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    Choosing a builder

    Choosing a builder

    Having an extension built on your house can be one of the most exciting projects you may ever take on. But you’ve taken the plunge, had plans drawn up and planning permission has been given. Now is the daunting task of finding a builder. Don’t be put off by all the publicity about cowboy builders. It wouldn’t be news if all builders were the same. The large majority of builders are reputable and will do a good job on your building work.

    If you have used a good architect to produce your plans, ask him for recommendations. Often they will work with particular builders who they know they can trust. Talk to your friends and friends-of-friends. Someone will know of a person who has had an extension. Ask their opinion on the builder they used. If it was good then approach the builder for a quote.

    Federation of Master Builders

    To belong to the Federation of Master Builders requires a builder prove that they offer suitably high standards of working practice and business methods and is thus widely accepted as a hallmark of quality. If a builder indicates that he is a member of the FMB, check him out. Contact the FMB and they will let you know whether or not his membership is up-to-date. They also have aFind a Builder service on their website. However, if you have good recommendation about a particular builder in your area, do not be put off if they are not members of the FMB.


    It is also worth checking whether any chosen builder is registered with the NHBC (National House Building Council). They are a world leader in providing warranty and insurance cover for house builders. They register builders who must meet certain requirements. They also provide 10 year guarantees on new houses and converted or extended homes.

    Choosing a Builder

    Quotations and Contracts

    Always aim to get at least three quotations for your building work. These should be detailed, describing all stages of the project. Ask for details of previous work and go and have a look. If you can speak to the home owners to find out if the building work was acceptable. Once you have decided on a builder draw up a written contract, detailing all the aspects of the project and also an agreed timetable. Any changes to this timetable or contract details should be discussed and agreed in writing before any work on the changes commences. This can avoid arguments afterwards when differences of opinion occur. Again, the FMB can provide legal contracts for you to sign along with your builder. These cost £15 but are well worth this small amount.

    Insurance Backed Guarantee

    Some builders guarantee their work for a certain number of years. This is fine, but if they go bust in the mean time then their insurance is not worth anything. Insurance backed guarantees remove some of this risk. As long as you sign up for this type of guarantee whilst the builder is still trading, then any problems should be solved – the cost being covered by the insurance backing.

    Builders Tools


    Most reputable builders will not ask for payment up-front. Often the first payment is made at DPC (Damp proof course) level, the second payment at plate level (before the roof is added) and the final payment upon completion. This is not always the case. Discuss matters with your builder and ensure that both parties are aware and agreed with when payments are to be made and how much. Avoid builders who say that they will do the job “cash-in-hand” without VAT. This could be asking for trouble if anything goes wrong.


    If problems occur during construction speak to the builder immediately. You will then be able to discuss the problem and reach a solution. If left, it may be too late to do anything about the problem and animosity may start between you and your builder.


    There is no hard and fast rule when choosing a builder, but if you use personal recommendation and ask for references, then you should, hopefully, avoid using a cowboy builder.

    Original article by:

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    Design your own extension

    Now you can design your own extension.

    Download Sketchup.

    SketchUp is 3D modeling software that’s easy to learn and incredibly fun to use. Download SketchUp today for free and get started drawing in 3D.

    Download link:

    There are literally hundreds of videos on ‘youtube’ that can help you to use Sketchup.

    I drew this image using sketchup and then rendered it using ‘Kerkythea’ another free bit of software.

    Loft conversion with en suite in Wilmslow

    Loft Conversion in Wilmslow

    This was the finished job.

    Loft conversion with en suite in Wilmslow

    New bath and towel radiator

    Bath, Towel Radiator and Shower

    New Shower, Bath and Towel Radiator in Wetroom

    Window in Loft Bedroom

    New Gable Window – Loft Conversion

    Glass door and fitted wardrobes

    Door and fitted wardrobes

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    FMB Design Tips


    26 February 2016 15:53

    Candle lit roomYou don’t have to move houses to make a new home and the new year is a perfect time to plan your interior transformation. Here’s the Abode top design tips for 2016.


    Given that house prices are continuing to climb, increasing numbers of people are opting to invest in refurbishing their current home rather than moving house. One of the big benefits of this is it gives you a chance to really pursue what you want. If you’re staying for the longer term, don’t obsess over keeping the place neutral in order to flip your property in the future. Have a real think about how your interior spaces can reflect your personality – while a 1920s speakeasy living room may not be everyone’s cup of tea, if it’s your style, go for it.


