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Recently, we went to meet a MyBuilder tradesman in Oxfordshire building a stunning home extension from straw bales. Natural materials and careful craftsmanship were being skilfully combined to build something useful, beautiful and eco-friendly.

While building out of straw may not be the most practical route for everyone, there are plenty of things you can start doing to help make your home more green. Here are some steps you can take to cut your carbon footprint.

 

Insulate Your Home

One of the biggest steps you can take to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to make sure it is properly insulated. Both loft insulation and cavity wall insulation can help reduce the amount of heat wasted, especially in older homes.
Find an insulation installer

 

Fit Double Glazing

Double glazing doesn’t have to mean typical white plastic frames – modern windows can be both stylish and efficient, keeping the heat in, cutting bills, and making your home greener.
Find a window fitter

 

Upgrade Your Boiler

Efficiency is the name of the game, so installing a modern condensing boiler is a great way to invest in improving your home’s energy usage.
Find a gas engineer

 

Install a Water Saving Shower

While lots of us are good at turning off the tap when we brush our teeth, we can all be guilty of spending too long in the shower. Modern showers can reduce the water used, without cutting the flow to a dribble.
Find a plumber

 

Use Eco-friendly Paint

Many traditional paints can cause environmental damage in their production. Eco-paints are often plant-based, using naturally occurring solvents, and are catching up with traditional paints in terms of price and effectiveness.
Find a painter and decorator

 

If you have any more ideas for kick starting a green transformation in your home, get in touch with a tradesman today.

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For tradesmen just starting out on MyBuilder, winning work and building up feedback can seem like a daunting challenge. We spoke to Sammy Nartey, who’s been on the site for just over six months, to find out how he navigated his early days on the site.

Unlike many tradesmen, Sammy was a relatively late starter when it came to picking up the tools. The Battersea-based kitchen fitter first became interested in being a tradesman when he started doing renovation work on his own house, nearly 20 years ago.

“I had bought my own property and decided to learn how to put it together myself, doing the tiling, the bathroom, the kitchen, that sort of thing,” he told us when we met him on a kitchen refit job in Camberwell. “I did most of it just from reading a DIY book – that’s where I started. I built up my skills, and then got a job with a company called Apollo, a company that does work for housing associations. They took me on as a multi-trader doing plumbing, carpentry and electrical.” The trade bug soon caught hold: “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

After spending a few years building up his professional experience, Sammy decided to go it alone, setting up his own company, Westridge Developments Ltd, focussed on kitchen and bathroom fitting, plumbing and tiling. In the early days, Sammy’s methods for finding work was as simple as it comes: “I was mainly doing it through word of mouth, just giving cards out to people,” he said. “I didn’t even have my company name on the van for a while. I was just working for people who knew what I did, and waiting for people I worked for to recommend me to other people.”

 

Taking the Plunge

 

Looking for a way to bring in more work, last October Sammy decided to take the plunge and join MyBuilder. He breezed through the application process testing his experience; as he put it, “If you have the knowledge, it’s easy to show – if you try and blag it, you won’t know the answers. But some people like to blag their way through life”. After being accepted onto the site, he was soon receiving leads for jobs in his area.

“I think I get around 50 or 60 jobs come my way every day on MyBuilder,” he said. “I have to sift through them and I don’t win all of them – I don’t expect to win all of them – but it’s enough to keep me going!”

Since he started out, Sammy has now spent £500 expressing interest, winning 24 jobs and counting, as well as getting feedback for most of them – all of it positive. When asked if he thought the site was value for money, he said: “Most definitely! What we pay, we get a lot in return. I think it’s more than reasonable – that’s why I recommend friends join as well.”

He admits it’s not always plain sailing: “There have been a couple of times when I’ve been shortlisted for a job and then tried to contact the person, but they don’t answer. I left messages, and they never got back to me. It would be an irritation, but if you compare what you lose and what you get back, it’s a massive difference – you get more out of it than you lose.”

