Your home is probably the biggest financial investment you will ever make and is a valuable asset.
Regular maintenance is essential to ensure the property does not deteriorate to such an extent that it has a detrimental effect on the health and well being of you and your family, and to ensure that relatively minor problems are fixed before they become major items of disrepair that cost a fortune to remedy or cause your property to lose some of its value.
Embarking on a regular maintenance programme of your own home may seem quite daunting but could be as basic as a simple visual check of the elements of the building. You would very quickly get to know what is ‘normal’ and could then take action to remedy any faults or items of disrepair at an early stage.
There may also be times when you want to carry out improvements to your home, for example installing a heating system, extending the property or modernising the kitchen or bathroom.
Some people prefer to undertake their own ‘DIY’ repairs and improvements but if you do not feel able to do so it is recommended that you employ a competent person to carry out the work. For major projects or any work involving gas and electrics you should always have the work checked by an appropriately registered contractor and in some cases the work will be subject to Planning Permission or Building Regulations approval.
The prospect of having any building work done is daunting for most of us. Making sure that you get the right builder, getting proper quotes and then arranging for the work to be done can be difficult.
Don’t be afraid of asking questions. Good builders will understand why you’re asking them and it will help them with their estimates and ultimately to carry out the work properly and get paid.
Remember do not be pressured into signing any thing or paying a deposit until you are absolutely sure that you want to use that particular builder or firm.
What work should I have done?
It can be tempting to redecorate or buy new carpets and furniture to improve the internal appearance of your home but you should consider the long term benefits of works to the structure or internal fittings and carry out this work as a priority, especially if you have limited funds.
The following list is intended to help you prioritise the work you do to your property.
Heating and insulation
Being cold can have significant health effects and you should consider having a fixed heating system to cover all the rooms in your house. Even if you have sufficient heating, without loft and cavity wall insulation much of the heat will be lost. This not only makes the property cold but is also a waste of your money.
Roof and brick/stone work
The external envelope of your property should keep out the wind and rain. Any deterioration can result in significant dampness which can damage your property and have a detrimental effect on your health. Minor damage can very quickly become significant.
All gas appliances should be checked for safety and serviced at least annually. This reduces the risks from Carbon Monoxide poisoning and ensures the appliances are working efficiently.
It is recommended that you have the electrical system checked at least every 5 years. You should also have the system checked any time faults occur i.e. sparking plugs or regular tripping of fuses. If you have an older system you should consider having it upgraded by installing a Residual Current Device (RCD).
Doors and windows
Doors and windows should be weather-tight and secure. The right doors and windows can improve the thermal efficiency of your home and good quality locks can help prevent entry by intruders.
The installation of smoke detectors in your property can significantly improve your chances of escaping if there is a fire. It is also worth contacting the Fire Service (Do NOT phone 999 except in an emergency) for advice on reducing the risk of a fire starting in the first place and what to do if you are unfortunate enough to have a fire at home.
Trips and falls
Trips and falls in the home are a frequent reason for visits to hospital and can sometimes result in serious injury. Simple measures such as fitting handrails to staircases, securing loose carpets or replacing cracked and raised paving on paths and patios can significantly reduce the risk of trips and falls.
Fitting, and using, good locks on doors and windows can make your property more secure.
You could also consider installing external lighting.
Choosing a Builder
Even when you may have been recommended or personally know a builder you should still ask certain questions to make sure that they are the right people to invite in to your home to do any work.
- What is the full name of the firm?
- What is their business address - a reputable firm will always have a permanent business address. Check out the address and visit if you can to confirm the details.
- Get their phone number – a landline number is essential and preferably also a mobile.
- Are they a member of a trade organisation e.g. Federation of Master Builders, Gas Safe, National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contractors (NICEIC) or competent person scheme?
- Do they do all the work themselves or do they sub contract some of it out? If so, who are their subcontractors and what trade backgrounds or memberships do they have?
- Do they have Public Liability insurance and accidental damage insurance?
- How long have they been in business?
- Ask if you can see some work that they have done recently which is close by.
- How soon could they start the work if you decided to use them? (Timescales given may not always be realistic. Find out how many and what type of jobs will be done before yours).
- What guarantees do they give on completion?
- Do you require Planning Approval or Building Regulations approval? It is your responsibility to find out and make the application if required, not the builders.
(There may also be restrictions on what works you can do if your property is located within a conservation area. It is advisable to check this with the Council's Planning Service.)
