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Getting on the ladder Uncategorized

How much should I offer?

Finding a property that you fall in love with is incredibly exciting. However, the feeling is short-lived when you realise the serious business of actually making an offer looms. Working out exactly how much to offer is really tricky, particularly at the moment where factors like the stamp duty holiday and reintroduction of 95% LTV mortgages are fuelling a really frantic market. According to Nationwide, house price growth hit a 17 year high in April 2021 so the market really is very hot.

When you do come across a place that you want to make yours, this post will help you decide how much to offer and increase your chance of being successful.

I’ll caveat that I’m not qualified to advise on financial and mortgage matters, so this post is just a summary of how I’d go about the process of working out how much to offer. When it comes to making mortgage-related decisions, speak to a qualified mortgage adviser or broker.

How much can I borrow?

It’s a really good idea to address this before anything else. Otherwise, the risk is you’ll spend loads of time on Rightmove gushing over dreamy houses, maybe even do some viewings, only to later find out that you can’t get a mortgage anywhere near big enough to buy these homes. Finding out how big a mortgage you can get is incredibly quick and easy.

(In case you don’t feel overly comfortable with what a mortgage is, I did a post summarising the main stuff you should know.)

As a general rule, banks and building societies will offer a mortgage of up to around 4.5 times your gross annual pay. This will vary depending on the lender and your circumstances, but it’s a good indication. So, for example, if you’re earning £30K a year, you’ll probably be able to get a mortgage for around £135K. If you had a £15K deposit, your rough budget would be £150K. Of course, if you’re buying with somebody else who’s in work, these figures quickly multiply out.

While these estimates are helpful, the best thing you can do is get an approval in principle (sometimes called decision in principle or mortgage in principle or AIP or DIP!) This is basically an informal indication of how much a bank is willing to lend you, based on a few quick income & expenditure questions.

While this isn’t a binding agreement to give you a mortgage, it’s usually pretty close to the amount that you could borrow if you went through a full mortgage application. The main differences are that it’s super quick and easy to get an AIP and there’s no hard credit search so your credit rating won’t be impacted.

You can get an AIP by going direct onto a lender’s website or by speaking with a broker. You’ll then normally get the AIP in the form of an email which outlines how much you’ll be able to borrow based on how you’ve answered the questions. It’s a good idea to get multiple AIPs to see if there’s any variance between lenders as criteria and policies vary from bank to bank.

When budgeting, it’s reeeally important to factor in all the extra costs involved in buying a house and the fact that once you’ve moved in, you’ll probably want some cash leftover to make it your own. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set aside some cash and reflect this in the max house price you can afford.

Once you’ve worked out your final budget, you shouldn’t necessarily use this as the max house price figure to use when searching for properties online. That’s because, as in our case, you may be able to nab a house for less than the asking price and so opening up your search for houses that are listed for a few grand over your budget may be wise.

At this point, you should have a really good idea of what the maximum amount you’ll be able able borrow is. By adding this to your deposit, that’s your max house budget. A really important caveat here is that just because you can borrow that amount doesn’t mean you should borrow that amount. If you can fulfil your needs with a property that costs less than your max budget, this may be your best bet but it’s entirely down to personal preference.

What are the risks of paying more for a property than it’s worth?

Objectively working out how much a property is worth is tricky, but crucial. Here’s why.

Let’s imagine you’ve got an AIP and have done a few viewings which have been fine but unexciting. And then, it happens, you come across your dream home in your favourite area and it’s within budget – HALLELUJAH. You’ve fallen in love and the idea of another person setting foot in your home makes you physically sick. I know this feeling.

At this point, it’s tempting to just think that you’re happy to spend up to your max budget to make sure you get it. There are a few reasons why this is rarely a good idea.

Most obviously, the more you buy the house for the more your mortgage payments will be and/or the longer you’ll have a mortgage for. This can be easy to overlook as it’s ultimately ‘future you’ that has to deal with this, but do you really want to saddle yourself with extra debt that may mean working later in life? Is the worry about making ends meet at the end of the month worth it? Not questions I can answer, but certainly things that you should be considering.

Less obvious is the fact that if your offer gets accepted and then at a later date the survey you need to get a mortgage finds it’s not worth what you’re paying, this puts you in all sorts of bother. The mortgage lender is likely to reduce the amount they’re willing to lend to you, and so offering over the odds could screw your chances of getting your name on the deeds.

Another consideration is that if you put down a small deposit eg: 5% and property values slump after you move in, it may be that your home is worth less than the size of your mortgage. This is called ‘negative equity’ and effectively means that you won’t be able to sell your home until values come back up again. This could take years, as we saw after the 2008 financial crash. The market really would have to crash hard for this to happen again, but anything’s possible and the sharp rice in house prices over the last few months makes it more likely.

This has hopefully painted a picture of how important it is that you have a good idea of how much the property you’re considering offering on is worth before making a move.

How can I work out how much a property is worth?

‘Asking’ prices ain’t much use in helping assess how much a house is worth because they’re exactly what they suggest – the price that is being asked for. While estate agents give sellers their view of how much to list their house for, it’s ultimately down to the sellers to set the asking price. For the purpose of objectively valuing a property, you need to ignore this figure and spend some time in Rightmove and Zoopla’s ‘sold prices’ section of the websites.

Alternatively, on Rightmove there’s a ‘Market Information’ section towards the bottom of each listing which shows you various bits of insight, including how much houses nearby have recently sold for which is super helpful. The goal is to work out how much the property you’re interested in is objectively worth, based on how much similar places have recently sold for.

You’re looking for properties as similar as possible to the one you’re assessing ie: same road, number of bedrooms, condition, square footage, garden etc. If you’re in luck, there’ll be multiple very similar houses on the same street that have sold in the last 6 or so months. However, it’s likely that it won’t be as clear cut as this, so you may have to consider nearby streets, slightly different properties (eg: with another bedroom, in worse condition), and looking back a little further in time.

It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon find yourself thinking ‘ahh okay, this one’s got a much bigger garden and so is probably worth around £20K more’. As you’ll have gathered, this isn’t an exact science, but it really is the best way to work out how much a property is worth and therefore the max you should aim to spend on a specific property.

How much should I offer?

By this point, you should know A) how much you can afford (mortgage + deposit) and B) roughly how much the property you’re interested in is actually worth. Simply put, your offer shouldn’t be more than either what you can afford or what it’s worth.

The one caveat I’d add here is that when demand is greater than supply, as we’re seeing at the moment, ‘bidding wars’ are fairly common and can lead to houses going for well over what they’re really worth. If you’re prepared to go down this route then do be aware of the risks I mentioned earlier.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Location, Location, Location you’ll know that it’s very rare for a first offer to be expected – there’s usually some back and forth. This is why it’s often a good idea to go in with an initial offer that’s slightly below the max that you’d be prepared to pay. Bear in mind that putting in an offer much lower than the asking price is not likely to go down well and so unless you have a solid justification for this (eg: you know there’s significant structural work required), it’s best avoided.

One good tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the seller. If you’d listed your house for £200K and some anonymous human puts forward an offer of £175K, chances are you’re going to pretty miffed at the cheek of them and annoyed that they’re wasting your time. However, if you received this same offer of £175K along with some justification of why it’s £25K lower than the asking price, you’d probably view it in a different light. This approach doesn’t guarantee you getting a steal, but it does set the scene for a negotiation in which the seller is more likely to come down from their asking price.

How do I actually make an offer?

When it comes to making an offer, you’ll go through the estate agent. The simplest and easiest thing to do is to give them a quick call with your offer and see what happens. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m sure it’s the most common way to make an offer. However, to my mind, there’s a far better way of approaching this that will increase your chances of being successful.

