Loft Conversions

As part of a growing family you are probably all too aware of the lack of suitable housing. And although there is much talk about the possible relaxing of planning regulations it’s unlikely this will lead to an increase in supply of three or four bedroom houses – in the short term at least?

Loft conversion with velux windows and central staircase

It’s not surprising then that many families are looking at extending their current house in order to provide an extra bedroom or general living space? Aside from the obvious benefits of staying where you are there can be financial advantages too.

According to recent studies* the cost of a four bedroom house can be around £35,000 more than a similar 3 bedroom property. Add stamp duty and other moving expenses and the cost is likely to rise to £44,000 or more. Compare this to the £20,000 or less it would cost to build an extension and you’ll start to see why extending your existing living space starts to make sense — not to mention the increase in value which could easily cover the cost.

More Space Required – The Options

You have a range of options at your disposal depending upon your budget, available space and location.

A basement conversion has become a popular solution where existing space is restricted but can be problematic. If you are considering this route then it is essential you engage the services of a specialist contractor as problems resulting from poor workmanship can take years to show and be very expensive to put right.

A traditional building extension (or lateral extension) may be the ideal but few of us are fortunate to have the available space. It’s also worth bearing in mind that for the purposes of adding an extra bedroom or playroom an extension will most likely require planning permission and involve much greater initial cost.

An alternative idea that is becoming more popular is converting an existing garage (usually adjoining the existing property) into a living space or play room.

The most popular solution, however, is to convert your existing roof space into an extra bedroom. In many cases you will not need to apply for planning permission and this is also usually the least expensive option. There are, however, a few considerations — particularly when providing space for young children.

So a loft conversion it is – But are there any pitfalls?

Searching around the internet you’ll be forgiven for thinking that converting your roof space into an extra bedroom is the answer to all your problems, and in many cases it may be, but you should also consider what’s involved first as once you’ve committed yourself to the idea it will be difficult to turn back.


Depending upon the space you have available it’s likely that the access to your attic bedroom will via a non-standard staircase which may be at an extreme angle — and this presents an obvious hazard where young children are concerned. You will also need to consider where the stairs terminate in the room itself because the regulations stipulate there must be a minimum headroom level. This may result in the opening for the stairs being in the centre of the room. Not only will this have an impact on the available floor space but is yet another hazard to contend with.

Arke Kya Space Saving Stair Kit

A space-saving staircase like this designer example by Arke  will make the most of what little room you have to play with but it’s unlikely to be situated in a large room like this one. More often than not  you’ll have to  accommodate  an extra staircase in your hallway where space is already at a premium.


Another consideration will be how the windows are arranged – roof lights, for instance, can create a problem of over-heating during the summer months which can be difficult to manage. You can opt for solar control glazing but this will be an extra cost you may not have budgeted for?

Conversely, you could also experience a lack of light with some traditional style dormers which may have a high sill height. Again there are measures you can take — such as installing a sun-pipe to bring in more natural light to the room, but this could be yet another expense you didn’t anticipate?

Fire Safety

Fire safety is a subject which has to be taken seriously. The building regulations set out strict minimum standards in terms of fire detection and providing a safe means of escape but it’s important not to be complacent. Think the unthinkable and consider how you would cope if there was a fire in your home — have a plan in place and make sure your children know exactly what to do in an emergency.


It’s become something of a  cliché  these days to mention cowboy builders but there are still plenty of them about. There is nothing worse than a loft extension badly done so take your time finding someone to do the work and never make a decision on cost alone.

More Advice & Resources

*Ref: Lofty Aspirations Utilising the Roofspace — NBS Shortcut 22 –  RIBA Enterprises 2007

Shared Bedrooms

Many couples start off in a two bedroomed house which seems like plenty of space – until your first little bundle of joy appears, closely followed by another.  Suddenly space is at a high premium so  what can you do to make sharing a room a joy rather than a resentment? Here are some ideas as to how to give each child their own piece of space in a relatively small room.

