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20 Tips For Surviving The Builders

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And the builders are OUT… phew! I’m breathing a huge, dusty sigh of relief and allowing life as I know it to resume.

I’ve totally renovated four homes so far and although I don’t think this one will be the last, I have promised my family some peace and quiet… for a while.

I’ve learned (the hard way) a few useful things about having the builders in and thought I’d share my top 20 tips in case they’re useful to anyone else in this nerve-shreddingly stressful situation.

1.     Get as much done all at the one time as you possibly can. I’ve tried doing a bathroom here, a kitchen the next year, redecorating bit by bit and it’s not ideal. Plumbers and electricians come in and sigh: ‘Who did the kitchen like that? For the new bathroom, I’ll have to re-do all that piping/ wiring.’  Or worse, hauling their ladders and equipment into the kitchen, they scratch your new hall paintwork or eeek, your brand new floor. The more work you can get done at once, the better the price should be.

2.     Move out if at all possible. Even for the first few weeks. This allows you and your family to remain sane and be dressed without plaster dust on your clothes, in your hair, all over your beds and even in your food. It also lets the builders forge ahead without having to worry about water, gas and electrics having to be reconnected every evening.

3.      If you have to stay at home, tape polythene sheets over doors, buy a brush, dustpan, even a cheap vacuum cleaner just to deal with builder mess. Do not use your lovely Dyson to scoop up plaster dust and rubble. Do not let the builders use it either: it will die!

4.     If you work from home, you HAVE to find somewhere else to go. Trust me here. The library, a café with wifi, you have to get out. You cannot listen to Lesser Known Hits of the 80s, plus drilling and bumping and banging for weeks on end and get work done.

5.     Be VERY choosy about which builder you use. Do not rush this decision. Get recommendations from people you trust, or neighbours… even bathroom and kitchen suppliers. Go and see previous work the builder has done. Ask the owners if the work was quick and tidy, if the builders were polite, stuck to the agreed budget, turned up on time, stayed with the job right to the end. If a builder is available straight away, beware. Good builders have to be booked in advance. If you’re in an old house, you need a builder used to renovating old property.

6.     I don’t like tradesmen who only want to be paid in cash and I don’t like it if they want part of the money up front. Both of these things suggest they’re not running their business well and they won’t run your project well either. I totally wanted to sack a builder once, but had paid too much up front to be able to do it.

7.     Some money part way through is OK. But you need a week or two after the work is completed before you pay your final bill. So you can work out what the little problems are and ask for them to be fixed before you settle up.

8.     Plan, plan, plan. Make drawings of your rooms. Think about plugs, lights, tiling, cabinets, the way the door opens… Make as many decisions ahead of the work as possible. There will still be lots of decisions to make on the spot. Take some guidance from your builder – he might from experience know of a better way to do it…

9.     …But don’t do everything the builder way – sometimes they can go overboard with plastic trimming, beading, coving, laminate flooring and everything in beige and before you know it the heart and soul of your characterful old house has been ripped out and MDF-ed over.

10.   Consider using an architect. I asked an architect friend, who recommended the office junior, who made several visits and lots of plans. She had great ideas, oversaw getting the building warrant and all the relevant permits and charged us less than we expected for her time.

11. If your decorator umms and ahhs and says: ‘Are you sure? That’s quite a dark/ bright/ unusual colour?’ Just say YES. If you want a beautiful paint job with proper sanding down and many layers of paint, say so. Expect it to take longer and cost more than slapping the stuff on.

12.  Don’t freak out when standing in an empty newly painted room. By the time you’ve put in sofas, pictures, lamps, shelves, books – the colour will be lovely and just the way you imagined it.

13. Be business like with your builders. They’re not your new friends; they’re not your Dad/ uncle/ boss. You’re in charge. If things aren’t going the way you want, ask about it. Explain what you want. Listen. Sometimes you will have to compromise because what you want doesn’t work. But don’t accept something you really don’t want. The builder is going to move on and you’ll be left regretting this bit of work for the next five, ten years or longer.

14. When you first agree a price with the builder, try and get everything you can think of onto that estimate. There will always be a few extra jobs at the end, which will put the price up, but try not to make it a great long list of extras. Otherwise your bill might be a nasty shock.

15. Agree a timetable. Expect it to take a bit longer. But do not accept endless weeks of delay. If this is happening, you need to find out why and ask them to get back on track.

16. Keep all your estimates, bills and receipts in a dedicated folder. File all those guarantees. Unused paint tins, lightshades that didn’t match, bookcases that didn’t fit, unopened boxes of tiles – all can be returned if you have the receipt.

17. Get everything finished! Don’t leave wires dangling while you procrastinate on a bathroom cabinet, don’t leave plywood on the floor while you dither about tiles. After all the pain you’ve gone through, you NEED the big ‘tah dah’ when it all comes together and looks brilliant.

18. Accept that budget limitations can lead to creative and brilliant results. My £9 a metre bathroom tiles look amazing. Crown and Dulux have colours just as pretty as Farrow and Ball’s (use tester pots to find them). Two IKEA pendant lights can look even better than one designer one. A cheap bookcase properly assembled and fitted to the wall by a joiner looks almost as good as a bespoke one.

19. Realise that your wine/ chocolate/ biscuit consumption will rocket during this horribly stressful and expensive time.

20.  Remind yourself that it will be worth all the pain, expense and hassle. We’ve created a big family kitchen, renovated an old bathroom, plus put in a second bathroom and already, one week in, this has transformed home life.