I won’t go into detail on the stuff I’ve written about in a post about how to make your offer irresistible, but it’s all about selling yourself and building rapport. So when you get in touch with the estate agent, make sure to reinforce why you’re a dream buyer eg: first time buyer so no property to sell, already have mortgage AIP in place, flexible date-wise. As mentioned above, if your offer is below the asking price, make sure you justify why this is.

Follow-up the phone call with an email to reiterate the key points of your offer and situation – this serves as a helpful reminder to the estate agent when they pass your offer onto the seller. It also means you’ll come across as a serious buyer which the estate agent will notice.

The only other thing I’d mention is that if you’re able to visit the estate agent in person to make the offer, do it. It may sound a little formal and old-fashioned, but any opportunity to make a good impression should be taken and there’s no substitute to speaking with people face-to-face.

What happens next?

The period of silence after you make an offer can be quite unnerving. It could be minutes, hours or days until you hear back from the estate agent and there’s nothing you can do but wait.

We were very fortunate in that our first offer was accepted. I’m convinced that this was largely down to the tips I mentioned above, especially as we got the house for £20K less than we were prepared to pay and well below the asking price. However, there will have been some luck in there too, and to have a first offer accepted is quite rare.

I’ve never been involved in a negotiation process so I don’t think I’m best-placed to give tips on how to deal with this. What I will say, however, is that you should stick to your guns and not go over either your max budget or how much you think the property is worth.


You may get the first place you offer on, you may get the 20th place you offer on, so there really is a decent chunk of luck involved. Once you do get that incredibly exciting call to say your offer has been accepted, the process of actually buying the house begins. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a post about our house buying journey.

Good luck!

If you found this post helpful, you might enjoy top 10 tips for buying your first home and deciding what your ‘dream home’ looks like.

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DIY projects Uncategorized

DIY block paver driveway apron

The trickiest part of our driveway project was the block paver apron which separates the gravel drive from the footpath. It would have been easier to just gravel all the way up to the footpath, but because we wanted to widen the entrance that wasn’t really an option as it would look rubbish. It took some time and patience, but we got there in the end.


The dig

The photo below shows the front of our house when we moved in. The wee garden to the right looked nice but having such a narrow drive wasn’t ideal. Plus, the broken concrete look wasn’t great. To widen the entrance, we knocked down part of the wall and dug out some of the grass verge that sat in front of it.

We then dug out a generously deep channel where the pavers were going to sit. The width of the opening is around 4.5 metres and the total paver area is 3 square metres.

I used concrete edging as an edge restraint all around the paved area to keep the pavers in place. I dug out to 30cm where these edgings would sit, allowing 10cm for MOT type 1 (sub-base), 5cm for a mortar bed and 15cm for the concrete edging.

For the area below the pavers, I dug out to 25cm, allowing for a generous 15cm sub-base, 5cm mortar bed plus the 5cm thick pavers. With those levels dug to, I laid some permeable membrane down and whackered the sub-base until it sat 20cm below the finished paver level.

The below picture gives a better idea of the fairly awkward shape and levels of the apron area.

Edge restraint

For the mortar bed that the edging sits on, I mixed 1 part cement to 4 parts sharp sand (or what should have been sharp sand, I got sent building sand…) I kept it as a fairly dry mix so that it would just about stay in a ball when squeezed.

I used the bottom of a sledgehammer to compact the bed down before positioning the edging and then added a 45 degree haunch to the front and back to keep the edging in position.

Where possible, I butted the edging up against the footpath as a guide. A rubber mallet is the perfect tool to help bed the edging down to into the mortar to the right level.

Hopefully if you’re doing something similar you’ll have a fairly simple shape and no differing slopes to contend with – this made the job a lot slower for me. I’ve never used a spirit level so many times.

For the rectangular area, I cut a couple of sections of wood to 482mm to use as spacers to make sure that the front and back of the edge restraints sat parallel and wide enough to accommodate 3 courses of pavers. The pavers we went for are Drivesett Tegula in charcoal which are 160mm wide. So 3 courses of 160mm plus an extra mm allowance around the edge equals 482mm. That was a little tight, I should a have allowed closer to 485mm.

As I didn’t add a drainage channel, I included a 1 in 60 fall to allow water to drain off the pavers and into the gravel.

To make the cuts I used an angle grinder. I started by using a stone cutting disc but it was taking forever. I switched it out for a diamond cutting disc which was about 792 times faster.

Eventually, the moat was complete. God knows what the postman thought when he arrived to this scene.

Laying the pavers

With the edging in place, I brought the MOT up to its final level, whackering every now and then. I cut out this wee jig to make it very easy to see when the MOT was 9cm from the top of the edging. This assumed that the 5cm sand and cement bed for the pavers would compact by around 1cm.

Block pavers are usually laid directly on a bed of sand. I decided that due to the beating that the apron was going to get and its fairly modest size that I should add some cement to this mix to really set them in place.

Before laying the mortar bed and the pavers, I did a test run to see how much the pavers would compact after running the whacker plate over them. This is a really important step because otherwise you’d be totally guessing how high to lay the pavers above the edging. I found that the pavers compact by around 1cm, so this meant that the bed would need to be 4cm from the top of the edging. Here’s what the test area looked like after I whackered it.

I started laying the mortar bed, using a piece of timber to screed it to 4cm below the edging.

Then the exciting bit – paver laying. I used 3 different sized pavers that were 24, 16 and 12cm wide. I used a ratio of around 4:4:1 which sounds odd, but based on looking at pics of pavers online this seemed to be a fairly standard sort of ratio. To be honest, the whole point is that they look randomly selected so I guess any ratio would work fine!

It was at this point that I got a bit nervous about the whacker plate compacting the pavers to the right level, which I shouldn’t have as I’d done a test. Instead of waiting for the whacker stage, I started tapping the pavers down into place with a rubber mallet. This did nothing more than give me a bit of confidence that I was laying the mortar bed at the right height so absolutely is not a necessary step.

The rectangular area of the apron was quick and easy – things got more challenging when I got into the triangular bit. This was mainly because of how the footpath that leads down to our drive is quite steep and so effectively there are two gradients meeting. The other difficulty was that I couldn’t use the screeding jig to get the bed to the right levels because of the triangular shape. People usually set poles into the sand to screed along but this wasn’t an option due to the varying levels. So my solution was just to go slow and keep checking levels relentlessly, using a trowel to spread the mortar and already laid pavers for reference. I was very dubious that this would work but fortunately it did.

After a good while, there was no longer space for full blocks and so the cutting began.

First, I positioned a full paver over the area that it needed to fill. I then used chalk and a spirit level to mark where I needed to make the cut.

There are lots of options for how to cut pavers, but I found that using the same diamond cutting disc as I used for the edging was really quick and easy. So much so that I now use the phrase ‘like a diamond cutting disc through a block paver’ instead of ‘like a hot knife through butter’.

I’d managed to avoid having to cut tiny pieces until the very last paver which needed to be hilariously small (see below pic). However, it was incredibly satisfying to tap that baby down into the bed to complete the puzzle.

The cutting didn’t actually take as long as expected.

Kiln dried sand

Like most DIY jobs, the last step is the most satisfying, and this could not be more true than it is with block pavers. The final stage was to spread kiln dried sand in between the gaps and watch it trickle down to fill every nook and cranny. Also called silica sand, this stuff is incredibly fine and by filling up every void it effectively sets the pavers in their final position, giving them zero room to shift around.

Very hard to explain how great this job is without sounding like an oddball, but trust me, it’s bloody great. Haz and I were fighting over who got to do it.

