• Top 10 Tips for Finding a Good Builder

    The festive season is here which means it’s time to relax, over indulge, drink and be merry.  Those extra hours at home can be great even if you have to spend most of it hosting relatives that can be a little hard work.  Is the mum in-law and her loud snoring keeping you up at night? Why does Uncle Terry smell of brandy and brussels sprouts all year round? Being at home and not stuck at work can also make you take a longer look at your house and remind you of those home improvements you didn’t get around to doing this year.  The New Year might be the time to start thinking about that extension you always wanted, modernising the kitchen or redoing the bathroom. We will get the inevitable top 10 films or top 10 albums of the year so here are our top 10 tips for finding a decent builder.

    1. Neighbours, Family & Friends: Your friends and family are a great source of names for reliable builders and they are more likely to share your expectations and standards. Neighbours will also know good builders in your local area. However, the work might look good but it might not be properly done so it’s still worth checking out the company with the rest of these tips.
    2. Your architect or designer: Any decent designer should have a long list of building contacts that have helped bring their creations to fruition. They will know your local building scene and can recommend which builders to work with and which ones to avoid.
    3. Other Tradesman: Andy the plumber might have done some work with Danny the electrician, who might have done a few jobs for Bob & Becky’s building services. Local tradesmen can help you tap into the building community in your area and you’ll quickly be able to find out who demands respect instead of having to demand your money back after a botched job.
    4. Avoid low prices: Unfortunately builders don’t do ‘January Sales’ but whilst a high price is not necessarily a sign of quality in a building company it’s important to consider all the factors and resist the temptations of a low price. If one of the quotes you receive for your work is considerably lower than the others you need to be suspicious. It might just be that the other quotes are excessively high and the one company is simply good value, but more likely that the one firm is putting in a speculative bid to try and win the work and aims to make more profit on the project with hidden charges or by cutting corners. Worst case scenario, they might start the works and find there is no profit to be made from it and pack up their tools and walk away.
    5. Talk to building inspectors: They can offer informal advice to help you make the right decision on the builders to best suit your project.  After all they are tasked with ensuring that new buildings in their area get built to the best possible standard.
    6. Past Customers: You read reviews for hotels; restaurants and almost anything you buy from Amazon so why not do it for builders. Trade websites and social media can provide a wealth of useful information. But if you can speak to someone in person find out how happy they were with the price, the quality of the workmanship and the builders conduct.  Photos of completed jobs and a couple of good references can provide peace of mind.
    7. Company signs on active sights: A sign informing people who are completing the job shows confidence and professionalism. This is also a good way to find decent builders currently working in your area as they are taking responsibility for the work being completed in good time and to a high standard.
    8. Words in writing: Taking someone’s word for it can be a bit unsettling when you don’t really know them. Get the details of the quote and the job written down in full with what is covered and what isn’t. This should include materials, site maintenance, clearance and a payment plan. Avoid paying up front or a cash deposit. Be straight about money with your builder and agree payment terms clearly in writing to avoid any hidden costs or future financial headaches.
    9. False membership claims: They might look good on paper but that’s not going to help if your extension looks bad in real life. It’s against the law to falsely claim affiliations, including those to trade associations. So if they look suspicious call and find out if they are a legitimate member.
    10. Insured Builder: Every respectable building firm should have insurance to protect them against property damage and personal and public liability to protect you and the general public in the event of accident or injury.                                                                                                                                                                Download these tips here: Top 10 tips for finding a good builder
  • Is Your Home Winter Ready?

    The air outside is fresher than a new born baby and the pavements are littered with golden brown leaves. Choosing the right outfit has become tricky, one minute you’re freezing the next minute your too hot. It’s harder to get up in the morning and its dark when you get home.  It’s so long salads and hello hot soups. Autumn is officially upon us.

    We are all busy with work, family, friends and staying healthy but whilst maintaining our hectic life styles can be tricky there’s a few simple steps to help maintain your house when the winter elements come banging on your door.


    With any luck your boiler is still burning away keeping you warm during these chilly nights, there’s nothing worse than turning the heating on after months of not needing it to find out its had enough and decided to give you the cold shoulder. The downside of a working boiler is your energy bills will go up, so while the energy suppliers bleed us dry, bleeding your radiators is a good way to make sure you are getting the best out of your central heating.

