My 18-year-old windows and doors are leaking

Property Clinic: We went for the best, assuming this was a lifetime job. Do I have a chance of redress?

As with all timber products, ongoing maintenance is generally required for windows and doors. Photograph: iStock

As with all timber products, ongoing maintenance is generally required for windows and doors. Photograph: iStock

 

We did some remodelling work on our home in 2003, under the direction of an architect. A substantial proportion of the cost was accounted for by some 10 linear meters of oak-framed glass patio doors, panels and windows, manufactured and fitted by one of the (self-described) foremost joineries in the country. We went for the best, assuming this was a lifetime job.

Draughts through the frames offered first evidence that all was not right. Then, they began to leak. We first complained to the company in 2011 but their response made clear that they would not accept responsibility and that we would have to pay for any remedial work necessary. In the intervening years, the problem has grown progressively worse, with leaks now appearing in virtually every part of the frames, doors and windows, visible damage to the oak structure and irreparable damage to an oak floor which regularly gets wet despite our best efforts to stem the flow.

I’ve had numerous engagements with the company over the past year. They sent someone to inspect the problem and they suggested a range of solutions, only one of which they were willing to guarantee would entirely stop the leaks – at a cost of €25,000. When I didn’t take up their offer, they sent me a bill for the inspection!

Should you wish to verify any aspect of this, I have all of the correspondence, both from recent engagements and my contacts 10 years ago. I also have some dramatic video of water literally flowing under a section of the frame during a particularly bad night last year.

I know I should have pursued this more vigorously when the problems first emerged but – even after this length of time – do I have any realistic chance of redress?

Andrew O’Gorman writes: It is disappointing to hear that you paid for an expensive product, but it doesn’t appear to have met minimum standards when installed. As a surveyor it sometimes annoys me when I have a call with a client and hear similar stories of product failing to match the client’s expectations.

Consumer contracts are protected by the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980. If you have a contract with a service supplier, you can expect that:

• The supplier has the necessary skill to provide the service

• The service will be provided with proper care and diligence

• The materials used will be sound

• Any goods supplied with the service will be of merchantable quality.

Notwithstanding that the installation and works appear to have taken place some 20 years ago, a number of obvious items of clarification arise.

• Did your architect specify the design, quality and workmanship required?

• Did your architect supervise the works?

• Who certified the works as satisfactorily complete?

• Was payment made in full or was retention amount withheld for a period?

It appears that your first approach to the supplier was 8 years after the works were completed. I am assuming that no issues arose up to this point. I note that the supplier offered to carry out remedial works at a cost of €25,000, which suggests that the original job was of substantially higher value.

As with all timber products ongoing maintenance is generally required. Typically, such maintenance includes:

1. Cleaning down external glazing.

2. Preparing and decorating timber work regularly.

3. Adjusting and servicing timber window and door openings.

The supplier may be correct in not assuming responsibility for repairs after such an extended period. There might be other reasons why issues arose that are not directly attributable to the supplier and may be in the form of a maintenance programme supplied to you at the time of the installation.

It may be appropriate to contact your original architect to establish some specific information on the works. They may be able to assist with your further follow up with the supplier (if appropriate).

If the architect is not available, you should seek to engage a suitably qualified professional (chartered building surveyor) who will survey the works and prepare guidance on remedial works.

I would recommend that this is used as a basis to determine an appropriate course of follow up. You then have a number of options such as attempting to engage further with the supplier or seeking independent legal advice.

It will be important to note that building specifications and the quality of materials (particularly for window glazing) will have improved significantly over the period. You might wish to consider the costs of remedial works to the existing structures or a complete upgrade at this stage.

Andrew O’Gorman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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