How to choose the right builder for your home extension?

Extensions

How to choose the right builder for your home extension?

If you love your home but feel like you need more space, building an extension can be the perfect alternative to the stresses of moving house. As well as increasing your living space, the right extension can also add significant value to your home.

Given the scale and costs of an extension project, finding the right extension specialist is key to ensuring a successful build. We spoke to some of the experienced tradesmen/helpers to find out the key things you should know in order to make the right choice:

  • Find out if they’ve done similar extensions to yours
  • Make sure you are comfortable with them
  • Look out for experience as much as accreditations
  • Get like-for-like quotes and make sure everything is included
  • Check their familiarity with planning permission and local regulations
  • Agree what aftercare will happen after the build

Keeping these points in mind can help you focus on what to look for when you’re meeting with tradesmen and getting quotes for the work. Carry on reading for more details on how to go about finding the right tradesman/helper for your job.

home extension

Find out if they’ve done similar extensions to yours

Extensions are far from a simple, off-the-peg purchase. Extensions come in all shapes and sizes, and are as different as the homes they are added to, whether you’re adding a new room such as an orangery, creating a large kitchen-diner, or even a two-storey extension that adds both downstairs living space and another bedroom upstairs.

When looking for a tradesman/helper for your extension project, it’s sensible to speak to ones who have performed similar builds to the one you have planned. As well as seeing previous examples of their work that they can show you as part of their portfolio.

Make sure you are comfortable with them

As well as finding out if they are familiar with your kind of job, you should simply assess how comfortable you feel with the potential tradesmen/helpers. You can do that from your first contact with them; are they polite in their message reply, do they arrive for meetings at the scheduled time, do they ask lots of questions about the project?

Extensions aren’t built in a day, and the entire process can last for several months – being able to maintain good communication throughout the build is essential. You’re not looking to become best friends with them, but you should be able to have a professional relationship – you must feel comfortable speaking openly about any concerns that may arise, and dealing with any issues.

Donnacha said:

“The first thing I’d expect someone to ask about is experience, how long you have worked, what jobs you have done that are the same. But you also want to know what they are like. You need to be able to talk to them, get on with on them.”

Donnacha regularly takes on extension projects he said:

“Getting on with a tradesman/helper is really important for a homeowner. If you’re going to be in their home for weeks at a time, you have to get on with them. All it takes is one miscommunication for things to turn sour, and the whole job can be an issue. If you can sit down together and have a proper chat, then everything will go more smoothly.”

If you do feel comfortable, you can start to consider how qualified they are for the project.

Look out for experience as much as accreditations

As well as seeing previous work from builders, there are other things you can do to assess their experience. On Helpers.ie, you can read honest feedback on the jobs they have undertaken for homeowners, as well as seeing pictures of the jobs they have taken on. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions as well, about any qualifications they may have, their length of time in the business, or how they’ll approach your own particular job. Be wary of tradesman who seem to overpromise. As Donnacha says:

“I’d be wary of anyone who tells you that the job will be done in a suspiciously short amount of time, or will happen exactly as planned with no hitches. I’ve been doing this for a while, and I know that every big job has issues come up, and delays can be unavoidable. All you can promise is that you will be reliable and thorough, and work to overcome any issues.”

You can also find out if the tradesman is a member of any trade associations or accreditation schemes. Builders who work on extensions may belong to a variety of organisations.

Membership of a body such as this is a good indication that a tradesman/helper is competent and working up to certain standards, however, there are many experienced tradesmen/helpers who do not belong to these bodies – there is no obligation to be signed up, unlike membership of the RGI, a legal requirement for tradesmen/helpers who work with gas in the home. Use your own judgement to assess a tradesman’s/helper’s experience, and see accreditation as a healthy recommendation or extra seal of approval. Donnacha says:

“People trust accreditations because they show that a tradesman/helper has made an effort to present themselves well and show off their quality. On bigger jobs like extensions, it does make sense to check for these, because you want every reassurance you can get.”

Paul added:

“There are some membership bodies which offer practical benefits to homeowners who hire their tradesmen/helpers, such as offering an insurance-backed guarantee, so some people like the peace of mind that brings. Others are good for tradesman/helper when it comes to things like advertising their business or finding leads, so are less important for homeowners. If I was a homeowner looking for a tradesmen/helpers, it’s the experience I’d look for over any particular memberships.”

