Part Nine – Bloody Services…………

This ninth entry was published originally by JSHarris on the 27th July 2013 and received 1,962 views on the closed forum

Another week has passed, with the usual crop of frustrations. Funny old thing, but 99% of the hassle comes from one company, the DNO. The local chap is great, bends over backwards to be helpful, but the company as a whole couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.

The saga this week involved getting the electricity connected and getting a ‘phone line moved (which is on an electricity company pole). Readers may recall that I paid a fairly hefty sum to the DNO to get cables relocated and a pole moved (over £3500, and we ended up digging the hole for their pole for them, as they couldn’t get a digger to the site). Part of the arrangement was that at the time of sorting out the job (for which we had to pay upfront, in full, back on April 24th) the DNO would notify BT Openreach that they were moving a pole that had BT wires on. The system is supposed to work like this:

1. You set up a job with the DNO and pay upfront in full.

2. The DNO give you a date for the work, so you can get all the trenches dug, ducts laid etc.

3. The DNO turn up and move cables etc, and make new joints where required, including the new supply connection to the new house.

4. The DNO then send an ODNR notification to BT Openreach, confirming that the new pole has been erected and is ready to accept the BT cables.

5. The DNO issues an MPAN number to the client (me) to allow a supplier to be booked to install a meter.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

The first flaw is that the job isn’t handled by one team, or even as one job. The DNO takes forever and a day to organise themselves and they have a massive lead time for everything. After two months we finally got the new cable in place, followed a week or so later by the jointing team, to make the new connections. When I went to site this week I discovered that they hadn’t put the joint in for the feed to the new house, although they had done all the other work.

So, I called my helpful local engineer, who said he had that job booked in for the 8th August (WTF can’t they do all the jointing in one go?). I rearranged the programme to accept the delay in getting power on site, then got a call from my helpful local engineer telling me that he couldn’t do the new connection as a job hadn’t been raised. Knowing full well that it had, I tried calling the programming office. The phone just went unanswered…………..

Finally I got hold of their head office, who also couldn’t contact their programming office, but who did promise to try and sort things out. Finally, another one of the local helpful engineer brigade called, telling me I’d not paid an invoice for £393. I’m meticulous when it comes to filing, and I even file the envelopes as proof of posting date, so I checked and told him that I definitely hadn’t had an invoice for this sum. He read out what was on his screen, which was for a commercial supply. I read back to him the domestic connection form I’d filled in. Being a helpful chap he went off and promised to check, then called me to say that the invoice (that I didn’t receive) should have been for £265…………………. He emailed me a copy, so I could transfer the money to them pronto, and he must have put a rocket up the backside of the finance team, as they called me as soon as the money arrived to tell me they’d be issuing an MPAN number and that the job could go ahead as scheduled.

So, I then call the same company (but the supplier side, rather than DNO side) to tell them this, as the two parts are not allowed to talk to each other. They tell me that there’s currently a 4 to 6 week lead time on getting a meter installed……….. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

So, when the head gets installed on the 8th August I still won’t be able to get power on to the site until mid-September. Bearing in mind that I first asked the DNO to quote for this work in February, and that I paid the only invoice they sent me in April, I’m not overly impressed. I bet the big boy house builders don’t get buggered around like this.

Not much point in me installing the meter box in the wall for the time being, I may stick it in next week, ready for the supposed connection date of the 8th.

I fitted a 100A DP lockable isolator in the meter tails in the end, as I wasn’t absolutely certain that the supplier would fit one of the Siemens meters with the built-in isolator. Easier to just flick a switch than use the screwdriver slot thing on the meter, anyway, and very useful to be able to isolate all the electrics at source. The small CU is just providing a current protected feed to the weatherproof outdoor CU box that supplies the garage, borehole pump, 16A builders supply and treatment plant (the outdoor box has RCBOs). It was cheaper to do this than run 25mm² SWA from the Henley block out to the outdoor CU, as I can now get away with just using a bit of spare 4mm² SWA for that run with the MCB in the meter box limiting the cable fault current. I just hope the DNO/supplier doesn’t have a whinge at me taking up too much space in the box.

Not that much has changed on site this week, despite a lot of work. I had a site meeting with the builder, all the way from sunny Tipperary, who was happy with the site and couldn’t see any problems from his side. He reckons the build may only take four or five weeks, which seems pretty quick, as it includes laying the foundation slab and erecting the house and garage. I know that building a factory manufactured panel system house is quick, but I’d thought that the build time was likely to be around 8 weeks. We shall see.

Finishing off from last weeks tale, it took all week to get the retaining wall up to finished height, and now all the big blocks are laid and concreted in. There are three courses of ordinary 100mm blocks to go on top of the wall along the north face, topped with a 600mm timber fence. That’s going to take a while, though, as we found out this week that there’s a 4 week lead time on the reconstituted stone that we’re using to face the neighbours side of the 100mm block wall (our side will be flush with the existing block work and will eventually be rendered).

This is how it looked at the end of the week:

We’re going to have a pretty impressive walled garden when it’s finished, should be a nice little sun trap.

Next week should see the rest of the site levelled, the base for the garage being laid and the access track being put in (at the moment the access track is under the big pile of earth). The house base will be excavated out another 150mm and a layer of compacted stone put in to act as the foundation. With a bit of luck, the ground works guys may be off site by the end of next week (although I think that’s a tad optimistic) so I can get the borehole driller in. I’m hedging my bets on the programme, though, and allowing two weeks before the driller gets

 

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Joiner wrote on 28th July 2013 at 08:01pm

 Is that your neighbour’s roofline above the wall?