Bunk Beds

Bunk beds are the obvious solution as they take up just one part of the room and leave the rest free for the usual bedroom furniture. Children may fight over who gets the top bunk but the obvious solution for that is to alternate. Bunk beds are great space saving pieces of furniture that are growing in popularity even in households where the children don’t have to share a room.

White painted bunk bed in a small light coloured room

The white painted bunk bed from Marks & Spencer is an ideal choice as the plain, light colour helps create a feeling of space and the simple design has no unnecessary decorations or detail, just clean white lines on a classic design.

Matrix children's furniture with adjustable configerations

Flexibility is often the key and you’ll need to rearrange the room as your kids develop. The Matrix children’s modular furniture system offers you the ability to arrange and adapt their shared space whenever you need. Ideal for awkwardly shaped rooms and changing demands.

Divide and Conquer

It can be difficult when children have to share a room – after all children aren’t known for their sharing and compromisational skills! But with a little imagination and inspiration it is possible to give each child their own space. There are several ways you can divide up the space in children’s bedroom – from strategic placement of furniture such as open book shelving   to the construction of a physical partition with timber and plasterboard. A wall partition doesn’t have to reach the full height of   the room and such an arrangement can be quite easily constructed by anyone with basic diy skills.

Open sided bookcase

The Expedit bookcase from Ikea can be utilized as a  room divider and provides lots of useful storage space too. Any open-sided bookcase can be used the same way, just make sure it’s firmly fixed to the wall to prevent any accidents. If you want to be really creative then why not use a room divider as a cut-off point for two individual colour schemes?

Half-height room partitions

Alternatively you can buy purpose-made screens like these room dividers from a company called Buzzispace which are a great idea for creating a private zone within a shared space. It’s easy to fix into place, lightweight and best of all it also acts as a sound insulator making their own space that little bit more private!

Children's Folding Scree Room Divider

This folding alphabet screen from amazon makes a fun and practical room divider, giving children a focal point and providing a bright addition to their room. It’s lightweight and can be folded up during the day and unfolded at night.

Furniture for Shared Bedrooms

Older kids will often need their own clothes storage as they amass  more clothes than their parents!  Two small wardrobes  can often  be better than one so there are no fights over who has taken the most space. Wooden furniture takes up a lot of room so do look around for alternatives and keep it minimalist.

Cream fabric wardrobe

These canvas wardrobes from John Lewis are an excellent budget solution as they  take  up much less room than their wooden counterparts and you don’t have to worry about the wardrobe doors bashing into other bits of furniture.  Or  how about a traditional garment rail to keep their favourite outfits separate?

Do try to keep furniture to a minimum in shared rooms and use it wisely, to create dividers or to free up storage. With a little creative thinking shared bedrooms needn’t be such a pain after all!

Designing and Planning Your Children’s Room

So you’ve moved into that new house or have cleared everything out to re-decorate and re-plan and are stood in what will be your child’s bedroom. Looking at four bare walls it can be hard to imagine just what you want from the room and how to make the most of the space.

At times like this we wish we could call in Linda Barker or Laurence Llewelyn Bowen who could create a stunning room in even the smallest of spaces! But you don’t need an interior designer to help create that perfect room for your child, a little imagination and a few handy hints will just have to do instead!

Planning Children’s Rooms

Note down all the room measurements and make a small plan on a piece of paper on your pc. There are plenty of free room planner downloads that will help you to scale and model your room, but do double check before downloading anything onto your pc. It’s much easier to plan a room on paper than it is when you are stood in it. You can experiment with colours and furniture to discover what looks great and what would be a mistake.

Making a Small Room Look Bigger

When I was a child I had, literally, a cupboard as a room! If only my mother had taken heed of these few tips it might not have felt quite so much like the broom-cupboard!

