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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.


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.


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”.


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.”


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.


Lee had been working for years at a firm in Wandsworth before making the decision to join MyBuilder in 2012. At the end of each day he would look at the job sheet, noting the amount the company charged and the considerably smaller amount he took home. Fed up with making someone else lots of money for his hard work, he decided it was time to go out on his own.


How it all began

Rewind 17 years, Lee and his brother were teenagers getting up to mischief in their street. “A neighbour asked me if I wanted to go work for him one Saturday and I said ‘Yeah why not?’” Lee told us. “I was 14 when I started working Saturdays. I used to work all my six week holidays and half term at school. Sometimes I would even bunk off school without my mum knowing to go to learn the flooring trade. That’s the way I did it!” Lee’s neighbour trained him up, to this day Lee says he’s the best floor layer he knows.

Business ON the ground

Once he’d decided to start his own business, Lee went straight out to get his van sign written. “I joined MyBuilder, and thought that I would start off doing three days on my own and three days for the shop. Then it got to a point where I was getting so much more work from MyBuilder but STILL doing the three days for them. I was letting clients down and thought, ‘I can’t do this’. So I knocked it on the head and it carried on from there”.

Lee loves the variety that comes with his job. From giving initial advice to a customer to the range of products he fits, from carpet to underfloor heating. He’s even won some huge jobs through MyBuilder. “I did 17 bathrooms in Brixton and it all went from there, the guy who I did the job for when I completed them said “Here you go, I’ve got two schools for you to work on!” Lee exclaimed.


Brush with celebrity

The highlight of Lee’s career has to be the time he was working in Sloane Street, West London. “A lady let us in to begin, it was a lovely penthouse flat. Then fifteen minutes before the job finished, in walks Nicholas Lyndhurst!”. Barely able to conceal his excitement, Lee said what any of us would say in that situation; “Alright Dave?”.

“He looked at me and laughed”, said Lee. “I just had to smooth it out and say ‘You ain’t heard that before have you?’”.

Challenges as a flooring fitter

Historically, a lot of carpet fitters will own a shop and we asked Lee if he’d thought about it. “I’ve considered it a few times. To me it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense because of the overheads. A mate of mine is doing well, but because of all his costs I can undercut him. My van is like a mobile shop, I don’t need to own a physical shop”.

Lee also finds flooring a competitive business. “You’ve got to get your price right. I always say to my customers, and I’m sure the other floor layer who goes in there before or after me says it. “Let me know the price and if I can match it, I’ll match it. If not, I’ll beat it.””


Tips for other tradesmen

- Lee says he will take jobs small as well as big. “I’ve even been to a job where someone’s dropped an iron on the carpet. It’s a minimum charge of £45 but i’ll just go out and do it. To me, it’s an easy job and from the small jobs you often get bigger ones down the line.”

- Reputation is everything. “Just make sure you keep your promises and do a good job and turn up when you turn up. There’s nothing else to it. It is your reputation and word of mouth that will make you successful.”

- Good customer service skills are key. “Helping people, making sure they feel comfortable and not pressuring them” Lee tells us these three things are important to him. “Let them keep samples if they want to take them, and just offer advice rather than telling someone what to do.”

- Having your face on your profile means customers will trust you more. “Vulnerable people want to know that the person they have contacted is the person at your front door. They can see your profile and say, ‘That’s the one.’”

A huge well done to Lee for his amazing feedback! Check out his MyBuilder profile here.

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

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.”

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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