residential building services

MeditationIt’s widely reported that the top 5 stressful life events are:

  1. Death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. House move
  4. Major illness
  5. Job loss

As I was pondering these life events I realised that some of them are inter-related. Anyone that has ever moved will know how stressful it can be. Couples splitting up and divorcing after moving house isn’t as uncommon as you might think. The stress of any of these could be enough to bring on a major illness. A job loss could result in down-sizing and necessitate a house move. The death of a loved one might result in any of the other four. It’s easy to see where a downward spiral starts and it could so easily happen to any of us.

Sadly we can’t help with four out of the five events, but we do have some suggestions for how to avoid a house move if your current home isn’t suiting your current needs.

So you have been in your present house for a few years but now children (or more children) have come along – or your lifestyle has grown to include entertaining groups of friends. Your present location suits perfectly – the schools are great, commuting is minimal, you like (perhaps love) the area – you don’t want to move – and anyway to do so would cost a fortune.

Why not use the money you would lose on a house move – solicitors, tax, removals, redecorating and refurnishing the new property etc. etc. – (not to mention the stress) and simply adapt your current property. Well OK, it may not be that simple – but in the hands of a good builder it could be more do-able than the moving option.

These options include extending the main house, e.g. alongside or upwards, converting a garage or loft, knocking through rooms, putting in larger windows or ceiling light guides, adding a conservatory, opening out a room or rooms to the outside world with big sliding patio or bi-fold doors.

Not only does the money go into your property rather than outside agencies, but you also get to stay in the location that you know and love. What could you do to your house that would make it work better for you?

 

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Problems and SolutionsIf you are lucky enough to be in a long term relationship and have decided to either renovate, or self-build to create your perfect home, then you have an amazing and exciting journey ahead of you. However, as there are two of you then at some point you’ll realise that your shared dream varies slightly and you may have lively discussions over some of the details of your project. Negotiating a settlement that pleases both of you is difficult but essential. Here are a few things to consider:

Limited budget
Almost every decision you make on your project will have to conform to your budget. If you blow your budget then the happy ever after in your new home won’t be so happy at all, as you will be busy trying to pay off your debts.

Before you even start your project ensure that you have sat down and worked through the budget together. You both need a very clear understanding of how much money you can allocate to each part of the project and how much all the essentials will cost.

This will give you both a framework in which to work and set your limits. If one of you wants something that will blow the budget, it’s best to have the conversation early on. There’s often a compromise where you will get the benefits that you want at a cost that you can manage. For instance, maybe a conservatory or garage conversion instead of an extension will be more cost effective, or a loft conversion instead of a double storey extension. All of these are options that can be considered and costed in advance to determine what works for you and your budget.

Roles within the household
Although you should both be happy with all the details of the project, remember to give priority to whoever will be spending most time using the finished result. If one person does the lion’s share of cooking then their opinion will count more when it comes to deciding the kitchen layout and what work surfaces you choose. However, practicalities and budget still need to be considered, and if one of you has big ideas, unless your budget is big enough, one of you will need to be the voice of reason.

If you are including a study, or gym that will be mainly used by one person, then that person can add very personal touches to the room in order to make it their own.

For families that are considering including a play room then even get the kids to help out when it comes to picking a colour scheme and decorating. It will help them to cope with some of the upheaval and involve them in the process.

Keep your decisions practical
When you’re debating how to complete a part of the project always go for the most practical decision, rather than the one that looks the best. Aesthetics are very important, but you are creating YOUR home, not a “show” home.

A wonderful, large and airy bedroom that doesn’t include storage won’t look as good after a couple of weeks of wondering where to put all your clothes. A beautiful floor that isn’t suitable for the area of the home will soon spoil and you will be left wanting to replace it.

You can improve the aesthetics of a room with some superficial finishes, but any debates between looks and purpose should always end with the most practical choice.

Remember why you started
If you really do end up at loggerheads with your partner about details of the project, remember why you started in the first place. It wasn’t to have big arguments, but to create a home for you to enjoy your life together. When things get tense take a break from it all for a day before going back to negotiating.

You can always change your mind
Once you have completed your project it doesn’t have to stay the way it is for eternity. You can try things out for a couple of years and then change it. That’s why you should spend the most time deciding on the framework of your house and not worry too much about the finer details. Loft conversions, garage conversions and extensions are long term decisions, the merits of wallpaper over paint aren’t.

