A Wendy house or garden shed can represent a significant outlay of money. You have to a) view it as an investment and b) be really careful when picking your supplier.
Like most industries, there are great manufacturers of Wendy houses, garden sheds and dog kennels, there are mediocre ones, there are bad ones and there are dishonest ones. Rushing in without doing your homework, just because you see a great price can really cost you in the long run.
We care about our industry and want to ensure that all those looking for a Wendy House, garden shed or dog kennel do so equipped with the right information to make the correct decision for them. To this end we have put together some guidelines for finding the right supplier for you. This is a list of things that any reputable manufacturer will be happy to answer questions about, so if they are being evasive, walk away.
After reading this article you should feel confident in assessing different manufacturers. This is a process that you should take seriously.
1. Do they guarantee ALL work to your satisfaction?
Any manufacturer who cares about you and what they do will offer a full guarantee for all the work they do. The duration of that guarantee may vary but the extent of what is covered never should.
If they offer no formal guarantee or are cagey about the details then the chances are that they are trying to not be held legally liable should something go wrong. Immediately walk away from such a manufacturer.
Don’t just accept the word ‘guarantee’ as being enough- look carefully at what is being guaranteed- and by whom. The last bit is critical- some ‘manufacturers’ don’t actually do the work themselves, or at least part of the work. If they use outside contractors for some of the work, who is liable to fix it if it goes wrong (more on contractual work later).
And of course it is important to establish exactly what the guarantee covers- for example, there are some less than reputable operators who give guarantees that only cover the structure against collapse, not defects through material or workmanship quality. This means that if the roof starts to leak six months after your wendy house, garden shed or dog kennel has been installed you are on your own, or at least you are going to have to take legal action to get the installer to take responsibility. Save yourself that hassle and make sure the guarantee is worth having.
2. Do you need to pay a deposit?
We personally don’t see why our customers should pay deposits on units of a standard design. All that you are doing is paying our suppliers, whom we don’t pay until after the unit is installed. If the manufacturer is asking for a deposit you need to ask why.
If you are getting a heavily customized unit that the manufacturer is not going to be able to sell to anyone else, then maybe a deposit is more acceptable, but if it is a dog kennel straight out of the catalogue then you have to assume that the manufacturer will be able to sell the unit to the next person should you cancel the order.
If they are insisting on a deposit then consider why that might be. This may be linked to the size of the deposit- if it is around 50% then the chances are that you are paying for the materials upfront. This probably means that the company does not have the cash flow to do this themselves, which in turn means that they do not have credit terms with their suppliers. What does this say about them? It could be legitimate, but they may also be very small operators, or even worse, complete fly-by-night merchants who will take your 50% and run and never be seen again. The former may not be a problem- all companies start somewhere, but the latter makes this a real risk.
What does happen far too often is that a seemingly ligitimate person will ask you for a reasonable deposit. They then start pushing back completion dates siting every excuse under the sun, from supplier problems to family crisees, to the wrong type of weather. Eventually the client loses patience and starts asking for money back, at which point progress will appear to be made… and then stop again. After a period of further excuses the client will begin getting insistent about money being returned, and then the financial excuses begin. This is usually followed by the communication black out at which point the client is unlikely to see a Wendy House or Garden shed, nor will they ever see their deposit money. It’s sad, but it happens far too often.
At the end of the day, asking for deposits is not the sign of a fraudulent company, but it is something that fraudulent companies do.
3. Can you visit the company’s facilities?
These days it is very easy to establish a company as being larger and grander than it actual is. Looking bigger than you are can certainly help assure people to part with their money. Marketing can allude to anything and none of it needs to be strictly true. We regularly talk about our industry leading production facility, but unless you come and visit us it could be a shed at the bottom the garden. The basic rule of thumb is that any claim made by a manufacturer needs to be based on verifiable fact, and the only way to fully satisfy yourself is to see the evidence for yourself.
Time permitting you should make the visit, and unannounced if possible (there are some clever con artists out there who can fake anything given the time.) At the very least you should make noises about visiting to gauge the reaction- if they are evasive then be worried because…
4. Where will your unit be made?
We have a large production facility and all our units are made there, taken to pieces and then reassembled on site. This is for three reasons:
- It streamlines production
- Make it possible to use better machinery to put units together
- You don’t have workmen camped out in your driveway for days on end make a big mess and noise
The first two mean that you get a better unit for a comparable price but the last one is the main one here. Your choice is between having a group of fitters on site for an hour, or to have them there for over a week.
And who is going to be easier to track down in 12 months when the roof has sprung a leak- the guy with only a mobile number or the company with 30 employees and a huge production facility?
5. Who is doing the work?
This is another practice that occurs in our industry. There are a number of third party contractors, some of whom are very reputable, who fit the units made by other companies. They advertise for themselves and fit the units, but don’t actually make them. The reputable guys use high quality, trust worthy manufacturers, and don’t hide the fact from their clients. Some of the less reputable ones will pass all the work off as their own.
This last practice means that you are unable to assess the quality of the final product because you don’t know who is making the unit. And you also don’t know who will be responsible for any guarantees.
If the company you are looking at using does make their own units, off site as we do, who is doing the installing on site? Do they use their own teams of fitters, using full time employees who they personally can vouch for? Are their fitting teams fully supervised at all times?
These last points not only have an impact on quality, they also have a huge bearing on your personal security. There is a strong link between casual labour and property crimes, with day labourers either directly casing properties or reporting back to a network of criminals.
This is far less likely to happen if the company uses full time employees who are happy where they work and have loyalty to their employers. If the company can prove that all their employees are registered with the department of labour, all the better.
