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The days leading up to Christmas are always a scramble—between finding and getting your hands on the ideal presents and making sure you get everything in order at work before the holidays, it’s easy to forget about getting your house ready. But from your in-laws to Santa and his crew, the season is packed with visitors to your home. It’s crucial to make sure they’re all comfortable and well cared for. Here are five last-minute home improvements that will make a difference (but that are also hassle-free):

1. Clean your chimney so that it doesn’t poison Santa

chimney_thumbChimneys house dangerous gases, the buildup of which can lead to chimney fires. To prevent this buildup make sure you have your chimney cleaned at least annually, a service that will also ensure blockages like bird nests and cobwebs are removed. Still not convinced? In countries, like Germany, having your chimney cleared is a legal requirement and the percentage of carbon monoxide and chimney fires are much lower. Chimney sweepers undergo extensive training in order to get qualified—to make sure you hire a chimney sweeper who has been through a rigorous assessment process, hire someone who is Guild Registered. For a chimney sweeper to have a Guild membership, they have to be insured and equipped to deal with all the situations that could arise in a standard job.

You don’t have to prepare too much for a visit from the chimney sweeper—simply clearing a passage to your chimney and making sure that your mantlepiece is clear of ornaments is enough. The length of time taken to complete the job varies from chimney to chimney, but on average it shouldn’t take more than about half an hour. That’s perfect around this busy time of year!

2. Make sure the reindeers don’t slip while they’re waiting on the roof


You have probably never hung out up on your roof but Santa’s reindeer will be, so it’s important to have some routine roof maintenance done! You don’t want Rudolph’s hooves catching a broken tile! Though early autumn is the best time for roof maintenance, if you haven’t hired a roofer at all this year, it makes a lot of sense to do so now. A roofer will be able to clear away all the dead leaves and twigs that may have collected over the autumn months. Once that is done, they will be able to assess if your roof needs any repairs.

If you have a tiled roof, damp or leaks may have caused a tile to crack or slip out of place. When tiles fall off, it’s important to replace them as soon as possible to avoid the felt covering beneath getting wet after exposure to rain and melting snow. Wet felt is likely to lead to the rotting of timbers and and ceiling damp. If you have a flat roof, cracks or splits around the edges are common, as is sagging, which is what happens when water builds up.

It’s always a better idea to check for faults and have them repaired rather than wait for a disaster to occur!

3. Invest in a splash of paint to impress any guests coming to visit


You’re going to have guests coursing through your home—from the dining room to the guest bedroom—and you definitely want to dress to impress. You don’t have to shell out for a refurbishment to make your home look brand new. A paint job in the rooms where you’ll be entertaining will lighten and neaten your home. If nothing else, clearing your living spaces before the painters come in will force you to declutter. And is there anything better to get you in the decorating mood than a freshly painted home?

A paint job is a fairly quick improvement too. Provided that your existing plaster is in reasonable condition, painting a large room will only take around three days (maximum)  from start to finish. Even if you paint all the rooms you’ll be entertaining in—the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room—you’ll only be investing a little over a week for all the paint work. If you hire someone at the very beginning of December, you’ll still have a good couple of weeks to recuperate and get ready for Christmas after the work is completed!

4. Install a bigger oven for that turkey


You don’t want to forgo a big turkey this year because of a lack of oven space! A bigger oven will give you enough space to slide in a massive golden turkey, but will also leave you with additional room to spread out all the required sides—parsnips, potatoes, and sprouts. If you’re installing an electric oven, it is possible to do so on your own, provided that an electrician has already wired your kitchen to allow for an electric oven. But if you’re installing a gas oven, you’re legally required to hire a gas engineer to complete the job.

To make sure you hire a gas engineer who knows what they’re doing, check that they’re on the Gas Safe Register. You can do this online, or can ask to see their Gas Safe Register ID card. The card will have a unique license number and will list the type of work they are qualified to do.