What’s even better for Sammy is the follow-up work he’s won after doing jobs through the site. “Three or four people I’ve done work for have then had me back for other jobs. One guy calls me regularly. And when they see you doing good work, they’re more likely to refer you to their friends.”

When asked what key advice he’d give to other tradesmen just starting out, Sammy’s message is all about quality and honesty.

“Stay true to yourself,” he said. “Do your job properly, because MyBuilder works.”

 

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For Lewis Sage, it’s the little things that count.

“Everything is run precisely, military style,” he tells us as we stand on top of the scaffolding of his latest renovation project. “A lot of people wouldn’t like it, but I think I’m doing something right. My team does everything the right way, right down to the details, like keeping the skip covered all the time so rubbish doesn’t blow down the street. You have to think about the other people who live here.”

Lewis, the boss of UPS Home Improvements, which takes on major project work around Essex and London, takes his responsibilities seriously. When Storm Doris hit, it blew debris from the roof his team were working on down the next door neighbour’s chimney, covering their living room in soot. “It was an act of God,” Lewis said, “nothing we could really do about it, but out of courtesy to the lady, I said ‘send me a cleaning bill’, and I got one of my team to go in and repaint the ceiling. You’ve got to be good to people, you’ve got to keep people on side. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to.”

 

Lewis Sage - Restoration & Refurb Specialist, Extension Builder, Loft Conversion Specialist

 

Communication, Communication, Communication

 

Dealing with people is key to Lewis’ success as a tradesman. Despite the fact his firm takes on large projects – mainly renovations, extensions, and loft conversions – he has managed to rack up 170 pieces of feedback during eight years on MyBuilder, and all of them positive. “The secret is communication with clients. I always make sure I return an email or a phone call in two hours. It’s the least I can do to keep them informed and not leave them guessing.”

Lewis realised early on his career that he wanted to be overseeing a site and running projects. “I was made to be management!” he laughs. “I went to college and did all the City & Guilds qualifications, and went out working on the tools. My dad was in the building trade and we worked together for a bit, before I went to work with someone else. After a while I became a working supervisor, then a non-productive supervisor, so I wasn’t actually on the tools myself.” After stopping being hands on, he worked for five years as a contracts manager for a refurbishment company, before he started thinking about going it alone. “I finally did it about 10 years ago, just me and a couple of other guys. I had to go back on the tools in the early days when we were starting out – the money wasn’t there to hire anyone else.”

Starting his own business meant long hours. “When I first started on my own, I was working during the day, going home for a bit of dinner, then going back out again until late at night to meet people and do quotes. People want to do it then, because they’re at work all day, so you have to do it. But it meant 16, 17-hour days. It’s a bit easier now because I’ve built up my reputation through MyBuilder, but it’s still spinning plates.”

As for whether or not he misses getting his hands dirty regularly, he says: “I had fantastic times on site. I loved the banter. But I think I’m better at what I do now.”

 

Lewis Sage - Restoration & Refurb Specialist, Extension Builder, Loft Conversion Specialist

 

Strictly Business

 

Lewis relies on a personally selected crew to make his projects go smoothly, and admits he’s a strict boss. “I want staff that work well, I don’t allow any smoking, any swearing, they’re all kitted out properly, they’re all punctual, here for 8am and no messing around. But it means these boys can stay in work every day of the week, that’s the bottom line. All of my tradesman have been handpicked. Down the line, a few of the experienced ones might recommend some other people, but bottom line is, they’re handpicked by me. I’ve got to guide the ship, so I need the best.”

He has the capacity to take on two or three projects at a time, with the ability to be choosy about the jobs he takes on, preferring to go for jobs where the plans are already in place: “I’d say through MyBuilder I probably get something like eight shortlists a week. I don’t win every job I go and price, but if I like the job, I’ll really go for it. I want to get into the meat of it, because I love it. I love it. In my reviews, some people have said I’ve given them their dream home – how nice is that? People are spending their life savings on these jobs, so to know you’ve made a difference, you’ve given them their dream home, that’s brilliant. It makes you feel special.”

