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The Unpaid Work of Tradespeople

If you’ve ever winced after a trade handed you a quote or invoice, you’re not alone. Admittedly I have done the same in the past, wondering why I’m being charged so much for such a short or straightforward job. After some research, I now fully appreciate how much work takes place that the customer doesn’t see.

If you have a routine nine to five office job, the chances are your day is over when you close the lid on your laptop. The working day of your tradesperson is far from over when your and mine is and furthermore, you may not realise what an impact this has on their families too. Making plans for the evening is difficult when you don’t know what time your spouse is going to be home, or how much work they need to do on return.

So just what are you paying for that you don’t see? First up, think about when you contacted your trade. If you‘re at work all day, it’s likely you rang them in your leisure time. Did you ever think that when you ring a plumber in the evening or the weekend, it’s their time off too? It’s easy to focus on our home projects to get that super new shower or chandelier fitted, without considering the knock-on effect.

Your project may require multiple trades. Have you asked an electrician to do some work, only to be informed they’ll also need a plasterer, plumber, tiler, or decorator? Unless you can project manage this with your own connections, your trade will need to reach out to their network to find the skills needed, and arrange the order of the work. This time may be factored into the final invoice you receive, although you don’t know how many calls have been made to get the right people with the right skills. And if the trade is worth their salt, they only want supporting trades that work to their standard.

“When you employ a great tradesperson, they will be guaranteeing or warrantying the parts and their labour, and will look after you going forwards, all of which has to be taken into account, “says Karen Boom, an electrician from Billericay, Essex. “We have a saying which is ‘You touch it, you own it’. Sometimes we do work and then a fault occurs shortly afterwards which was nothing to do with the work we carried out, however, the client is now under our care, and so we have to respond and attempt to rectify. I think that tradespeople really are the 4th emergency service!!”

The invoice you receive when the job’s completed also reflects the skills, qualifications, and experience of the trade. Qualifications for gas and electrical safety are there to protect you. Exams can be expensive, time is needed to study for these, and it’s usually time not working, and is therefore unpaid. As well a certification, you’re paying for the experience of the trade to know what to do.

If you ever wonder why a small job costs so much, consider how much your trade can earn in a day by doing small jobs versus one big job. Driving from small job to small job includes time spent not earning. If it’s a 30-minute drive and back to get to your house, that’s an hour your trade has spent not earning. The longer and bigger the job, the more attractive it is, because it’s more efficient to drive to a job and work there all day.

When your trade arrives, you’re unaware that they may have spent time the previous evening or that morning loading up with the specialist tools and machinery needed for your project, or strapping ladders or other access equipment to their roof. And all that cabling, pipes, sockets, washers, or other parts you asked for? Your trade had to source and order them, and maybe drive to their wholesaler to purchase them for you. Sometimes something unusual is called for, and your trade will spend an evening researching to find a part. They won't even recuperate the cost of this time if they doesn’t get the job.

It’s the same if you ask a trade to visit your home to give you an estimate or quote. They drive over, listen to your requirements, and return home to produce a written cost. It can take hours to cost out all the parts, materials, and labour. When you change your mind and decide not to get the job done, you have cost the trade their time and energy.

You may think your tradesperson is knocking off early when they leave your house at 4pm, but they still have to drive home, re-load their van, arrange visits, create estimates, and chase up clients who haven’t paid on time. So next time you’re given a quote or invoice, remember all the invisible work your trade undertook to do the job. They really have gone out of their way to do the job for you.

We’d like to thank Karen Boom for contributing her valuable thoughts towards this article. If you’re in the Billericay area, and in need of a quality electrician, please contact Karen using the contact details on her website, at Follow her on Twitter at @Shes_ElectricUK.

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