    Pinterest is laden with top quality designers who can inspire you (including one rather excellent account you can find here) and you can use it to create a concept board. Instagram, on the other hand, can give you more ‘real’ interiors, making it easier to imagine how ideas work in practice. Find some designers or bloggers you love and follow them religiously.


    Do you have a spare corner that looks a little bare? Wondering what to do with that extra bit of shelf space? It’s time to turn your home into a mini-Kew gardens. Aside from the cliché that it’s good to learn to look after something, having plants in your house has been proven to improve concentration and happiness.


    It’s 2016, and you need to ditch the ceiling lights. Candles and lamps create a more pleasant, softer ambiance rather than bathing your home in an excess of candescence.

    Fire place in living room


    This may stray into typical New Year’s advice territory, but it’s time you ditched some of the unnecessary knick knacks and ornaments. The Abode balks at recycling the adage ‘a cluttered room is a cluttered mind’, but it remains a great advocate of internal order to soothe the soul. Reducing your junk content should also make finding your keys first thing in the morning that bit easier.


    Benjamin Franklin had it right: ‘a place for everything and everything in its place.’ Although interior design was not one of his many occupations, his philosophy on order is a must for any home. Acquiring some good quality storage is an easy way to really improve the quality of your life. Why not hire a carpenter to install some bespoke built in wardrobes or shelving units? You’ll be amazing at how much better you feel once you have the ability to stash stuff out the way.


    As the real centre piece to your house, it pays to invest in a high quality dinner table. You’ll feel obliged to skip the TV dinners and compelled to start cooking proper meals (therefore helping realise two different New Year’s resolutions.) Plus, you get to impress your friends as a dinner party host par excellence.


    Heated floors have been all the rage for a while now but a big innovation that is starting to prove popular is heated walls. It’s not applicable to all homes and not all builders with have the tools to do it, but if you can pull it off, it’s a big game changer.


    Time to stock-up! You can (almost) never have too many.


    Try not to think of your internal spaces as being fixed in their appearance – take inspiration from nature and the seasons. In the winter, you want a decidedly cosy aesthetic, with throws and warm lights galore. Summer time lends itself to a more airy, sparse feel. Picking out the colours of the season is an even better way of keeping your home refreshed and interesting.

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    Extension Beginners Guide

    Extension Beginners Guide

    2015-11-23 15.20.00 (2)

    Recent figures from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) show that while the housing stock is growing there are fewer houses being bought and sold. People therefore are staying in their homes longer and, according to the RICS, they are moving on average every 14-and-a-half years far less frequently than was the case only a few years ago.

    All of this means that more people are extending. In fact it is said that for every person who self-builds there are 15 that add extensions to their homes.

    The reasons for all this are easy to see. It often makes more economic sense and is a better use of space. It means we can stay in the same neighbourhood if we like it and that the children can remain at the same school.

    An overwhelming advantage of extending and not moving is the issue of stamp duty. It does not take a genius to work out that with stamp duty on the most expensive houses running at four per cent, by the time you have calculated the agents fees for selling your house and the stamp duty on the one you are thinking of buying, you might well find you could build yourself quite a decent extension for the same price.

    The trick is to extend and to come out well in the investment stakes, which means you have to put a lot of thought into even the smallest extension. For example, if you merely wish to extend the kitchen at the rear of your 1930s semi, should it be single storey or two? If it is the latter, what will go above it?

    There are also practical issues to consider that are not directly concerned with the construction process. Access is a good example. If you add to your accommodation, will it mean more cars will need to be parked on the drive? If you have no drive then the lack of off-street parking might be a reason for the refusal of planning permission. Similarly, if your house is in a terrace do you have rear access for the unloading of building materials or if not, will you have to bring everything from beams to blocks, and girders to guttering through the house?

    Other important aspects to consider before you get to the stage of getting your plans drawn are matters like soil conditions on the site, services, surrounding trees, any history of flooding and rights of way. Even then it might be wise to pop into your local planning office to find out informally what might be permitted especially if you are planning anything out of the ordinary. It is always wise to research the local planning policies so that you will be aware from the start that an uphill struggle awaits you if you plan anything too exotic in the area where your house is situated.

    In some instances it might be wise to ask your adviser to write to the local planners after any meeting you might have had with them confirming what was agreed. Providing it is written tactfully this should help pave the way and in a sense nail them to the mast, particularly if they show any signs of backtracking at a later stage of the process.

    Another wise move is to get to know someone who has done a similar extension. They might have a builder or particular tradesman to recommend (or not recommend) but either way they will be full of useful tips on how long to allow for different tasks and many other matters.

