With a ground-floor extension, a loft conversion and a full house renovation under her (tool)belt, writer Tracey Petherick has picked up a few tips on how to survive a build. In part one of our three-part series, she talks neighbours, dust, timeframes and instincts.

Finished GF side return extension in Islington

 

Speak to your neighbours                                                            

The first house we renovated flanked a row of terraces so we had an especially high number of neighbours to annoy. Foolishly, we didn’t make contact with any of them before the work started. This resulted in my husband being ambushed one morning by not one but three angry neighbours, protesting about the X-rated language coming from our scaffolders at 7am on a Sunday. Fair enough.

Second time around we were savvy. We chatted to all the neighbours and exchanged phone numbers so we could contact them easily if something came up. We’re yet to find out just how annoyed they’ve been by the skip deliveries and shredded grass verges, but no one has complained yet…

Scaffolding tower ready for work to commence on a jardinaire installation, Islington

 

To move out – or not                                                                                                                                                               

When we were planning our first loft conversion, I read somewhere that it would be madness to live in a house while the work was taking place. Dust, dust and more dust. Unimaginable dust, apparently. And noise. And workmen traipsing through your home. And did I mention the dust? In reality, 75% of our loft conversion was completed before the builders needed to “break through”. So all that dust (and noise and workmen) was contained in the enclosed space above us, making the whole process surprisingly trouble-free.

Of course, in most renovations the work isn’t neatly tucked away. By moving out you’ll be giving your builders the space do the work in the most logical and efficient way. They don’t need to clean up for you every evening, and they can leave tools and materials out, ready to pick up again the next morning. All of which reduces the time and cost of the project.

Talk to your project manager in advance about expected levels of disruption so that you can make an informed decision about moving out.

Work underway on a GF extension where party wall awards were needed on both sides

 

Working to a realistic timeframe                                                                                                  

It’s incredible how long it can take to organise the admin around a renovation. Factors like planning permissions and party wall agreements can take months to get sorted, especially if you don’t have a project manager chivvying things along. It gets even more frustrating if, for example, your amenable neighbours turn out to have a chartered surveyor for a son. Then you might suddenly find yourself delayed by a month while a structural engineer provides technical drawings of a seemingly unnecessary retaining wall. It happens. To me. Ask your project manager for a realistic timeframe. They can expedite the admin process and should be able to give you an accurate estimate for how long the whole job will take – especially important if you are renting while your renovation is done.

Planning docs and structural drawings on site in the contractors shed on site in Islington

 

Trust your instincts        

My builder, my husband and I had a long conversation about the positioning of a triple light switch outside the cloakroom door. I wanted the cloakroom light to be the switch closest to the door. The men decided (for spurious reasons that I won’t go in to now) that it should be the one furthest away. I spent the next six years watching people who needed the loo flick each switch in turn before discovering the one that turned the cloakroom light on. No, I’m not bitter. Not much. At least I now know that an interior designer or project manager could have helped us to get these decisions right.

If you really like a particular style, colour or feature, have the confidence to go for it. Equally, if something is suggested that really doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to put your foot down. Professional advice and opinion is important but it’s your home, so trust your own instincts. And remember, when it comes to creativity, a good interior designer or project manager will embrace – and enhance – your style and ideas.

finished bathroom by APM in Islington