What would you do--sprinkler install problem

This is a question about what to do in handling a problem with a contractor. I'm in a quandary. Please excuse the length of this post. I've tried to boil it down to essentials.
After several years of savings, my wife and I decided to have an lawn/garden sprinkler system installed. We saved for some time and wanted it done "right." I contacted several people and companies in the area for recommendations. Every one of them recommended a particular local company as doing the best job in the area.
I contacted this company and had them come out and give me a quote. (The owner is the one who does this.) His initial quote was $2,500. We had 3 other companies come out and give quotes. Theirs ranged from $1500 to $2,300. After deciding to go with the first company that was highly recommended, I called the owner and specifically told him what we were planning to do with our landscaping and asked him several questions. I also told him that it was important for us to have "head to head" coverage. He went back out to our property for a second visit and submitted a revised quote for $2,900 to do this. I okayed this.
BTW, we have a 1/3rd acre plot of land (less driveway and house). We painted our bed outlines and other things with landscape paint because of our desire to get exactly what we needed.
On Monday a crew came to do the install. I took the day off of work and met with the job supervisor and talked with him briefly about the install. We went over a couple of elements--where the controller box should be installed and the fact that several head (14) in the back yard would need to be installed 2-3" above the current ground level since the area would be heavily mulched. The crew worked all day Monday and from my layman's perspective seemed to do a fine job.
The supervisor told me he expected to be done at the end of the day on Tuesday. I did not stay home that day, but did come home around 4 p.m. When I got home the crew was gone with the job apparently finished. Here is what I noted: *The controller box was not placed where it should have been. It was put on a totally different wall in the garage. It's right where we planned to add shelving the summer, so that plan will have to be scrapped. Not a big deal, but a pain. *The spray heads that were to be placed 2-3" above grade were all placed at ground level. This is approx. 16 heads.
Over the next 2 days, I monitored the sprinklers very carefully. *There is 1 area in the yard that is getting no water at all. About 8 square feet is not hit with any heads. Perhaps this can be fixed by adjusting the installed heads. *We do not have head to head coverage in most of the yard. There are several areas that are hit by only one spray head or rotor. There are other areas where heads overlap but do not provide head-to-head coverage. It would seem that to fix this additional heads would need to be installed. Since all the pipes have been laid and covered, I have no idea how that would be done at this point.
I contacted the owner with the 1st set of problems as soon as I returned home on Tuesday. Since then no one from the company other than a secretary has returned any phone calls. I contacted them Thursday to let them know about the 2nd set of problems.
Next week I will be unavailable most of the week and then it's very likely that I'll be out of town for the next two weeks, so it will be hard for me to seek resolution to this problem. An additional compounding factor is that this weekend other work is being done in the area (laying metal edging, mulching the beds) that will make it much harder for additional sprinkler work to be done.
Here's a big advantage I have--I haven't paid for this system yet.
What should I do? I feel like I paid for a Cadillac system, but got a Ford. I'm very disappointed. I think I was an ideal customer. I was prepared to pay for the best system this company could install. I'm very disappointed that they didn't come through.
Hypothetically if this were to go to court, I could see one problem from my side. The estimate I agreed to specified an "approximate" (actual word on the estimate) number of heads. They actually installed more than that. But, at several points in our discussion I told the owner that I "wanted the system done right" and was prepared to spend what that took. I told him I was relying on his design expertise to make sure what was needed was installed. If the quote had come in $500 higher, we would have still gone with this company. I trusted their expertise to tell me the number of heads that it would take. So, even though they filled the quantity number of the estimate, they did not meet the overall goal.
What should I do at this point? Accept the system as is and negotiate a price reduction? Insist on corrections (which I'm not sure how feasibly that can be done)?
Help would be greatly appreciated. I want a successful resolution to this, but most importantly, I want the irrigation system needed to do this job right.
Tony
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Tony,
Froma contractor's perspective, they f'ed up. You have every right to have the system installed the in which you and the contractor agreed.
Keep a log of your phone calls and faxes. This paper trail is essential should things turn ugly (I dubt they will, but hey, just to be on the safe side).
Fax him one more time, clearly spelling out the problems and politely asking him to get back to you. Then........ wait. :o)
If this guy is like every other irrigation company I know, he's jamming this time of year and will come back to fix the mistakes when he can, but it shouldn't be more than a couple of weeks.
Dave

contractor.
lawn/garden
also
met
installed
is
on
add
deal,
at
other
secretary
edging,
Ford.
to
my
the
heads
the
this,
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contractor.
lawn/garden
also
met
installed
is
on
add
deal,
at
other
secretary
edging,
Ford.
to
my
the
heads
the
this,
The very first think you need to do is put all the issue into writing, just as you did here. You need to send it to the company by registered mail and request a receipt. You need to also call the company and let them know that you have sent them your concerns in writing so they can evaluate the issues and suggest a resolution.