Once the sand had stopped dissipating down the cracks, the whacker plate came out again to help work the sand into the gaps and jiggle the pavers into their final position. Most normal people would use a neoprene mat attached to the whacker to protect the pavers, but we didn’t have this and so used some old underlay.


With the final whacking completed, we were done. This definitely has to be one of the most rewarding DIY jobs I’ve done so far. Sure, there’s a few bits of gear required, but there really aren’t any complicated tasks. If you’re driveway is in need of a revamp, this could be a good place to start.

All in, it cost just shy of £300 for 3 square metres. £200 of that was the pavers plus concrete edging. On top of this, the whacker plate cost £80 to hire to 10 days but I used this for the whole driveway and patio too.

Materials

  • MOT type 1
  • Sharp sand
  • Cement
  • Length of 4×1
  • Concrete edging
  • Block pavers
  • Kiln dried sand

Equipment

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Hired whacker plate (from Brandon hire)
  • Spirit level of varying length
  • Jigsaw
  • Sledgehammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Trowel
  • Angle grinder and diamond cutting disc
  • Chalk
  • Soft bristle brush
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Uncategorized

Extension post #11 – how much did it cost?

Whilst talking about money doesn’t come naturally to us British folk, it seems daft to write loads of posts about our extension without covering the reality of how much it all cost. Before we decided to have work done, I found very little helpful content online about the cost of extensions other than “between £1,000 and £3,000 per square metre” which is useless. So if y’all are thinking of having similar work done, or are simply nosey (as I would be), read on for a breakdown of how much our extension cost.


Pre-building work

There were a few costs before the builders arrived. These included architect fees (£775), planning application (£84) and structural engineer calculations (£714) which meant we’d spent £1,573 before anything actually changed. We could have saved money by not using an architect and just going with the builder’s interpretation of what we wanted, but we felt this was too risky.

Building work

If you’ve been following my extension posts, you’ll have a good idea of what the work included. As well as a 3 x 6 metre single pitch roof extension, we had a loo put in under the stairs and our side door moved to allow access straight into the new utility. You can see more details in the post I wrote about our plans.

Our builder project managed the work and we agreed a fixed price contract before the build began. This contract included doing all the work except for supplying/fitting the kitchen, laying the flooring and decorating. So electrics, plumbing and plastering, steels etc. were all included in the price.

The total cost of the planned building work was £37,700. I’ve written a bit more about the quotes we had in this post about choosing our architect and builder.

Any deviations from the contract meant we’d either have to pay more/less than the figure we’d agreed. As you might expect, we added more bits than we removed. This included adding another Velux, lighting above/below kitchen units, upgrading to column radiators and quite a few extra electric and plumbing bits. The extra Velux cost £365, extra electrics £775, and extra plumbing £540. We knew that we’d inevitably want to add a few bits here and there so thankfully had 10% extra planned into the budget.

So, all-in-all, all the building work plus extra bits came to £39,380. We were very lucky to have no unexpected costs during the build – I reckon that’s very rare!

Kitchen & utility

This was our next biggest cost. The kitchen & utility units came to £4,247 which for 20 units plus all the trim is crazy good. That’s because we ordered from DIY Kitchens who are significantly cheaper than elsewhere. I sounds like I’m being paid to write this but I am not (although if anyone from DIY Kitchens is reading this, gizza bell). This post is about how we planned and ordered our units.

We ordered our laminate worktops and upstands separately – these came to £617. I didn’t trust myself to fit the worktops so we paid a chap £145 to do these.

On top of that, knobs and cups for the units cost £138 which seems a ridiculous amount to spend on this but trust me, it adds up.

The sink cost £160 and tap came in at an offensively cheap £28 (let’s see how long it lasts…)

We’ve bought the tiles for our kitchen splashback but I ain’t put them up yet. These cost £125.

Then there were various other, smaller costs including pendants & bulbs for the island as well as all the other fixings I bought to use whilst fitting the kitchen/utility which came to £230 in total.

SO, absolutely all of these bits came to £5,690 which I think is quite good for a decent-sized kitchen and utility. Fitting the units ourselves probably saved us between £2,000 and £3,000, although we did have a quote of almost £4K.

Appliances

When it came to choosing our appliances, it was a bit overwhelming to begin with. We soon decided to just buy whatever Which? recommended, providing it was sensibly priced. Appliances came to £2,504 in total, broken down as follows:

  • Stoves range & extractor hood – £988
  • Hisense integrated fridge freezer – £307
  • Bosch washing machine – £400
  • Bosch tumble dryer – £500
  • Integrated Hisense dishwasher – £309

Flooring

We’ve had Karndean LVT flooring fitted to the extension, dining area and utility. This came to around 35sq. metres and cost £2,045, including fitting. This felt like a lot to pay for flooring but it should last a lot longer than any other alternative and so will hopefully be worth it in the long run.

W/C

The building contract didn’t include the loo vanity unit & tap or supply/fitting of tiles. These costs came to £368.

Decorating

Haz saved us a load of cash by doing all the decorating (she has now painted every square inch of the house). So we only had to pay for paint, paintbrushes etc. which came to £164. I think it would have been £1,000+ if we’d used a decorator.

Sundry

Who doesn’t love a sundry category? The place where you put stuff that you didn’t budget for. This included pendant cables for the island lights, door knobs & dipping the doors we bought from FB marketplace. Cost = £92.

The numbers are in…

In case you’re not phenomenally good at mental arithmetic, the total cost of the extension + other bits came to £51,274 (give or take a couple of quid). The original budget we set was £55K, including a small contingency, so we’re glad to have come in under that figure.

Whilst it feels good to imagine that we’ve added more value than that to the house, it shouldn’t matter too much as we plan on living here for a looong time.

It’s worth mentioning that these figures don’t include furniture, the patio that I laid outside the extension, or any of various bits we’ve bought to make the new space look pretty. As you might expect, these add up, so I’d definitely recommend budgeting for this stuff.


It feels a little odd being so transparent about what we spent on the extension but I hope that it’ll prove really useful to some of you guys when budgeting for your own work. We’re based in Yorkshire so probably worth lobbing an extra chunk of cash to your budget if you’re in London/South East.

I’ve said it before but DEFINITELY get multiple quotes for the work. We got 5 quotes and they varied by £17K… So unless you’ve got a spare 17 grand knocking around, it’s worth getting in touch with a few builders.

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Uncategorized

Fitting our ‘DIY Kitchens’ kitchen

As a true Yorkshireman, I love a bargain. So saving money by fitting the kitchen myself was very appealing. When we had our first fitting quote back of almost £4K that sealed the deal. I could buy a load of awesome new tools, fit the kitchen myself and still be a few grand better off?! Sure, a bit of DIY/woodwork experience helps, but it’s largely a case of getting stuff level and fixing it in place. This is a relatively short summary of how it went. I may, one day, get round to doing a a few in depth posts on the process.

In case you’re interested in how we went about planning & ordering our DIY Kitchens kitchen & utility, have a peek at this post.


Setting out

Like so many DIY jobs, spending some time looking at what you’re working with is key. This involved measuring up, checking variations in floor level, irregularities in walls, different wall types that would need to be fixed to etc.

We were pretty lucky in that the plasterers did an awesome job of getting the walls level and plumb. For the most part, the floor was level, but there were some dodgy areas. Nothing that the adjustable unit feet couldn’t sort out.

I used a laser level to mark the top position of all floor units on the walls.

This baby is definitely a must for a job like this and only cost £30. I got an irrational amount of satisfaction from seeing the laser light up dust on top of the units.

The last thing to do before fixing units in place was to make any adjustments. The back of the sink unit needed cutting out.

I also needed to make some pretty major changes to the units that sat against the kitchen pillar. The wall units took bloody ages and almost led to a nervous breakdown.

