deal better than it did. We had the equally nasty concrete area at the side of the house done at the same time and with the same material, which is Shannon, in the colour Bracken, from Tobermore.
Our front driveway is about 16m long and probably comprises at least two thirds of the ground we own at the front of the house. We are tucked into a corner with a wedge of frontage most of which is the driveway. The neighbour on one side has right of access to their even smaller frontage by way of the lower end of our drive.
It was originally built of concrete and a combination of delivery lorries and repairs to water mains had broken the first several metres into a very shabby crazy paving and we have been discussing getting something done about it for years. We finally bit the bullet.
The spur to action came in the form of a leaflet through the door. I called them out to give us a quote, was a little put off by the fast talking salesman who turned up, though he was pleasant enough. Their website was a mess, their trading premises didn’t seem to exist, their postcode took to me to a Plymouth housing estate. I detected a faint odour of rat and approached a couple of local firms who installed block paving.
Both came and looked, then put in quotes. Neither inspired confidence. The trickiest bit is that our drive is up to 50cm higher than our neighbour’s concrete frontage and the retaining wall needed rebuilding. It didn’t get a mention on one of the quotes.
Somewhere I stumbled upon a scheme for recommended contractors that Marshalls and Tobermore, big suppliers of block paving, run. None was especially near so I contacted a Plymouth company and they came out, measured up and gave me a quote. He seemed to have a much better grasp of what was involved and though we didn’t visit any of their work, they had examples of their work on their Facebook page with lots of illustrations. The price was about what I was expecting so we asked them to go ahead with the job. The estimate had a brief outline of the work to be carried out, but lacked detail. In hindsight I would have insisted on more written details.
When they turned up to do the job they immediately started asking me exactly what it was that I wanted. It was clear there had been no communication between them and the man who had measured and priced the job. Nevertheless, at a couple of points as the work progressed I was told that this or that hadn’t been priced in and they were doing it as a favour.
On the first day they came with a mini digger and breaking tools, broke up the concrete and loaded it in a trailer for removal. By the end of the second day the concrete and old retaining wall were gone, footings for a new one dug, sub-base material laid and compacted with a plate vibrator. It had all happened too quickly for me to have had a chance to check whether it matched what was in the estimate but I suspect it fell short by quite some way. The estimate is not clear as to what depth the excavations will be or what depth of sub base will be supplied but this is an area where they can save on time and work and disposal costs for excavation and on material costs for the sub-base. I should have been watching like a hawk and I wasn’t.
There had been no mention of kerbs in the discussion about the job, I had been led to believe the edges would consist of a row of blocks laid on a strip of concrete, so I was surprised when they told me I needed a curb on the garden side and suggested a bull-nose concrete edging. It was explained that the blocks would be laid to the bottom of the bull nose, which I agreed to without realising the full implications, and which they proceeded to install.
On the other side the retaining wall was constructed and I asked how they were intending to leave the finish on the side that our neighbours would see. I suggested it would be best rendered and was told that wasn’t priced in, but they did it anyway.
Once all the edges were in and the concrete gone hard, they brought in grit, levelled it out and laid most of the blocks. At that stage they were higher than the kerbs but I was aware they would go down when the finished job was subjected to the wacker plate.
The last two days of the installation were torture, with the petrol engined disk cutter, wacker plate or petrol engined pressure washer going almost non stop; sometimes more than one at a time.
I was asked how I wanted the front edge where we came in off the road to be dealt with and agreed on a ramp of tarmac for want of any idea how to match it in better.
And that was it. They’d be back the following day to finish one or two details but other than that they were finished.
They left and I went around sizing it up carefully. In the morning I rang the man who had priced the job and told him I wanted him on site to discuss a few things I wasn’t happy with. Would I explain on the phone? No, I wanted to point things out to him. I’d had every opportunity to discuss any issues while the job proceeded, why was I kicking off now? Because until the wacker plate has gone over it, you don’t know how it’s going to be when it’s finished.
He came. I pointed out an area where the blocks were low (irritated him no end by putting my meter rule over it to show him by how much), sections where the blocks had not been compacted down to the level of the concreted in blocks, sections where the blocks along the sides had not been wacked down level with the rest. And I pointed out that the kerb was flush with the blocks at one end but an inch above at the other. And that a bull nosed kerb was a bad choice for a kerb that was set flush with the surface it was edging. And that the front section where it joined the road could have been set a little below the adjacent sections of kerb, not a little above, significantly reducing the need for a ramp.
He didn’t even know why the construction crew had put the kerb in! He hadn’t envisaged a kerb, hadn’t priced for a kerb. But he hadn’t discussed with them how the job was to be done either. In fairness, he offered to take the kerb out, but having a fair idea of what that would entail, I declined his offer. We wanted them gone.
They spent half a day banging blocks down with a rubber hammer, lifting and relaying the low bit and tidying up a few other bits and pieces. Mostly it was the sort of stuff that no good conscientious tradesman would have needed to have pointed out.
And now they’re gone and I haven’t contacted Marshalls/Tobermore to say they shouldn’t be on their approved contractors list. Not yet.