Decide what it is that you, your partner and your family most need and complete your project. Then, once you have tried it out for size you can slowly add the things that you have decided you want as and when time and money allow.

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waving goodbye to cold, damp and mouldy roomsThis particular house was built in the mid 1950’s and despite being well looked after, there was a damp and mouldy smell in both rooms at the front of the house. The paint was peeling off in one room and the wallpaper was coming away from the wall in the other. The front of the house was quite exposed and the rooms were difficult to keep warm.

It was determined that the insulation needed to be upgraded, but as the house didn’t have cavity walls, that wasn’t an option. This meant that insulation needed to be added to either the outside of the walls, or the inside. The property owners decided that they’d prefer to have it added on the inside, and as they were fairly large rooms, it wouldn’t be a problem in terms of space.

When the fitted furniture was moved it revealed walls that had been blackened with mould, so the first thing to do was remove the mould and apply a mould inhibitor. Once this was finished and had dried completely, a 100mm thick sheet of insulation was fixed to the walls that had originally had mould on them. They also happened to be the most exposed walls. After this came the plaster board and a skim of plaster. Already the room was feeling warmer and the damp smell had disappeared.

The clients opted for a pale colour on 3 walls, with a bright accent colour as a feature wall. The job was completed within a few days and has made an enormous difference to the feel of the house.

If you have experienced this problem in your house, please call us and we will be happy to find a solution that works for you.

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This is a recent project that we worked on involving a 2 storey extension to an end of terrace family home in Letchworth. Extensions like this are very popular and can have a massive effect on the size and enjoyment of a home.

For this family, investing in this extension has resulted in a larger kitchen diner with utility room, and upstairs, an extra bedroom with an en-suite shower room. The bedroom is accessed by the existing landing and it has French doors that open into the bedroom with a Juliet balcony.

If we are quoting for a job where a new bathroom or shower room will be required, then as standard, our quotes include the cost of a basic bathroom suite, but often people will choose and supply their own. On this occasion, our client opted to supply their own bathroom suite, which comprised of a white shower, basin and toilet. This was complimented with grey floor tiles and pale grey wall tiles.

As part of this job we also demolished an outhouse, and in the utility room we plumbed in the dishwasher and installed a cupboard and shelves.

Many people are still opting to extend their homes rather than the more expensive option of moving house. It’s an almost guaranteed way to increase the value of your home, and done well will make it stand out from other houses nearby.
As always, it’s really important to employ a professional builder such as K.J. Hill in Bedford. If you get this selection right, you will find the whole process much less disruptive and difficult. Please get in touch if you’d like advice on where to start, or if you’re ready to get started on your own home improvement project.

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Financing home improvementsToo many times I see people embarking on a home improvement project without thinking it through. The first thing I would suggest you do is to get your finances sorted. An architect is likely to cost you £600 – £1,000, which is money wasted if you then can’t raise the money to fund it.

How about approaching it this way instead?

  • Check your savings and contact your lender to find out what you can borrow that’s affordable for you to pay back.
  • Once you have a budget in place, then it’s time to speak to a reputable builder, such as K.J. Hill in Bedford. Call them in and tell them what you would like them to do and ask for a ball park figure.
  • If this ball park figure is within your budget, and you’re happy with the builder, ask them to recommend an architect.
  • If this ball park figure is over your budget, explain this to your builder and you can then start a discussion that will show you what they can do within your budget. It’s about finding a compromise that will give you what you need, at a price you can afford and your builder is able to work with.

If you’d like to start these talks with us, then please give us a call on 01234 765050

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Check loft insulation in the homeUp to a quarter of your home’s heat can be lost through your roof, so it makes sense to check that your loft insulation is up to the job.

Ideally your loft should have around 270mm of insulation, but if your home has less than 100mm you really need to get it topped up. If you’re not sure, it might be worth your while popping up into the loft to check.

Whilst you’re there, check that your loft insulation is well fitted, with no gaps where warmth can escape, and that your water pipes are well covered too. Check for signs of vermin as mice, rats and bats often seek shelter in lofts during the cold months and can cause damage to insulation and wiring.

Some of the big energy providers are offering free loft insulation in order to fulfil their obligation to make homes more energy efficient. They have targets to reach and are fined if they don’t achieve them.