He acknowledges that feedback is crucial for winning work on the site, but says it’s the best way to hold tradesmen to account. “With MyBuilder, if you’re no good, you won’t last. You just won’t. You’ve got to keep the feedback up, once you build up bad reviews you’re sunk. It means sometimes you have to be a bit of a yes man to clients, be very approachable. If you can have those qualities, you can be flying. Of course you get the odd client who’s a pain, we all know that. But I can get on with anyone. You manage the customers just like you do your team.”

He added: “I always tell people to leave feedback. When someone leaves a review, it helps the next person – that’s what I tell them.” Once he’s actually meeting potential clients and quoting for work, that’s when he opens his contact book: “When I win jobs or I’m looking at them, I say I’m not scared about showing off my job. This current guy, he came and saw two of my previous jobs. When you leave people on good terms, they don’t mind when you phone up and say ‘can I pop round?’ It’s a different level from just showing someone a picture. And they can talk to the old client, and hear about how you work.”

 

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A Lifetime of Service

 

He insists on keeping customers on side, just as he does the neighbours: “The way I see it, just because you’ve paid that final payment, doesn’t mean you’re not a client any more. You’re a client of mine for the rest of your life. I won’t turn my back on you just because you’d paid up. It wouldn’t make sense for me – you’re cutting off all those people, all their recommendations.”

However, he’s wary of taking on too many jobs, or jumping in too quickly. “Just because you’re doing alright you can’t be greedy, when you’re greedy you stretch yourself, and when you stretch yourself mistakes happen. We know what we need to do, we know what our margins are. I like to take on the jobs where everything is ready to go. When someone says to me something like ‘we’re in the process of purchasing a property and thinking about renovating it’, I’m not as interested. In my view, if you have the drawings, if you’ve spoken to the council, if you’re ready to go, let’s go for it. I want to get stuck in.”

Thanks to his attitude, Lewis will be busy for the rest of the year, before taking some well-deserved time off after Christmas. Then he and his team will be straight back to work; nice and punctual, of course.

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Don’t get greedy: While Lewis admits it’s tempting to go for every job that comes through or follow up with every personal recommendation, he knows he has to limit the number of projects he takes on. “Like I said, when you’re greedy, you get stretched, and when you’re stretched, mistakes happen. Deep down, you know if you’re pushing your luck.”
  • Communication is crucial: As well as trying to answer all calls and emails within a couple of hours, Lewis likes to ensure things go smoothly face to face as well. “When I’m quoting, I’ll take along John (his regular foreman) so they can meet him as well, and everyone knows from the get go who’ll be there and how it works, you don’t need to explain anything twice.”
  • Consider the neighbours: According to Lewis, one of the best things you can do to keep up your reputation is think about not just the home you’re working on, but the whole street. “If you’re considerate, that helps you. You never know who’s going to want to get their house done next.”

 

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For the past month, we’ve been looking for the worthiest winner of a garden makeover. We know how much people value their outdoor space and wanted to find the people who most deserved to have their garden transformed into a beautiful and practical place to spend time.

We were overwhelmed with entries, with hundreds of people from around the UK sharing their stories with us, and more than 30,000 people voting for the gardens they most wanted to see get a well-earned facelift. Picking a winner from the most popular entries was a difficult process that divided the judges, but eventually we found our winner.

Megan Rees from Oxford entered the competition hoping to the change the life of her three-year-old daughter, Ariella. When Ariella was born, she was given just a 10% chance of survival, with a number of rare conditions including CHD and Nager syndrome. Her devoted parents have had to give up work to care for her around the clock, yet despite her disabilities, she has a passion for life and loves being outside and exploring.

 

Megan and Ariella's garden is in need of some TLC

Megan and Ariella’s garden is in need of some TLC

 

Megan says: “Ariella is the strongest person I know, she is always happy and takes life as it comes. If there is anyone who deserves to have a special garden to play in it would be her – this incredible girl doesn’t let anything stop her.”