  • Your child may want their room in black, deep purple or navy but these colours are disastrous in small spaces. Stick instead to light hues and pastel colours to open up the room. Cool blue instead of navy, lilac instead of purple and just no black — ever!
  • A large mirror on one wall will also give the feeling of depth and will reflect the light from the room. Try to flood the room with as much light as possible, so get rid of heavy curtains and install lots of light options.
  • Choose large pieces of furniture rather than lots of small items that will make a room look cluttered.
  • Children’s storage solutions for small rooms come in many shapes and sizes and will often make clever use of any available space.

Decorating Your Child’s Room

You may think that decorating a room with dinosaurs or Barbie is a great idea but be aware that the decor will only last until they grow out of it, which will be a couple of years at best. So unless you want to keep re-decorating the room stick with a colour scheme that will last longer and if they insist on character decorations, get some wall stickers that can be easily removed once they’ve grown out of them.

Children are messy creatures so you need to consider that when planning the room decor. Choose carpets that are stain resistant and if painting a room, make sure that the paint is waterproof so that you can wipe off stains without wiping off half the paint!

Children’s Furniture

When arranging children’s furniture, go back to your original plan and make a note of where the windows are, the electrical sockets and whether the door opens inwards or outwards. All of these are important considerations, for instance a desk will need to be positioned near an electrical socket for a lamp or laptop.

  • Consider children’s bunk beds for small rooms as many bunks have not only a guest bed but cleverly incorporate drawers and a desk too!
  • If you have a built-in cupboard, add shelves not just at the top but at the bottom of the cupboard for storing shoes, bags, games etc.
  • Wooden furniture is great as this can be painted, stripped and varnished many times to create a whole new look for their room without the need for re-decoration.

Just remember that your child will do a lot of growing up in their room and as their tastes change, so will the room. But if you keep the base of the room as neutral as you can, then any changes made need only be aesthetic and can be easily incorporated. Above all, get your child involved in the design of their own room and you never know, if they’ve had a hand in decorating it they make want to keep it tidy and clean — we live in hope!

How to Paint Wooden Furniture

a colourful example of children's painted furniturePainted bedroom furniture is very popular at the moment and the trend for Shabby Chic and restoring old furniture is a growing one.

Old bedroom furniture can be easily given a lease of new life by repainting and, if done properly, will last a lifetime.

If you are thinking about renovating some existing wooden furniture and don’t know where to start then, hopefully, this will serve as a useful guide.

Before starting work it’s important to bear a few points in mind:

Previously Painted & Varnished Furniture

Has the furniture been painted before and, if so, what with?

  • Spirit Based Varnishes & Polishes — in most cases it is difficult for regular paints to adhere successfully to these kind of finishes and it is advisable to strip back to bear wood.
  • Regular Varnish — problems can occur when attempting to paint over traditional varnishes so it is recommended that these are stripped prior to painting.
  • Factory Applied Paints and Lacquers — in some cases these may be cellulose based and can react adversely to regular paints. There are specialist primers which will adhere to such surfaces but it is best to try a test area first.
  • Regular Household Paints — if the furniture has been painted before with regular paint and the surface is sound then you should be OK to proceed.
  • Bare Wood — some bare wood furniture may look OK but may still have some form of protective coating applied. You can generally tell by wiping with a wet cloth — if the water is not absorbed then there is a clear coating present and will need to be removed.

Stripping Existing Coatings

The most important point to bear in mind here is that stripping existing paints and varnishes can be very messy and time-consuming. Unless you are very fortunate it is not something you’ll accomplish in an afternoon, particularly if there are curves and complex mouldings to contend with.

Consider using a professional paint stripping company — most offer a pick up and collection service and can be quite reasonably priced. It can save a lot of time and when you consider the cost of buying paint stripper it may actually be cheaper in the long run?

If you are determined to go it alone then allow yourself plenty of time and take the furniture out of doors if at all possible.

There are several kinds of paint strippers available to buy and how effective they are will depend on the kind of finish you are stripping. You are best trying two or three different brands in small quantities before buying a large expensive container of paint stripper that doesn’t work.