To find out if you’re eligible all it takes is a phone call to The Energy Saving Trust on one of these numbers: England – 0300 123 1234, Wales – 0800 512 012 or Scotland – 0808 808 82

A well-insulated loft will make a huge difference to your comfort and energy bills. If your current insulation is looking the worse for wear, then I would recommend you take action and call in a professional.

A really good way to add insulation and accommodation is a proper loft conversion which can provide extra living space and a great deal of insulation to the original space below. Contact us for an estimate.

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Check the GuttersThere aren’t many things that you can guarantee, but I think it’s a safe bet that winter will bring rain, and maybe snow. So before winter sets in it’s a good idea to clear your gutters and check them regularly, especially through autumn when the leaves are falling. If you have a build-up of wet leaves over the winter this adds considerable weight to your gutter and is likely to cause you problems.

If gutters become clogged you could find water running down the outside of your home, which is both annoying and hugely detrimental to your property as it can cause damp, ruin your decoration and even cause mould growth.

Clearing your roof of excess moss, which can get knocked off by heavy rain and end up in your guttering, is also a good winter safeguard. Moss thrives in shady positions, so if you want to reduce the amount that grows on your roof, cutting back overhanging trees is a good idea.

Lastly, check that your guttering is secure, without cracks. There’s no point keeping it clear if at the first sign of high winds it ends up in your garden!

If you find that short term house maintenance is not enough to make your home comfortable, then perhaps it is worth considering a renovation project. Contact us for advice – it may be that a strategic face-lift to roof, gutter, brickwork and rendering will be good value in the long term.

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Check for drafty gaps in the homeIf you live in a drafty house, but you’re not sure where the cold air is coming from, you can smoke them out!

On a cold day light an incense stick and once it’s smouldering nicely, move it towards the edges of windows and doors. If there’s no draft the smoke will rise, but if there is one the smoke will be blown horizontally. Typically the gaps will be where a unit is hinged, or two panels meet.

Once you know where your problem areas are you can then treat them either with caulk or weather strips.

Drafty doors and windows make for uncomfortable living conditions and expensive heating bills.

Wood has a tendency to warp and change size depending on the humidity. If you suspect this is happening then a coat or two of specialist paint could be all that is needed to solve it.

If your problem is that there is a poor seal around your door that’s letting in unwanted drafts, then adding draft excluders will make a huge difference.

Original windows are notorious for sending cold air into your home. Double glazing is a must for thermal efficiency, but if your budget won’t stretch to that, then thick heavy curtains will certainly help, as will draft excluders. I would suggest you need to budget for upgrading your windows.

Even these “quick fixes” may not improve the situation enough – in which case we can help with new windows and doors, perhaps as part of an extension or conversion.

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Helpful tipsWhen the temperature drops below freezing, if pipes aren’t adequately lagged, there’s a chance they may freeze, and even burst.

Having good insulation and keeping your heating on at a low level all the time should help to avoid either of these problem, but if you’re unlucky and your pipes freeze, this is what we suggest you do.

  1. Locate the stop valve and turn it off immediately.
  2. The simplest next step would be to call a plumber, but if you’d like to tackle it yourself, then read on…
  3. Check for leaking joints or bursts in the pipes.
  4. Very gently, heat any frozen sections with a hairdryer or heated cloth around the pipe. Remember that electricity and water don’t mix, so always hold the hairdryer above the pipe.

If in any doubt at all, call a reputable plumber!

Frozen pipes can lead to burst pipes, as water expands when it freezes. It isn’t the radial expansion of the ice against the wall of the pipe that causes the problem, but the build-up of pressure between the ice blockage and the closed tap can lead to pipe failure.

If a pipe bursts in your home the easiest thing to do is call a plumber, but before you do that you need to locate the stop valve and turn it off immediately.

If you’d like to tackle the job yourself, here are our suggestions:

  1. Locate the stop valve and turn it off immediately.
  2. Switch off your immersion heater and your central heating boiler.
  3. Turn on all hot and cold taps and allow to drain. This will help minimise the damage.
  4. Allow solid fuel fires to die out naturally.
  5. Switching off your electricity at the mains is a good precautionary measure if there’s any chance that water could come into contract with electrical wiring.
  6. As soon as possible, alert your neighbours so they can take any steps to safeguard their own homes.
  7. You can make a temporary repair to a burst pipe by binding it tightly with a cloth and/or tape, but this must be replaced by a permanent repair from a registered plumber as soon as possible.
  8. Re-fill your hot water system before you switch on your immersion heater or re-light your boiler.

