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Space might be the final frontier, but if you’re in a home where space is at a premium, it can also feel like the most precious thing in the world. Being surrounded by your things – and other people – can feel cramped at the best of times, and positively claustrophobic at worst. Almost everyone would like to have more space, and with the right plan and a good tradesman, you can get it, without having to move.

 

Knock Down Walls

 

One of the oldest tricks in the book to help maximise living space is to turn smaller rooms into larger ones, by knocking down dividing walls and opening them up. It allows more light in, and diversifies what you can do with the space. It is always worth speaking to an experienced tradesman about knocking down walls, especially if they are load-bearing and may require a structural engineer’s report. Though interior work will not require planning permission, it will need to meet building regulations and be inspected by Building Control. Paul Coulson of KDBS in Newcastle, which has more than 350 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, advises that people look out for experience in the tradesman they choose: “If I was a homeowner looking for a tradesmen, it’s the experience I’d look for over any particular memberships.”

 

Add Extra Storage

 

If you have pots and pans, books, clothes, paperwork and all manner of other things building up in towering piles around your home, just the sight of them can be enough to stress you out. But the old adage is true – out of sight, out of mind – and if you have some way of putting the clutter away, it stops being clutter. Creating extra storage space means thinking creatively – adding in new sets of shelves to the corner of a room, or creating built-in wardrobes for a bedroom with an awkward wall. An experienced carpenter or joiner can give you some ideas or turn your own designs into reality.

 

Convert your Loft

 

City planners have known for generations that the best way to find space is to embrace the vertical, and build up. If you have a loft that is sitting empty, or is just used for storing a dusty box of Christmas decorations, it could be ripe for a conversion that could see it transformed into a usable space. A loft conversion specialist can lay out the different kinds of projects available – from a simple dormer, to a whole mansard roof development. Lewis Sage of Romford’s UPS Home Improvements, a business with more than 160 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, recommends seeing a tradesman’s previous jobs to help decide who to choose: “Any good builder who takes pride in their work should be happy to put you in touch with old clients. I’d suggest that clients get out there and have a look at something the tradesman has done in your local area – there’s nothing better than actually seeing it.”

 

Create an Outbuilding

 

While your home may feel full to bursting, if you have any outdoor space, it might be the perfect place to focus your attention. It only takes a small amount of space to erect a shed that is perfect for storage, while with a bit more room and a larger budget, you could create anything from an office room to a granny annexe that can provide extra accommodation. Depending on the scale and usage, these may need planning permission, so speak to an experienced builder who can talk you through the process.

 

Build an Extension

 

Sometimes, if your home feels too small, the simplest thing to do is just make it bigger. An extension will add space – and potentially value – to your property, whether it’s just expanding your kitchen, or adding a double-height extension giving you a bigger living room and an extra bedroom. These can be subject to planning permission as well as building regulations, and with such a big project, you need to be on good terms with your tradesman. Vasile Ghinda of V Ghinda Builders specialises in extension building and has dozens of pieces of good feedback on MyBuilder. He says: “The first thing I’d expect someone to ask about is experience, how long you have worked, what jobs you have done that are the same. But you also want to know what a tradesman is like. You need to be able to talk to them, get on with on them.”

 

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Knocking down walls, digging up driveways, ripping out carpets – they’re all effective ways of starting home improvements, but none of them feel particularly high-tech. However, not all projects are about simple bricks and mortar. Hiring a tradesman for the right job can help add some serious technology to upgrade your home, and future-proof your property for years to come. Here are some of the top home improvements to reboot your home.

 

Hack your Heating

 

2016 saw a lot of people talking about “The Internet of Things” and the idea of smart homes – where appliances in the house are online and always connected, allowing you to control everything with the press of a button from your phone or tablet. 2017 will be no different, as the technology becomes more affordable and more commonplace. One of the first steps you can take is to install a thermostat that you can control remotely, allowing you to change your heating, and the time it’s on, from anywhere. Paul Caton of Paul Caton Gas Services in Chesterfield, a gas engineer with more than 360 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, says: “I always recommend modern thermostats that connect to wi-fi nowadays. They may still cost a bit more, but they come with a good guarantee, and they’re so useful to have.”

