Tag: painting

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When you meet Rob Joy today, you’ll find a confident, outgoing family man, leading a team of 15 painters and decorators as the head of his company, Finishing Touch Services. But this wasn’t always the case, 10 years ago you would have met a very different person indeed.

We met Rob not on a building site, but in a charity shop and community centre in the heart of Luton. SOAR is the base of Rob’s church and charity, Kingdom Cause Community, and the ambitious project has all been made possible through the achievements of Finishing Touch Services. Like many successful tradesmen, Rob started out on the tools as a youngster, but his career didn’t always go smoothly.

“My dad had a roofing company which was quite successful, so weekends and school holidays I’d go along and help out labouring for him,” Rob told us. “ I’d be on building sites and scaffolding when I was so young that my dad would have to tell me to duck if the police came past! But I’d get my five pounds for the day sweeping up broken tiles and what not, so I was happy.”

Sadly for Rob, the happiness didn’t last. Rob’s world was shattered when his beloved dad died, and the teenager soon found himself headed off the rails. “I hit rock bottom,” he admits. It went from flirting with drugs at the weekend to going in at the deep end. My dad left me a lot of money and I threw it all away on drugs, down the pub, at the football. From the age of 16 to 26 I was in it. The drugs destroyed me – I was 8 stone, my mental health had gone, I’d been in and out of prison. I literally lost everything.”

Rob’s journey back to sobriety was fueled by faith. “My mum had always prayed for me and I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t deny the change I’d seen in her – whether it was real or not, it had an impact for her. I remember, one night, I just said, ‘God, is there any way you can change a man like me,’ and for the first time in years I went to bed with no fear, no paranoia. I woke up the next day completely and utterly transformed. No one could tell me it was just willpower – my mind had changed, my heart had changed.”

 

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The pleasure of painting

 

Despite this transformation, it took time for Rob to build himself back up, reconnecting with his family, and getting back into work. “I knew that roofing might not be for me – all the angles and the maths were too much to get my head round! But I’d done other jobs with my dad, painting here and there, and thought I could make a go of that. One of the first jobs I did when I got straight was painting those temporary buildings that go on building sites, just one after the other, and I enjoyed it. Painting is therapeutic.”

From those small beginnings, Rob began to build his experience. “I had this philosophy, short term loss for long term gain,” he explained. “For example, I did a job repainting a door, and I thought it would be simple, half a day’s work. But it wasn’t at all, it was falling apart, I had to take it back to bare wood, do loads to it, it took me much longer. I lost out on that job. But a few months later, I took on another door job, and I realised it was exactly the same situation, but now I knew exactly what to do.”

Rob joined MyBuilder two years ago, and soon realised that the feedback system would force him to up his game. “When you’re working for family, friends, friends of friends, they can say nice things but it’s not always the most honest. When you’re winning work on MyBuilder, that feedback is real. I realised maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – you have to improve.” The feedback for the business still has a negative review from his early efforts, but with more than 100 pieces of positive feedback, he hasn’t let it stand in his way.

Like many setting up their own business, it was a case of long hours and low pay. “I’d do 17 hour days, out on site until it was dark, back to kiss my kids before bed, then out to quote, writing it up before bed, then waking up realising I’d missed something.”

Rob began to build the company, eventually bringing in other people to help. “The best thing I did was take on a guy called Alan, who’s now my business manager. He’d been in the trade for 35 years, and his skills, his ability, they’re brilliant. I used to be annoyed that he was slower than other guys I worked with, but I realised, his jobs never had any snags. It might be a day slower, but it was perfect – never any stress. So I went to him and said, look, I might be the one paying you, but I want you to teach me how to be a good painter and decorator. I was humble. And so for six months, he showed me what he knew. It helped me get better, helped me understand the materials and the techniques, helped me quote on jobs.”

As he says: “You can’t be a great decorator in a few years – you have to do it for years and years, always learning. You end up breathing it.”

 

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A matter of standards

 

The business is now up to 15 men, and Rob hopes to add more in the coming year. “I wouldn’t want it to get too big, because what I’m concerned about is quality,” he said. “I tell the boys, I don’t expect them to have the same faith as me, but I expect them to work to the standards I do.”

Profits from the business go into supporting the charity, helping both in the local community, and in Malawi. “I’m all about going out into the streets,” Rob said, “I never wanted to be preached at and I still don’t. It’s about helping someone who’s starving with some food, or giving a coat to someone freezing.” In Malawi, the charity is looking to buy land in order to start work on an orphanage, with some of Rob’s team ready to go out and work on the project themselves.

“We went there in April, took some guys from work and it’s changed their life. We took loads of toys and clothes, it was incredible. It broke my heart. I came back and said to my wife, the business isn’t for wealth, for big houses and fast cars, it’s for this.”