Second, no matter what they say or how many letters you might get from their attorney, don't pay them. If they belong to the Better Business Bureau, you can file a complaint if they fail to address your issues Do let them have a reasonable opportunity to fix the problems. If the problem isn't resolved and they are BBB member, you might be able to take it to mediation or arbitration. This is a free service that lets you sit down with a neutral, third party, and come to a reasonable solution. Arbitration is binding and mediation is not.
It should be very easy to relocate the controller to another wall. They can probably unscrew the heads, put in longer risers, and reinstall them as far above the ground as you wish. That probably wouldn't take more than 10 minutes/head. If you don't have adequate coverage, it might be an issue of an adjustment or a quick swap-out of the head.
I do understand your anxiety as I went through a similar situation with a remodeling contractor. It probably won't take you too long to figure out if they are very busy and a little slow in getting back to you, or if they are ignoring you. Remember, you have the advantage in that they haven't been paid. If they don't fix the problems, don't pay them. You will get letters threatening you, but don't back down. Document everything. Follow-up every phone call with a letter restating what was discussed and how they agreed to remedy the problem.
Keep us posted.
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Sounds like you may've gotten a bad foreman -- even the best of companies sometimes hires a joker who screws up a few jobs before getting the axe. The acid test is going to be how well the company "makes it right".
Now, here I'm assuming you had the bed layout done *before* the bid was made (so that the company was able to properly design the layout), and that you had made it clear *at bid time* where you wanted the controller (it's somewhat difficult to just randomly place the controller -- ideally it's relatively close to the valves, which in turn are usually relatively close to the incoming water supply). Unless there is a good technical reason why the controller is where is it, I'd make 'em move it to where you wanted it.
Making the heads higher is pretty trivial -- it's just a matter of changing out the riser. Maybe they just wanted the heads flush until the mulch was laid (having all those heads sticking out is a recipe for breaking heads and risers). OTOH, it could be the foreman is scatterbrained. And, of course, it begs the question as to *why* you are watering your mulch (which just leads to the mulch rotting faster), but I digress...
The head coverage is a different kettle of fish -- 100% head-to-head coverage is the absolute minimum standard, so it needs to be brought up to that standard. Assuming the design layout had 100% head-to-head cover (he *did* do a design, right?), then something is funky. Perhaps the water meter needs to be upsized to allow more flow, perhaps your local static pressure is lousy (although he should have checked with the city as to the minimum static pressure), maybe there are just some clogged heads or lines (very likely). In any case, it needs to be made right.
It's pretty early to be talking about going to court. A company usually doesn't develop a good rep just randomly, so for now I'd give them a change to fix the problems.
Good luck, and don't back down!
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I have paid to have sprinklers installed and I have done it myself. I have yet to find a landscape contractor who does as good a job at this as I do, and I don't think my jobs are *excellent*. They are very good, though. These guys have lousy attention to detail and even when you ask them to do something your way it often gets done their way instead. This is usually a result of bad communication. You talked to the owner who then talked to the foreman who then had a crew. At each of those levels there can be confusion, especially if there is a language barrier.
My conclusion when it comes to sprinklers is:
If you want it done right then do it yourself.
A person like you who laid out all the beds, thought about coverage, and so on has more than enough knowledge to do the job himself or - at the least - supervise a crew to do it. It can seem like a waste of time, but then so is what you are going through right now.
I am still correcting the mistakes that my last landscape contractor made. I figure it's better to just do it myself than to have the same team of bozos out here again. They did most of the digging anyway, which is certainly the part that sucks the most.
Dimitri
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Thanks to everyone in this thread who has replied so far.
Perhaps it's just the area that I live in, but I've become very frustrated with contractors I've tried to deal with. I wouldn't say I'm an inappropriately demanding customer (I don't nit pick on trivial elements), but I do expect quality work--especially where my home is concerned. However, I am willing to pay to have the work done correctly.
Unfortunately, I've run into previously a situation where I pay a premium price for a high quality job, and actually only get an average job. I don't nag (or really even interact with) the people when they're doing their work, but I do expect to be able to inspect and verify conformance with the agreement when they're done. I've seen the mentality before "well, I say I'm done, so pay me now."
I guess I'm learning from experience to try and begin with a positive relationship with a contractor, but at the same time make sure everyone agrees as to the requirements and that there is appropriate documentation. I'm the kind of person that would love to have a properly worded very specific contract in place for every job I have done like this one. Unfortunately in my area, trying to do that would likely result in my not being able to get anyone to do anything for me.
