There is just one snag

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

I have been fortunate enough to have experienced contracts with as few as four ‘snag’ items, but then I have had lists in excess of two hundred. The latter scenario can cause problems to the extent that – No contractor can ensure that all 200 items are addressed to the contract administrator’s satisfaction in say a week or ten days. For one thing dragging sub-contractors back to site post completion can be a steep hill to climb, as they are usually committed on other projects. So what happens? The CA will get a call back to site from the main contractor with the promise that all but a handful of items have been completed. When he / she arrive they find that a handful of items have been completed and most remain outstanding.

The managerial set up of medium to large contractors will demand that snag items are removed from the list as soon as possible, so on a 200 item list multiple visits are inevitable, if not particularly desireable. On one particular contract I do recall the number of visits became so unmanageable that I wrote to the contractor with the threat that the time cost of my future visits would be charged against monies outstanding on the contract. Funnily enough I made surprisingly few visits to site thereafter, and the snag list was efficiently dealt with.

But what of the ‘snags’ themselves? What constitutes a snag? Of course some are more black and white, which makes for easy identification. It’s those ‘grey’ snags isn’t it? Those that are just, well, a matter of opinion. I was once anointed in a site meeting by a client who stated that I was the only one present who should comment on issues of design. It’s nice to get client support once in a while, and in that particular instance it gave me a leg up when it came to ‘snagging’. That was appreciated, but of course it’s not always available.

Snags will usually fall into one of three categories:

  • Intrusive to the senses, in terms of touch or sight.
  • Defective performance
  • Defective function

The first two can be subjective, whilst the third says it either works or it doesn’t.

So when is a snag not a snag? Well initially I am not sure that the title ‘Schedule of incomplete and defective works’ is not just a little mis-leading. If something is incomplete, it is just that, and requires to be finished. The definition of a snag is an element of work that is put forward by the contractor as finished. But, either the materials used, or the workmanship involved, or a combination of both; is not of the expected standard. But who expects this standard? – There was an instance when I was battling with a contractor over the standard of finish, and the client suddenly chimed in that he was happy, and what did I see to be the problem. Not helpful. These things are sent to make our lives richer and more interesting. It’s just that sometimes……..

You have to ask yourself why would any self respecting tradesman partially, incorrectly or poorly present a piece of work as complete, when it clearly is not. My first approach is to allow the tradesman the benefit of the doubt. Were they called to look at something else mid-job? Did they run out of preparation materials? Are they trying to make the best of poor quality materials that could not be replaced within the contract period? Or, they thought the poor materials could be integrated into the project to meet the standards required.

Benefit of the doubt, or not, there are one or two options. The most obvious resolve that I usually go to on a subjective element is “Would I be prepared to accept this in my own house?” That’s usually a good one to run past the contractor too. If the answer is ‘No’, then it clearly needs rectifying to a standard where you would. I don’t very often find myself on the verge of inviting myself around to the site manager’s place!

There is also recourse to the original specification, where you may, or may not have referred to a standard for materials and their finish. Specifications can be tedious documents. They can get recycled from one project to the next, and they are only as good as the time you are prepared to invest in providing comprehensive content and references. However, even if there is no specification, as sometimes is the case, the British Standard for that element of work can provide a reasonable back up. The chances are that neither of you knows in detail what the BS prescribes. However, the chances are also good that it will be in the CA’s favour. You will be fortunate if you have ready access to a BS library. But If it is a significant item, it may be worthwhile seeking out your nearest technical publications library, or you might be able to obtain an idea of the BS content online. However, if the contractor is maintaining the work item is correct, it is not your domain alone to prove, or disprove compliance. This is a dance for two, so if the contractor is unmoving, place the burden of proof with him. But you might want to do your own research to ensure you do not come unstuck.

A snag inspection can often be a sticky game to play, and you may have to be sure you have packed your poker face for adornment at any time. It can be a piecemeal exercise where your second and subsequent visits may initially add more items than you strike off from the time before. But it is a process of attrition, and as CA you need to set the temperature limits of your expectations clearly if that process is not to last too long. Eventually turning over the final page and reaching the point where there is just one snag left.