GAS SAFE - Council of Registered Gas Installers, previously known as CORGI (tel. 0800 408 5500)
NICEIC - National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contractors (tel. 0870 013 0391)
FENSA - Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme for companies that install windows and doors in dwellings (set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation tel. 020 7645 3700).
Getting a Quote
It is always advisable to get at least two quotes to ensure that the costs given are reasonable and in a similar range.
When asking for a quote both you and your builder must be absolutely clear about what work you are asking them to do. It’s best to produce a written list of all the work you will need as this is the most cost effective. This list can then be used as a reference throughout the job. Once you’ve got a quote, check whether it includes VAT.
- What boiler is being installed? Is it a high efficiency [condensing] Sedbuk Rating A or B boiler? If not, has the exemption procedure been adhered to?
- Where will the boiler be sited?
- How many radiators do you want? All radiators except one, which is usually the one in the bathroom, should have a thermostatic radiator valve.
- How big are the radiators and where in the rooms are they to be fitted i.e. under windows?
- Where will the room stat and the timer be fitted?
- If your house is very full of furniture the plumber may have difficulty in lifting floorboards etc to install the pipework. You should discuss this with him.
- Discuss who will refit fitted carpets etc. Remember old vinyl may well crack when it is moved so allow for this.
- You will need a NICEIC or similar and Gas Safe certificates on completion and evidence that the installation has been notified to Gas Safe.
- Agree how many sockets you want for each room and where they are to be sited
- Agree how many light switches you need and where are they to be sited. Remember that in rooms you walk through to get to another and in particular stairwells you will need two way light switches.
- Do you want an external light fitted?
- Will they rewire up to any boiler, alarm system, garage etc?
- We would recommend that whilst you are getting your home rewired, you get your electrician to install mains wired smoke detectors in the ground floor hallway and first floor landing.
- Your existing “fuse box” may be sited in the cellar or above the stairs. The new trip switches that will replace this are very sensitive and will trip out even when a bulb blows. Make sure that the new consumer unit is positioned somewhere that you can easily get to. Speak to your electrician and ask if you want it to be sited somewhere else. Remember if you want to have it somewhere better, make sure it is out of children’s reach or in a lockable cupboard that children cannot get to.
- Will the plasterwork be made good where the wires have been sunk in-to the wall?
- If you have wood panelling, tiling etc., you need to discuss whether it can be put back after the rewire.
- Make sure they are aware of Part P compliance with the Building Regulations and will provide a NICEIC certificate or similar on completion
- What tiles/slates do you want?
- How will they make the joint with next door’s roof?
- What detailing do you want to the ridge tiles, verge?
- Will they replace all the lead flashings to the joint between the new roof and your chimney stack?
- Is there any work needed to your chimney stack whilst you have a builder on the roof?
- How will ventilation be provided to the roof space - will they use vent tiles or breathable felt?
- Will my roof space need more loft insulation to comply with Building Regulations? A depth of 270mm is acceptable.
- If the tiles or slates you use are different (heavier) from what is already on, you will need structural calculations by a qualified structural engineer to see whether any strengthening works are required.
- Does the work need Building Regulation approval?
- Does the work need Party Wall Act Approval?
- When choosing the window design, locks, handles etc. find out about what security measures they offer.
- Make sure that with the design of window you choose you will be able to open and close them without over reaching or need a step ladder. This can sometimes be a problem with top opening windows particularly in front of sink units and kitchen worktops.
- We recommend that one window in each habitable room on the first floor should be designed as an “escape” window in case of a fire e.g. a side hung casement or a tilt and turn.
- Can they replace the windows with minimum disturbance to the plasterwork?
- Are the window sills to be replaced?
- Is the installer FENSA registered?
- On completion you will want either a FENSA registration certificate or Building Control approval.
Damp Proofing Work
- Is the firm a member of the British Wood Preserving and Damp Proofing Association?
- Does a full damp proof course need to be installed or can you just treat the damp affected walls?
- They should drill and inject below the joists to protect the joist ends from dampness. How will they do this?
- Do you want the skirting boards to be refixed or renewed? If they are to be renewed make sure you know what profile and size of skirting they will fit.
- How will they inject and replaster behind radiators, kitchen units etc?
- On completion do you get a fully bonded 25 or 30 year guarantee?
- How long will it be before you can redecorate?
- Will you have to move out temporarily?