5. Avoid break-ins if you’re going away

A destination Christmas? We envy you already. Whether you’re going away for an extended period of time or even just a long weekend, it’s sensible to take steps to protect your home. After all, if Home Alone taught us anything, it’s that Christmas is prime time for crooks to strike.

While installing a DIY security system is cheaper, it’s easier and quicker (especially as you plan your trip and pack your bags) to have a professional security system installer do it for you. A professional installer will also be able to give you tailored advice for your home and will be able to double check that the system is working correctly.

Whether or not you give your home a boost this season, we hope you eat, laugh, and celebrate well! Happy Holidays!


Pauline had held a number of different jobs as a sculptor before she decided that becoming self-employed as a decorator was the perfect fit she had been looking for. Used to working with all sorts of materials—from plaster to modelling clay to concrete—she volunteered to decorate her brother’s bedroom as a favour. Once she was finished, his neighbours asked her to do their sitting room. After that, the requests started snowballing and she quickly figured that she could fill the days she wasn’t working with small decorating jobs.

“I don’t make the money I would like or need to make as an artist. Decorating is a great way both to stay on top of my bills and use my skills and hands,” Pauline said. With the grounding of an art background and a sound understanding of materials, it was fairly easy to teach herself as she went along. At that point, she was working in the care profession, a job she loved but one that was mentally stressful. Once enough decorating work started accruing, Pauline realised that if she turned to decorating full-time she could afford to both have a studio and spend time working in it.

“I hadn’t had a studio of my own for over twenty years, since I had been raising my children,” she admitted. “I’ve done so many other things, including working in education and care work. But I opted for decorating in the end because it was the best thing to balance with my art.” Since becoming a decorator, in addition to having time for her art for the first time in decades, Pauline also had the flexibility in her schedule to better accommodate her family. “My children were young when I started taking on decorating work,” she said. “They needed me frequently and often. As a single parent, it was good to do something that allowed me to stay involved in their schooling.”

Doing things her way

The biggest difference between Pauline and many other builders is that she takes on a limited number of jobs and works on most of them alone. In a sense, this makes her a better decorator: her expectations for each job are high because she treats each job like a project in its own right. “My favourite part of any job is meeting people and going into their houses. That’s the best bit, communicating with people and getting to know them. I always try to understand what they want from me—different people have different standards, but it’s interesting to get to the heart of what each person wants.”

She also travels on her bicycle, which saves her a lot of overheads. She pays a flat rate to have her equipment dropped off and collected at the beginning and end of each job. “In the end, it works out much cheaper because I don’t have to worry about parking or any of the other costs that come with driving,” she explained. “Because all my materials and tools are parked in one place, that keeps me working on one job at any given time. And that’s actually quite good because then I can give it my complete attention—it ends up being a massive benefit to the client.”


Being a woman in the trade

There are many advantages to being a female decorator—Pauline has worked for a lot of single women including those with special needs. Women feel safer and less intruded upon when another woman enters their home, especially when they have small children. But there’s a flip side too. As a single woman working alone, it can be risky to go into people’s homes when you’re not completely sure who is going to be inside to greet you. “At the end of the day, you’re a woman going into somebody else’s house and it’s their terrain,” Pauline said. “You have to be alert, you have to measure people up. I always give my daughter the address of where I’m going, just in case. Just so somebody knows where I am. Men don’t give these things a second thought, but women have to.”

That said, Pauline has also had people hire her because they thought that her attention to detail would be greater and because they expected her to take better care of their home. “I’m not sure if it’s my background as an artist or if it’s the fact that I am a woman, but I am extremely fussy about keeping spaces tidy,” Pauline said. For example, when working on a job, she puts plastic down as well as dust sheets. On wooden floors and especially carpets, it’s easy for dust to creep underneath the sheet, but if there’s a layer of plastic as well you have double protection. She also washes the dust sheets after each job because she just doesn’t see the point of putting a dirty dust sheet down. “It’s these little details that make a difference,” Pauline said. “I bring my attention to time spent filling or sanding. That’s the benefit of being an artist—I appreciate a good finish.”

