Guest post – Simon Sparrow the carpenter tells us about using tradesmen

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Simon Sparrow is a carpenter working in Cambridgeshire, who has thirty years’ experience working on jobs large and small. In this post he shares his wisdom about how to employ tradesmen (and women) to make sure the job is done as well as possible for as little money as possible.


  • Do your own clearing out, sugar soaping and degreasing in advance of the tradesman arriving, to save money on preparation.
  • If you use a sole tradesman it is cheaper but there is a bigger risk that it may go wrong and you have little recourse. With a large firm there is more backup if something goes wrong, but you will pay more for the privilege.
  • To find a tradesman, check the Buy With Confidence website, or ask good tradesmen that you already know for a recommendation.

If you have a tradesman around, here are some useful questions you might like to ask in order to get the best deal.


  • What is your rate per hour? Or do you charge per job?
  • Can you give me a price range? Can you explain exactly what is included in this job, and how it relates to the different charges?
  • How long is it going to take? When will you be finished?
  • Is it you who will be doing the job? Are you going to subcontract the job?
  • Will you be sheeting the stairwells and so on to protect carpets/flooring, as part of the job?
  • Will you be taking the builder’s waste away at the end? Are you registered for taking waste away, or will you be using a skip?
  • Will you need money for materials in advance?
  • Do you have Public Liability Insurance? Can I see the certificate?

Painting and decorating

  • If I have a painter around, say for painting a kitchen, does it mean the kitchen has to be empty? Do I have to empty it? Is there a extra charge for degreasing?
  • What brand or make of paint will you be using? (Own brand B and Q supplied by client is a lot cheaper than designer paint)
  • Do you subcontract the wallpaper hanging?


  • Does the plumbing involve gas work (eg cooker hobs, ovens fires boilers)? If so, you will need a gas safe contractor and you should also ask to see gas safe certificate. CORGI doesn’t exist any more, by the way.
  • Does the work involve electrical works? If so you’ll need a registered electrician. Look for the trade bodies ELECSA or NICEIC.


  • Some jobs are easy to price (eg door hanging) whereas others are very difficult (replacing a rotten floor), and may involve other trades. You need to have a very frank conversation about what exactly need doing, as there may be brickwork that needs doing, a new damp proof course and so on.
  • What quality of material are you going to use?
  • Once a kitchen is in your house, it is technically yours, so it’s perfectly normal for the builder to bill you for it straight away on arrival, and you should pay up immediately. Staged payments need to be agreed – weekly basis or monthly basis. If it’s a big job, you might want to employ a quantity surveyor to assess things as you go along (on a large house extension it’s usually worth employing one, for example, as they can also deal with building inspectors).

Other tips

  • Architects won’t supervise a project unless you pay extra. You’ll need to be on site as often as possible if you’re not doing that.
  • Keep friendly with your contractors. Once you lose trust the job is doomed.
  • If you change your mind during the project it will cost you a fortune, so avoid this. Check, check and re-check every detail in advance.
  • Keep 10% of the budget in reserve for any job, as something unexpected always happens.
  • Most builders have 30 day accounts with builders’ merchants, so they will be after payment within that time frame.
  • It’s best to offer tradesmen tea making facilities and a loo, if not hire a portaloo and sort out refreshment facilities on site.

Simon Sparrow’s website


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