Remember, adequate insulation is a good step towards minimising the risk of either of these problems, which can have devastating consequences.

Sometimes on older properties it is very difficult to ensure all pipes and drains are insulated against frost. In such an old property it may be worth considering an interior upgrade – even renovation with new protected pipework in modern materials installed to stay warm and run free. We can deal with upgrades and renovations, including the re-plumbing, as well as any remodelling of the interior space, e.g. with partitioning, new stairs, electrics, plastering and finishing. Call us for a consultation.

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Invest in your home with K.J. Hill Builders in BedfordInvesting in property is one of the best ways to protect yourself financially, and has become a way of life for many families in the UK. Throughout the economic turmoil of recent years property has remained a sound investment, all be it a long term one. But you don’t need a limitless pile of cash to buy up every property in the area; by carefully adapting your existing property you can ensure that you’re increasing its future saleability and/or value.

There are many different ways to invest in your property, from smaller updates such as improving insulation, which can have a significant impact on your energy bills, or larger alterations such as a house extension, loft or garage conversion, a granny annexe or even a complete new house if you have the land for it! Look at what you have available and what opportunities present themselves for you to increase the value of your home – either in terms of comfort or monetary value.

Outbuilding Conversions
Starting outside, do you have any outbuildings that could be put to good use? Depending on the size and location, existing outbuildings can be converted into office space, a studio or workshop, a granny annexe or even a new home. Having extra usable space is a real asset for a property and is likely to increase the value of your home. It could also generate you a regular income if you’re able to convert an outbuilding into a work space that you can use or hire out, or a living area that you can rent out either long term or as a holiday let.

Loft and Garage Conversions
Before you look at house extensions, do you have unused garage or loft space? Loft conversions and loft extensions provide a unique space to use as a master bedroom, office, gym or play room. Converting a dark, unused space into a light and airy feature for your home will add value and provide you with much more space for your needs. Your loft may be full, and yes you will need to find space to store some of your things, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of it you will never use again. Why not have a clear out and donate to your local charity shop or sell your unloved items to someone who will make use of them? Car boot sales, eBay and Facebook are all good ways to do this.

Converting a garage will also make a great difference to the available space in your home. Whilst garages often appear high up on people’s priority lists when they’re looking for a new home, they’re very rarely used to keep a car in, especially if the house comes with sufficient driveway space. A more useful asset would be a room with lots of neat storage space. This means you can store the important things, but you’re not so tempted to hold onto something “just in case”. Just in case what exactly?

A garage conversion can have many different uses, from extending an existing room such as a kitchen or living room, to providing a whole new room for work or play. You’ll wonder what you ever did without it!

Extensions
If you live in a desirable area then extending your property so you have more space, and differentiating it from every other house in the street, is a great way to potentially add value.  You don’t need to extend a property by much to make a big difference to the feel of the home, especially if you extend more than one storey. A garage conversion and first floor extension over it will create valuable space in a family home, and could add to its value.

If your extension is designed and built to a high standard, and doesn’t negatively affect the proportions of your home, then you can see a good return on your investment. Designed and built poorly, with no thought to how it fits with the overall house could leave you out of pocket with a house that suits nobody.

Smaller Investments
If your budget doesn’t run to major investment, but you’d like to make some improvements we would recommend improving your insulation, there are a number of ways this can be done, but Monocouche render is one you may not have considered. Of course, good double glazing and doors will also keep you nice and snug over the winter, and should also result in reduced energy bills.

There are many ways to invest in your property to create a better family home or to increase the sale price. If you’re not planning on moving, then we would usually recommend you consider what changes will add value to your way of life, rather than what will improve the value of your home. If they are one and the same, and you have the budget to support it, then it almost becomes a no-brainer.

Like any investment it’s important to get professional advice, and when it comes to the building side then experienced local builders can smooth the way with professional consultants such as architects and surveyors. A feasibility consultation and detailed proposal can then move the build forward with confidence through to completion, and unlike many builders we are happy to do the lot, leaving you with a finished extended and decorated new home – until you want to sell and realise your investment.

 

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