Lord Sugar on The Apprentice

Image Credit: BBC

Fans of BBC’s The Apprentice will know that it relies on hapless contestants making comical errors in the weekly tasks. Last night was no exception as Lord Sugar set a task for the teams to set up a handyman business. What ensued was an excellent example of how tradespeople are taken for granted.

Elle made the first blunder, claiming that you don’t actually need knowledge to be a tradesperson. She explained, “You just need to convince people you know what you are talking about”. Anybody who has been on the receiving end of shoddy building work will know how far from the truth this is.

“I can paint, it’s easy”, beamed Mergim, before ruining a shopfront with a terrible paint job. Attitudes like this are insulting to tradespeople who spend their lives learning their trade. Many tradespeople invest in training courses, while others spend years as apprentices before going solo. They take pride in honing their talent until they can consider themselves a proper craftsman in their field.

Elle’s team learnt the importance of visiting a job before pricing it. After giving a quote over the phone for a painting job, they arrived to find it was much bigger than anticipated. This is why a visit is so important to a professional tradesperson. Their experience will be able to give you a realistic and competitive price.

When it comes to quotes, you can rely on a professional to give you an accurate breakdown of costs for a job. Both teams made a complete pig’s ear of quoting, giving “finger in the air” quotes which ultimately came back to bite them. No homeowner likes to be given a surprise bill at the end of a job, yet another reason why choosing a professional builder is so important.

A MyBuilder Tradesman

You can find skilled tradesmen on MyBuilder.

Scott made the ultimate error of over-promising, telling a customer that he could give them a complete garden makeover in a day. Consequently, a full makeover turned into a bit of weeding, leaving the homeowner thoroughly unimpressed. Professionals will give you a realistic timeframe for a job.

A group of contestants took part in the refitting of a theatre in East London. Any good building firm knows the value of providing a single point of contact for a project. This way the client has a regular line of communication to discuss the project and any changes or issues that occur. This team however, decided to pass the back to one another from quoting through to the actual work, which must have been confusing for the poor customer.

Both teams took to touting door to door for work and surprisingly some people agreed. We can only assume that the client who had her shelf broken by Mergim regrets that decision! Never hire a tradesperson on your doorstep, due diligence should always be carried out before hiring. Checking online reviews is a great way to find out the work history of a tradesperson.

In the end, Lord Sugar fired three people, a result we have to agree with given the poor quality work on display. Last night showed that being a tradesperson takes knowledge and skill. We hope that it helps homeowners to take their choice of tradesperson seriously for their next home improvement.

If you are looking for a professional tradesperson, post a job on MyBuilder.

Wendy had a ten year-long on-and-off relationship with insurance before she finally decided to take the leap and become a tiler.


Leaving the frustrating world of insurance

Her story began in a fairly typical way: she was was fresh out of college when she fell into her first City job, selling insurance. “It was the kind of job that will get you a mortgage and if you have kids it will provide your family with some stability,” Wendy said. “But that world can also be problematic. It depends on what you want out of life and I think you get to the point where you have to ask yourself what you want out of yours.”

But even then, pursuing a new life wasn’t a linear path. “I changed my mind many times,” Wendy admitted. “Every time you think, ‘I’ll make it in this place’ or ‘I’ll get on okay in this place’, hoping it will make a difference, but there comes a point when you just have to admit that you’re just not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

She describes coming into work one day and finding that her desk had been moved. “It was a minor thing, But it was still something which I had no control over,” Wendy said. “No matter how hard I worked—no matter how early I came in, no matter how late I left, no matter how thoroughly I met all my goals, I couldn’t get a pay rise if the department as a whole hadn’t reached their targets. I was limited as to what I was able to achieve, because I always had to operate within the company’s structure. Over time, the complete lack of control in my working life really got to me. It translated to a feeling of a complete lack of control in other areas of my life as well.”

