According to the American essayist John Burroughs, a man only becomes a failure when he blames someone or something else for his failings.

The theory behind this is that the minute you point the finger at another person, you effectively give away all the power you have to change a situation for the better.

It’s a good rule for life, and it also makes me think about one of the biggest issues currently affecting the building trade.

In construction, failure of just one part of a project not only compromises its entirety, it also has a cost – in terms of money and reputation. If no one takes responsibility for ensuring the specification is right, I’d say something, somewhere, is almost certain to go wrong.

Have a long look at the pictures here of just a few failed roofs. These are all recent projects, pictured not long after completion, where slate has begun to show signs of unsightly leaching or to discolour completely. Sometimes the damage has been insidious, occurring progressively in the months after a project has finished; on several occasions it has started to happen even before building work has ceased; there are also examples of wholesale roof failures.

These often high-profile botch-jobs do the reputation of natural slate no good at all. Everyone already know that correctly specified natural Slate is the smartest, most stylish choice of roofing there is, but when materials chosen are anything less than fit for purpose, it can be a disaster.

When I speak to our regional business managers, who are visiting sites around the country on a daily basis, it’s frustrating how widespread this problem is. No one, it seems, is aware of the scale of it, nor how many building projects have been compromised by poor specification, or are likely to in the near future.

The bottom line is this: if you blanket specify natural slate, you will encounter problems. There are unscrupulous contractors or suppliers out there who will provide the lowest common denominator – whatever they believe they can get away with, with no greater goal than to make a fast buck and no thought to the long-term outcome.

1.Discolouration of material which eventually will lead to disintegration of product (CIMG1564)Fortunately, as any good life coach will tell you, you mitigate the likelihood of something going wrong by taking responsibility for your actions.

Pay full attention to every manageable part of every project, and do everything you are able to, to ensure it is carried out in the best possible way for the benefit of the whole.

Part of taking responsibility is to look carefully for a supplier which will do the same. There are a number of questions you can ask to try and achieve this:

  • Does the company have specialists on hand who can help you generally and provide solutions when the worst happens and things do go wrong?
  • Do they have a range of products that offer real value and equally fit in with the budgets of your clients?
  • What is the turnaround time once an order is placed? (Can your business afford to wait more than 3 days?)
  • How recent is the CE testing being offered? And do they have the leading French NF 228 standard (which within industry circles is accepted as the highest testing standard available anywhere)?
  • And can they make your life easier with your client by offering technical services such as on-site surveys and support at installation. You want to maximise your chances of getting repeat business, right?

Choosing a supplier who will be fully accountable for the product they supply is paramount – and helps raise standards in an industry where the products’ reputation does not always match up with its undoubted quality.

In building, as in life, there will always be failure. But for those who take pride and responsibility for the quality of their specifications, there is the ultimate assurance of real and long-lasting success.

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