There are various types of specialist paints on the market and are, in most cases, a waste of money. Conventional paint systems are perfectly adequate if used correctly. A finish is only as good as the surface it is painted on – no product exists to get around this problem.

You’ll need a good primer and acrylic wood primers are fine in most circumstances — not only are they water based and odour free but they dry quickly too.

Painting over Existing Coatings

For previously painted surfaces an acrylic primer can be used as a base-coat but ensure the surfaces have been thoroughly washed down and abraded with fine sand-paper first, use wire wool or a flexible sanding pad for intricate areas. For very glossy surfaces an oil based primer or undercoat will work best — if in doubt try a small test area first.

Don’t use regular detergents for washing down as these leave behind residues which will prevent paint from adhering, use sugar soap or a solution of vinegar and water for best results.


Once the surfaces have been primed and allowed to dry you can proceed to paint with your chosen finish and colour. A satin finish generally works best on furniture although traditional gloss paint will be harder wearing. Remember to sand-down and dust off between coats and the more coats you apply then the better the finish will be.

A conventional paint brush is fine although a small foam roller can be useful for painting doors and large areas.

Handles and Hinges

Remove handles, door pulls and hinges before painting, if at all possible, and use the opportunity to replace them if your budget will allow. There are numerous designs of replacement handles you can buy and they can be very effective when modernising an old piece of wooden furniture.

The Finished Project

Paint takes a while to cure fully so once complete try and wait a few days before putting the furniture back to use — even paint which appears fully dry can be easily damaged until it has fully hardened.

Provided you have taken your time and done everything properly the next time you want to paint this piece of furniture it will be simply a case of washing down, a light rub down and simply re-painting.

Recycled Furniture – Is it worth the Bother?

Recycling symbol So your kids are growing fast and that nursery furniture will no longer be sufficient to house their Lego collection/dolls house/books/mountain of clothes and school artwork. You need new furniture for your children’s rooms but money is tight – making do isn’t always an option and not everyone is fortunate enough to have older relatives who will gladly hand-down furniture which is no longer needed.

If this is your current situation then you have the option of buying cheap flat-pack furniture that won’t last ten minutes or searching around the classifieds and ebay for any bargains to be had, which could take some considerable time. Another option is to find a free or low cost furniture recycling scheme.

Recycled Children’s Furniture

The current trend for all things green has spawned all manner of services offering to put you in touch with people who want to recycle their old furniture. Although some of them are quite good there are, unfortunately, a few businesses who see the recycling trend as an opportunity to cash-in with premium rate phone services and various other ways of getting money out of people who can least afford it.

Of the service providers who are genuine there is also the old problem of people using them to discard their worthless junk and ‘so-called’ charities which are nothing more than glorified second-hand shops. There are, however, some useful resources out there and if you know where to look you could be furnishing your children’s rooms with good quality furniture for free! Here is a rough guide to who does what.

Recycled Furniture Providers and Resources

Freecycle is the largest and most well known service available with groups all over the UK. This is where you’ll find the greatest choice of items available but it really does depend on where you live as to how useful the service will be. For instance, in Richmond I found a solid wood John Lewis bunk bed on offer straight away. In a less affluent area however you might be waiting a while for something suitable to come along? In some cases there are a lot more wanted ads than there are offers.

Recycle is voucher site operator ASAP’s latest venture into the world of consumer offers and it looks like it could be a useful site. However a nationwide search for a bunk bed returned only one result and I was prompted to phone a premium rate phone number (51p a minute + network charges) to get more details. Do this a few times and you’d be better off just buying the stuff brand new from Argos!

Recycle Your Furniture
Recycle Your Furniture is a service based in the North East which aims to save unwanted furniture items from disposal and give them a new lease of life. They provide a free collection of items they deem suitable and then refurbish them by cleaning and re-painting before putting them for sale on eBay
However, there is very little choice of items suitable for children and the prices are quite high. A pine chest of drawers, for example, was on offer for £120 – about what they would cost to buy new in some DIY stores.