    Other important issues concern the person you will choose to design your extension, how much it will cost, and how much of the design (and the labouring) can you do yourself? Just as crucial is the style and feel of the extension you require. Are you really sure in your own mind that you know what this is? All of these issues plus many others are tackled below.

    Planning and Building Regulations

    Planning consent may or may not be required for your proposed extension. Under the Permitted Development Rights system a large number of home extensions can be built without the requirement of planning permission.

    (MORE: Our Guide to Permitted Development Allowances)

    You should bear in mind that if your house is in a Conservation Area or a National Park, the amount of work one can do under PD is usually reduced.

    Your local authority has the power to remove Permitted Development Rights if it feels the character of the area wll be threatened by any new work.

    However, if in any doubt, you should check with your local authority planning department.

    Building Control

    Regardless of whether your new extension does or does not require planning permission, it will need Building Regulations Approval. Building regulations are rules approved by Parliament laid down to ensure the mimimum design and construction standards are achieved. These cover all manner of subjects such as fire and other forms of safety, insulation, the drainage system, and access.

    Building control officers do not supervise work on your behalf. Their role is to ensure the minimum standards of the building regulations have been adhered to. Most self-builders and extenders send what is called a Full Plan Submission to their local authority. In this case you pay a fee and the building inspector visits the site at the various stages of the build and inspects the work as it proceeds.

    The alternative is to submit a Building Notice. This is a statement in which you inform the council that you will be complying with the regulations in building your extension and gives the building control department 48 hours notice of your intention to start the work. As with the Full Plan Submission method, surveyors will come and inspect the work at various stages and will advise you of any problems. However, there is an element of risk with this method because you do not have the benefit of an approved plan to work to and the building control surveyor may only know after you have contravened a regulation requirement. It could therefore prove to be an inadvisable and expensive way to build if problems are discovered that have to be rectified.


    An alternative to the usual warranties available for building work which can also be applied to extensions, loft conversions etc, is the MasterBond warranty from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), which has similar characteristics to the NHBC and Zurich registered builder schemes. MasterBond will cover works carried out by MasterBond Warranted Builders (note that not all FMB members are registered as Warranted Builders) against defects due to faulty workmanship or materials for two years from completion, (except for electro-mechanical items which are covered for one year only) and against structural defects for a further eight years. FMB require the building work to be notified to building control, who will inspect the work at stages dependent on the type of project.

    The benefit of MasterBond passes automatically to new owners and the cost is 1.5% of the contract value, including VAT. MasterBond is subject to exclusion clauses and limitations, satisfactory for extensions, loft conversions and similar projects, but the financial limits of the policy may not be acceptable to lenders on new homes. Structural warranties for extensions are also available from

    Many people avoid using architects for smaller projects because of the RIBA scale of fees, which starts at around ten per cent. However on projects of less than £20,000 most architects prefer to charge by time, so if you choose an architect it is probably preferable to negotiate a fixed price if your extension is relatively small-scale and not a complete remodelling of your house.

    Many extensions or alterations to period or listed properties may benefit from the expertise of an architect. However if your extension is small scale and does not involve a great deal of design input many RIBA architects would probably say you would be better off with an architectural technologist. A technologist may have studied as an architect but not completed all the examinations. To be able to call yourself an Architect you have to pass the RIBA Part111 Professional Practice Examination, which is the final stage of training. The title Architect is protected by law.

    Like builders, house designers do not have to be registered. When seeking a house designer you may find some you talk to have an engineering background and have worked as draughtsmen for local authorities or engineering concerns. Others may be members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or theChartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) or the Association of Building Engineers (ABE) formerly the incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors. They could alternatively have a practical background and be a member of the Chartered Institute of Building (IOB) or the Institution of Structural Engineers (ISE).

    Most of these bodies require full members to have relevant academic and technical qualifications. Whichever designer you choose, ensure that they carry sufficient professional indemnity insurance.

    Listed Buildings

    All alterations to listed buildings, including internal ones, require consent and it is a criminal offence to alter a listed building without this consent. With a listed building the planners will always regard the existing property as more important than what you are proposing to add to it. Any extension will therefore have to respect the flavour, appearance and historic material used in the construction of the original house.

    Depending on the size of the extension you propose, you might need planning permission as well as listed building consent to make your alterations.

    The good news is that there is no VAT on approved material alterations to listed buildings. However the work must be carried out by a VAT-registered contractor and zero rated.

    Local Authority Grants

    Unless your house is in an exceedingly poor state or is listed Grade I or Grade II*, or you are disabled, you are likely to have great difficulty in obtaining a grant for your work.

