Working with builders: Tips for a successful collaboration

Over the course of our “Big Builds Week”, we shared advice for both homeowners and tradesmen on how to manage bigger projects. Today, we’re going to share advice about working with builders featuring Sarah Graham, from Cranleigh in Surrey, who used MyBuilder to revamp her old-fashioned two-bed bungalow. The job was completed by Dale Cochran, who specialises in extensions, restorations and refurbishments, and loft conversions.

working with your builder

Sarah’s refurbishment spanned the entire house: she wanted to add a flat-roofed extension, re-model the bathroom, convert the dining room into a third bedroom, and install a wide deck that would border the back of the house. Sarah wanted an open-plan home that was well-lit and would have a contemporary aesthetic. Going a step beyond just initially communicating her vision to him, she worked closely with Dale throughout the course of the project. To push the project as close to the open-plan and well-lit ideal that Sarah wanted, Dale installed oak bi-fold doors that opened the house onto the deck, and a roof lantern over the kitchen that flooded the interior with natural light.

how to make your home well lit

Dale has been using MyBuilder since 2009. His love for working on extensions and refurbishments began when he was traveling in Australia, where many of the houses are single-story, making him the perfect person for Sarah’s job. His advice for other homeowners looking to refurbish older properties is:

  • Don't write off bungalows as retirement properties, they can make fabulous family spaces.
  • Adding clever details like the oak bi-fold doors and lantern light can open the property up to a different market sector.
  • Involve your builder early on, it will save money and time in the end.

Sarah’s project was not a short one: it lasted from January until June, probably because the project met its fair share of inevitable challenges along the way. Here are some lessons both she and Dale learned about being flexible with a big build project.

Nature will interfere

challenges of building an extension

Her house was built on clay, which got heavy and waterlogged over the course of a wet winter. But Dale stuck to schedule and went right ahead, even though the excavations for the extension footings kept filling with water. The shell of the extension was eventually completed by March.

Plan ahead but prepare for surprises

getting planning permission

Dale was involved in the planning process too, even though Sarah had hired a technical architect. At first, they didn’t think they needed planning permission because the work fell within permitted regulations. But they had missed the fact that a small extension had been built on to the bungalow previously, which left the new extension outside permitted square footage. Not to mention, when they submitted their plans in the end, they found that the flat roof in the was larger than the planning authority allowed.

You may need to go above your budget

budget for a big build

Sarah’s house is deep with long corridors, which is why it was having well-lit rooms was such priority for her. Dale decided that they replace the originally-proposed French windows that would open onto the garden from the kitchen with floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors which would allow more light. They also decided against using a PVC skylight as planned, going for a more expensive aluminium and reflective glass lantern light. Both these features pushed Sarah over her original budget, but she was comfortable with these changes because they ended up distinguishing the house from other bungalows of a similar type.

In the end, this project worked because of the extensive communication between Sarah and Dale and the way they collaborated from start to finish. What’s your big build story? Share it with us in the comments below.

And if you're looking to hire for a big build that has yet to be completed, find the perfect tradesman in your area by posting your job!

Read Related articles here: What type of tradesman should I use?


  1. I love the result of a successful collaboration. I'm planning on building an extension to my home, and while I have a few ideas in mind, it's good to keep in mind that these are professional contractors with experience, and it's worth listening to what they have to say to make it something that works for both style and functionality. I'll have to save this for later when I'm looking for builders, thank you.

  2. Thanks for the help. My wife and are about to hire a contractor for the first time to add a home extension. I am glad that you reminded me that nature will interfere. I know that I will need to keep the time frame a little more flexible because of that. I'll keep this as a reference.

  3. We are about to extend our kitchen, and we are a little worried that it might be a total disaster. This was a good article, and it's nice to see a story of success. Thanks for including some pictures for us, and we'll make sure plan ahead and even expect some surprises here and there!

  4. It's interesting how there are methods to overcome nature like when the foundation gets filled with water. My wife wants us to add an extension where our patio is. She's second guessing the decision because she doesn't know what could all go wrong in construction. I'll have to show her a copy of this post.

  5. The tip to prepare for possibly going over your budget is an important one. I feel like some people get into projects and realize they didn't accurately budget for all the project's needs. Or, they don't realize that there may be big problems to take care of and they didn't leave a contingency in their budget. Hopefully others will read this article and take the suggestion seriously!

  6. You made a good point to be prepared for surprises when having contractors work on your custom home. It seems like sometimes building a home means having a few unexpected situations come up. Dale and Sarah's story seems like a great example of that. They may have originally thought that they didn't need planning permission, but missing how a small part of their house extended beyond the permitted square footage caused a bump in their plans. That's why it's important to check all of the details in a building plan and make sure that different parts of your house remain inside of the property that your own.

  7. These are some really great tips! One of the best things to remember is that they are almost certainly doing all they can. Like any business, they rely on satisfying their customers, so it's important to remember that if things are going wrong, your time frame is off, it's not something they're doing deliberately. There are a lot of factors that come into play. Thanks for writing!

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