Basic DIY Guide: Sequence of Work

In this section you will learn:

• Planning permission and building regulations.

• What other formalities should carried out before you start work.

• What work to do when and in what order.


One of the first questions you may ask as you embark on a new project is, ‘What do I do when and in what order?’ This section should help to answer this question. Most of the procedures outlined below are covered in more detail in subsequent sections, but an overview is required at this stage, and the easiest way to provide this is to outline the entire sequence of building a house or an extension.

1. Check planning requirements

Planning permission

First, you must establish that you are allowed to do what you plan to do. Check with the Planning Department and the Building Control Department of your local council to find out if you need planning permission or approval under the building regulations. This can sometimes even apply to work indoors, such as knocking two rooms into one (although it is unlikely to apply if you just want to put up some shelving!). It can certainly apply if, for example, you are building a raised deck in your garden.

See Project 13 on basic decking.

Parliament has given the main responsibility for planning to local planning authorities. While the government has tried to outline the principles of the rules, local authorities will have differing interpretations of these, and you should always check with them if you are in any doubt. It is vital that you never assume that you do not need planning permission to carry out work on your home. It costs nothing to check, but can be very expensive to undo work that has already been completed. Most councils will provide planning and regulation booklets free of charge, or check their web sites.

The purpose of the planning system is to protect the environment and its amenity in the public interest. It is not designed to protect the interests of one person over another. Councils will try to ensure that development is allowed where it is needed, but that the character and amenity of the area are not adversely affected. Local authorities are concerned with the visual aspect of any building and its impact on the surrounding area, and also on the appropriateness of its intended use.

Applying for planning permission is sometimes a complicated and lengthy process, so it is as well to seek professional advice, first from the local council, then from an architect.

Another little-known fact is that when you decide to make alterations to your home and hire a skip to throw your rubbish in, part of the fee the skip company charges is to pay for a planning permission permit should the skip need to be placed on a public right of way.

Building regulations

Building regulations exist to keep you, and those using the property, safe. The house in which you carry out the work may not be your home forever and those who follow have a right to be safe. Also, you have a duty of care to keep yourself, and those entering your property, safe. In addition, there is an obligation to save as much energy as possible through adequate insulation. This applies particularly to one of the most popular DIY projects, that of turning a garage into living accommodation.

Tip: tell the neighbors!

It is always a good idea to inform your neighbors of what you intend to do, even if you do not need planning permission. They have a right to request that this decision be checked, which can delay proceedings. If you do need permission, the council will ask your neighbors for their views anyway.

All building work has to comply with the building regulations, which are part of the Building Act 1984 (amended by the Building Regulations Act 1991). The regulations are updated, amended or changed from time to time and your builder and/or architect, should be fully conversant with the changes. The regulations only affect any new work undertaken when done as an addition to an existing building or on a ‘stand alone’ basis. It is not necessary to bring any existing structure into line with the current regulations, unless stipulated by the local authority.

Even when no planning permission is needed, building regulation approval may be required. Always seek advice from your local authority before starting work. Where building regulations have to be complied with, the Building Control Office of your local council will appoint a Building Control Officer to inspect the work at regular intervals to make sure it complies with the regulations

2. Carry out other preliminary formalities

Find your architect — if you need one

If you get the go-ahead for your project, you may need to employ an architect to produce some working drawings for you. When structural work is carried out on a building it obviously has to be safe, and items such as lintels, joists, rafters and insulation must meet certain specifications. It is the responsibility of the owner to prove that the materials they plan to use meet all of the specifications required. The knowledge and, sometimes, the mathematical ability required to do this can be complicated, and employing the services of an architect can make the process much simpler.

The number and content of forms that have to be filled in to gain planning permission is pretty daunting in itself, and mistakes can put your application back to the beginning of what is already a fairly lengthy process. At the time of writing, the average time for a planning application to be approved in the UK is eight weeks. One mistake in a form and that could become 16 weeks.

Employing an architect is no different from employing a builder or any other professional. They will come to your home, where you will explain exactly what you would like to achieve. They will then supply a free quotation for their services. You should try to get quotes from at least three architects before choosing the right one for your job.