Onto the next stage.

Fixing the units in place

With all the levels set and units adjusted, it was onto fixing the units in place. I started with the wall units so that the the base units weren’t in the way. The laser level worked a treat, but having a 6ft spirit level was also really helpful.

I used Corefix dot & dab fixings for the wall units. They’re pricey for what they are but having confidence that our wall units won’t fall down in the middle of the night is priceless.

With the wall units in place, I lined the base units up with them to keep things symmetrical.

The corner where base units met was a bit tricky to get right but after cutting a corner post to size it looked smart.

I used L brackets and wall plugs to fix the base units and tall units against the wall.

The kitchen came with wee screws to tighten the units against each other.

Before whapping the doors back on, I fixed all the cups and knobs in place. I spent ages on this ‘cos one wrongly drilled hole would lead to a great deal of sadness.

Trim

With the units fixed in place, I moved onto adding trim, starting with the pelmets that sit on the underside of the wall units.

Having brand new, high tooth count blades for cutting these bits is key to get sharp cuts and avoid tear out.

For the pelmet/cornice I used mitre adhesive to join the sections before screwing onto the units with fixit blocks/screws.

Once the floor was laid, I added the plinths. These babies just clip onto the unit legs.

Where there were gaps between units and the wall, I added filler panels. If I was a proper person I would have scribed these and used a jigsaw to cut them out. But, the walls were very close to plumb and my £25 jigsaw wasn’t up to the task. A circular saw ended up doing a good job.

For the end panels, I either cut them down using my table saw or circular saw, depending on the end panel size. I then screwed them in place from the inside of the unit.

Worktops

We hired a man to do most of the worktop work because I wasn’t confident doing the 90 degree join where the laminate changes direction. I did cut the island and utility worktops, which involved roughly cutting them to size with a jigsaw and then using a 1/2 inch router against a spirit level to give a clean cut.

After cutting the upstands to length, I fixed them to the wall with some adhesive and added some clear sealant at the bottom.


This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this so it was pretty stressful and slow going. However, it’s not that complicated a process and I’d actually really like to do another! The key to doing a good job is definitely in the planning and taking time to set out properly.

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Doing it up Uncategorized

Looking back on 2020

Ahh 2020, what a year. Haz and I had expected that our free time would be dominated by the refurb this year, but we didn’t expect to have quite so much free time. Looking back on what we’ve achieved, I’m actually really chuffed and feel very lucky to have had so much stuff to crack on with whilst stuck at home. There’s still a fair amount to get sorted, but we’re 90% of the way there. Here’s what 2020 looked like for project number nine.


January

January was mainly about finishing touches in our bedroom. The fitted wardrobe was finished, floor varnished and walls painted, so it was a case of filling the space. I made a picture ledge to go above the bed and some ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights

The wall where a fireplace once stood looked pretty sad so Haz found a lovely cast iron fireplace surround on Facebook to install. We weren’t bothered about having fire in the bedroom so it was just for show.

After breaking out the wall, I tiled the hearth with some fetching crackle glaze tiles.

Then it was a case of fixing the fireplace up against the wall and voila. Quite an improvement vs the white plastic grate that was sat there before.

By the end of January, our bedroom was finished.

February

February was all about the spare room. The ceiling and walls were in a state so it was a fairly bleak month of stripping, filling and sanding. Here’s Haz demonstrating how such grim jobs can be achieved whilst remaining glamorous.

We had to sand every inch of the walls and ceiling. I do not miss this job.

Looking back on Feb, I’m not sure how we stayed motivated. Another bleak job was stripping the fireplace that took between 12 and 15 coats of stripper to remove the multiple layers of paint.

Once all the prep work was done, we slapped some paint on the walls and that was all we could do until the carpets got fitted, which was supposed to be in April…

February was the month when we finalised our extension plans after much dithering. We also settled on a builder, with a planned start date of June.

With the architect’s drawings in hand, we started kitchen planning. We actually ended up ordering our kitchen and utility units in late February to beat a price increase which was pretty risky given that the measurements were only theoretical… But we were lucky and it all worked out.

March

March begun with more hearth tiling, this time in the spare bedroom.

Haz began painstakingly stripping the stair banister and spindles before sanding and repainting them.

Then it was onto the final bedroom, our box room. This actually felt like a treat as it’s so much smaller than the other rooms. The walls had dents all over them as you can see from the filling that Haz did. They looked like a spotty teenager.

After stripping the ceiling wallpaper, there was a load of adhesive that we couldn’t get off. We ended up sticking some thick lining paper up which worked a treat.

It was just about at this point that we went into lockdown. I picked up some essentials from Wilkos, thinking they’d last until it was all over… I was wrong.

The priorities became getting a couple of home-working set-ups sorted. Haz shotgunned the dining room table, a smart choice.

In my infinite wisdom, I cobbled together a desk for myself from scrap wood. No need for anything special, ey? Unbelievably, this monstrosity of a creation is still going strong.

Warmer weather and later nights meant that I could crack on with outside work. To allow for the extension, the garage had to move back 5 metres so I dug out for a concrete pad to sit it on.

April

April began in the same way as most months: stripping and sanding, this time on the stairs themselves.

And some wallpaper stripping…

And some radiator/windowsill stripping…

I ‘accidentally’ burnt my hand with the heat gun which was good fun. Little did I know that this would pale in comparison to the injury that I would sustain just a month later…

Anyway, this meant Haz became chief garden digger which I wasn’t sad about.

With the area for the garage concrete pad dug out, I laid the sub-base and set out the shuttering in preparation for concreting.

And then the day came – mixing 1.5 cubic metres of concrete in a £110 cement mixer similar in size to a blender. Somewhat inevitably, it ended up taking 2 days.

Our enthusiasm was short-lived.

In hindsight, it’d have been cheaper and 400 times quicker to get ready-mixed concrete delivered but at least we learnt a new skill, I guess…

With one load of digging behind me, I moved onto the next. This time for decking.

I love working with wood so once the digging was done, this was a pretty joyous task.

By the end of April, the decking base was down and ready for me to build the seating.

Look at the state of our drive at this point #neighboursoftheyear.

May

What a month May was. Primarily because of the arrival of this little man, Basil.

Needles to say, the rate of DIY took a hit from this point onwards. How can you bring yourself to sand walls when this little creature is flopping around?

We did get a few bits done. My Pa brought the big boys round to help clear our drive of several tonnes of earth. We must have saved a small fortune by not having to get skips, bless him.

The decking seats started to come along nicely.

With the framework in place, I began fixing the panels.

With some cheeky under-seat storage.

May also saw the start of project ‘dismantle and remantle the garage’, starting with removing the roof.

Before I got chance to take the walls apart, quite a bad thing happened. Long story short, I sat on a steak knife which impaled my left bum cheek up to the handle. In case you think I’m lying, here’s the knife and below it is a photo of my shorts post-knife-sit (WARNING: graphic content).

Yeah so that wasn’t ideal but I’m often reminded how ‘lucky’ I was that the knife didn’t hit an artery or ‘tear me a new bumhole’ – the sympathy was limited. 3 stitches, a large amount of drugs, and 2 weeks later, I was back at it.

June

Sorry for more Basil spam, promise it’s the last one. This is B-dog on Haz’ birthday.

With the little man on the scene, we couldn’t really afford to have an open drive anymore so I made a gate.

This was probably my favourite project of the year, I’d love to make another.

It’s not perfect, but it keeps the pooch in and unscrupulous people out.

With a fully healed buttock, I was able to return my focus to moving the garage. The walls are made out of 2 foot wide reinforced concrete panels so shifting them wasn’t fun. BUT, it was pretty cool to see the space open up ready for the extension.

