5 top tips for a successful extension project

Undertaking home renovations or building an extension to your home is one of those “most stressful life experiences” along with getting married, selling a house, and having kids (though personally I think having kids tops the list x 100!)

Thing is, your building project needn’t be a stressful experience. Of course mistakes can happen, but I am often surprised by the number of horror stories I hear and wonder how things can go so badly wrong. While I’d usually deem a lot of the processes and procedures to be common sense, perhaps I’m underestimating all those years of studying and the numerous completed projects under my belt – they must have taught me something after all!!

So with this in mind, I decided to create a building project toolkit, because really, it’s all in the preparation! In this article, I’ll give you my top tips for going from brief to budget to build without the stress.

1: Be clear on what you want from your extension, not how you want to achieve it.

By writing down a list of your top priorities, you can give your architect free reign with confidence that they will deliver a design with a solution to your problems and not simply a drawing of your own ideas. 

For example, clearly documenting in your written brief that you need a space for the fish tank, a view of the sandpit so you can keep an eye on the kids whilst cooking tea, and two home office spaces (since working at home and living at work are now one and the same) makes it easy to see if design proposals are headed in the right direction even if they look a little different than you first imagined.

2: Make a comprehensive budget.

I’m not suggesting you count every penny, but it’s well worth taking the time to evaluate your finances in order to set yourself up for success. If you have an upper limit, work backwards from that. There are more costs than simply the building work.

Seek quotes for all the services you’ll need, and in particular be sure to get some ballpark quotes for the big ticket items such as kitchens and glazing at an early stage. Having an idea of what these will come to means you’ll be able to make informed decisions about your budget at each stage of the process. You’ll be able to sort the essentials from the nice to haves.

3: Familiarise yourself with the process.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to your extension project than getting your planning permission and finding a builder. Do you know what actually happens before the building work begins? While you don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of it all yourself, knowing what to expect and what’s coming next will help to maintain momentum.

Without this understanding, it can feel overwhelming because there are so many decisions to make. But remember: you don’t have to make them all at once. Understanding the process means you can focus on the decisions that are relevant for you at any given time. 

4: Talking of decisions, document them in an orderly fashion. 

Whilst your technical drawings should get you through the Building Regs Approval and certainly get your project built, there are a lot of things that often aren’t on the drawings. Finishes, fixtures and fittings, for example, are all things that will influence the cost of the project and therefore need to be factored in from the start. They will also need coordination at an earlier stage of the build than you might think.

Deciding on these things before you start with the build will save you the stress of a rushed decision and  ensures your builder can price properly. They won’t be surprised by your selections at a later stage if it’s all set out clearly. “I’d like these plug sockets, this flooring, this skirting board, these light fittings. I’m choosing this complex shower fitting and I’d like these labour intensive tiny bathroom tiles…” Thank you very much.

5: Have awkward conversations early on.

Once your drawings and specs are complete and you’ve selected your builder, take a moment to step back. Now is the time to have an uncomfortable conversation in order to protect your interests – make sure you know what’s included in your quote. Don’t let the work begin without knowing exactly what you are paying for.

Equally, make sure your builder is aware of any conditions of consents or obligations they need to fulfill. At this point, you might only have met them a couple of times and you’re about to give them the keys to your house along with permission to do a fair bit of damage before it all comes back together. You’re also likely signing a contract for a big chunk of your life savings so it’s really worth an awkward meeting or two to thrash out all the details (maybe throw in some choccie biccies for good measure).

Make sure it feels right. Don’t be the client who called me two weeks into their project to ask for their builders phone number… when the roof had already been stripped off!

And there you have it, five top tips for a stress-free build! It’s all about:

  • Briefing
  • Budget
  • Understanding the process
  • Documenting decisions
  • Communication

Go from Brief to Budget to Build with ease

Are you embarking on your own project and interested in making your own life easier? You can download the full toolkit of resources to make the process as easy as possible.

Click here to find out more: From Brief to Budget to Build: A toolkit for your home extension project.

Lessons learned on a lockdown build

Rear of the house before
Rear of the house afterwards

A tired three-bed semi with outbuildings in the garden, and a shabby extension to the rear, this house was in need of some serious TLC. As a growing family, they wanted to create larger bedrooms, more living space and a more open layout that really flowed.

While the project was a success, they faced several challenges throughout. The most significant of these was keeping on top of the implications that various decisions had on total cost. As well as the time and input required for the project when going it alone with the builder.

The client brief

To fulfill the ambition for a larger family home, we planned single and two storey extensions, utilising the footprint of the existing garage to get the most out of the plot. The extended section of the house would include a playroom which can double as a fourth bedroom when required. 

Converting the existing kitchen to a utility room and shower room, we moved the kitchen to the back of the house. And by maintaining side windows and roof lights we were able to keep the central spaces well lit. The new kitchen dining space opens up to the garden and so does the playroom, for an indoor/outdoor feel on warm days.

With a  keen eye for detail and interiors, they have furnished the home with some lovely touches.

The implications of going it alone 

With a lockdown build and a baby on the way, there were a few things which the client admits could’ve gone better to keep her stress levels under control. No matter how well you plan, there are almost always some on-the-spot decisions to be made. On this build, the costs and implications of each decision did not always become apparent until later down the line. 

Without anyone to help, they lost track of these variations as the project progressed and were often surprised to discover them later. Keeping your architect involved or appointing a project manager to monitor those cost implications can help mitigate this. 

Lessons learned in hindsight

Managing your own project takes up a lot of time. They simply hadn’t realised how much attention they would need to give the project and ended up  being far more involved in the running of the project than they had expected to be.

Acknowledging that the never ending decision-making was one of the most stressful aspects of the process, the client explained that if they did it again they would certainly look to keep their architect involved throughout the build.

The completed extension has truly lived up to the client’s brief and provides the spaces they need for their young family. They’re really pleased with the way the house flows, and that the extension integrates well with the existing rooms, feeling like a whole house rather than the extension simply bolted on. A big chunk of the budget was put towards the kitchen, which is a particular favourite of theirs now that it’s completed. 

Project completed Autumn 2020 by PDM Construction Ltd
Suppliers: Kitchen – Mobalpa

Are you ready to extend your home?

There’s a lot to consider when you’re changing  your home. Is extending even right for you and your house?

If you’re looking for clarity on what’s involved in the process and how to get started, you can use my Project Planner to help find the next step… 

Click here for your free copy