No matter how competent any of us are at home improvement there are times where we need professional help. Whatever your needs, this article gives some general guidelines for employing professions and trades, as well as outlining the differences between them. It can be difficult to find good tradespeople. The best thing to do is to go by personal recommendations from friends and family, and ideally to always view a professionals previous work before seeking to employ them. You should also always insist on a firm “price”. In the same way as with a price in a shop, that should be the figure you pay for the job specified: no less and no more. The only reason a price should change is if you change the specification of the job.
For larger jobs an architect will draw up any plans or drawings required for the building work. If you are seeking planning permission, for example. Architects will generally charge a flat fee for drawings, and then extra to oversee work being carried out (normally a percentage of the final building bill). If the architect is going to oversee work, check what that entails and get the specifics in writing.
Bricklayers and Stonemasons
Whereas bricklayers tend just to lay bricks and blocks, a mason will also build natural stone walls and construct stone features such as window mullions or fire surrounds. Their charges are normally based on either a per 1,000 bricks basis or a complete price for a specific job, such as building garden wall. If you engage a bricklayer for some work, specify brick type and insist on seeing samples.
Large companies will have their own teams of tradesmen in their employ. Small companies may consist of only one or two general builders who then subcontract aspects of work to other trades. A general builder will normally have a trade himself, such as carpentry or bricklaying, but he may also become the project manager for part or all of the work being carried out. The builder may include this cost in the submitted price, or charge a further percentage on top of the final cost. Agree this in writing before work starts.
Carpenters and Joiners
Joiners assemble custom-made, wood produced items such as doors and windows, whereas carpenters will fit these items into your home, and tackle construction jobs, such as stud walls. There are overlaps between the two. In most cases a joiner will make something that a carpenter will fit. A good carpenter can be invaluable in complex tasks, such as calculating cut-roof structures. With a joiner, be clear on specifications for any items that you have commissioned him to make. If he is making windows, for example, make sure that he specifies the type of wood. The difference in quality, and price, between a good hardwood window and a standard softwood one is considerable.
An electrician will carry out all types of electrical work, and usually the wiring for phones, televisions, and computers. Check certification for your particular state or region before you engage an electrician.
General flooring firms can tackle any floor requests, ranging from initial screeding to waxing a hardwood floor, for example. However, ensure that they have the relevant experience in all areas. You can also employ carpet fitters, wooden floor specialists, or floor tilers.
Painters and Decorators
A good decorator will carry out all aspects of decorative coatings including painting, papering, and in some cases tiling. Specialist tilers sometimes tile both walls and floors as a full-time occupation. Good decorators can provide very high- quality finishes – a preferable option when looking to hang expensive wallpaper, for example. Make sure that the number of coats, type of paint, and general quality of materials is specified in any painting job. Decorators can be an excellent source of ideas for new effects and finishes.
As well as internal and external rendering and plaster finishes, plasterers will fit plaster accessories and textured coatings. Pricing is usually based on meterage. Check that the price includes all coats required. They may also be able to offer “tacking” services — cutting and fixing drywall before plastering. Some plastering firms offer all these services, but other specialist firms only deal with cornice, cove, and textured coatings, for example.
Plumbers and Heating Engineers
There is often an overlap in expertise between plumbers and heating engineers. When installing, servicing, or maintaining a gas- or oil-fired boiler, they must have the relevant professional certification. Ask for their professional identity and check with the relevant overseeing body by calling them directly. For general plumbing work such as installing baths or toilets, the law is less exacting. Plumbers may also undertake gutter work and any lead work or flashing on your home.
Normally, roofers only deal with roof coverings, such as tiles, battens, felt, and finishing any mortar work on the roof. A carpenter will deal with any structural elements. Large firms have carpenters working full time with the roofers. Smaller firms subcontract out structural carpentry. Roofing quotes or prices can be complicated. If weather delays work, this can have knock-on effects such as increasing the price of scaffolding hire. On large jobs, a roofer may actually scaffold over the top of the house and provide a “tent” (waterproof covering) so that work can continue in most weather. This increases cost and is only worthwhile on larger jobs. Check samples of materials such as tiles and felts before they are bought and make sure your choices are agreed in writing.
Other Specialist Fitters
This category includes all those trades and services that offer a product with their own fitting service. This can be anything from window companies, to garage doors, to curtains and blinds, through to fitted kitchens. Check that the product you receive is the same as the specification you were sold to avoid problems with your fitters. The more specialist fitters a project involves – for fitting a kitchen, for example – the more vigilance is required to ensure the job runs smoothly. Make sure that you specify each fitter’s individual responsibilities. For example, a firm that fits blinds only has to supply what you ordered and use relatively basic fixing skills to fit them. A firm that offers a kitchen-fitting service needs to supply a variety of tradespeople such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, decorators, tilers, and so on.