July

With the ugly ducking garage moved, the time came to clad it.

This took a while as drilling into the panels to fit the battens was a nightmare but we’re chuffed with how it turned out. One day I’ll get round to painting it.

I made a little more progress on the decking in-between other jobs.

It such a nice space to use on a summer evening. Shame that 2020 was the worst year ever for socialising.

July marked the start of the extension build. I won’t lie, it didn’t start great. I’ve always fancied a moat around the house, but one filled with neighbours’ excrement wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

Once this was sorted, we were informed that the concrete foundations had been laid in the wrong place. These things happened within 3 days of the guys starting the work so needless to say, we were not filled with confidence. To be fair, from this point on there were only small mistakes that you’d expect with any building project.

Once the walls started going up, we could get a proper feel for the space.

By the end of July, the roof was on.

August

August was all about trying to minimise stress caused by the building work. Covid meant that we couldn’t stay anywhere during the wall knock through which was pretty bleak. At least it wasn’t winter, that would have been horrendous.

Seeing the space open up was great, although keeping a pup occupied during the disruption was a bit of a ‘mare. I have no idea how people with kids have building work done.

Bi-fold day was an exciting day.

Work started to shift the side door and separate the utility from the kitchen.

The little DIY I did get done in August was a french cleat tool wall for the garage – well fun and such a good way to organise stuff.

September

The transformation in September was awesome. We started with this hideous shell and ended with a fully functioning kitchen.

The plastering took 5 guys two days – ridiculously impressive operation.

Soon after the plastering was done, our kitchen arrived. Haz nattered away with the delivery guys whilst the builders and I lugged all the units round the back of the house.

The race was on to get the extension painted before the kitchen could be fitted.

Haz took a week off work and spent 8 days straight painting… What an effort. Some family support was much appreciated.

Haz painted the fireplace and wall behind it which is such a huge improvement on what it looked like before.

With the kitchen area painted, I made a start on fitting the kitchen. Having not done anything like this before, YouTube was my friend.

Slowly but surely, it started to take shape, despite a couple of meltdowns along the way.

This is the face of somebody who is incredibly excited to clean their island for the first time.

Once the kitchen & utility units were fixed in place, around 32 men slotted the range in place and second fix electrics and plumbing began.

The first ‘proper’ meal we cooked on the range was pizza, potato waffles and peas… What a couple of children.

Whilst we were painting/fitting the kitchen, the builders were working on the under stairs loo. Previously, this was a coal house with a door outside.

I whapped some funky tiles down. Another scenario where initially I wasn’t convinced but Haz was right. Hope she doesn’t read this.

The builders also blocked up what used to be the door to the kitchen.

The guys filled in the old doorway and switched the window out for a door that would lead into the utility.

I managed to spend some more time on the decking, finishing off the seats and adding a slate channel around the edge. There’s still a few more bits to do but let’s just assume I’ve finished it!

October

October was all about the patio. First, of course, more digging.

I hired a whacker for a weekend to compact the sub-base down which was well fun.

With the sub-base compacted, I started laying the porcelain tiles. I was a bit anxious about this job as I probably should have left it to people who knew what they were doing.

It took me bloody ages to lay just these 20 tiles and I’m pretty sure I did myself some long-term back damage in the process. BUT, it went well and saved a few grand by DIYing it. I’m leaving the last third of the patio until spring, by which point the pond that we filled in should hopefully have fully settled.

Whilst I was patio-ing, the builders and co. were checking off a few last bits. Basil was very confused about how a loo appeared out of nowhere.

November

It would probably have been cost-effective to have bought a mini-digger given the amount of earth I’ve shovelled this year. The garage isn’t big enough for storage + space for me making/breaking things so we’re building a small workshop/mancave at the back of the garden. Both Haz and I are delighted as she gets the house and I get my own shed.

I laid a load of flags, built the timber frame, and then fixed ply on top.

This project has been very much a father-son effort. My Dad built all the wall frames and roof trusses on the farm. Lockdown then delayed us as my Dad couldn’t bring the wall frames round.

Moving inside, the carpet fitting we had booked for April was finally rearranged for the end of Nov. Ahead of this, Haz painted the stairs ready for the runner and I spent some time ridding our floorboards of their ridiculous squeaks.

Then the carpet man came to do his thing. This carpet is fitted to 2 bedrooms as well as the landing and stairs.

Downstairs, the floor fitter cracked on with laying the Karndean.

Once the floor was down, I could finish off the last kitchen bits including end panels and plinths. And FINALLY, the extension was done!

And the utility too.

Our new sofa arrived on my bday which was exciting.

December

Wahooo tier 2! My Dad came round with the pre-made walls and trusses for the workshop. After a few hours, the walls and roof structure were up. I tell you, the man’s a genius.

The next day we raced against the clock to get the roof sheets on before it poured down.

After I added a few bits of trim, my Dad and a pal came round to start cladding.

With those two cladding and me cutting & pre-nailing the boards, we had one side done in no time. The fact that more people doing a job leads to it getting done quicker was a revelation for me. If anyone fancies helping out with stuff in 2021 let me know – you’d be paid in the currency of chips/bacon butties.

The outside is now 95% done, just got to add some trim at the top and make a ramp.

Once we’ve sheathed the inside of the walls and put some second-hand laminate flooring down, I’ll be officially moving in.


So there you have it, 12 months of fairly relentless refurbing and DIY. I have no idea what we did with our spare time when we lived in a 2 bed London flat…

There’s no way we’d have done so much if we hadn’t been stuck at home on evenings and weekends. Fingers crossed that 2021 will be a better balance of doing stuff and actually getting the chance to appreciate it.

Thanks to all who have followed our refurb journey this year, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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Extension post # 10 – finito!

Four and a half months later and we’re pretty much there. It feels sooooo good. We’ve still got a few things to buy/do before it’s 100% finished but, for now, we’re just enjoying it!


Pre-extension, the kitchen was our least favourite room in the house, by far. It was tiny, the units were falling apart, and only 1 of the gas hobs worked. We now have the kitchen of our dreams and feel incredibly lucky!

Being the intensely sad people that we are, we’ve been speaking about having a range cooker and kitchen island for a few years. Cooking is now a joyful experience and so we fight over who gets to be chef. We eat sat at the island most nights which is so, so much nicer than being slumped on the living room sofa like we used to be.

One of the jobs still do to is tiling the kitchen wall. We’re going to use these tiles in a herringbone pattern – wish me luck, I’ll need it.

We went for Karndean LVT flooring which was pricey but looks great and is easy to clean. Apparently it lasts forever but this furry fella may have other ideas.

Opposite the kitchen we’ve got a wee seating area. One day I’ll make a coffee table to go here but for now it works well just as a place to flop. Basil loves to chill here whilst barking at cats in the garden and watching his mother cook.

The door at the back of the kitchen leads to a small utility room.

Initially, I wasn’t fussed about having a utility, but I’m glad that Haz pushed for it because it’s so handy to have this space separate from the kitchen. Plus, it’s a great place to leave a muddy dog to dry off.

As part of the work, a loo was sneaked in under the stairs. Whilst cat swinging isn’t an option in here, not having to go upstairs for a wazz is a well nice.

From outside, the extension looks really cosy. I’ll finish the patio in spring once the earth sat in the pond that used to be on the left hand side has had chance to settle over winter. I should probably give the patio a good clean…


We’re so chuffed with how the extension has transformed our home. Although, having said that, I’m hoping that it’ll be many years until we have any more building work done 🙂

Once we’ve finished everything, I’ll do a post on where we got stuff from. I may also do a post about how much everything cost as I’m sure that’ll be helpful for people planning on having similar work done.

