March, 2016 – Graham Miln

Kink in the Bathroom – Part 2.2

The builder found a problem in our house plan. Graham talks about the changes to the bathroom wall, and why it was so upsetting.


The builders discovered a problem in our house plan.

The project manager hinted at a problem in our last on-site meeting but would provide no further details. He did not seem concerned. Although the lack of immediate detail left me unsettled.

A few days after the meeting, an e-mail arrived. That e-mail deeply angered me.

The E-mail

The e-mail asked us to sign and return an attached house plan. The attachment included an expected correction but also included a change that added a kink to a wall in our main bathroom.

It was not so much the change that angered me; it was the lack of why the change was needed. The missing justification, explanation, or comment upset me. Why the change? The plan had been agreed. This plan was a year old. Who noticed now and what is the problem?

The Fix

The kinked wall was a lazy fix and aesthetically devastating to our design. It was the kind of change that showed no consideration other than taking the shortest path to a fix.

There was no chance we would simply sign and return.

Given how little we knew about the underlying cause, suggesting an alternative was going to be tricky. Our last meeting had included the mason and plumber. They had discussed routing pipes and getting around the concrete stairs.

That suggested the new problem was likely because of plumbing constraints. After all, the bathroom wall nearest the bath had been kinked. Was a bath pipe impossible to run without the change? Did the concrete stairs on the other side of the wall obstruct a pipe?

With this in mind, I turned to my house model and messed around looking for an alternative to suggest. One that bought the builder space where the wall had been kinked and one that we could live with, even appreciate in time.

My solution was reasonable but I had no idea if it dealt with the underlying problem. I hoped so but if it solved the problem it would be through luck rather than through understanding.

We sent our reply and waited.


We are grateful the builders do reply and often within just a day or two. After a couple of e-mails and missed calls, Megan spoke to the project manager.

“You understand the problem perfectly!”

This was not the reply we were expecting.

There was a lack of headroom over the lower staircase steps. It was nothing to do with pipes, plumbing, or the bath. Our solution had been shown the those who can make such decisions and they said it was possible.

So, I think, we are back on track.

Why Be Angry?

I like to understand why I am angry. Being angry is not helpful and, for me at least, typically masks other underlying emotions.

Megan and I have designed this house ourselves. We have gone from simple sketches in note books through to centimeter perfect layouts. Every measurement, every choice, and every painful compromise is ours. We get to own both the successes and failings of this house.

We can not afford the very best materials or components but we can at least dictate the design.

When the builder’s e-mail arrived it upset me. It angered me.

But why?

It angered me because the change felt lazy. Combined with a lack of reasoning, the e-mail left me in the dark and powerless over something that matters utterly and completely to me.

Mistakes happen. Oversights, errors, and simple bad luck happens. The stair head height problem should have been spotted and corrected a year ago. While the house was still just graphite on a piece of paper.

My anger stems from how the oversight was handled. The lack of communication. The lack of care in the solution. The blunt request to sign and return. There were no proposals, no sharing the problem, and no discussion that involved us as clients.

Who knows what the builders themselves went through. I hope they had internal discussions and had pause over the troublesome oversight. I suspect they did and I feel for the person who first discovered the problem. But they should have informed us.

How problems are handled is critical. Through this incident the builder’s have sown the seed of doubt for me. I now doubt their approach to handling problems or even simple choices.

Action Defeats Worry

In response to this doubt, I asked for a copy of the builder’s plans.

These are not the contract plans, nor the plans I supplied, but instead the technical plans given to the tradespeople; those doing the actual building. We had seen these technical plans in the hands of the project manager and with the building supplier in Moulins but had no copy ourselves.

I presume these plans are considered too detailed and too technical for the clients.

A few days after requesting a copy, they arrived by post.

I pored over the detail and double-checked every measurement. Over the following days we compiled a list of errors that had crept in. The translation from our client plan to the agreed contract plan to the technical plan had – inevitably – introduced subtle changes.

Corrections were needed to slightly move windows to fix lines of sight; a couple of internal doors needed moving. Minor changes but such things are important to me.

Those changes have been sent to the builder.

Next Visit

When we last saw the site, the foundations had been excavated and concrete poured into the channels. The next time we visit, we expect to see the start of the block work. The house is becoming real, very quickly now.