New Kitchen Fittings
- You will need to choose your sink unit, taps, worktop, units, door fronts, trim, handles etc.
- Choose your hob and oven if they are to be fitted in to the units.
- Get a plan of the proposed kitchen layout that shows you where units and appliances will be fitted/located.
- Do you want a cooker hood and can it be vented out to the external air?
- Will any sockets need re-siting to suit the new layout?
- Do you want any extra sockets?
- How much tiling do you want?
- If any electrical or gas works are to be done you will need a NICEIC or similar/Gas Safe certificate on completion along with evidence of Part P compliance.
Changes in the bathroom
- You will need to choose your bathroom suite, shower, taps and tiles etc.
- Do you want to rearrange the bathroom layout?
- How much tiling do you want?
- How will the builder seal the joint between the bath and the wall e.g. silicone sealant or flexible trim?
- Does any of the drainage/wastepipes need altering?
- Will waste pipes be boxed in?
- If there is any exposed pipework, to say a shower, will it be in chrome?
- Are they members of the Competent Persons Scheme for plumbing works?
- Are the firm members of the British Wood Preserving and Damp Proofing Association?
- Get a full report on the condition of any timber that needs treatment which specifies what the extent of the work will be.
- What guarantees will they give you on completion?
- Will you have to move out temporarily?
Getting the Work Started
When you are ready to start the work contact the builder and make sure he can still do the work at the agreed/estimated cost.
- Agree start and completion dates.
- Make sure that you have a phone number that they can always be contacted on.
- This is particularly useful if for example you notice something wrong that can’t wait until they come back the following day.
- Agree how they can have access in to your home and that they will turn up each day and see the job through without breaking off for other work
- Agree how the works will be done as you may be without a full bathroom or kitchen for some days. Make sure they know that they have to leave you with the basics until they have finished.
- Agree that they can use your electricity for their power tools, your kettle and your toilet.
- Agree how they should lock up if you are out when they want to finish work at the end of the day.
- Make sure they will leave everything safe at the end of each day.
- Will they put down dustsheets?
- Make sure that you or your family do not mess with the work or their tools when they are away.
- It is usually beneficial to discuss the works with your neighbours if you will disturb or affect their home in any way e.g. if you need access on to their land or there will be some noise which may affect them.
Paying for the Work
Don’t pay in advance and try to avoid paying deposits as it may be difficult to get the builders back to rectify any problems or complete the works once they have been paid. On larger projects the builder may want stage payments. These should be prearranged and documented in detail on the quote.
Additional works may be necessary once the works have started. These would be works that neither you nor your contractor could have reasonably anticipated when you were asking for quotes. These may include, for instance, finding out that you need to provide a lintel over a window when the old window has been removed.
If additional works are necessary then you must agree exactly what works are needed, agree the additional costs and get a written quote for them.
- You should check that they have done all the work that they said they would on the quote. If not, are they going to reduce the final cost or do they have to do the outstanding work?
- They should leave your home clean and tidy and remove all rubbish and unused materials.
- Make sure you are happy with the quality of the work and that they have given you all the relevant certificates, guarantees, operating instructions etc.
- Get a full written final invoice for the work with VAT number if applicable.
Who else should I contact?
Mortgage provider/Joint owners of the property
If you do not own your property outright you should inform all other parties who have an interest in the property of any significant structural work you intend carrying out, before the work starts.
If the work you carry out to your property means its value is likely to increase this may have an effect on your insurance premiums. You should check your existing policy carefully before starting any work to see if it covers such things as accidental damage or if there are likely to be any clauses relating to work being carried out that is likely to affect the security of the property i.e. whilst scaffolding is in situ.
You should advise your provider of any proposed works and agree any changes to the terms and conditions of your policy before carrying out the work. If you do not do so it may invalidate any future claims.
Planning and Building Control
Planning Permission may be needed for a range of works to your property and the surrounding land, not just the more obvious work such as large extensions and loft conversions. For example, Planning Permission may be needed for certain boundary walls and fences, hard standing, patios and decking or even to install a satellite dish. There are more stringent rules if you live in a conservation area or a listed building.
More guidance can be found on the Interactive House and Terrace on the Planning Portal website or by contacting the Planning Service.
Building Regulation approval is different from planning permission but is needed for most building work, including: new buildings, extensions, loft or basement conversions, rewiring and alterations to electrical wiring and replacement windows.
Applications for Building Regulations approval are dealt with by Building Control Services.