The home renovation that kickstarted a new passion

So, how did she get to tiling? It happened as a bit of an accident, really. When Wendy and her fiancé decided to move, along with a newborn, into one of the properties that she had been renting out for years prior, they knew that they would have to renovate it before moving in. The timing wasn’t great—Wendy was pregnant and had left her insurance job just a few months prior.

With a tight budget, they decided to work out what renovation work they could do themselves. Wendy decided to take on the tiling because it seemed like a fun project. She took a few DIY courses to get a hang of the basics. Then she went out, bought the right tools and got to work. She tiled both her kitchen and her bathroom and was pleasantly surprised with the results.


Armed with all the right tools, Wendy thought she would see if she could make back some of the money she had spent purchasing them. She put up a couple of ads, got some responses and was on her way. “I learned by experience, getting better and better with each job,” Wendy said. “Which is as it should be, because every job is different in a completely unique way. For example, natural stone tiles require sealing and a special kind of maintenance. Each time I encounter different tiles, I realise that there’s a gap in my knowledge. I’ve enrolled in a trade school to get an NVQ qualification in tiling—I’m on my final but now I need to finish a few actual jobs and have them assessed as part of my portfolio.

Why more women should consider trade work

Wendy has been working closely with Women and Manual Trade, a charity that provide women pursuing building careers with a lot of support. They have allocated her a mentor who can help with setting up a business from putting a plan together to marketing to recruitment. She’s ready to start recruiting to expand her business and she’s made a commitment to recruiting other women. Why are women such a great fit for her business?

“Trade work provides the ultimate flexibility for women like myself, who have families,” Wendy explained. “I left the insurance world before I had my son, but even then I was beginning to think about what my personal responsibilities would look like in a few years and I wanted to find a way to have a bit more freedom in my day-to-day life. And I’m glad I took steps to give myself that freedom.

When my son was a little younger, he would get sick a lot and I would often get a call from the nursery saying that I needed to go and pick him up. As a builder, if you have to turn down a job to attend to your sick child, it impacts only you. But in the professional working world, it impacts the department and the company and a whole load of people get upset with you.”

The reality of being a woman in a male-dominated industry

Wendy calls herself “The Female Tiler” so anybody who hires her knows what they’re getting. As it happens, it’s a good thing, because a lot of people seek her out especially because she’s a woman—it’s often single women who feel more comfortable having another woman in the house. “I stick to domestic projects now because I tried working on-site a couple of times and it didn’t go down very well—there’s always a certain degree of sexism on-site that there simply isn’t when you do independent domestic work,” Wendy said. “But it’s also just about what you’re comfortable with—I prefer directly communicating with customers, I enjoy building a relationship with them. It’s also just easier having your own clients in terms of flexibility—you can choose when you do and finish jobs, you can set your own schedule.”

But all of that doesn’t mean that Wendy is particularly pro-women. “I think there’s a place for both men and women in the building trade,” she said. “There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to work alongside each other. In fact, I think we’ll be able to complement each other quite well. There’s no reason why it should be us against them.”


Colombian-born Francia Jarrin-Ceballos came to England for the first time from Ecuador when she was just twenty-six. She wasn’t alone. She had her small daughter with her, figuring that they would stop in London to pay her brother-in-law a visit, en route to a new life in Spain. Lost in a metropolis where most people spoke a language she had little familiarity with, Francia found that she wasn’t as daunted as she would have imagined she would be. And so she rose to the challenge and decided to stay. Almost two decades later, Francia runs her own decorating business, keeping herself busy while her daughter finishes a degree in linguistics at Cambridge. They’ve both come a long way but their road to success was hard won.