It’s easy to relate the site to the model because of that lone tree!

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Jsharris wrote on 28th July 2013 at 08:17pm

Yes, it’s a bungalow sat higher up the side of the valley, and some distance away.

We won’t have any windows facing that way, and the gutter level of our roof will be around the level of the retaining wall as it is now, so all they’ll be able to see is the top of our roof ridge, and we won’t be able to see their house at all.

The neighbour up there has been tremendously supportive, and as a freebie I’m arranging for our “temporary” borehole standpipe to be permanently located right on their hedge line, as they have a veggie plot just over the hedge to the east (middle extreme right on the model photo). This will give them a free water supply for irrigating their veggies in dry weather, and won’t cost us anything (no water rates and the PV will be more than enough to run the borehole pump in warm weather).

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ProDave wrote on 28th July at 08:32pm

 It’s nice to see you making real progress. Frustratingly I’m still in the planning stages so can’t actually do much.

The DNO’s just seem to frustrate you, I have all that “fun” to come in due course.

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Jsharris wrote on 28th July 2013 at 09:57pm

 I’ll admit to being pretty excited now, as my confidence level at being able to pull this off grows! I’ve had the gnawing doubt that, as a beginner at this self-build lark, I’d made some seriously expensive errors somewhere. The major area of worry for me has been the ground works, particularly the setting out and accuracy of the topo survey and my site plan. Now we have the wall up (and in the right place) and the house base laid out, it all seems to be coming together.

The DNO saga is, according to Ben (my ground works chap) very typical. His view was that every project he works on gets buggered about by the utilities, with the DNO causing the most problems. The problem isn’t with the local engineers, they are all helpful and bend over backwards to overcome the shortcomings of their employer. If anything the local engineers are more frustrated with their own company than I am. The problem seems to be that the DNO just aren’t really geared up to handle single new build requirements. Not only are they very expensive (my £3500 has paid for 30m of cable, two cable joints and one new pole, with me paying for all excavation, ducting, backfill and making good), but they are incredibly slow and inflexible. An example is their inability to issue an MPAN number until the work is completed, so making it impossible for you to book the meter supplier early, and adding their lead time on to the total time it takes to get power on site.

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ProDave wrote on 28th July 2013 at 10:25pm

 I wonder what has changed?

When I built this house 10 years ago, we just filled in a simple form requesting a supply. Paid the fee and they came. The meter was fitted the same day by the same people.

Fast forward to now, and it’s a 5 or 6 page form to fill in.

Is your “problem” because you are choosing a different energy supplier to your DNO?

Something I never recommend.

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Jsharris wrote on 28th July 2013 at 10:41pm

The problem, at least in part, seems to be the split between the DNO and supplier forced by the government. In my case the DNO and the supplier are the same company, but are forbidden (by regulation) to talk to each other. I had the added problem that I needed a diversion of an existing cable, which is dealt with by a different department within the DNO (and yes, you’ve guessed it, the new connections team don’t ever talk to the network diversions team………..).

The net result is that I’m dealing with three parts of the same company, but who don’t talk to each other, either because of government regulations or because of company structure.

I had to fill in two forms, plus provide site plans etc back when I started this February/March, one for the diversion and one for the new connection. I had a site meeting with the local engineer when they put together the quote, and he said they’d roll the job into one combined diversion plus new connection. With hindsight I suspect this may be why the invoice for the new connection part was never sent out.

The system here seems to be that the meter supplier (same company as the DNO) cannot talk to the DNO part of the company, and operates completely independently. This means that they cannot programme a meter installation until the DNO part of their company has issued an MPAN number, and they only issue this when they’ve made the new connection (installed the head). Believe it or not, after the meter part of the company has been out to install the meter, I have to call the DNO part to tell them it’s been installed and get them back out to re-seal the company fuse, as the fuse and head belongs to the DNO part of the company and the meter supply part of the same company aren’t, apparently, authorised to replace the seal.

You really couldn’t make this up, could you?

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Notnickclegg wrote on 29th July at 09:26am

 The wheels of progress turn slowly, but turn they do…

My wife and I were talking last night about how stressful the build process was likely to be. So far, we’ve had a topo survey, a tree survey, engaged an architect and had an initial rough design put together, and have organised to have three trees taken down. I simply can’t believe the amount of hassle and stress involved in these pretty minor parts of the process.

As I’ve said before, Jeremy, I continue to watch your progress with serious interest. I only hope we make half as decent as fist of it as you’re doing.

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Jsharris wrote on 30th July 2013 at 11:05am

 The stress thing is quite interesting. The big stuff (retaining wall, designing the house, selecting a build contractor etc) hasn’t been that big an issue. The smaller stuff is what seems to soak up the time and cause frustration.

Having said that, I’m getting more convinced that someone from the DNO is reading this. At 08:00 this morning I got a call from the DNO giving me the much-needed MPAN number. I then called the supplier side of the same company, found they already had the MPAN and details on their system and can proceed a couple of days after the supply head goes live.

After months of becoming more and more convinced that this company was a bit of an organisational shambles, albeit with some good people working away at the coal face to patch things up, it suddenly seems to be working like a well-oiled machine. Why does this make me suspicious?

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