Gary's extension to his own home

What does the builder need to know?

The Builder

As homeowners, we hire builders for a job, invite them into our inner sanctuary and stand by as they demolish half the house then pray that something wonderful emerges from the ashes. But did you ever wonder what the builder thinks when he takes on a job? We spoke to Gary Allen, a builder based in Portsmouth, Hampshire, to get his thoughts.

Tell us about your job

Builders work hard and juggle a lot of balls. I run my own business, so I’m the liaison point with the client and I’m managing my team and often several contractors. I spend a lot of time on site, project managing the job and generally overseeing the construction or solving a problem. I’m regularly speaking with suppliers, sub-contractors, or the architect or structural engineer. Plus I’m often visiting people to assess new projects, and writing quotes.

What’s the best bit?

Open-plan living Building something is a very rewarding experience. I’m creating something that will improve someone’s home and their life and that’s very satisfying.

What’s important for a good builder/client relationship?

Mutual respect and communication. Communication is absolutely key from the get-go. It’s always a good idea for the client to be around at the beginning of the project if possible, or to check in for a chat once a day. The early days of a build are when some big changes are made so it’s useful for the client to be aware of what’s happening. Keep talking throughout the project. A coffee and a quick chat can ensure all parties are on the same page and can save time and money because we’ve had that discussion. Sometimes the simplest comment from a client can change how we do something that day. People get more involved as the build goes on and they can see the work coming together. If someone tells us they’ve changed their mind about something and we can accommodate it, then that was a conversation worth having.

What about people asking questions?

Victorian terrace transformation A good builder won’t mind people asking as many questions as they want to, even before they are hired. Most people know very little about the building process, so they’re bound to ask why we’re doing something or how long it will take for this or that to be done. The more people understand at each stage of the build the happier they are, and it helps build trust and creates clarity on both sides.

Talk to us about builders’ quotes

appointing a builder or contractor There’s a difference between a rough estimate and a written quote, which should be a detailed breakdown of what’s included and takes time to produce. I could give you a hundred reasons why builders’ quotes will vary, but in essence, everyone has different approaches to pricing. So when you’re comparing quotes, always check what’s included. From a personal perspective, I’m not trying to be the cheapest. My reputation rests on the high standard of my work and reflects the value I place on excellent working practices and the good relationships I have with my clients.

What about project timescales?

For most projects, I can estimate a rough time scale based on my experience, similar jobs I’ve completed and the current availability of materials etc. But it’s impossible to say exactly how long a build will take because there are bound to be some unknowns and some mitigating factors. Most builders will include some contingency into their time scale forecasts.

Do you give advice to the people you’re building for?

I try not to overly influence people, but of course, depending on the build, I may have seen dozens of similar scenarios. So if I’m asked for advice then I want to help people make the right choice. At the end of the day, I don’t want anyone to make a mistake and regret a decision. People are often thinking about what they need right now, but I’m all for future-proofing your home if possible. That doesn’t mean buying the most expensive kitchen, but it might mean fitting high-performance glass or considering underfloor heating. If people think beyond how they live now, to what they might want in ten years, it can affect the choices they make; whether they spend a little more or where they want their money to go.

Any tips for homeowners starting a build?

The builder's persepctive Plan ahead. The best builders are in high demand, so you may have to wait for them to be available. Be prepared. If it’s a major piece of work like an extension, then parts of your house will be upside down for a while. There could be a time without a proper kitchen when you’ll be using another room to create makeshift meals, and you might not have a washing machine. The more thought and preparation you do in advance the better. And of course, it’s going to get messy. There will be dust everywhere. There will be clutter – not least as you’ve probably packed up a couple of rooms into boxes which are now stacked in another part of the house. Living in a house when half of it is a building site can test everyone’s patience, and you’ll need to draw on your inner reserves. But there isn’t a single client who doesn’t think it’s worth it in the end. Also remember to let your insurer know that you are having work done, otherwise your home may not be covered for the duration of the build.

How do you find working with an architect/interpreting their designs?

your architect as principal designer It depends on the architect, but those I work with most are terrific at their job and communicate well. We will have some thorough conversations about executing the designs, but the best architect’s plans are like a detailed map and cover everything I need to know.

Do you ever make changes to how the architect designed something?

Sometimes I might make a minor change, such as if the client has asked for a different-sized window or wants to change where the kitchen island is placed by a few millimetres. Those kinds of things are won’t affect planning permission or interfere with the overall design and I can use my judgement. If a problem arises during the build that I can’t work around, then my first call is to the architect. It might be something serious that needs a different approach and a redesign. It might even need the expertise of a structural engineer to find a solution. You want the right person who understands the situation and who can work out the best way forward. You can contact Gary at: gary@piercarpentry.co.uk The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, does not constitute professional advice and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any company or organisation. Readers should always seek professional advice before undertaking any action based on the information contained in this article. The author makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, or suitability of the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in the article for any purpose. 

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