Searching for a breakthrough

Francia had always loved painting and figured that she would build a career for herself painting people’s homes. “I didn’t know how easy or difficult it would be, but I loved the idea of it,” she said. “By changing someone’s home, you can change how their day-to-day life feels. You can make their lives brighter by opening up their rooms with a fresh coat of paint. A little bit of paint can make a big difference.” During her early days in London, she would go to the Job Centre daily, hoping for a breakthrough. A friend of hers would go regularly too and found a leaflet there advertising a building skills school that was offering a course for women. She picked one up to give to Francia and that’s where it all began.

The course was just for women, full-time and ran for two years. They taught everything needed to become a full-time working painter. Francia applied right away—and got in. But she was in for a real ride because she had to raise and support her daughter at the same time. So, on the days that she wasn’t studying, she worked at a second-hand bookshop in Elephant and Castle.

Starting out in the trade

Immediately after getting her qualifications, Francia worked for one of her classmates who had started her own business. “I spent two years working with her until she relocated to Surrey,” Francia said. “After that, I moved to another company, one that also employed only women. It was a good atmosphere, plenty of fun.” She would work on big commercial sites too, but those weren’t as much fun. “I prefer working on houses—because you can start a job and see it through to its end fairly quickly,” she shared. “Commercial projects can take months on end and you have no idea as to what’s going on most of the time. You have a personal sense of pride and joy when you work on someone’s house and can see it transformed by your own hands.”

She felt it was easy to get lost in the crowd working on big sites. “Some of the men would treat me with more respect because I’m a woman, but others didn’t care. In any case, women aren’t expected to be working on big sites because the bathrooms there are for men only.”

Transition to self-employment

Eventually, she started her own business, working with her husband who trained as a full-time painter and decorator after being inspired by her. He has some carpentry qualifications as well, and the two try to manage every job they get between them. “I’m reluctant to bring too many people on board, now that I have my own business. We specialise in painting and decorating, we don’t want to try and deliver more than that,” Francia said. “I stick to what I know and that’s that.”

Francia works on residential and commercial projects, even though she prefers working on houses. To her, there’s something very intimate about being trusted with someone’s home. “We’ve worked everywhere from one very small room in South London to an entire mansion in Knightsbridge. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a council flat or a castle, you have to do your best on every job,” she said. “I’m always surprised by how many five-six bedroom houses have empty rooms with just one couple living there. I once did a job on a big manor in the countryside, they had three massive flats—each with ensuite bathrooms, kitchens, everything—and they let me stay in the guest room while I finished the job. The house was huge, owned by a Chilean couple, and there was nobody living in it. They had hired a couple of interior designers, and me to paint. The designers bought new furniture, curtains, wallpaper—and in the end, it all just sat there.”


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Being a woman in the building industry

“You have to break a lot of barriers to be a woman in the building industry because it’s been dominated by men for so long,” Francia said. “People don’t think you have the strength as a woman, given how physical the trade is—they don’t think you can move furniture or carry heavy material. A big part of the problem is the lack of information, the lack of places where women can study. Often, when you go to a training course and are the only woman you feel a bit uncomfortable.”

It isn’t just the role of the physical builder that Francia has had to embrace and own. Now that she has her own business, she often finds herself taking charge in an administrative capacity. Project management takes a lot of organisational skill—from being sure of what you’re doing, knowing the steps involved and sticking to the plan. It also involves being tuned into what everyone is doing and being aware of the strong points of everyone on your team so that you can delegate tasks and responsibilities accordingly.

Not just a tradeswoman, but an immigrant too!

In the beginning, and still, Francia faces a particular challenge because of her background. “Anybody hiring me knows I’m a woman—but they also know that I’m not English,” she said. “The moment I start speaking, people know that I’m not from here. They worry whether I’ll understand what they want done, or whether I have the right experience.”

At the end of the day, she focuses on pleasing her clients, because every time she does a good job, there’s the possibility that someone will recommend her. That’s what happened with one of the first jobs she ever did, in Knightsbridge. She painted one house and then ended up doing six other houses on the same street. “At the end of the day, what speaks is what you do. You can talk all you want, but if your customer can’t see what you promise, then they aren’t going to be happy,” Francia said. “I always say to my customers that in order to complete a new job, any painter needs tools, a willing customer and a little bit of time. Give me those three things and I can do anything.”