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Life relocation – finding work

For a lot of people, relocating won’t be possible without finding a new job and so naturally it’s the starting point for moving to a new area. It can feel like a real struggle what with there often being less opportunities if you’re moving away from big cities and the fact that you may need to travel for hours just to get to interviews. There were points when we felt like giving up but hopefully these tips will make your job search a little less grim.


Where to start?!

Before cracking on, I should say straight up that if you’re self-employed or have a pretty niche job then this advice probably won’t be overly helpful. If you’re ‘an employee’ and have a relatively normal job, read on.

If, like me, you have no idea where to start with your job search, you’ll first need to narrow things down. This is going to save you a shed load of time so it really is worth doing straight away. I reckon there are only 4 scenarios that you’re likely to find yourself in before searching for a new job and working out which you fall in is the first step.

Scenario 1 | you like the industry you’re currently working in AND enjoy the role = lucky you, search for a job that’s as similar to current one as poss

Scenario 2 | you like the industry you’re working in but not so much your current role = the move is an opportunity to try a new role in your sector so search by industry

Scenario 3 | you like the role you’re in but are not a fan of the industry = you guessed it, look for similar roles in a different industry

Scenario 4 | you dislike both your current role AND the industry you’re in = what a glorious opportunity to find something totally new.

This might seem like a pretty basic way of considering your options and that’s because it is. But I wish that I’d worked this out before I started my search as it would have saved me a shed load of time and frustration.

It’ll often be the case that people fall into one of the first three scenarios but because of limited opportunities in the area they’re moving to, are forced to think more broadly. That was the case for me as I enjoyed my job and the sector, but there were very limited opportunities in the industry near York so by default I was a scenario 3’er – searching for a similar role in a new industry.

The search

With a rough idea of the role & industry you’re hoping to find a job in, you can start searching. There are a load of ways to do this and I tried them all with varied success.

Job sites/apps

Many articles online seem to diss these but it’s how I found my job so I’ve got no complaints. There are dozens of sites/apps and thousands of jobs on them so before using them I’d recommend starting out fairly specific or it could be overwhelming.

Rather than using a scattergun approach and lobbing your CV out to every job site, spending some time working out which sites serve the industry/role types you’re looking for best works better. After some research I found that LinkedIn listed the most product manager jobs (my background) and so made sure my bio was up to date and tailored towards the type of roles I was after.

Setting up alerts is well worth it because it means that A) you’re far less likely to miss great opportunities and B) nobody will apply to the job quicker than you (providing that you’re on it). You can set-up alerts on pretty much all job sites. Just make sure you’re clear about what you’re after or you’ll end up getting very random calls from recruiters that are hiring for a job that is incredibly far from what you’re looking for which is funny to start with but soon gets annoying.

Recruiters

A lot of industries rely heavily on filling roles through recruitment firms. If that’s the case for a sector you’re interested in, then you’ll want to make best pals with a few recruiters. I tried this but it didn’t work out because when I contacted them I was pretty clueless about what I wanted to do. Recruiters do not like vagueness so if you do go down this route, make sure you’re specific about what you want.

Remember that recruiters are on commission and so, understandably, their priority is to get you into a job. Any roles that they do throw your way therefore need to be properly scrutinised before applying to make sure you know what you’re in for. Having said that, you don’t have to pay to use a recruiter so there’s nowt to lose.

Applying direct

I left it way too long before properly researching employers in and around York. This is well worth doing as if you spot a couple that you like the sound of you can keep an eye on their job page and set-up alerts for that employer on job sites. I first came across the firm that I now work for by searching ‘big companies Leeds’ which sounds like what a child would do but it worked. I then set-up alerts for the company on LinkedIn and bingo.

I’ve heard of people getting results from speculative applications where you contact businesses with a CV and cover letter in the hope that they’ll remember you and get in touch when a job comes up. Or, if you are the most employable person of all-time, they could make a role for you… I don’t think this is going to work for many people but I guess there’s no harm in trying.

Friends/family

If you’re lucky enough to have contacts that work for firms that you may be interested in working for, nepotism could be the way forward. I’ve never had the opportunity to be a ‘nepotite’ but have come across A LOT of people who’ve found work through friends and family and why not? I guess the only consideration is that if it turns out you dislike the job/firm, life could get pretty awkward.

Other stuff

As for actually applying to jobs and the fun of interviews, I’ll leave that to you! But there are a few extra things I reckon are worth mentioning.

From deciding to move up to York and actually doing it took us about a year. The main reason it took so long was because I massively struggled to decide what direction to take my career in. I’m SO pleased that I persevered as our relocation is one of the best things I’ve ever done. The annoying thing about moving somewhere new is that you have to put a load of effort in before you actually get to enjoy the benefits of moving. So a bit of advice on this would be to stay determined even if you feel like giving up because the chances are it’ll be well worth it.

A big concern we had about moving north was that we’d take a big hit to our pay. Well, we now have a mortgage on a lovely 3-bed semi in a great area of York for £300 less a month than we paid in rent on our 2 bed north west London flat… And stuff like beer is cheaper too. So remember, if you’re moving north (particularly if away from London/south east/some of south west), it’s all relative. Plus, you may be surprised at how little difference there is between salaries for similar jobs in different areas.

Last thing: I found ‘What Color is your Parachute?’ to be a really helpful book about working out what job/career would suit me best. It’s a bit cheesy, but there’s some really thought-provoking stuff in there.


Truth be told, I’m hoping this post will lead to a surge in people moving up north and thus drive the price our house up. Failing that, if it helps one other human get a job in a new place to start their ‘life relocation’, then I’m happy.

If you fancy reading about how our move north happened, you can have a nosey here.

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Planning & ordering our ‘DIY Kitchens’ kitchen

We spent a ridiculous number of hours researching manufacturers and then designing our kitchen. Overall, I found it pretty fun but there’s a bewildering number of decisions to be made. This post’s all about why we chose our kitchen manufacturer and how we planned out the design. It should be helpful if you’re getting a new kitchen soon, particularly if you buy from DIY Kitchens.


Choosing a kitchen manufacturer

After much deliberation, we decided to order from DIY Kitchens because they came highly recommended and are far cheaper than other kitchen suppliers. The main reason they’re more affordable than competitors is that, as the name suggests, the onus is on you as the customer to plan and order your own kitchen so whilst the staff at DIY Kitchens are really helpful, it’s ultimately down to you when it comes to the design and ordering units. This might immediately put some people off and that’s fair enough – we were willing to put the time in to save a few bob without having to compromise on quality.

We ordered a total of 20 kitchen + utility units and it came to £4,300 (not including any appliances, worktop, sink etc.) If you’ve not ordered a kitchen before this may sound a lot, but it was 30-50% cheaper than the quotes we had from Wren and a local independent firm. Initially, I thought DIY Kitchens’ lower prices would mean lower quality but we’re well pleased with how robustly everything is built.

Another factor that led to us choosing DIY Kitchens was the huge variety of units on offer. Initially, this was a tad daunting but we soon felt fairly confident and it meant that we could design our kitchen exactly how we wanted to. We found that during appointments with other suppliers there was a lot of “oh no we don’t do those in that size” sort of responses to our questions which was frustrating, especially when you’re shelling out so much dosh. DIY Kitchens has a far wider range of units so if they don’t have what you want it’s probably time to get your toolbox out and make the kitchen yourself!

One aspect of buying from DIY Kitchens that will put some people off is that they don’t offer a fitting service. This wasn’t a problem for us as I fitted our kitchen, but the convenience of having fitting rolled into your kitchen purchase will be a big plus for some. If I were to pay for fitting, I would personally use a local fitter anyway. A lot of kitchen manufacturers make a big chunk of their margin from fitting (Wren quoted us £3.5K to fit their kitchen!!!) whilst local outfits are typically much more reasonable.