 

The Power of Solar

 

If one of your aims for 2017 is to reduce your carbon footprint, installing photovoltaic (PV) solar panels is a great way to go about it. As well as working to generate your own electricity, thus lowering your energy bills, the government also pays a feed-in tariff to homes producing electricity, while there is an export tariff for energy you send to the National Grid. Installing solar panels generally doesn’t require planning permission unless your home is listed or in a conservation area – but you will need a south-facing roof, free from shade, and it helps if your home has a Grade D or above Energy Performance Certificate. It can take some time to recoup initial costs, but speak to an installer to see how it could work for you.

 

Secure your Space

 

Good locks are vital to keeping your home protected, but there are a number of more high-tech ways to go about looking after your property. From alarm systems that automatically notify a response team or the police, to cameras you can monitor on your phone, the technology is more accessible than ever. Stephen Mackinlay of DRAM Security, which has 100% positive feedback on MyBuilder, said: “My first recommendation is always motion detector lights – you don’t want dark areas around your home, especially windows and doors, and they are very cost effective. Then I’d suggest a good intruder alarm, and then CCTV. We only supply HD systems – the whole point is to see people.” A dedicated security installer can talk you through the options available.

 

Entertainment Everywhere

 

In this day and age, just having a TV and stereo doesn’t quite cut it. With all the options available with smart TVs, projectors, and wired and wireless speakers, your home can boast cinema-like quality, without the sticky floors and smell of popcorn. Music fans can also create multi-room sound systems, even using tablet docks to control them, along with other smart home features. For the best way to present and store your set-up, a carpenter is a good place to start. They’re used to building bespoke shelving and cabinets, and can design the perfect home for your high-end rig.

 

Plugging Away

 

Not all high-tech updates to your home have to be flashy – some are just really useful. For example, even the lowly plug socket can be upgraded to make it ready for 21st century living. If you’re renovating the electrics in your home, consider installing plugs that also incorporate USB sockets, allowing you to charge devices without the needs for a mains adapter. Jason Briscoe of Electrical Safety Services, an electrician with more than 500 positive pieces of feedback on MyBuilder, said: “They’re the latest thing and more people are asking for them. They’re more expensive than the old-fashioned sockets, but you do get what you pay for.”

 

 

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There are two kinds of New Year’s Resolutions. One is about giving something up – smoking, drinking, sugary snacks. The other kind is about promising to try and take up something new – a sport, a hobby, or a passion project.

For lots of people, that project means finally getting round to giving their home the attention it deserves. January is all about having big ambitions and making big plans, so here are some tips for harnessing the spirit of the new year and getting your home improvements under way.

 

Planning for Success

 

No big project gets off the ground without having a solid plan behind it. For major work, like a big extension or a new build, you’ll want to draw up plans, speaking to an architect or architectural technician who can help make your ideas into reality. David Hepburn of Hepburn Architects, a fully-qualified ARB and RIBA-registered architect with 100% feedback on MyBuilder, said: “First, you should describe what you’re hoping to achieve – your ideal situation, not just limited by what you can specifically afford at the time. That’s because if a homeowner explains what their future aspirations are, a good architect or architectural technician may well be able to ‘future-proof’ that project, factoring in various future possibilities in advance.”

Alexandre Durao of Alex D Architects (pictured above) also has a 100% feedback on MyBuilder. He described how working with an architect helps to realise client’s ideas: “Before I start doing any drawings, I like to consider everything that’s relevant – so for example I go through all the planning policies. There’s no point in making drawings if then you’re not getting them accepted. We have a 97-98% approval rating for the jobs we do – we’re really proud of that.”