The Future

Francia’s next goal is to start teaching and training other women. Her advice for women who want to enter the building trade is simple: do not be afraid. “Don’t be afraid that the building industry is one for men, because that’s the past,” she said. “If you want to do it then go ahead because you can absolutely be your own boss. You will get to the point where you have the freedom to choose the jobs you want to do. If you know what to do once you get there, you have nothing to fear.”


Scott joined MyBuilder in 2011 and has notched up an impressive 350+ positive feedback. He’s in the top ten highest rated tradesman on MyBuilder. Quite an achievement if we do say so ourselves!

Despite his success, life could have turned out very differently when he abandoned his plumbing training to work in a warehouse mid-qualification.

Luckily, fate guided him back to his first love. He’s now the most recommended tradesmen in Cardiff and has two people working for him.

We thought it was about time we met up with Scott to find out how he did it…

Starting out, twice

Aged 16, Scott started working at a large heating company where he gained knowledge of the plumbing industry quickly, whilst beginning his qualifications. However, he ended up moving jobs and plumbing was put on hold.

It was when his parents retired to Isle Of Wight that he decided to follow them and make a change. He was ready to focus on finishing up his NVQ qualifications and begin his career as a plumber, the move gave him that opportunity.


After relocating, he soon bagged another plumbing job where he learnt the ropes. “At the same time as qualifying, I was working with a small firm and they were putting me on every job going. I was working really long hours so picked up a lot very quickly. You learn so much more on the job than you ever do in college” Scott shared.

Getting his business off the ground

One qualified, Scott moved back to Cardiff, where he has been running his own business for the past four years.

He says MyBuilder is where he found most of his work in the beginning, but the knock on effect from his reviews has been phenomenal. “I’ve created a client base from MyBuilder, I notice now I get a lot of recommendations through customers that I’ve met as well, outside the site. What I find lately is that because I have so much feedback people have also searched the internet and found me that way.”

Scott started out doing small plumbing jobs and servicing boilers, but gradually took on bigger jobs and expanded his team. Whether he’s working on a quick £30 job or a larger project that takes several days, he says the rush when he receives positive feedback is the same. “It’s incredibly rewarding to have something at the end of a job,” he said. “I got a good review the other day for a twenty-minute job. The customer was happy, I was happy. It was a simple win-win all around.”


Scott’s sweet success

With 350 reviews, work is not slowing down any time soon for SMC Plumbing & Heating. He now has two lads working for him.

When we visited him, his team was completing a stunning bathroom renovation. Scott was fitting the bathtub and the basin, while an apprentice, Darren, was finishing up the tiling. Darren is just finishing up his first year with Scott. “He’s come a long way since he started,” Scott told us. “It really excites me that he’s beginning to build a name for himself with our customers. He gets mentioned in many of the feedback comments!”

Who knows? Maybe someday he’ll have his own business. “That’s the best part of it for me,” Scott says. “I’m paving the way for others, the way my own mentors once did for me.”


Tips for other tradesmen

- Scott believes you need to be a pro at your trade, and that one of the biggest problems in the building industry today, and something to watch out for, is multi-trade builders. “You don’t have to be a jack of all trades,” Scott said. “It’s more important to have a team of specialists who are each experts in their own field.”

- Going for the small jobs matters, even if it’s £30 here and there, you should give every job big or small your complete energy and attention. It pays off in the end.

- Always make sure you follow up for feedback, it’s your reviews that will make your business succeed.

A huge well done to Scott on his fantastic success! Check out his MyBuilder profile here.

He will also receive a £50 voucher to say well done from our partner Scruffs workwear.

MyBuilder is an online marketplace for homeowners and landlords to find quality tradesmen. The blog features advice for home improvement projects and builders.
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