Getting inspired

I would definitely recommend visiting a few kitchen showrooms before doing anything else. We found it really helpful for inspiration and took approx. 392 photos at each showroom. If you’re considering ordering from DIY Kitchens, a visit to their showroom is a must, although there’s only one and it’s in Pontefract so not ideal if you’re hours away but potentially still worth it to save a few grand. As well as inspiration, visiting DIY Kitchens helped us choose the style and colour. There are loads of different styles from modern handleless designs to more traditional, shaker-style options. We’ve gone somewhere in the middle – Clayton shaker in Dove Grey for the L-shaped units of the kitchen with an island in Carbon.

Another great place for inspiration is Pinterest. It’s pretty much exclusively aspirational stuff that only the rich can afford but regardless, it’s great for giving you ideas on kitchen layout, colours, unit types etc.

Design appointments

With a decent idea of what we were after, we found it really helpful to have a couple of design meetings with kitchen manufacturers. Even though we didn’t end up using them, the advice and ideas they provided were invaluable. It meant that when it came to designing with DIY Kitchens we knew pretty much exactly what we were after. Granted, spending a couple of hours with a kitchen designer and then not using them must be frustrating for those businesses, but the way I see it they’ve not given me a strong enough reason to buy from them and that’s not my fault!

DIY Kitchens’ product range

If, like me, you’ve never bought a kitchen before, you will probably be baffled by the breadth of units that you can buy. DIY Kitchens has a particularly wide product range which at first can be a tad daunting but it’s ultimately a good thing as it means you’re unlikely to have to compromise on anything.

To make the most of the variety of units available, I spent aaaages plodding through every product on their website so that when it came to deciding on a final design, we’d have the best combination of units to suit our needs. Whilst this wasn’t overly fun, it was very worthwhile and I’d really recommend doing this if you end up ordering from these guys.

This is probably a good time to familiarise yourself with all the kitchen lingo too. For example, I had absolutely no idea what plinths, pelmets, cornices, drawerline units, fillers, end panels etc. were before I started the process but the advice guides were great for getting clued up on this stuff.

Planning

The space

Before getting too excited and throwing wine racks all over the place, measuring the space VERY accurately before you start planning is key. You’re far better off ordering units that add up to 5cm or so less wide than the space than them being 1cm wider as you can use fillers to neatly hide any gaps whereas you can’t make the units any narrower. When you do come to planning out your units, remember to factor in the width of end panels (the panels the tidy up the end of a kitchen run) and fillers (that, for example, you might use either side of a range cooker or non-integrated dishwasher). They’re only around 18mm each, but they add up.

Providing your kitchen ceilings aren’t stupidly low, unit height shouldn’t be an issue. If you choose any tall units (like integrated fridge freezer or larder unit), the standard height unit is 212cm in total (197cm unit + 15cm feet) which should line up with the top of any wall units you go for. There are some taller units available, but tbh you’d have to either be 7ft tall or use a stepladder to get to the top of these. Here’s a diagram I did which helped me understand the height of tall units and how base + wall units line up with them based on a 40mm deep worktop.

Anything irregular also needs to be factored in. For example, there’s a 66cm wide pillar that protrudes 13cm from the wall half way down the main wall of our kitchen. Whilst we have units up against the pillar, they’re just basic units with shelves because anything fancier (eg: drawers, fancy mechanisms) wouldn’t work because I had to cut out the back of the units when fitting – you can’t cut out anything with a mechanism. It’s worth noting that altering the units to fit round something like our pillar is a faff and took me hours so chances are fitters would hate this.

The pillar

As well as considering irregularities like pillars, taking into account how your kitchen will flow is vital. A quick Google search and you’ll come across loads of articles about ‘the triangle’ which advises that the sink, fridge, and cooker should be positioned in a triangle so they can easily be moved between. We’ve gone a bit maverick and avoided positioning these three elements in a triangle because we didn’t want the sink or hob on the island, but I do think it’d be a good thing to stick to if it suits your kitchen space.

In terms of spacing, the ideal width of kitchen walkways is between 90 and 100cm. It’s possible to go slightly smaller but it’ll start getting tricky for 2 people to pass each other and you may not be able to, for example, walk past the dishwasher when it’s open. Some people go bigger than one metre but there surely comes a point where it’s actually a bit inconvenient to have to get from one side of your kitchen to the other. We’ve gone for a 1 metre gap all around our kitchen units which is just about right IMO.

Planning tool

By this point you should be fairly well-equipped to get cracking with planning. As I mentioned, with DIY Kitchens the onus is on you to get the planning right so it’s worth spending a decent chunk of time on otherwise you could make costly mistakes. The customer services people are really helpful with answering even very specific questions and I made the most of that!

The best starting point for planning is DIY Kitchens’ planning tool. This allows you to create a virtual space to the exact dimensions of your kitchen. There’s a bird’s eye view function that can be used for selecting and positioning units and then a 3D virtual view that allows you to move around the space to get a better idea of how things look and the flow of the space. It’s pretty much just Sims with the main difference being that this is a productive use of time.

There’s a lot of trial and error but that’s fine as you can easily swap in and swap out different units until you arrive at a combination that you’re happy with. Something that worked well for us was to write down all the bits we had in our kitchen and then plan where we’d put these in our new kitchen, considering any other bits we may need in the future.

When using the planning tool, there are a few options including whether you want soft close drawer runners and what side you want the hinge. Soft close is a no brainer IMO. As for hinge side, we positioned them so that all units would open for access from the range cooker which is in the middle of the kitchen run. So basically, you’re never having to walk around an open door to have to grab stuff.

More planning…

It’d probably be absolutely fine to finalise your kitchen design on the planning tool and then order based on that list of units. I was keen to do a double check of everything and found that planning out all the units on a spreadsheet worked well.

One of the main benefits of planning out on a spreadsheet is that it gives you 100% flexibility. The planning tool is really good, but it can sometimes make assumptions that aren’t right. For example, when we added our island to the planning tool, the end panels weren’t selected in the right place so by using the spready I was able to adjust that.

After planning out our kitchen, I put together an order list with details like dimensions, hinge side, colour etc. to make sure that when it came to actually ordering I felt confident about not making mistakes. This may seem a little OTT, but I’d rather spend another couple of hours prepping than get the order wrong.

DIY Kitchens don’t leave the risk of ordering the wrong stuff exclusively with you. They’ll contact you after you’ve ordered if there’s anything in your order that they think doesn’t look right which is a handy safety net.

Cutting costs

Whilst DIY Kitchens came out a lot cheaper than competitors, it’s still a big purchase and some savvy planning can easily save a few hundred quid, maybe even over a grand.

The first tip is that, as a general rule, anything with a mechanism is more expensive. We saved some money by getting as few drawers a we need and trying to avoid the expensive, but very tempting fancier bits of kit. Having said that, we couldn’t say no to the Le Mans 2 corner unit which is pretty damn sexy.

If you have a couple of wall units next to each other, it’ll likely save you a few quid to get one large unit with double doors than two separate units. We’ve got a 90cm wide double wall unit in the utility which was a lot cheap than getting two single units that added up to 90cm.

After deciding on your units, you can choose the trim that will finish it off. The plinth is the section that sits at the bottom of the units to hide legs, the pelmet is the section that you attach to the underside of wall units and cornice is the stuff that sits on top of wall and tall units. Whilst plinth is a must, you don’t actually have to buy pelmet or cornice. In our opinion, kitchens without these look a bit unfinished but that’s purely personal preference and by leaving these out we’d have saved a decent amount.