    Trapped air bubbles inside the system prevent hot water from circulating effectively so radiators aren’t as hot as they should be and take longer to warm your home. First of all you need to get hold of a radiator key and ensure your heating is turned off.  It’s best to bleed all of your radiators at once rather than just the one that’s cold, starting with the radiator furthest away from the boiler. Ensure that both the intake and exit valves of the radiator are turned to the ‘open’ position. Then, insert your radiator key (or screwdriver) into the bleed screw in the bleed valve at the top of the radiator, turning it counter clock wise to open the valve. You should hear a hissing sound as air escapes from your radiator (If this scares you a little bit you would be absolutely useless during a bush tucker trial).

    This trapped cold air is replaced by water which will eventually start to sputter from the bleed valve so make sure you have a kitchen towel handy. When a steady stream of water starts to come out you have released all of the air trapped in your radiator. Re-tighten your bleed valve and ensure there are no leaks.  By releasing excess air from your radiators you’ve lowered the overall pressure of your house’s heating system, if the pressures fallen too low heat might not reach some of your radiators (especially the ones upstairs).To restore the pressure it might be necessary to top off your boiler with water if it doesn’t have an automatic fill system.

    Did you know turning the thermostat down by 1C could cut heating bills by 10 per cent and save around £55 a year.


    You’re probably more worried about your house being burgled or it burning down than you are about water damage but there’s nothing more annoying and costly than water leaks. Make sure all of your pipes are lagged to prevent them from freezing when the really cold weather creeps in. It might be time to repair that dripping tap that keeps you awake at night otherwise water can freeze in the pipes during sub-zero temperatures.  It’s always a good idea to leave your heating on low if you go away for a few days to stop your pipes from freezing.  There’s nothing worse than coming back from being boiling in Barbados to freezing in a house that has its heating on the blink.

    Gutters & Drains

    There’s nothing quite like the smell of morning dew from the flowers in a garden or rain drops twinkling in the sun light as they drip from giraffe patterned leaves high up in the trees.  All those golden leaves might look pretty while they’re on the trees but once they start falling they’re only going to clog up your gutters and drains!

    Blocked gutters means the water has nowhere to go, apart from spilling over and running down the walls causing damp and possibly internal leaks. So it might be time to borrow that tall ladder from the builder down the road or get someone in to check and clear your gutters. Old and rotten fascia boards which hold your gutters in place might also need replacing if your gutters are clear and you still notice water damage on the walls.

    Roof tiles

    You might have a fear of heights or that builder mate might need his ladder back so whilst you’re getting your gutters checked it’s a good idea to have a look at your roof. December is usually one of the wettest months of the year so before it really starts raining cats and dogs its worth checking for any loose or broken tiles and getting them fixed before you have a major leak on your hands (and heads).

    There’s nothing worse than getting caught in a torrential down pour without an umbrella or choosing the wrong jacket for a stroll around the park in the bitter wind, or leaving your woolly hat at home during a snow blizzard.  When we’re out and about we can sometimes catch our selves unprepared for the unpredictable British weather, so make sure your home is prepared for all the elements this winter.  The weather man (or woman) might let you down this winter but Balma Building services won’t.

  • Planning Permission: What’s beneath the surface?

    With easy access to modern materials, skilled labour and a need for affordable housing, getting the green light for building developments in London should be easy RIGHT?

    Well in some cases not everything is as it appears on the surface and getting planning permission can go seriously WRONG! You can grow and give birth to a baby in 9 months but that’s how long it took us to obtain a piece of paper giving us permission to start work on a new build in Dulwich, south London.  The cause of this delay?

    The Great Stink during the summer of 1859 and a guy called Joseph Bazalgette.

    The Great Stink occurred in central London in July and August during which the hot weather worsened the smell of human waste and pollution that was present on the banks of the river Thames. The awful smell, outbreaks of cholera and fear for public health finally prompted the local government to address the ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. Joseph Bazalgette designed and implemented an interceptor sewage system which would relieve London of its sewage problem forever.  Construction of the interceptor system required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete.  The innovative use of Portland cement strengthened the tunnels, which were in good order 150 years later. His sewer system still operates today, servicing a city that has grown to a population of over eight million. But by solving the sewage problem all those years ago it’s these Victorian sewers which are causing problems for developers in the 21st century.

    At first glance the plot of land in Dulwich looked like the perfect place to build four brand new 2 bed apartments, but the discovery of the Victorian sewer running directly beneath the site was a major concern. Finally, after 9 months of negotiations, surveys and a lot of nail biting we managed to obtain a build over agreement from Thames water.

