If you employ a builder or other tradesman to do the work, most of the building materials will be provided as part of the contract price. Builders are able to claim back the VAT on materials used for ‘alterations’ and can usually buy at trade prices so even if, as is likely, a builder makes some profit on the materials it’s probably cheapest to buy basic materials through him. For d-i-y projects, the way to buy cheap is to look and behave like a builder, to shop at places a builder would go and to know what you are talking about when you ask for materials. Under the current tax laws, you won’t be able to claim back the VAT unless you’re building an entire house.
Places to shop
Apart from small quantities of things and Saturday afternoon panic buys, which you might as well get at the nearest d-i-y shop, the cheapest places to shop are generally large d-i-y superstores with building material departments and builders’ merchants.
Large d-i-y superstores
These are a relatively new development. The best stock most items that you would need including a range of building supplies that you wouldn’t normally find except at a builders’ merchant or specialist shop – bricks, aggregates, plasterboard and flooring- grade chipboard, for example. Some have a glass cutting service. Timber may be sold shrink-wrapped in bundles.
You nearly always have to serve yourself: the staff may not be very knowledgeable. Some larger stores have information desks and some have information charts, or sell their own leaflets or booklets fairly cheaply.
These may be a warehouse, or a yard, or something resembling a shop, and
you may find building supplies stacked without prices and without any indication as to what they are – you have to ask. A builders’ merchant may be the only place in your immediate area to buy bricks or plasterboard, or the more unusual items connected with building – concrete additives, for example. The size of the merchant, and the choice and range of items available, vary enormously. The larger ones have showrooms where they sell ‘clean’ items like baths and central heating equipment.
Although builders’ merchants are principally suppliers to the trade, many are trying to encourage the d-i-y public to use them so they’ll welcome your custom. If you’re buying large quantities or collecting goods yourself from a builders’ merchant, it’s usually worth asking for a discount though some shops won’t give discounts on principle to customers who ask. You may be able to open an account, and get trade discount that way.
The people who serve you in builders’ merchants can be very knowledgeable about building, and able to answer fairly technical questions. However, they are used to dealing with the trade and you will be able to make better use of their time – and your own – if you have a grasp of the basics.
There are three things you must look out for when buying in a builders’ merchant’s or other specialist merchant’s:
• whether the prices quoted include VAT – a few do, but the majority don’t
• whether the prices include delivery – many builders’ merchants quote two prices – one including delivery (or a delivery surcharge), and one for goods collected. In some cases, prices from the ‘public’ counter, or the high street branches, may be lower because they don’t include delivery
• how you can pay few builders’ merchants accept credit cards and most are wary of accepting cheques for more than £50 unless they know you.
There are a number of specialist suppliers for building materials: • timber merchants
• quarries and pits
• ready-mixed concrete firms – see page 38
• plumbers’ merchants
• concrete works
If you need or want an unusual building material – a special brick or roof tile, perhaps, to match your existing house – then you’ll have to do some detective work. It’s best if you do this yourself, since you’re likely to be more tenacious than a builder. Manufacturers of things like roof tiles are aware of this matching problem and can be helpful when it comes to tracking down small stocks. The Brick Development Association who have displays at all the Building Centres (see page 314) are helpful when it comes to matching and finding bricks.
When making an enquiry for the purpose of matching it’s best to produce a sample of the real thing – a brick cut away from a corner of the wall, a tile removed from the roof.
Demolition contractors’ yards, more elegantly called ‘architectural salvage firms’, are good sources of sound, recycled materials and sometimes the only source for ‘sympathetic’ or matching materials for older houses. But note that second-hand materials may not always meet the requirements of the Building Regulations. You also need to allow for wastage.
If you’re buying a large quantity of building materials, you can have problems getting it home.
Some d-i-y shops will loan or hire you a roof rack – or you may be able to hire a trailer. However you carry it, you must make sure that your load is safe and that you are within the law. You are required to load your car (or van) so that it doesn’t interfere with your driving – and this includes driving in emergencies. So, for example, you must make sure that if you had to stop quickly, the load would stay put – you need to be particularly careful when transporting sheets of chipboard or plasterboard for this reason. Ensure that you haven’t overloaded your car’s suspension so that it doesn’t function properly – the maximum load should be in your car driver’s manual. Many building materials are very heavy – for example, bricks weigh about 2kg each, so 100 bricks weigh as much as three sturdy people. Don’t forget to pump up the tires, and load the car evenly. The lights and the number plates must not be obscured, and you should have one usable rear-view mirror.
If your load projects beyond the car, it’s a good idea to mark the overhanging parts clearly you’re obliged to by law if they project more than 1.83m beyond the frontier 1.07m to the rear (you must have another person in the car if the load projects more than 1.83m to the front). Use a special triangle at the front or rear if over 1.83m, which must be illuminated at night. If you want to carry a load which will project any further than 3.05m to the rear, you must give prior notice to the police.
Most suppliers of building materials offer a delivery service. The way shops charge for delivery varies a great deal and some shops might be open to negotiation. • no charge, but you may have to wait until the delivery van or lorry is in your area, or you may have to spend a minimum amount
• a fixed charge, provided you’re within a reasonable distance • a charge which varies according to how much is being delivered and/or what distance the delivery vehicle has to travel. This sort of charge can be applied in a number of ways. You can be charged a basic price plus a handling charge per quantity of whatever it is you want delivered
• you can be charged one of two prices for the same item, depending on whether it’s delivered or collected, and this may be in addition to other delivery charges
• you may be charged for unloading, or for moving the goods from
the roadside to where you want them (private driveways are not usually constructed to bear the weight of a lorry) or, at least, be expected to help the driver do these things. You may have to accept some items – such as aggregates – delivered to the kerbside.
There are some points to watch with regard to your car insurance policy:
• you can collect things for friends, but any form of payment will invalidate the usual insurance policy for private cars (returning a favour would not be a problem, but if a friend bought you some petrol it might be regarded as payment)
• if you knowingly overload your car, and this then contributes to an accident, you may find your claim is turned down
• you should inform your insurance company if you’re using your car for transporting building materials in the course of business.
Hiring a van
If you hire a van for this purpose it’s sensible to check the insurance and courtesy to tell the owner what you intend to use the van for. Remember that a van may be considerably taller than the vehicle that you are used to driving.