FRN (Furniture Re-use Network)
FRN is a national organisation founded to support and encourage charitable re-use of unwanted items. You can search for local schemes in your own community.
Many of the items on offer have been donated and these are then sold in order to provide funds for the charity concerned. Again, how useful this service is to you will depend largely on where you live. Some of the items offered are not great value really but in some of the more affluent areas you’ll be surprised at the quality of some of the furniture which people are willing to give away.

Freegle uses the Yahoo Groups service to connect local community members around the UK. The concept is fairly simple – you join a local group and offer something you’d like to recycle or simply request if anyone has the item you’re looking for. There is no trading allowed – all items must be freely given, so it’s potentially a great service. However, the number of active members in each group varies from one area to another so it’s a bit hit and miss. The prospect of someone in your group offering a free Stompa cabin bed is pretty remote – but you never know … there are a few stories here that will warm your heart strings.

Freegive is a similar service to Freegle by connecting local groups who offer to give away or swap items they no longer need. Again, trading is discouraged so you really can get something for free. The site has members all over the UK though it would be disingenuous to claim it is a busy community, but given that it is a free service you don’t really have much to lose by giving it a try?

A social enterprise specialising in the re-use of office and school furniture. Although primarily aimed at the commercial end sector, some of the desks and storage furniture on offer is absolutely top-class. And although it isn’t free you can get some study furniture and shelving which will last for years, long after your kids have left the nest.

Facebook Groups
There are local Facebook groups that offer free, for sale and wanted ads. Many of the sellers are private but there are a few trade ads in there too and it does take a bit of searching to find anything useful, however the advantage is that because the groups are local you don’t have to travel far to find a bargain. I found a solid wood desk with apothecary type drawers for only £30. If you have a Facebook account it’s worth a look to see if your local area has a For Sale, Wanted or Free page.

Is it worth it?

Overall, it’s certainly worth looking around and you can get lucky. Generally speaking the wider you cast your net and the more time you have on your hands then the more likely it is of you getting what you need.

However long established ways of finding second-hand furniture like local classifieds, cards in shop windows and ebay, may prove to be just as economical and a lot less hassle in the long run?

Decorating on a Budget

Decorating your children’s room is a task you might be putting off for many reasons – the sheer upheaval this causes along with time and effort  will be one and the other may be the cost? You may think that it just isn’t possible to redecorate a room without spending a considerable amount of cash but there are ways in which you can do it economically.


Decorating materials can be expensive but there are some simple mistakes you can avoid which will save you the most.

1200 grade lining paper

Lining paper is inexpensive and available in a range of grades

The price of a roll of wallpaper can vary from less than a pound to £50 and more but this is largely because new designs always command a premium price – it has very little to do with quality.

Generally speaking, a budget roll of wallpaper will be just as good as one at a much higher price,  the only  real difference is that it  will usually just be an old design. Do your kids really  care about things like this – probably not?

There  are a huge range of wallpaper designs especially for young children but you might want to consider how long they’ll be interested in the latest cartoon character or theme? Themed wallpaper has a limited shelf life as the latest trend is always replaced by another sooner or later. Opting for more ‘classic’ designs like simple stripes or checks can be just as effective and will not go out of style or favour.

Also on the subject of wallpaper – do you really need it? The most cost effective way to decorate a room is to use plain lining paper and paint over it with emulsion paint. Not only is this cheaper but it takes far less effort than matching up decorative wallpaper and as their preferences change you can easily change the look of a painted wall.

Colours own brand paint from B&Q

Colours from B&Q is a good value 'own brand' paint - much cheaper and almost as good (for domestic use) as the big brand alternatives

From a consumer’s point of view there are 4 kinds of paint and the price can vary considerably:

  • Expensive brands like Dulux and Crown
  • Budget trade brands like Leyland & Johnstones
  • Retailer’s own brands
  • Very cheap budget or ‘value’ brands

With expensive brands you are largely paying for advertising and marketing budgets which is why they are often twice or three times as expensive. Yes, you do get a superior product but it isn’t 3 times better than other brands so don’t be fooled into paying more than you need to.

