What to say to builders when starting a home improvement project

Embarking on a building project can feel like learning a whole new language! Architectural designer Charlie Luxton shares his top tips for talking to builders to get the best outcome for your project.

It starts with obsession

It may sound slightly odd but the key to a successful build or alteration is obsession. Whether that obsession comes from you, or you pay some else like an architect/project manager/good builder to be obsessed for you, someone has to be!

Bringing together the thousands of different elements of any build project in the right order and at right time takes thought and planning. In other words, obsession. So the most important thing is that you do your homework. You need to research what you want to achieve, what products to use so that you can engage properly with a builder, specifier or installer.

Even if you are using an architect or designer, knowledge is crucial. You may not need to get so obsessed with technical details but you need to really engage with their designs, check they are going to work for you and ensure your vision and wishes have been translated into the design. Realising it’s not quite right when the build is finished is not much help to anyone.

If you are going to be the lead on an alternation or build project there are four important things to bear in mind.

Always check and double check any order before you finalise and pay.

So often with big ticket items like windows and doors there are lots of little details that you need make sure are right. Just because you have mentioned them to the specifier or sales person, it doesn't mean they’ve listened, understood or made the changes. Double, triple check everything because once you have paid, even a down payment, you become responsible for the order and changes are usually hard, if not impossible, and nearly always expensive! 

Ask loads of questions

There is a lot of jargon in building. When I’m speaking to structural engineers/builders/services engineers and clients in team meetings I am aware that the clients don’t totally understand large parts of our chat due to the specialist language we use. Again this is part of what architects and project managers do for you, but never be afraid of asking questions if you don't understand.

Get a clear picture

Perhaps the biggest mistake to make is to assume that because you’ve got a picture in your head of how you want something to be, and you've discussed it with someone else, that they will imagine the same thing. Trust me, often they don’t! Use whatever visual aids you can; sketches (no matter how bad) get photos from the internet or magazines, ask the other person to draw what they think they are doing. This is especially important with things like windows and roof window openings where subtle changes in location can have a big impact on light levels. Mark them on out the wall, you don’t want to come home from work and see your beautiful new roof window in the wrong place.

The same is true for being able to visualize professional drawings properly. Many people cannot read an architect’s technical drawings. A surprising amount of times that we’ve done the main structural alterations on a project only for the client to say ‘Ah so this is what we’re building!’. Luckily, so far they’ve always liked it but it’s a little late to find out they had no idea what we were designing. With both these issues, don’t be embarrassed to ask those questions which will help you understand. Not only are you paying but anyone who loves buildings will be more than happy to explain.

Communication is everything

Designers spend time coming up with great ideas. They spend considerably more time communicating those ideas in whatever way they can to ensure that what is finally built matches what they imagined. You need to do the same because in build projects no matter how big or small, an assumption is where things can go wrong - advance planning will always be key.

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