By Jenny White

Seven things to do before beginning a building project

Your building work is about to start – but are you fully prepared? We outline seven ways to ensure it all runs smoothly.

Making improvements to your home can be exciting – but it can also be stressful, throwing up unexpected hurdles and costs. From planning permission to insurance, and from disgruntled neighbours to unreliable contractors, there are a lot of potential headaches.

The good news is there are steps you can take to improve your chances of having your building project completed in time and on budget. Here are seven tips from the experts.

1. Plan your layout thoroughly

When you start work with your chosen architect, think hard about how the new changes will improve your home. Ben Weber, managing director of window and door fabricator Quickslide, says: “It’s important to consider varying designs, colours and styles until you find what works for you. Draw the layout of your home to visualise the final product; this will allow you to consider every detail, from how much natural light there will be to how many people will be able to comfortably fit in your space.

“Once you’re happy with your final floor plans, begin adding in ideas for the textures and colour schemes that you’re planning to incorporate into your home before contacting potential contractors to begin the first steps of the build.”

2. Check if you need planning permission

“Improving your home can sometimes require planning permission, so always make sure you acquire this if needed,” says Jon Cooper, owner of building supplies company BC Profiles. “If you go ahead without permission, you risk the project being demolished after it’s complete, which can mean thousands of pounds in losses. Many homeowners don’t acquire planning permission because they think their projects aren’t significant enough to warrant a permit, but you may be surprised just how many structural changes require it.”

3. Do your research before you select a contractor

Besides planning permission, other types of approval may be required – for example, lawful development certificates, Building Regulations approval or party wall agreements. Make sure all of these are in place. The UK government’s Planning Portal details the permissions you may require in addition to planning in England or Wales; the Scottish government’s website provides some information for those in Scotland, but your local authority can give more detailed information.

“If you know someone who can give you a positive personal recommendation then that’s a great start; if not, make sure you get some examples of the builders’ recent work and do your research to make sure they have actually worked on the projects they say they have,” says Michael Patterson, CEO of We Buy Any House. “Always make sure you have a contract in place with the contractor which details exactly what work you expect from them and to what standard. It should also clearly outline all payment conditions and budgets.”

4. Pre-order large fixtures and furniture

“Depending on your end goal, it’s important to have your large items such as windows, doors and internal fixtures ready to install when the build is under way,” says Weber.

“Not only can it save you stress when the project is ongoing, but it also allows a little extra time as certain features, security upgrades or even colourways may increase the lead time of your windows and doors, and it’s therefore important to get the order in sooner rather than later to avoid delaying the project.

“Homeowners should also consider taking out specialist renovation insurance, as regular building insurance policies don’t tend to cover big structural changes”

Neil Ginger, CEO, Origin

“Many manufacturers create bespoke made-to-order pieces, so ordering in advance will give both you and the manufacturing company a clear and realistic deadline. If you receive your order early, it can be safely placed in storage until it’s ready for fitting, which is far better than having an incomplete house if you leave placing an order until the last minute.”

5. Plan ahead to minimise disruption during the works

“Your daily life can be affected by the works and that is something you will need to anticipate,” says James Bernard, director of design and build company Plus Rooms.

“Setting up a temporary kitchen in another room is always something we look to do when the original one is decommissioned. To prevent losing your insulation, it’s best to work in sealed areas so that you can live comfortably in the remaining parts of the house. This is especially important in winter.”

6. Prepare for hidden costs

“No matter how carefully a project is planned, it is essential to consider additional fees that may be incurred outside of the renovation costs and factor these into the budget from the outset,” says Neil Ginger, CEO of door and window manufacturer Origin. “These might include design work, specialist surveys and warranties for the building work. Homeowners should also consider taking out specialist renovation insurance, as regular building insurance policies don’t tend to cover big structural changes.” The commonly recommended amount for contingency is 10% of the total budget.

7. Inform your neighbours about the works

“With the relaxation in planning legislation, a lot of building work can now be done under permitted development, including most loft conversions – this means your neighbours won’t be officially informed of the work,” says Rebecca Tibbert, director at loft conversion specialists Econoloft. “However, if your building work impacts on the structure of a shared wall, the law still insists on a party wall agreement between you and your neighbour, and you will have to serve notice and complete the relevant paperwork.

“Regardless of whether you need a party wall agreement or not, your building project will go much smoother if your neighbours know about the work you are having done and what to expect. Firstly, there could be some noise, although reputable builders will only usually work between the hours of 8am and 6pm.

“There will be also be builders’ vans coming and going – if access is an issue in your neighbourhood, you need to liaise with both builders and neighbours and advise them to be mindful of each other. There might also be some mess in the short term – but again, a professional builder will clear up any debris at the end of each working day. Having any building work done on your home can be stressful – you don’t need complaints from the neighbours too, so go and knock on a few doors to show plans and answer questions, then they will know what to expect.”