Tony
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I think it is a pandemic issue. People are pressed to make as much money as they can. Good help is hard to find, especially if you want to pay $6/hr, so many people end up with help that is hopelessly inadequate and most places have high turn-over. I can't tell you how close I came shoving a cell phone up the ass of a couple of contractors. They spend most of the day talking to people who are unhappy with the last job while trying to schedule the next job with the next victim. When you need to talk about something critical, the wife or kids are on the phone about some personal issue!
I also think that people are less honest than they were thirty years ago. I think we hear about so many shady things and illegal deals on the nightly news that people think that being dishonest is part of business. My mother had a contractor throw about $1000 dollars worth of trim pieces into the dumpster. When I asked when the molding were going to be applied to the new cabinets, he said he never used the stuff. I was speechless. After raising hell with everyone, the store (Lowe's) had to order new trim (crown moldings, light rail, wood end panels, etc.) and he had to come back and finish the job. He tried to leave a bunch of 220V wiring hanging lose in the cabinet under the oven. The fan for the hood wasn't aligned with the damper on the exhaust ducting and when you turned on the fan, the louvers wouldn't open and the hood wouldn't exhaust. They wanted to put some caulk around the thing! I literally told them to get the hell out of the house and to send someone back to do the job right. I ended up calling Lowe's national headquarters.
I had a small kitchen fire. The "restoration" people ended up causing a considerable amount of damage. They had to refinish my cabinets and tried to install the door with raw wood on the inside surface instead of finishing both sides of the door. They lost one door! I could go on, but ultimately it ended up in mediation. Had they been paid, we would have never been able to resolve the issue in a fair way. Had I not documented everything (including pictures) I would have been screwed at the mediation proceedings.
Believe me, its not just you or your part of the country.
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Tony wrote:
> This is a question about what to do in handling a problem with a > contractor. I'm in a quandary. Please excuse the length of this post. > I've tried to boil it down to essentials.
Having heard the prices, I would have elected to do the job myself. You could rent a trencher for a couple of days and do most of the work on that end in probably a few hours. Just lay out a gridwork of ropes as to where you want the trenches dug and go for it. The biggest headache of the job is connecting the pipes and the heads to the pipe. If you're not comfortable with the electrical wiring, hire an electrician for a couple of hours.
You wouldn't necessarily need to cover the entire area as water will wind up filling in what little space there is left naturally.
To make sure you cover what you want, start with one head installed closest to the source. Watch the pattern it makes. Then the next one will be set less than that distance so they overlap.
On a plot 1//3 acre in size, you'd only need heads on the perimeter anyway. Probably no more than four. One on each corner. Perhaps one in the middle of the longer sides if necessary.
As for how to handle the payment problem, give the guy 1/4th of what he is due and tell him to finish the job the way he was told to. If he balks at that idea, tell him he'll get 2//3 of the agreed upon price or nothing. Plus some not so good public relations. He'll do the job right. And may even drop the price.
I do not give legal advice as I am not an [your] attorney.
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You might need to talk with an attorney, but it seems to me, you should contact the owner in writing and explain clearly that payment in full will be made when the job is fully completed to your agreed upon specifications.
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wrote:

After reading a lot about and experiencing some of my own contractor problems, your planning was flawed in not *expecting* some sort of snafu. Scheduling job B before job A is complete, adjusted, and accepted is unwise. This is not the sprinkler people's problem. Not doing the work to agreed specs is. I hope you got everything in writing before the work began.
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My original post is below this one. Here's where things are now.
I guess it did "pay" to go with this company. Today the manager came out for the followup/walkthrough. He looked around the yard with me and, without making excuses, told me what he was going to do to bring things in line with what was needed. (This manager wasn't at the site when the system was installed.)
He wound up relocating about 5 heads and installing about 5 new heads. At the end of this work he came to me and said, "I'm still not happy with the coverage in a couple of the areas, but I'm out of heads on my truck. Can I come back on Friday and finish up?" I told him that was great.
Already what we have at this point addresses my major concerns. We now have no "dead zones." In some of our plant beds he swapped out spray heads on 6" risers to ones on 12" risers to address spray blockage issues from plants. I was really impressed with how he was working hard to make the install right. I've gone from being rather upset to overall being very happy.
I didn't choose to "bother" him with concerns about where the controller is. (It actually is where I wanted it initially, but my wife wanted a different location.)
While it would have been great to have this done the first time, I'm not going to hold that against them at this point. It's a peak time for them and so that's likely a factor that came into play here.
Tony

contractor.
lawn/garden
also
met
installed
is
on
add
deal,
at
other
secretary
edging,
Ford.
to
my
the
heads
the
this,
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Score: DH - 1 SWMBO - 0
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