We agreed, and in the coming weeks we’ll be working with Megan and local tradespeople to transform Ariella’s garden, turning it into a safe and fun place for her to play. We’ll be sharing the whole transformation here on MyBuilder, so watch this space!

 

Ariella loves being outdoors and exploring

Ariella loves being outdoors and exploring

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Lots of us love using bank holidays to try out some DIY, but it’s not always possible to reach for the toolbox. If your time is precious, or you simply lack the confidence, hiring a professional is the best way to ensure a job well done. With the May bank holiday looming, here are some ideas for DIY jobs you might want to leave to the experts.

 

Inspect your Roof Tiles
It goes without saying that care needs to be taken whenever ladders and heights are involved, but care also needs to be taken with fragile roof tiles – what can be a simple job for an experienced roofer can turn into a costly mess if mistakes are made.
Find a Roofer

 

Cut Back your Trees
Climbing trees with tools – whether a powerful chainsaw or an old-fashioned hand-saw – is always a risky proposition. Tree surgeons have specialised equipment and training to deal with unruly branches smartly and safely.
Find a Tree Surgeon

 

Grout the Bathroom
What can seem like a superficially easy job is often riddled with complications, needing just the right materials and a perfect finish. A tiler will be able to do the job quickly and neatly.
Find a Tiler

 

Paint your Living Room
The time-honoured way to update your interior design, painting is a starting point for many DIYers. However, without the right system of coats, it can also be a surefire way to end up with a rough job that never looks quite right. A painter and decorator will know how to get the best results and can save you money in the long run.
Find a Painter and Decorator

 

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Fit a New Carpet
Cutting a carpet to fit a room doesn’t seem like the biggest task, but one wrong cut could see you with a pricey, but useless carpet that no longer meets the wall. A practiced carpet fitter can refresh a room in a day.
Find a Carpet Fitter

 

Put up Some Shelves
Another old standby for tool-happy homeowners, putting up shelves is perhaps the quintessential DIY job. But if you’re worried about hitting a wire, ruining your dry wall, or just leaving it wonky, a handyman can help.
Find a Handyman

 

Lay New Paving
It’s not as easy as just putting down some slabs – have you considered sub-grades, sub-bases, drainage, and everything else that needs taking care of? If you’re in any doubt, a driveway paver or landscape gardener can step in.
Find a Driveway Paver | Find a Landscape Gardener

 

Stay Away from Gas and Electrics
While there are many jobs that you can tackle yourself, two areas should definitely be left to the experts: anything involving gas in the home should be dealt with by a gas engineer on the Gas Safety Register, while electrics should be handled by a competent electrician who can self-certify their work.
Find a Gas Engineer | Find an Electrician

 

Each month, we aim to get out and see as many of the dedicated tradespeople we have on MyBuilder as possible. Whether they’re laying paving or putting the finishing touches to a room, we love to see them hard at work, and show off what they do best. We met fencers in Forest Hill and electricians in Islington, all of whom were giving it their all to get the job done. Here are some of people we met in the past few weeks:

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Paul Jordan gets to work landscaping a back garden in Bishop Stortford

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A team of fencers led by Nadia Ward does preparation before installing a new fence in Forest Hill, London

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Lewis Sage‘s team of builders working on a new loft and rear extension in Wanstead, London

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Painter and decorator Derek Walker-Hawley adds the finishing touches to a door jamb in Fleet

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Andrew Kowalski and a colleague begin laying concrete during a build in Wimbledon

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Islington electrician David Gilbert carries out a safety inspection

gardeners-108Stephen Clarke and his crew working on landscaping in Chingford

 

We’re always on the lookout for more tradespeople willing to show off their skills and allow us to take a look at their latest projects. If you’re a tradesman who uses MyBuilder, get in touch with andrew@mybuilder.com to arrange a session.


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