Trade brands and own brands like B&Q Colours are a lot cheaper and offer quite good value.

The very cheap brands marketed under names like ‘budget’ and ‘value’ are generally very poor quality, have poor coverage and durability and are best avoided unless you need a primer or base coat before putting on your colour, in which case these paints will do fine.

Plain colours like white and magnolia are cheaper to buy because they are produced in bulk. Avoid the temptation to try mixing large quantities of white with small pots of colour – 99% of the time you’ll regret it! Also do be aware that one brand of a plain colour such as magnolia, will be a very different shade to another brand so do make sure you’ve plenty of the same colour to finish  your room.

Other Decorating Materials & Sundries

Wallpaper paste

This double pack of wallpaper paste is the minimum I would buy for an average room - you get two individual packs so it's never wasted - look out for promotional packs too!

A useful rule to remember is that you will usually underestimate the amount of materials you’ll need and this can work out more expensive in the long run. It is all too tempting to think that you’ll mange with one small packet of wallpaper paste or filler but invariably you will not. Always opt for the larger packets because it is cheaper than buying another small pack later on. Same principle  with paint, larger pots are cheaper than buying 2 small pots and any excess will come in handy in case you need to paint over stains and marks that invariably happen with children’s rooms.

When stripping old wall-coverings resist the temptation to buy a steam stripper – a few buckets of water, a sponge and an ounce of patience work just as well – if not better – and are a lot cheaper. The same can be said for many ‘miracle’ labour-saving devices and products – they are often no good and a total waste of cash. Besides if you ask around it’s more than likely that one of your friends will have already invested in such a device that you can borrow.

Also consider economies of scale – it is much more cost effective to decorate two or more rooms at the same time because you can buy common materials like filler, ceiling paint , etc in larger pack sizes and incur less wastage.


One of the biggest wastes of money is when you buy go for a very strong colour scheme that doesn’t work out as you imagined. Not only do you waste the cost of all that paint but you also waste a lot of time and effort too.

You can buy small tester pots of paint but often you don’t really know how well a colour will work until you’ve painted all the walls. It’s always safer, and cheaper, to go for pale or plain colours which you can use as a background to bright accessories or borders. Remember that colours often look brighter on the wall than they do in the paint pot because the light of the room will reflect off the colour, so always try to go for a shade lighter.

If you really do want to use bold colour paints then buy a small tester pot and paint a large sheet of paper with it. Stick the paper on the wall and see how you feel after seeing it for a few days – it may be that you’re not so keen once the novelty has worn off?

Ceilings & Woodwork

Painting ceilings and woodwork is probably the decorating task that most people dread and is always the most disruptive but do you really need to do them? Gloss painted woodwork can easily be washed-down and refreshed; and ceilings tend not to suffer the daily abuse that walls do. If you can get away with not doing these areas then you’ll not only save a lot of trouble but a decent amount of money too.

These are just a few money saving decorating tips – I’m sure you can think of a lot more. If you have any money saving tips please add a comment below?

Finding and Employing a Tradesman

Doing your own decorating and home improvements can be a fun and rewarding experience but there are times when you’ll need to get some professional help. Maybe you don’t have the necessary skills, are short of time or have just bitten-off more than you can chew?

Two painters - painting a wallThankfully there are a large number of independent tradesmen and small building firms who specialise in home renovation jobs who will be all too glad of the work.

However, if you don’t already know a good tradesman (perhaps you’ve moved to a new area or maybe it’s the first time you’ve considered the option?) it can be a daunting prospect. We’ve all seen the various TV programs about rogue builders and tradesman and you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the norm?

In reality most tradesmen are very reliable and do an excellent job — from plumbers to decorators and builders to gardeners, whatever job you need doing there will be someone able to help.

A few tips to consider when looking for a tradesman or builder

The first thing you need to do is decide what exactly you want doing and when. Is the job simple and straightforward or will it need complex planning? Re-decorating your kid’s bedroom should be relatively straightforward — adding a 3 story extension will require a lot more thought!

