During my time as technical consultant to FPDC I have encountered a number of instances where the application of plastering or rendering has been called into question and has led to some difficult situations for client and member company alike, writes Steve Halcrow.

In the case of render, the vast majority of these surround surface finish and cracking, and with plaster it is about tolerance and surface finish, and snagging procedures. My visits of course take place once a dispute has arisen, and our independent input is called upon in defence of our members. We will of course always defend members where we can in such circumstances but cannot do so if the workmanship is faulty; thankfully it rarely is, and the problem most commonly stems from a gap in expectation between client and trade contractor.

The difficulty with the wet trades in particular is that it is rarely, if ever, black and white, and these disciplines carry with them an ‘X factor’. Not the type of X Factor where Louis Walsh can make carefully scripted ill-judged decisions to make him the pantomime villain, but more the uncertainty that comes from carrying out a traditional hand-applied trade with a natural product that is affected by its environment. It’s a nuisance but that’s plastering!

As a result I have been musing on what advice we might be able to give contractor members in order to prevent some of these issues, and I have come to the conclusion that we could help ourselves more by making sure the client is better informed.

Even experienced clients, who will always tell you how they have been snagging plaster since before you were born, usually don’t appreciate (or perhaps choose to ignore) the fact that every time you lift a trowel the circumstances are different, and it takes your skill and experience to produce the most consistent finish you can.

Why then do we allow this to happen again and again? Why does it often fail to come to light until we have completed a substantial amount of the work? And what can we do to stop it, or at least make it happen less often?

I suggest we consider informing the client BEFORE any work starts as to what they can do to help us give them the best possible result, and also we should advise them of some of the things that CAN happen so they don’t come as a complete and nasty surprise. I am not suggesting we scare clients off using our services! But well managed expectations go a long way to preventing later conflict.

To this end we should also agree a handover procedure that is clearly understood by all parties and which is fair to all. I have lost count of the number of times work has been accepted at the time of completion, only to be rejected later. This cannot be right. The client, the plasterer and the decorator should all know in advance what is acceptable and what is expected of each.

This is where I need your help. At the end of November I will be compiling two FPDC guidance notes informing clients of all of these issues, one for rendering and one for plastering. These will go on our website and also by email to all members.

This is your opportunity to have an input and to give me suggestions as to what should be included on such a document. Send your suggestions to me at technical@fpdc.org and I will consider them all when putting the guidance together.

Think of it as having your vote on the X Factor – but one that really matters!