    The philosophy behind house renovation grants was to assist people on low incomes to bring what were known as unfit properties up to modern standards. Generally the grant awarded was 50 per cent of the cost of the work up to a maximum of £20,000. However over the past 18 months these have been phased out over most of the country and generally the only local authority grants available are historic building grants. In the case of Grade I and Grade II* properties these are awarded by English Heritage.

    You are also unlikely to succeed if the house is less than 10 years old or you just want to increase your living space for example with a kitchen or lounge extension.

    If your house is a period property, whether it is listed or not, some local authorities will give historic building grants. But even then there are many conditions. The first of these is that they are generally given for improvements to the historic fabric and not extensions, so unless your extension is needed to bring the property up to fitness standard i.e. it lacks the basic amenities of an indoor bathroom or toilet, you are unlikely to be successful. When historic building grants are awarded again they are entirely discretionary most local authorities will only award up to a maximum of around 25 per cent of the cost of the work

    The only good news is that VAT registered contractors can zero rate invoices for material alterations that need listed building consent.

    Updating the Access

    Access problems can be a nightmare if you are extending. The issue usually raises its head in towns or on bends in the highway.

    The scenario is that more bedrooms mean more bodies and so probably more cars. If your house is in a town and there is a shortage of off-street parking it might be a requirement that you provide parking space on your land.

    If this worries you, remember that you do not need planning permission to provide a new access off an unclassified (i.e. lower graded than a B) road. Fortunately an awful lot of suburban roads come into that category.


    Your designer will charge fees according to the work involved, so an accurate quotation of the fee would be a very useful thing to have before you give the go-ahead for plans to be prepared. It is wise to check what the fee includes and who will pay the local authority application fees. Also, ask if any provision has been made should structural calculations be required.

    Unless it is a short contract, stage payments will be on a monthly basis. Try not to make any payments upfront. If it is necessary to purchase an expensive item perhaps a bathroom suite some months in advance of its installation, you should make sure it is in your name and not that of the builder, just in case he should go out of business. If necessary you should go to the place where it is stored and make sure the ownership is transferred to yourself.


    Most architects will advise you to draw up a contract. Many favour the new JCT Home Owner Contract, available through RIBA bookshops ( This contract has a built-in retention clause designed to act as an incentive to the builder, plus a damage clause that enables the direct cost of any delays to be deducted from the final contract value. It should also cover the procedure to be taken should your builder go out of business in the course of building the extension.

    Extending Your Central Heating

    Before you start work you should reassess your heating requirements and check if your existing system is large enough to cope with the extra rooms you intend adding. If your exisiting boiler does not have the capacity it might be more economic to add a second system rather than replacing the boiler.

    You may well pay less in the long term by opting for a separate electrical system rather than having to fork out a large lump sum for a new boiler, which may be only part way through its useful life. This may well be slightly more expensive in the short term but bearing in mind the payback period on a piece of expensive capital equipment like a boiler it may pay you to proceed in this way, especially if you feel you may not stay in the house forever. Not all electrical systems find favour with people extending their homes, however, as some have unsightly radiators. The alternative is electric underfloor heating.

    If you are remodelling the entire house or a large section of it try to have all of the pipework and any other first fix work completed before starting on the plastering to avoid having to start hacking plaster off again.

    Extending Your Electrics

    If you are adding a kitchen to your house you are likely to have to add a circuit that goes directly from the distribution board. For any other work, unless it is very extensive, it is usually possible to extend the existing ring circuit. Ring circuits are restricted to 100m² but any number of sockets can be provided on this system. An extension will give you the opportunity to add to your existing power points. Many people in this position take the opportunity to replace single socket outlets with double ones and install outside lighting.

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    Top tips on how to spot a cowboy builder

    cowboy builder pontypridd-llantisant-observer-776661405

    Top tips on how to spot a cowboy builder

    When you employ a builder, it’s sometimes very hard to tell at first if they are trustworthy and reliable.

    But there are some tell-tale signs which can help you spot the difference between a cowboy builder and the genuine thing.