Once you are certain about the work you want doing then you’ll need to find someone willing and able to do the job. By having a definite idea of what you want to achieve you’ll find it a lot easier to find the right person.

Where to Look? Obviously the first port of call will be friends, family and neighbours — a personal recommendation from someone you trust is usually the best method. However, if this doesn’t yield results then traditional listings in directories and specialist website are the place to look.

Keep it local – Ideally you want someone who is fairly local and well established? A tradesman who has advertised regularly in a local publication or directory is likely to be well known and reputable. Look for contact details and phone numbers — if a local address and regular phone number are published then this is often a good sign; be wary of those advertising with just a mobile number and website address.

Ask for references — Most past customers will be all too willing to pass on their recommendations, if you get a vague response or excuses then you need to think twice. Check the references yourself; don’t just assume they are genuine — particularly if they are not from your local area.

Trade Associations – Often you’ll be told that using businesses that are part of a recognised trade association is important. While the advice is often well intentioned you should consider what the requirements are to join most of these bodies. Often it only requires an annual payment and in many cases the association will offer very little in the way of consumer protection should problems occur.

Some Local Authorities operate local trader schemes. Although these are not countrywide at the moment the network is growing steadily and is worth checking if your area is covered.

Get a quote — wherever possible, and this is where the initial planning pays off, give an exact description of the work you want doing and get a firm price. Obviously the more vague or complex the task then the less specific a price will be. Your quote should be in writing and, ideally, will detail a description of the work to be done and at least a basic specification. For example: if you want the existing wallpaper stripped and walls to be made-good then make sure it says this in the quote.

Generally, someone who gives detailed information in their quote is likely to have thought through the project and will be offering a realistic price. Some people do just literally think of a number or make a rough guess and the results of their work are evident of this. The cheapest quote is always attractive, but once your builder starts to run out of cash he’ll either start cutting corners or ask for more money to make up the difference. The cheapest quote can often finish-up being the dearest in many ways you might not initially envisage.

Insurance — no matter what the size of job your builder or tradesman must have public liability insurance in place — the smallest of accidents can be financially ruinous and your builder will almost always be liable. This is little comfort if this liability is not underwritten by an insurer — check it’s in place, check the financial limits and check that it is current. If he has employees working in your home then he must, by law, have employer’s liability insurance too — you have a moral, if not a legal, duty of care to check this as you don’t want to find yourself in an awkward situation if an accident does occur.

Deposits and payments — inevitably it may be necessary to make some form of payment before the work is complete. One of the biggest complaints against tradesmen is that they leave one job to go to another — often the reasons are financial so being the source of steady and reliable income can often be to your advantage in this respect. It’s not uncommon for good tradesmen and builders to turn down work because they are not confident they’ll be able to finance the project — removing this concern can often mean they price the job more realistically and do a good job for you. For a tradesman, finding good customers is as important for him as finding a reliable workman is for you.

Materials can be expensive so give your builder a break and be flexible with payments. Make sure that any money paid up front is clearly defined and receipted. For large projects you may want to have some form of stage payment in place. For instance, if you are having 3 or 4 rooms decorated you could pay per room completed or on a weekly basis. Don’t pay all the money at once and even when works are completed it’s a good idea to hold back a percentage should any defects be detected later on. You’ll need to negotiate this at the outset and manage it strictly.

Regulations — for most household refurbishment and decorating projects there are few regulations to worry about. However, if the work falls within the scope of current Building Regulations then you’ll need approval from your local Building Control department or employ a contractor who is registered within a competent person scheme. Such schemes are in place for electrical work, gas installations and window replacement. Larger projects such as extensions or loft conversions will need to be notified directly and may need planning permission as well?

Overall, finding and employing a good tradesman is relatively simple and usually stress free. Although a little daunting at first, once you realise that essentially the process depends upon clear communication and simple cost control then you should be able to proceed with a lot more confidence.