Site inspections

Once your permissions have been granted, you will receive approval documents, which will include information on site inspections. Site inspections are carried out by a Building Control Officer at different stages of the build, and are a legal requirement. You should give the Building Control Officer as much notice as possible of when an inspection is due. You are required to inform the Building Control Office when you start work, and inspection visits are required when:

• foundations are excavated to the depth you intend to pour concrete

• foundation concrete is poured but before it is covered up

• when you are ready to cover up any damp proof courses and membranes (i.e. before pouring the ground floor slab)

• before and after any drains are backfilled

• before occupation’

• before completion.

Employing builders and contacting service providers

If you are employing a builder to do any of the work it makes sense to have a written, formal contract with that builder. Suitable contracts can be found on the internet easily and it is as well to withhold at least a percentage of the final payment until the completion certificate is signed by your Building Control Department. This is called a retention and is usually 5 percent of the total contract value.

When your plans have been passed and you have the necessary permissions, you should get in touch with any providers of services to which you will need to be connected. For example, if you are connecting to the mains drainage, or you require a change of water main, this is the time to organize it.

3. Plan and build foundations

• Once you are ready to start, you must set out the lines and levels for your foundations. If you are using a digger, make sure you will be able to dig the trenches at the back first, so the digger can get out when all the trenches are done. Make sure, if using ready-mixed concrete, that any lorries can get in and out of the site.

• Once the foundations have been inspected and passed, you can start the foundation masonry, which is built up to damp proof course level.

• If there are any drains or services to go into or come out of the building, this is the time to make provision for them.

• Next, damp proof courses are laid and the floor slab is poured (again, after the inspections detailed above).

4. Build up from the foundations

Masonry can then be continued up to first floor level (if more than one floor is being built) and first floor joists installed. Ground floor windows and doors can be built in as work progresses but it is usual, to avoid damage, to leave gaps for these with all lintels built in as you go.

When the masonry is up as high as you can sensibly reach, the scaffold is erected. You can at this point, if you wish, erect the scaffold to full height and even extend it over the building so a temporary roof can be put on. This will allow you to carry on working in inclement weather, and is especially useful if you have to take off any part of an existing roof covering to join it to your extension.

Internal masonry then continues up to roof level, where a wall plate is fixed around its perimeter, on which to sit the roof joists or rafters. External masonry is built up when these rafters or joists are in place, and then the external skin can be built around them.

5. Fit the roof, windows and doors

The roof is fitted and covered, along with any eaves ventilation, sofit boards, fascia and barge boards, guttering and lead or other flashings. As much high-level work as possible is done while the scaffold is up.

When all is waterproof and the scaffold has gone, the windows can go in, although many builders prefer to board up the gaps and leave the insertion of windows and doors until as late as possible in the build. This makes good sense while people are wandering around with planks of wood and wheelbarrows!

Why do my doors and windows stick sometimes?

There are two possible reasons for this if it happens regularly. Houses move (all of them!) due to expansion and contraction of a lot of different materials, at different rates, in changing temperatures. Some of this movement can twist items such as door and window frames very slightly so the door or window will catch on the frame. The most common cause of sticky doors and windows, however, is that when the air Is damp, either through increased humidity or heavy rainfall, unprotected timber can expand as it soaks up some of the moisture.

The remedies are different for each situation. Once you have determined why your door or window is sticking you can rectify the problem. A twisted door or window frame is unlikely to regain its original position, so the door or window must be altered slightly to adapt it to the new shape of the frame. This can be done by planning, filing or sanding off the area where it is sticking. Where a door or window has expanded due to moisture, it will regain its original shape when it dries out, so it is not sensible to remove any of the timber. Simply wait for it to dry and protect it with suitable paint or varnish so it does not happen again.

6. Carry out first fix

The plumbing, heating and electrics work can now start. This type of work is almost always done in two stages: first fix and second fix. This is because much of the work will be hidden from view in the finished version of your extension, and it is easier to get these in place before things like floors, ceilings and plaster obstruct the work.