The lads will be hands on when it comes to the orphanage: “The standards of construction over there aren’t always great,” Rob laughed. “But we’ll be able to to really do some good there. We do as much as we can. We send out money for the women in the community to buy materials and make bags, which we sell here in the shop, with the profits going back to them. And we sell second-hand clothes in here, with those that don’t sell going directly to the kids there.”

Rob doesn’t make a point of telling homeowners where the money from their jobs will be going, but when it comes up, he says they’re always happy to hear more. “The customers are amazing, so many of them are now friend, they donate, they come and help out.” He always tries to lend a hand where he can where customers are in need – through a contact at Dulux, he has access to discount paints that can be used for worthy causes or sold on to raise money. He’s also happy to hear from any other tradesmen who are keen to help out on charitable projects for worthy causes.

Through Rob’s efforts, both the business and the charity have continued to grow, but he insists it’s still the quality, not the quantity, that matters most. “One thing I always say to my guys is that it’s not the past hundred jobs that matter – it’s the one we’re working on right now.”

 

Advice for tradesmen:

  • Always be willing to learn: “I still meet young guys who come from doing professional qualifications who think they know everything, but they don’t”, Rob said. “When you’re working with people with lots of experience, there’s always something you can take from them.”
  • Prepare accurate quotes: “The biggest source of issues on any job is if there was something in the quote that wasn’t clear,” Rob told us. “A tradesman should lay out everything, materials, hours, who pays for what, so that there can’t be any quibbles.”
  • Think long term: “No one can be great at something overnight,” Rob said. “You have to think about the long term, building your skills and growing the business. It can’t be rushed.”

Alix James Decorators

For Alix St. Claire, the decision to become a full time painter and decorator was not necessarily an obvious one. We joined the man behind Alix James Decorators on a sunny day in Brighton to find out what made him choose a career path so different from his degree in primary education, and to learn about the work he’s currently doing on the Brighton Dome.

Getting Into the Trade

From a young age Alix helped his father with painting and decorating jobs, and by 12 years old he was taking a wage for his work. “It snowballed from there”, he told us. “Whatever needed doing, I’d be doing it on my own from then on”. Alix continued taking jobs throughout school, and in between embarking on a chalet season in Meribel and moving around the country, Alix continued painting and decorating as his main source of income. However, after a few years Alix faced feelings of uncertainty. “I was getting to that point in life where I was worrying a bit”,  Alix said. “I kept thinking I needed something official, like a prescribed career path that wasn’t a trade”.

At the age of 24, Alix undertook a degree in primary school education which brought him down to Brighton. Despite realising half way through the course that he wanted to return to his trade, Alix was determined to finish, telling us; “I’m a completionist – I don’t like quitting things”. Finishing a degree he wasn’t passionate about followed by taking a year out to travel the world culminated in a revelation for Alix. “We have the luxury to be able to choose our own lives. I came back with the ethos that I’m actually bloody lucky, and it doesn’t really matter what you do in life as long as you’re happy. That’s the most important thing. I should be grateful for the position I have in life, so I thought I’d get on with it and enjoy myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Alix James Decorators

When we met Alix he was preparing to start work replacing a curtain wall on a beautiful seaview flat, and Alix James Decorators has had more than a few exciting local projects. The most notable of these is on the Brighton Dome, Brighton’s historical multi-arts venue. Proudly donning his ‘Access All Areas’ pass, Alix told us; “they’re doing a refurb in the bowels of the building, and it’s a massive rebuild”. He’s not exaggerating – his work has covered meeting rooms, offices and the Founders Room just to name a few, so it’s no surprise when he tells us; “I’m constantly getting lost – it’s like a rabbit warren in there!”

Alix’s Inside Tip on Quoting

Alix’s advice for impressing clients is to promptly put together a professional, detailed quote. He tries to give quotes within three hours, and to ensure his clients know where they stand he avoids estimates as he feels they are “too open ended, whereas a quote is more set in stone”.

His gratitude for the opportunity to quote for big restoration and refurbishment jobs is reflected in his formal approach. “When you’re talking about big money, the quote deserves respect – not a text with bad spelling”.

Alix also emphasised the importance of a comprehensive quote, telling us; “I’m really explicit in my quotes. I’m not going to list every tiny detail (like petrol or tooling costs) or the client will think you’re taking the mick, but I break it down so it’s fairly obvious to them – it’s all there in the quote.”

So far, Alix has had only positive experiences with MyBuilder, and we have no doubt this will continue – we wish him the best of luck in his future jobs!

Check out Alix’s profile on MyBuilder

Home improvements should generally add value to your property and make it more enjoyable to live in. Then there are projects that could ruin the look of your home and send buyers running for the door.

Here are but a few of the home improvement projects you should think twice about before taking the plunge.