    Due to the sewer running beneath the ground and the weak soil above it we will have to use piling for our foundations instead of the more conventional and cost effective trench foundations.  Trench fill foundations are a type of shallow foundation that avoids bricklaying below the ground by instead almost completely filling the trench excavation with concrete.  This type of foundation minimises the excavation required, as bricklayers are not required to access the trench to lay bricks or blocks. Pile foundations are deep foundations formed by long slender columnar elements typically made from steel or reinforced concrete. They transfer the heavy loads of structures, through weak compressible layers onto stronger more compact and stiffer soil at depth, increasing the effective size of a foundation and resisting loads.  In other words Thames Water wanted the building above their Victorian sewer to be built in the sturdiest and secure foundations possible.  Sewers play a vital part in keeping London’s water clean; they are the underground arteries that pump waste away to keep us alive and healthy.  So it’s understandable that Thames water want to ensure they aren’t damaged and they can still be accessed for maintenance.

    Like a heavily pregnant woman the planning for this project required a lot of care, attention and patience but with the piling due to start at the end of October the building will be in its infancy. 36 weeks later with planning permission in place this building ‘baby’ can be officially born and the team at Balma Building services can’t wait to watch it grow.

  • Why Wait to Insulate?

    Summer is almost over. The world cup is a distant memory, Wimbledon flew by like a Djokovic back hand and having a BBQ for breakfast, lunch and dinner is no longer acceptable. Sun light is gradually fading along with your tan and as the temperature tumbles we reluctantly spend more time indoors.

    During the summer heatwave the idea of doing some DIY might not have been that appealing to some of us. Why ponder that plumbing problem when you can have another glass of Pimms? Why would you re-tile the bathroom when you can lie in the paddling pool in the garden? Why paint the spare room when you can get a bit of colour on your chalk white legs?

    You might not have wanted to work up a sweat inside when you’re busy sweating outside but now could be the time to switch your focus from the garden to the house. We’ve tried to keep cool all summer but as we wave good bye to the sunshine it will be autumn giving us the cold shoulder.  So it might be time to consider how to keep your house warm.  Around half of all your heat can escape if your home is not properly insulated!

    Insulation reduces the exchange of heat through a surface such as a wall, attic, floor, duct or roof. In a well-insulated home less warm air escapes from the house in the winter and less cool air escapes during the summer, reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. So it can keep your energy bills down, reducing your carbon foot print whilst saving you a bit of money. In fact, the Energy Saving Trust estimates that in one year a typical three bedroom semi-detached house can save up to £310 on energy bills by installing loft and cavity wall insulation.

    Think of your home as the human body, the more layers we have on the warmer we are. We lose body heat from our head, hands and feet so we put on hats, gloves and socks. So what winter accessories do our homes need and where’s the best place to start?  The most important thing is the walls, since for a typical house the walls will lose around 30 to 40 per cent of heat. The roof comes in second place, accounting for approximately 25% of heat loss. Then comes the windows and doors with 20% and finally, the floor.

    What makes a good insulator?

    Remember that woolly jumper you wear that keeps you warm but itches your neck? The same goes for your home, generally good insulators consist of products that have a structure similar to wool, that trap tiny pockets of air. Wood based products like hardboard and wooden doors are good insulators as are fabrics like cotton and hemp. So you might want to dig out that pair of heavy vintage curtains you inherited from your great aunt Sally. Polyurethane based spray foam solutions are good for filling gaps in roof tiles or the adhesive variant can be used around windows and doors. Any cold air creeping through cracks and gaps can be stopped with a simple sealant.

    What types of insulation are there?

    Wall insulation depends on what type of wall you have in your home. A cavity wall insulation means there is a gap between the inner and outer leaf so insulator can be inserted to the wall by drilling holes which are then refilled with cement.  Then there’s solid wall insulation (no cavity inside them). If you have solid walls you can choose between internal or external insulation. So you either do the whole façade of the building or you apply the insulation internally to certain inner rooms.

    You’ve got two options when it comes to insulating your roof. Warm loft is insulating immediately under the roof or cold loft is insulating immediately above the ceiling of the top storey in your house. Warm loft is more expensive than cold loft but is usually a more effective way of insulating the space.  It’s kind of like sticking a woolly hat on your head when it’s freezing outside.

    Double glazing in windows and doors is great if you can afford it, it will drown out the sound of that barking dog or busy road, keeping your house both warm and quiet! Floor insulation can be expensive, make sure if you really need it depending on the type of floor you have and how old your house is. An easy alternative to floor insulation is laying some carpet or sticking a few decent rugs all around.  Sadly this might mean a bit more hoovering!

    One minute it’s too hot, the next it’s too cold! Complaining about the weather can be exhausting but don’t leave it too late to insulate your home and save some energy and money. If DIY has you questioning why you bothered or you simply don’t have the time, let Balma Building services give you a helping hand.