 

Finding the Right People

 

When you have your plans, it’s crucial that you get the right tradespeople to help turn your drawings into bricks and mortar. Large projects like extensions and loft conversions come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s vital to find a tradesperson who has experience with your particular kind of project. Lewis Sage of UPS Home Improvements specialises in home renovations and extensions, and has more than 150 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder. His top tip for finding the right builder is to get out there and see their work: “I’d say to clients get out there and have a look at something the tradesman has done in your local area – there’s nothing better than actually seeing it. The other good thing to do is ask if they have a build currently on the go, and go along and see that. That way, you don’t just see a nice, tidy job, you can make sure everything behind the scenes is being done properly.”

However big your job is, doing your research, planning ahead, and finding the right people for the work will help you keep your 2017 resolutions.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions are always made with the greatest of intentions. Things always start so well; the gym gave you a ‘great discount’ in exchange for a 12 month iron-clad contract. You deleted the takeaway app, the fridge is full of fruit and vegetables and the drawer of ‘emergency’ fags and lighters has been disposed of.

Fast forward three weeks, and the wheels have fallen off your virtuous lifestyle. It began to unravel when you gave the gym a miss. Instead, you decided to pop down the pub last night. Now you’re slumped on the sofa gorging on pizza in the hope it will cure the 8 pints and pack of fags you swore you weren’t going to have.

Ok, maybe you’ve got slightly more willpower than me.

Nonetheless, the promise of a new year is a great time for reflection and planning. Rather than hackneyed resolutions, there are plenty of improvements you can make to your house that will have a lasting impact well beyond 2016. We asked some of our top tradespeople what home improvements they recommend this year.

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Increase your space with a loft conversion

Loft conversions are a great way to capitalise on the unused space in your home, according to Rae Mackay from RCM Carpentry. “Loft space can be converted in many ways, from a simple boarding out for storage through to a full bedroom and en-suite conversion.”

Loft work can happen all year round, so now is a good time to consider one. Start by consulting with a loft conversion specialist as planning permission is often unnecessary. “Dormer conversions are slightly different though, they often need planning.” says Rae, “They also expose your house, so you may need to get a tin roof to protect you from the rain if work starts in winter.”

Install an office in your back garden

Russell Tullis from RT Carpentry believes an outbuilding is a cost-effective way to increase space. “An external office is perfect for houses with bigger gardens and start from a couple of thousand, much cheaper than an extension”.

Spring is a very good time to start planning for this kind of project. “Moisture can be a problem if the outbuilding is made from wood. As the weather gets drier you can get installation and decoration done in a week or less”. Russell’s recent outbuilding projects have resulted in office space, additional storage and even a kids playroom.

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Extend your kitchen or family room

Extensions are a way to both create additional living space and add value to your home. “The current trend for growing families is to extend their kitchen or living area”, said Rae from RCM. “Bi-fold doors into the garden are very popular, on my last job I installed a 5 metre door, it took a look of effort but it looks great.”

Extensions are possible in all weather, though you might lose a few days here and there in the winter. “The perfect weather is dry and warm, but you don’t get much of that in the UK,” Rae joked. Opinions vary on whether to consult an architect or builder first, but Rae recommends getting him round initially. “A builder can tell you what is practically possible before the design stage begins. Some smaller extensions can even be done without plans if no planning permission is required, but we leave that up to the homeowner”.

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Make a new kitchen the hub of your home

Kitchens and bathrooms are the focal point of a home, especially if you are looking to sell in future. “A kitchen update can add a lot of value to a house”, says Russell from RT Carpentry. “Costs vary, an IKEA kitchen might cost a couple of thousand while high-end kitchens can cost upwards of £70k”.

Russell explained the latest trends he has seen when installing kitchens. “High gloss cabinets offer a very modern finish and are in demand, while wooden finished kitchens have fallen out of favour. Gloss finishes come in a variety of colours, I even installed some orange gloss cabinets last week!”

Change the layout by knocking through an interior wall

Remodelling the downstairs can drastically change the look of your house. “It’s important to consult with a structural engineer before you consider changing the layout”, says Charles from Bates Carpentry and Building. “For trickier jobs you might even have to engage an architect”.