Artex

This nasty, textured coating was daubed over many a ceiling and wall throughout the 70s and 80s. Modern artex doesn’t contain traces of asbestos like it did in the 70s but there are other good reasons why you should leave well alone. Artex is practically impossible to remove without tearing strips off your knuckles, or gouging holes in the ceiling. To get rid of it, you’ll need a plasterer to skim the room. You should also think twice about choosing artex if you want to sell your home – most people hate it which could impact the sale price.

Artificial grass

A worrying trend is developing up and down the country where people are turning their gardens into small 5-a-side football pitches in the name of low maintenance. We don’t care what people say in defence of artificial grass, it’s simply not acceptable in a British garden.

Changing the layout of your home

Aspirational home improvement shows have turned ordinary folk into visionary property developers. Knocking down walls and creating new rooms can be a smart way of adding value to your home. Get too carried away with the sledgehammer however and you could see the asking price tumble.

An ensuite bathroom is often given the thumbs up by estate agents and potential buyers. Creating a well proportioned en-suite in a sizeable master bedroom would probably add value. Shove a pokey shower room into the corner of a small bedroom though and you’re likely to scare buyers away.

Open plan layouts are fashionable these days, particularly in period properties. Go easy with the loft look though. Removing a hallway so that the entrance opens into the living room can be off-putting, as can building a staircase in the middle of a reception room.

Above all, no matter how tempted you are to turn ‘that box bedroom’ into a walk-in wardrobe or mammoth shoe cupboard, don’t. Removing a bedroom, no matter how small, is likely to knock £££ off the value of your home.

Painting brickwork or stone

Applying masonry paint to brick or stone is possibly the most fun you could have with a paintbrush. Pause for a minute though before you commit to livening up that tired old brickwork with a lick of paint. You may be glossing over underlying brick problems that could cause freshly applied paint to flake off. You can also expect to repaint it every three to five years. Finally, it’s worth noting that removing paint from brick or stone is extremely difficult, if possible at all.

Pebbledash

This spiky exterior finish has been used to to cover walls in England and Wales since the the turn of the 20th Century. Fashionable for a time, it was commonly used by builders to cut costs and cover up poor quality brickwork. Use has declined since then, but it’s indelible mark has been left on millions of semi-detached suburban homes.

So why should pebbledash be consigned to the history books? Supporters might speak highly of it’s hard-wearing characteristics and low maintenance. It’s near indestructible qualities, however, make it nearly impossible to remove without destroying the brickwork – meaning that you may live to regret peppering your walls with the stuff. Or maybe you won’t – it’s not unusual for pebbledash to last 70 years or more without maintenance. It’s also a nightmare to paint and likely to lower the value of a modern home.

PVCu windows and doors

Even the best maintained windows and doors will need to be replaced at some point. When this financial bombshell eventually lands, the choice of materials available to most of us will be either PVCu or timber. All replacement windows must comply with building regulations, so a timber framed window should be as safe and energy efficient as it’s PVCu cousin. The deciding factor for many people is cost. Timber framed windows are often significantly more expensive than PVCu. So why should you think twice about choosing PVCu?

Supporters (salesmen) will claim that PVCu is hardwearing, long-lasting and easy to maintain. What the brochures won’t tell you is that PVCu degrades in the sun, becomes permanently discoloured if not cleaned regularly and that window mechanisms require annual lubrication and adjustment if they are to last for the advertised lifespan (typically 20-25 years). Damaged windows can be extremely difficult to repair and units that mist or fog will usually need to be replaced. PVCu is also environmentally hazardous. It contains the chemicals chlorine and dioxin, making it a material that is both expensive and dangerous to recycle. Last but not least, many people dislike PVCu windows which might well make your house less saleable.

Removing chimney breasts

Before central heating was introduced in the 1970s, fireplaces served a very practical purpose, heating British homes throughout the cold winters. Over the decades that followed, period fireplaces were gradually discarded and hearths were either filled with decorative paraphernalia, or simply covered up. For many, chimney breasts were something that, if removed, would make the room bigger. What could make more sense?

For a start, the chimney forms an integral part of the house structure so you will need to get a structural engineer involved. Removing a chimney breast from any part of the house without suitable support may cause serious structural damage or worse. Without building regulations approval you could also face prosecution which in turn will cause problems when it comes to selling your home. Don’t forget the neighbours either. There’s a good chance that works may be governed by the Party Wall Act.

Chimney breasts are built using bricks. Lots of them. As you might expect, they also contain lots of soot. Plan on filling several skips and living with dust for weeks or months afterwards. You will also need to make good each room afterwards which might include fixing joists, plastering walls and decorating.

One final point to consider: it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever have an open fire again. That may suit you down to the ground but prospective buyers may not share your point of view – especially if you live in an otherwise well maintained Victorian town-house.