Another cost-cutting option is to buy these elements of trim (fillers and end panels included) in carcase material rather than door material. This basically means that they’re made of the material used to build the units rather than the doors. It’s therefore slightly different wood and is colour-matched to the door material rather than being an exact match. For some kitchen ranges and colours, such as our Dove Grey Clayton units, the carcase bits of trim are a very close colour match whereas the Carbon colour of our island units is clearly a different colour to the equivalent carcase material. Like all of these decisions, it’s totally subjective, but if you’re on a tight budget this is another way of reducing your outlay.

Whilst you definitely need end panels to finish off, for example, the side of an integrated dishwasher, there are scenarios where you don’t necessarily need to shell out. Our extractor hood has wall units to either side of it which we could have bought end panels for. However, because the carcase material is a really good match for the door material of a Dove Grey Clayton kitchen, we’ve not actually bothered with end panels and it looks great.

A final tip for y’all: buying non-integrated appliances will save you money. Firstly, the appliance itself will likely be cheaper than an integrated equivalent (and, in the case of fridge freezers, will be more spacious), but it’ll also mean you don’t have to buy any units the house the appliance. We’ve gone for integrated appliances in the kitchen because we don’t like the look of non-integrated, but it’s cost us a few hundred quid more. However, don’t assume all integrated appliances will cost more – our integrated dishwasher was pretty cheap and only required us to add a DIY Kitchens door to the front of it.


I hope y’all found this post helpful. You may be interested in having a peek at other posts like how I fitted our kitchen, what we got up to in 2020 or how much our extension cost.

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Extension post #9 – week 10

It’s fair to say that last week was pretty mental. At one point on Thursday we had no fewer than SIX tradesmen working away (is this allowed?!) so there’s been a huge amount of progress and even some mildly premature bubbly.


Worktops

I decided against fitting the worktops myself and I’m so glad I did as the chap we had to in to it did a far better job than I could. We’ve gone for wood finish laminate worktops because we didn’t fancy the upkeep of real wood.

We’re really pleased with how the worktops look but there’s some damage on the island that we only noticed after it had been fitted. Thankfully the place we got it from have agreed to replace it and we’re hoping they’re going to pay for it to be re-fitted.

Look at how overjoyed Haz was whilst cleaning her island for the first time.

WE HAVE MOD CONS!

All our appliances have gone in this week and tbh it’s all a bit overwhelming. From having to go upstairs for running water to having a kitchen sink, fridge/freezer, washing machine, tumble dryer, range cooker AND dishwasher in the space of a few days has made us quite emotional.

We dithered about whether to get a black tap for the sink but are so glad we did.

It looks great alongside the range and we’re going to get black toaster/kettle/bin.

You may wonder what the first thing we cooked on the range was. Perhaps a roast, or maybe something a tad more special such as a beef wellington? Na, instant noodles. Although we did do a roast last night 🙂

The integrated fridge freezer was horrible to fit but she’s in and as a priority, stubbies were the first thing to go in.

Utility fun

I’ve still not finished fitting the utility because of the interesting extractor fan positioning chosen by the electrician. You can see on the photo below how the hole has been moved right as otherwise the fan would have been in the way of the wall unit.

So it’s been moved across, but still not far enough to fit the wall unit door on. fml. That’ll need to get sorted next week.

Under stairs loo

Some more interesting choices were made in the downstairs w/c. It’s a hilariously small loo and so making the most of the space is key. However, if I, as an average height male, can’t comfortably have a stand up wee/treat myself to a sit down wee without hitting my head on the ceiling then clearly the loo is too far back. I don’t think the plumber/builder share this logic (although to be fair they are on the small side) as the waste pipe positioning would have meant only a Borrower could have enjoyed the space.

Anyway, after a fairly amusing discussion which involved simulating what you do in the loo, Gavin (builder) accepted the loo was going to be too far back and brought the stud wall behind the loo forward. There certainly won’t be able cat swinging going on in there, but at least people below 6ft won’t have to crouch.

I gone and tiled the floor over the weekend. Haz convinced me to go for these crazy-looking things and I’m glad she did as I’m now a fan.

Lighting

The electrician has almost finished all his stuff now. The outdoor lights have gone up which is making taking Basil for a wee a lot less treacherous.

The extension spotlights are in and we’ve added some cheeky below & above cabinet lighting. Well chuffed with that, it looks great.

With a bit of luck the electrician will finish up this week which will include fitting our pendants lights above the island.


We’ve still got a load of stuff to get done on the house before we can fully enjoy it but being able to do small things like run a load of washing and fill up the kettle without having to go upstairs feels amazing. Life is good!

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Extension post #8 – weeks 8 and 9

We’re now painfully close to being able to use our new space and it couldn’t come any sooner. Haz and I are ridiculously irritable and Basil is getting pretty frustrated with having only the living room to roam (see below image). I sound like a very ungrateful man but I reckon if you’ve ever had any significant work done to your house you’ll know where I am coming from!


Building work

Whilst there are still a fair few small jobs for the builder/electrician/plumber to do, the onus is now mainly on us to get stuff done before they can crack on. The builder has therefore only been on site for 3 or 4 days in the last fortnight, focusing mainly on prepping the area under the stairs for the tiny w/c. It really is going to be the smallest loo of all time.

There was once a ‘coal store’ under the stairs that was accessed from an outside door which has been blocked up. As with the previous side door, the coal house doorway was filled in with bricks that came out of the back of the house so we’re chuffed with how seamless it looks. On the photo below you can see the small opening for the loo window which is where the coal house door once was.

The only other decent-sized job the builder has worked on recently has been blocking up what was once the doorway from the hall into the kitchen.

It’s a shame that we’ve lost this doorway as A) it gave a lovely view right through from the front door to the apple tree at the back of the garden and B) it’s made the hallway darker. BUT, to get the extra space in the utility will be worth it.

Boarding up the doorway has allowed the utility back wall to be plastered so now we just need to wait for that to dry before we can paint it and fit the units.

I’m conscious that 0.4% of people reading this will remember what our new floorplan looks like so here’s a wee reminder.

A large amount of painting

We both took a week off work to get our overalls back on and get stuck in. Haz is in charge of decorating and has spent the entire week painting. I think she’s on about 55-60 hours so far and there’s still more to do. We always underestimate how long painting is but this takes the piss. To demonstrate my appreciation of Haz’s commitment to the cause, here’s a small collage of her painting exploits.

It was a shame to say goodbye to the plaster as we loved the colour but now all in white, the extension looks so fresh and so clean, clean.

We’re both well chuffed with how the fireplace and green wall have turned out.

Kitchen fitting

Our kitchen arrived last week. Thankfully Haz was on hand to tick items off the list and have a giggle with delivery guys whilst I hauled 20 kitchen units round the back of the house.

Being the sad man I am, I’ve been looking forward to fitting our kitchen for yonks. And, whilst there has been the odd hiccup/mental breakdown, it’s gone pretty well and has saved us a heap of cash, £35 of which I spent on a laser level which is my new favourite gadget.

We ended up ordering from DIY Kitchens and so far have been really impressed by the quality, value for money and customer service. I’ll probs do some posts soon on how we planned and fitted the kitchen.

We’re getting a bloke in for the worktops as I don’t have the right kit/don’t trust myself to get it right.


With a bit of luck, some of our appliances will have gone in by the end of next week which is ludicrously exciting. I’ve had enough toaster potato waffles to last a lifetime. In other exciting news, we’ve ordered our flooring and sofa. Please appreciate this photo of our sofa using DFS’ visualiser tool, complete with spotty plaster drying pattern.