In the case of electrical work, the ‘first fix’ involves:

• running all wires to and from the outlets (sockets, lights, cooker, immersion heater, etc.) and source points (meter, fusebox, generator, etc.)

• cutting (chasing) walls (and floors, if necessary)

• fixing in the boxes to which the wall and floor sockets will attach. The appropriate wires are fed into these boxes (pattress boxes) during first fix and left loose with enough cable sticking out (tails) for connection later.

Plumbing and heating

For plumbing and heating, all gas and water pipes are positioned and secured, meters, tanks and valves are fitted.


Carpentry first fixing is also done now and any internal door frames are fixed together with any boxing framework (studding) required to hide larger, or clusters of, pipes and cables. The external windows and doors also need to go in now. Stud walls are built and plasterboard is fixed to walls and ceilings. Loft hatch and access panels to valves, switches and other controls are fitted.

See Project 22 on sawing timber, Project 23 on countersinking, Project 24 on boxing pipes, Project 25 on working with skirting boards, architraves, coving and dado rails, Project 26 on hanging a door and Project 27 on fitting a mortise latch.

How do I cut timber in a straight line?

Drawing lines and cutting timber in any form can cause the novice a great deal of problems. The answer to the question above is to let your hand saw do the work.

• Make sure you are looking at the saw from directly above it and not from the side. If your body is leaning, the chances are the saw will be leaning too, giving you a cut that is far from square.

• Hold the saw with your finger down the handle, pointing to the work, and make sure the timber is totally secure. Any movement in the timber will make the saw judder and go off line.

7. Finish floors, walls and ceilings

When the first fix is complete, floor screeds can be laid, plaster put on the walls and new ceilings fitted. The floor can go down onto the first floor joists. Internal insulation should also be added at this point, making sure that no electrical cables are trapped under the insulation. Care is taken (usually!) not to fill the new pattress boxes with plaster.

Can I paint ceramic tiles in my bathroom?

Because of their high glaze, paint will not stick well, or for long, on ceramic tiles without a special primer coat the tile primer, or tile paint, can be bought from most DIY stores. Tiles should be cleaned well (usually using a degreasing agent such a white spirit) before applying a coat of tile primer When this is dry you can then paint over it as desired.

My wall overlaps at corners and will not stick down

If using washable or vinyl papers, apply a special overlap adhesive. If using ordinary paper, use some more of the original paste and go over the joint with a seam roller

The wallpaper has blisters all over it

The paste may not have soaked into the paper for long enough or is not completely pasted. Check also that the walls are not damp or greasy.

8. Carry out second fix

When plastering is complete electricians, gas fitters, plumbers, central heating engineers and carpenters can complete their second fix. Socket faceplates can be wired and fixed, light roses and pendants can be fitted, and final connections can be made to the electricity meter. Bathroom suites can go in, kitchen units can be installed, walls tiled, taps and showers fitted and connections made to the mains water, tanks and drains. Radiators and boilers can be fitted and skirting boards, doors, architraves, handles, latches and door knobs completed. All that is left is decoration.

Anything you may have forgotten is dealt with in the next few sections, but the above sequence shows you how your house was put together. This will hopefully make it easier to understand when you find something you are not sure of while undertaking any DIY.

See Project 28 on making shelves, Project 29 on building a cupboard and Project 43 on painting timber.

Case study: knowing how your house works

A woman recently contacted us with an electrical query. She had moved into a new home and wanted to add an electrical socket in her lounge. She had read an article on adding a ‘spur’ socket, which is simply an extra socket wired into the back of an existing socket. The regulations state that a spur socket can be added to an existing socket, but no further sockets can be added to that spur.

The nearest socket to where she wanted to add her new socket was a surface-mounted socket, in a big white surface socket box. Having read our ‘sequence of events’ guide, she knew that socket boxes are usually placed behind the plaster, not on the surface, which led her to ask if she was still allowed to spur from this box. We told her to follow the wiring back as far as she could and was able to ascertain that the surface socket was already a spur, meaning she could not safely use it as a source for a new socket.

Knowing how your house works is invaluable for any DIY practitioner.

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