If you’re seriously thinking about carrying out any of the above home ‘improvement’ projects, do yourself a favour and call the experts in first.

As Spring draws closer we can hear the sound of shed doors opening and tool boxes creaking back into life… but alongside DIY comes the inevitable difficulties and horror stories.

At MyBuilder we’ve come across a lot of botched DIY over the years and in every case it was clear the job could have been made easier and safer with the intervention of an expert. We present to you MyBuilder’s DIY You Thought You Could Do… But Can’t!

Tiling

Tiling seems quite straightforward. It’s the familiarity that does it – all that time spent staring at the tiles while in the bath or by the wash basin. How hard could it be? After all, it’s just sticking some tiles to the wall, right? The first challenge is that the surface needs to be perfect. A wavy or bumpy wall looks much worse when tiles are covering it. Secondly, laying tiles is not easy – it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Lastly, once you make a pig’s ear of the tiling, the professional tiler will likely break the tiles trying to get them off. Buying the tiles twice won’t be a nice end to your DIY experiment.

Carpet Fitting
Carpet laying can’t be that hard, right? Just roll it out, measure around the fireplace and.. uh oh, it’s too short! Remember, once you’ve cut the carpet too short there’s no attractive way to fix it and replacing the whole thing is an unnecessary cost. A skilled fitter has the experience of measuring and cutting awkward shapes; they are also much more likely to have all their fingers left after using the troublesome stanley knife!

Building Garden Walls
Everybody knows that bricklaying is a proper building trade. But when it comes to garden and boundary walls, somehow it changes in our mind from building to tinkering in the garden. What gives? It might not seem too important because it’s just in the garden, but white mortar smeared all over the faces of your crooked bricks won’t impress the other half, or your guests. It will also (hopefully) annoy you for the rest of your life and remind you of the value of a professional job. If that doesn’t convince you, think about the time spent. A good bricklayer can lay 1,000 bricks a day to perfection whereas a good DIYer will be lucky to lay 100!

Hanging Doors
Hanging a door is a lot trickier than it sounds. If you screw the hinges into the door frame and it’s slightly off, it’s practically impossible to adjust it. In addition, planing the door is a difficult business; too long and you’re dragging it across the carpet, too short and you’ve got a draught. Getting it wrong will remind you every time you walk through that door why you should have got an expert in. Your hopes of a quality doorway all hinge on a seasoned carpenter.

Tree Surgery
Chopping down trees is lots of fun. It might seem tempting to buy your own toy, errr – chainsaw for the price you’d pay a tree surgeon, but you might regret that decision once you cut your leg off. Chainsaws are seriously dangerous and even trained professionals use protective clothing and special helmets. Even if you’re just pruning a tree with a hand saw, you might do more harm than good to your tree. Knowing where and when to prune is the key – which is why tree surgeons go to college to learn their trade!

Wallpapering
Redecorating is an often underestimated task, taking a lot longer than most of us anticipate. One of the trickiest tasks is wallpapering, especially if you want the patterns to look seamless. In a way, wallpapering is an art form, after all it will be adorning your walls for years to come. The last thing you want is a drunk-looking floral pattern or scruffy ends – have a painter and decorator help you with your fancy feature wall.

Cleaning Gutters
Sunday morning in the rain, with a ladder on a rooftop – something tells us this isn’t going to end well! Heights can be dangerous and any kind of roof work should be left to experienced roofers if at all possible. Yes, it may ‘just be a few leaves’, but is it really worth a tumble from a ladder? We don’t think so!

Laying Turf
You stand there with rolls of turf and a vision of Wembley stadium’s pitch in your back garden, but the outcome looks more like a field after a festival. If turf is not laid correctly you risk uneven surfaces, yellow grass or even bald patches – not a good look for impending summer barbecues. Let a professional take care of the planning, preparation and laying – then you won’t be looking at your neighbour’s lawn ‘green’ with envy.

Demolition
Demolition is not just ‘fun with sledgehammers’. Well, it might mostly be fun with sledgehammers, but dangers lurk in every corner. From broken glass to electricity to smashed fingers, it’s definitely a skill to know which tools to use, when to get people to stand clear, and how to dismantle something. Let the tradesmen have some fun for once!

Architecture
OK, this one might seem a bit unlikely. It would seem that there aren’t many DIY architects. But architecture isn’t just designing a new building. Any changes to the layout of your home is by definition architecture. Many people don’t think of consulting an architect for en-suites, loft conversions or even extensions. Even a badly planned en-suite bathroom can ruin a bedroom by creating dead space and an awkward layout. Builders are usually more than happy to build whatever you ask them to, but you’re going to be the victim of your own bad decisions. A good architect need not be too expensive and what’s the good of having that new extension if you hate living in it?

Do you have anything to add to our list? We’d love to hear your stories.

 

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