    Be very careful about taking on a builder who:

    • offers very cheap quotes or estimates – this could mean they are a cowboy, or could not be experienced enough to give accurate figures
    • Courtney Builders will provide you with a realistic competitive quote for your project.
    • is unwilling to put a quote or estimate in writing – this could mean they don’t intend to stick to it
    • All the work Courtney Builders undertakes is detailed in a clear comprehensive document.
    • is unwilling to offer references
    • Courtney Builders are happy to provide you with previous customers details.
    • is too keen to start the job straight away – cowboy builders often do lots of work in one area before moving out of the area altogether. They often leave very poor or unfinished work behind and are impossible to track down
    • We are kept very busy and sometimes are unable to start new work for 2 to 3 months. 
    • is unwilling to offer you details about their business – for example an address or landline number
    • All Courtney Builders details are available to view on their website and many of the social media sites.
    • claims to be in a trade association when they are not – you should always check if the builder does belong to the trade association. If they don’t, it means they’re dishonest and probably committing a criminal offence
    • Courtney Builders have been a member of the Federation of Master Builders since 2008.
    • claims to work for a company with a good reputation when they don’t – check they work for who they say they do. If they don’t, this means they’re dishonest and you’d be better off not using them
    • Courtney Builders carry out their own work.
    • doesn’t offer you a contract, or doesn’t sign the one you give them
    • Courtney Builders provide a comprehensive detailed breakdown of any project and can offer additional customer protection with the Federation of Master Builders.
    • asks for money up front -a reliable builder won’t ask you to do this, not even if they need materials. If they run a business, they should have enough money to cover these costs themselves and only ask for payment once they’ve completed the job, or done a reasonable amount of work
    • Courtney Builders provide a detailed payment schedule designed to look after both parties and are very flexible in terms of accommodating certain requests. 
    • gives a detailed quote and schedule of work but then not follow it
    • We at Courtney Builders pride ourselves on being Professional, competent and honest.
    • doesn’t charge VAT when they should – if they are a small or new trader, they may not need to register or pay VAT. It depends on how much work they do in a year. If they should be registered, they could be avoiding paying it, to save money and charge less than others. This is dishonest and against the law
    • Courtney Builders are registered for Vat.
    • only accepts cash -if a builder only offers to accept a cash payment, they could be acting dishonestly by saving on paying out for VAT
    • Any builders working for cash will not guarantee their work!

    Original article adapted from The Citizens Advice website.

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    Garage Conversion – Key Considerations


    Garage Conversions – Key Considerations

    Converting a garage  doesn’t always need planning permission as it often falls under ‘permitted development’. But it’s important to check permitted development rights still apply before starting any work, even if just for your client’s sake.

    Converting a garage will always need a Building Regulation application. A Building Notice application where detailed plans aren’t needed will usually do, although a Full Plans application with a fully detailed specification will give you and your customer more security about what work needs to be carried out before you commence on site.

    Here are seven key considerations for a good job.

    You must ensure the foundations are strong enough to carry any additional masonry loads. A new inner skin on the external wall or filling in the garage door with brick & block and a window will all add extra weight. Check the condition and suitability of the existing foundation or floor when the door infill area is excavated. If there isn’t a foundation below the existing garage door you cold carry the new wall off a suitable lintel – talk to your building control surveyor.

    Check the existing walls for stability and make sure there aren’t any defects. If satisfactory, then your building control surveyor is likely to consider it suitable for structural purposes. If it’s single skin with piers and the piers are  being removed, the wall will be weakened and should be tied to a new inner leaf using remedial wall ties.

    If you’re dealing with a wall of single leaf construction, you must treat to make it weatherproof. Treatment options include tanking the wall using a vapour permeable membrane linked to a damp proof course or membrane at floor level, or providing a lightweight blockwork inner leaf with insulation in the new cavity. In all wall types, care must be taken to ensure the floor membrane laps with the DPC in the existing walls.

    You must insulate the walls, roof and floor to habitable standards, your building control surveyor or designer will help you choose the right insulation. Remember that you may need to add or increase ventilation to the roof voids. Where lining the garage with an independent stud partition, the insulation should be fitted tightly between the studs – using insulated plasterboard is best to avoid cold bridging.

    Windows must have openable vents of an area equal to 1/20th of the floor area of the room. You also need 5,000mm2 of trickle vents to provide background ventilation. And if the new room can only be accessed via another room, a window with a clear opening of 450 x 733mm is a must for means of escape.

    Any party wall between the garage and an adjoining property will need to be insulated to stop sound transmission. Check the existing wall construction – anything less than 200mm of dense blockwork will usually need further work, which may include additional masonry or specialist independent acoustic partitions – your building control surveyor will be able to advise you further.

    The requirements of Part P- Electrical safety in dwellings will apply to the new conversion, so ensure any installations are compliant and certified to BS 7671.

    Original Article from: LABC Article

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    New Website Launch

    Latest News: New Website Launch

    We are pleased to announce the launch of our new look, new feel website.

    The new responsive theme should make this website viewable on all devices.

    For a short while some legacy pages from the old website will still appear.

    In the meantime we’ll carry on building, both the website and the extension we are currently involved with in Bramhall.

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