“It’s common for clients to knock down the wall between the front and back room to create a through lounge. We charge around £2500-£3000 for that, including the electrics, plastering and carpentry”, said Charles. He’s also busy with bi-fold doors, “Clients like bringing the garden inside with a large opening on the rear of the house. It can be expensive, around £6000, but the results are stunning.”

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Just like everybody else, tradespeople like making new year’s resolutions too. January is a very active time for builders working from a clean slate, which means they have extra capacity to take on more work. This makes the New Year a great time to start your home improvement journey.

If you’d like to speak to knowledgeable tradespeople like the ones in this article, make sure to post a job on MyBuilder.

 

James Murray - TOTM

 

Ask a tradesman what their dream project might be, and they might have any number of grand ideas. Some might want to work on their own house, like MyBuilder’s own Yaz Meer. Some might want to work on a famous location, a place where they can always point out where they left their mark. Jamie Murray had a smaller ambition, but one he was able to bring to life in his very own back garden.

From the outside of Jamie’s Reading home, you wouldn’t assume there was anything particularly special about it. It’s only when you step out back through his patio doors, and see the solidly built shed, that you start to appreciate what the secret might be. Open it up and step inside, and you find this isn’t any old shed, with a couple of rusty old bikes and an old barbecue. There’s a tiled bar. Fridges. Optics on the wall. A widescreen TV and armchair. A wood-burning stove. Even a fully-functioning fruit machine. Jamie has built his very own pub.

 

Inn it to Win it

 

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“I didn’t really plan for it to end up like this,” Jamie, who runs JJM Flooring, tells us when we pay him a visit. “When we moved into the house we had a lot of work to do in fixing it up. The people who’d lived here before had trashed the place – they’d actually kept owls in one of the bedrooms – and they’d ripped up some of the floorboards to burn in the fireplace. It was a mess. But we did it, and when it came to the garden, we thought about making a nice patio area with a bar. The more I thought about it though, the more it came together.”

The result is a true labour of love, with nearly every inch of it built by Jamie himself – with the help of a few other MyBuilder tradesman for a hand with the stove and the electrics. “It’s quite a good place to come and escape to when I have a spare moment,” he says, “and a great place to have a party in. I couldn’t leave it behind now. This place is me.”

Like many tradesman, Jamie doesn’t necessarily have a lot of downtime though. “I’m better than I used to be, but I’d definitely say I was a workaholic,” he told us. “It’s one of those jobs that’s never been a nine to five. If someone asks you to do a job, you want to fit it in, even if it means doing it on a Sunday evening – you never want to turn down work. Even now, I’d rather be up at 5am to beat the traffic and get to a job than stay in bed a bit longer.”

 

Keeping Busy

 

James Murray - wood floor

 

Jamie’s hectic schedule has meant plenty of jobs through MyBuilder, and nearly 200 positive pieces of feedback on the site. The experienced tradesman tackles all kinds of flooring, from carpets to solid wood, building up his knowledge from his early days helping out a carpet fitter.

“I guess I’ve been laying floors for 36 years,” he said. “I was in a dead-end job when I came out of school, and ended up helping out a carpet fitter instead. My original plan was to try and become a mechanic, but I didn’t get an apprenticeship I wanted, so I ended up staying on with the carpet fitter instead. After a couple of years I’d learnt a lot of the trade, so I set out on my own. I bought my own van, the cheapest thing I could – it barely moved – and then started out subcontracting with Allied Carpets. I was with them for about 25 years. Over time, I started getting a reputation locally and doing more for myself, until I ended up running my own business and doing it all.”

 

Sticking to Floors

 

James Murray - wood floor

 

His experience means he knows all there is to know about flooring, supplying many customers with materials as well as fitting it. When it comes to other trades, he’s happy to have a go in his own home, but he also knows his limitations. “I’m not going to go into someone else’s house and do something other than flooring – I do what I do. I’ve tried to do plastering and things at home, but it hasn’t gone so well. I did behind the fridge, and it was awful, it took ages trying to get it smooth. I actually ended up getting a guy from MyBuilder to do the rest of it and it was perfect – the Queen would have been happy with it.”