Get like-for-like quotes and make sure everything is included

The detail and scope of their quotation can tell you a lot about their process. It’s important to make sure that all the quotations contain the same elements – do they include materials and labour, as well as any subcontracting the tradesman may do, and VAT?

The only way to accurately compare quotations is if you are comparing like-for-like.

Getting multiple quotations can help you spot any that seem unreasonably low – if this is the case, it could be the sign of a tradesman/helper who wants to win the job, but will make up the true value by adding on extra costs during the course of the build. Similarly, a short “back of an envelope” quote won’t tell you enough to make a good judgement – it should be complete and thorough.

While the build is in process, you may find that you want to make changes that go beyond the remit of the work laid out in the quotation. Find out how the tradesman/helper might deal with this if it occurs. Donnacha said:

“It’s fairly common place for things to crop up that don’t originally appear in the quotation. People have brainwaves about something extra they want, or something they want changing. Because I’m experienced, I have a long list of extras that I commonly see, so I can be straightforward about any additional charges that will be added on. It helps both parties to be upfront and open about costs.”

Check their familiarity with planning permission and building regulations

Many houses will have permitted development rights when it comes to extensions, meaning that you will not need to apply for planning permission when going ahead with the build. There are exceptions to this however, mostly related to the size of the extension in relation to the existing house and your remaining land, and how close it comes to your property boundaries. Additionally, if your home is within a location such as a conservation area, or is a listed property, you may have to obtain planning permission before your work can go ahead.

Making sure that any tradesman/helper you hire is familiar with planning laws, as well as building regulations and their requirements, can help jobs go a lot more smoothly. Experienced builders will be knowledgeable about all the latest requirements and how they apply to your project, and how they will be dealt with by the planning departments of local county council authorities – they may even know planning officers to ask for advice. Beware of any tradesman/helper who is casual about the need for planning permission or building control inspections – breaching regulations can lead to costly fines, and being forced to undo any work.

There are two separate sets of requirements your build may have to abide by – planning permission and building regulations. Planning permission, dealt with by a local authority’s planning office, deals with the development of buildings and its impact on the wider community, for example, how an extension effects the street scene, or if an office block can be converted into flats. Building regulations, dealt with by a building control department, sets standards for the design and build quality of any development, ensuring the health and safety of those who will use the building, as well as providing standards on energy efficiency and requirements like disabled access.

Regardless of whether or not you need planning permission, you will need Building Control to sign off the work as it happens, with inspectors coming to monitor the progress of the build and ensure it is being done in line with legal regulations. Donnacha emphasised the importance of hiring someone familiar how the process works.

“I’m very familiar with local planning offices and all the Building Control staff. When they come on site, they say hello and shake my hand, because they know I do a good job. The whole process is easier with that experience.”

Some homeowners hire a tradesman/helper for their project before they have plans in place and have established whether or not they need planning permission. Many tradesmen/helpers can help put clients in touch with architects and structural engineers who can create the plans necessary for submission. Others homeowners will have their plans in place before hiring a builder to fulfill them. Often, builders will want to see plans and drawings before being able to offer an estimate.

Jimmy said:

“I prefer to come in when the plans are already in place – I can look at the drawings, see what needs to be done, and get to work as soon as possible. But I’m happy to be hired beforehand as well. I know good architects and people I can suggest for work, just like I know good electricians, so we can help the project get off the ground from the very beginning.”

Agree what aftercare will happen after the build

With a big project like an extension, there is a high chance that there will be complications along the way. These issues may not manifest themselves until after the work is notionally complete, and the tradesman/helper has moved on to other jobs. That being so, it is sensible to hire a tradesman/helper who is happy to return to the build to follow-up on their work and make right anything that may have happened since the work finished.

Some builders will put something to this effect in their initial contracts with the homeowners, while others will offer a more informal arrangement.

Jimmy said:

“I like to put it in the contract with them, just to give them peace of mind. I will generally come back after one month, to make sure everything is as it should be, then sometimes after six months as well to check in. Usually I can sort out small issues without payment, though it depends on what happens.”

See if any tradesman/helper you are considering hiring is willing to offer an option like this. 

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