6. Does the company use materials that meet standards set down by the SABS?
The SABS has set minimum standards required from all building materials that are to be used for a set purpose. Unfortunately it is possible to substitute materials with those that are cheaper, look similar, cost less, but are not up to the intended usage.
As an example, we use Nutec as a facia board option. Nutec is a trade name for a high quality fibre cement board which is locally made and actually exceeds the standards set down by the SABS. There are other fibre cement boards on the market (mainly cheap imported boards) which were never intended to be used for cladding outdoor structures. Some of them do have legitimate uses that do not require them to stand up to the sort of abuse that Nutec boards need to survive. Unscrupulous manufacturers use the cheaper boards but still claim that they are Nutec.
As a guarantee of a minimum standard you must always ensure that the materials being used comply to SABS guidelines.
7. Are the SABS standard materials used correctly?
Its pointless to use SABS standard materials if they are not used in the correct manor. Using Nutec as an example again- the boards have certain qualities that make them perfect for cladding solid timber frame structures. When combined with the correct frame and backing timber it is brilliant. When the frame and support work is not so good it’s a liability. You can see what goes into producing a great Nutec structure in our article “What is Nutec?” and whilst we are not saying you need to become an expert it will certainly help if you are at least aware of what the best practices are for the type of structure you are looking to buy.
Another important thing to keep an eye on is the spacing between upright support ribbings (called studs). For timber cladding they should be no more than 600mm apart, and for Nutec no more than 300mm. In some cases you will be sold on the idea that less frame work is required because the cladding is thicker. This is actually counterintuative. The thicker cladding boards are heavier and therefore require more support, the structural strength supplied by thicker boards over the more standard 12mm is minimal- what makes the big difference to structural strenght is the quality of the supporting frame.
Less supports mean less structural timber, but more importantly, a quicker build time and therefore reduction in expensive labour costs.
The FREE plastic lining scam
We feel that it is necessary to give this little scam its own small section- it almost deserves its own article!
Some manufacturers offer to line the inside of your wendy house or garden shed with a plastic lining. The type of plastic used varies but it is usually pvc sheeting- similar to a really thick bin bag.
Great- what a good idea. The plastic will increase the water proofness of the structure and add another layer of protection to the wooden frame.
Well, actually, no.
There are a number of reasons why a plastic layer is being given away and none of them are legitimate. The main reason is that the plastic sheeting is covering up a multitude of sins and are you really going to cut it open to see what is underneath, or are you going to smugly tell your friends that you “got a free plastic lining!”
There is a grade of timber called ‘rustic’. It has one good side and one that is rough and can have bark on it. The good side is put facing out and the rustic side is hidden behind the sheet. Not so bad in its self you may say, after all the outside still looks good and the plastic sheeting covers the messy side- good thinking by the manufacturer.
Until it rains!
Then the poor quality of the boards mean that water seeps (or sometimes even runs) through. Now, the plastic lining prevents you from seeing this happening. If you are lucky there will be a puddle inside alerting you to the damage that is being done behind the plastic, because if you are unaware of the water getting in the lining creates the perfect breeding ground for spoors to develop and the rotting of your Wendy house or garden shed to begin. And you guessed it- you can’t see the rotting happen until it becomes visible on the outside, by which time its too late.
And you can bet your last rand that if the manufacturer is cutting corners with the boards, then everything else will be cut the core, especially if they can hide it behind cheap plastic sheeting.
8. Ask a lot of questions about floors.
Its easy to be distracted by the top structure of a Wendy house or garden shed- it’s the part that you can see and where you perceive that most of your money is going.
Unscrupulous manufacturers know this and will try and cut corners on flooring.
An otherwise great wendy house or garden shed will not last more than a year or two if corners are cut on the floor.
The standard should be a three way pallet system. This consists of a top board or decking planks, center mezzanine bearers (also called floor studs) with holding struts underneath.
The floor studs stop the floorboards from flexing when you walk on them and should be no more than 300mm apart: holding struts hold the structure together, providing lateral strength. Unfortunately, some manufacturers do not see the need to put in holding struts, believing that the floor studs will do the same job. They won’t. To make things worse the studs are then put placed further apart creating a weaker floor and a flimsy structure. So always check that the three pallet system is in use, that the floor studs are no more than 300mm apart and that holding struts are being used.
9. If plumbing or electrical work is being done, who is doing it?
These days plumbing and electrical work is taken very seriously by the local building authorities- and for good reason. If you have any such work done anywhere on your property it must be done by a certified, registered installer, and they must supply you with a certificate of compliance. If you do not have a certificate for all new work done on your house by an electrician or plumber then a) you run the risk of your buildings insurance being null and void, and b) you will have difficulty in selling your property at a later date.
Some manufacturers will offer a full package at a seemingly reasonable price (this particularly applies to Wendy houses) where the whole unit comes ready to go. In this situation you need to be very careful about who is doing the work and who is liable for it afterwards.
The best practice is to ensure that the work is being subcontracted to a local, registered artisan and that they are solely responsible for the work they (or their company) do. Then if there is a problem with it you will not have to go through a game of ‘whose going to take responsibility’.
10. Who else has the manufacturer done work for?
Is there someone or somewhere close to you where the company has installed the type of unit you are interested in? Can you go and look at them?
Sometimes seeing is believing!
11. What is the quality any hardware used?
There is not point in a manufacturer putting together a great solid timber frame structure only to then spoil it by putting sub standard handles on the door, or hinges that are rusted shut after the first light rainfall. Check what will be finishing off your Wendy house or garden shed. You should be making every effort to visit the manufacturing facility so see if there are any demonstration models outside, if so, have a look at the fixtures on those units. If the units that are supposedly the best example of their work then it doesn’t bode well for your unit.
Cheap, flimsy hardware is not going to last more than a few months without starting to seize and rust.