Using MyBuilder as both a tradesman and a homeowner has helped to shape Jamie’s view of the site. “I’ve been a member for four years now, and it’s been brilliant to find work. I get the emails coming in all day and just go for them right on my phone. I wish it had been around 15 years ago – if I’d had the work I get now back then, I’d have a whole team of people working for me.” He’s also a fan of the feedback system: “I know it works, because I’ve found good people by reading their feedback. I know it’s not easy to keep it 100%, you have to bend over backwards for some customers, but that’s the nature of the business. People’s homes are very personal. You have to treat them very carefully.”

It’s true that all homes are personal – as Jamie’s home-made pub proves.

 

Advice for Tradesmen:

 

  • Tidiness counts: “One of the easiest ways to help leave a positive impression and help yourself get good feedback is to make sure you leave every job as tidy as possible. I treat every house like my own home, and don’t leave it until it until it’s spotless.”
  • Be wary of travelling: “There’s nothing wrong with travelling for a job if the price is right and it makes sense for you, but it’s easy to go for work that is more trouble than it’s worth. If you’re spending hours in traffic, you’re not getting paid for that. Even the small things can make a difference – I have a tall van, and once went on a job where I was expected to park in an underground car park I couldn’t fit in – it made everything that much more difficult.”
  • Provide aftercare: “It can be difficult, but the best way to help your reputation is be helpful when it comes to aftercare. I had one job where they called a few weeks later to say there was a problem with the floor – when I went, it was something that someone else had done when they’d messed with the skirting board. But I fixed it for nothing, even though it was a way to go for a few minute’s work. That’s what it takes.”

 

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Seasons greetings!

Now that advent has begun, we always remember that December is one of the busiest times of year; scrambling to buy presents, running from party to party, and preparing for the big day. Whether you’re hosting friends and family, or just hibernating for the festive period, we’ve come up with the Twelve Jobs of Christmas to help your Yuletide go smoothly.

 

1. Boiler: Nothing kills the festive atmosphere faster than a cold house, and when it comes to keeping your radiators warm and your water hot, maintaining your boiler is essential. Check that any tradesmen working on your gas are on the Gas Safe Register.

2. Insulation: Hand in hand with checking your boiler, if you need help to keep your home cosy this winter, make sure your insulation is up to scratch – and it could save you money too.

3. Chimney: It’s Father Christmas’ favourite way of getting into a home, but a neglected chimney can cause lots of problems down the line. Ensure yours is in full working order, especially if you have open fireplaces or a stove.

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4. Roof: As a runway for reindeer, a loose tile could cause a nasty accident – as well as letting in rain and causing damage. It’s always worth checking before the worst winter weather arrives.

5. Decorate: There’s no point going to town on Christmas decorations if your home’s normal decor isn’t up to scratch. Whether you need a lick of paint or a total overhaul, chat with a professional about your options.

6. Electrics: A tree isn’t complete without a set of lights, but be careful with old sets that may be faulty, and don’t overload plug sockets with shiny new gadgets. If your wiring needs a check-up, use a competent electrician who can self-certify their work.

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7. Greenery: Some of the nicest decorations, like holly, ivy and mistletoe can come straight from your own garden, but if you have more work that needs doing, a tree surgeon or landscape gardener could be the solution.

8. Oven: No matter how big your oven is, it never seems to be enough to tackle a whole Christmas dinner. There’s still time to install a shiny new model.

9. Security: Sadly, thieves know that Christmas can be rich pickings when it comes to homes stuffed with new tech and jewellery – installing a simple security system, or upgrading your locks, can help protect your valuables.

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10. Design: While it’s easy to fall back in love with your home over Christmas, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of an upgrade – and some architect’s plans could be the perfect present to yourself.

11. Plumbing: Having a house full of guests is always fun – but it can be hard going on the plumbing. If you have a dodgy flush or anything else, get in touch with a plumber before it’s too late.

12. Everything else: If there’s one thing you can predict at Christmas, it’s that something unpredictable will happen. When it does, a local handyman can help with a multitude of jobs.

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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