Chunk of the day: having some work done

Those of you who follow my ongoing series of ONE-MINUTE ENGLISH videos on YouTube or Instagram may have noticed that I’ve recently started filming them from the chaos of my attic. You’ll have seen the piles of boxes behind me, and sensed a general air of temporary discomfort. In case you were wondering what’s brought this on, it’s because I’ve been exiled to the top of the house as we’re having a side return extension done at the moment.

Now, if you’re anything like I was up until about three months ago, you probably haven’t got a clue what that means, right? Well, it’s actually a pretty common thing to have done to your house here in London, where many of us live in old Victorian terraced properties. A side return is the narrow strip of land that runs alongside the ground floor of a property (see below). It’s often used as a dumping ground for bins, bikes and other bits of outdoor equipment. Extending into this space is known as a side return extension. In our case, this means the builders are going to knock down some of the kitchen walls, and add in some skylights so we’ll end up with a more spacious, brighter kitchen. Oh, and I’m going to get a new office space downstairs as well – eventually!

Apparently, we’re part of a growing trend that’s seeing home owners who’ve been working remotely for much of the last eighteen months spending literally billions of pounds on home improvement projects. The most common things that people have gone for are redecorating rooms by repainting them or putting up wallpaper, renovating bathrooms by re-tiling them or having new baths or showers or sinks fitted, and installing new floors. Also popular has been getting your garden landscaped, getting the outside of your house repainted, replacing your roof, having solar panels fitted, and adding wooden decking in your garden.

Once the build is finished on our extension, we then have to wait another couple of weeks whilst they sort out all the wiring and the lights and the plug sockets and stuff. They also have to do the plastering, and that usually takes time to dry. Once all that’s out of the way, we’ve got another team of guys coming in to fit the new kitchen. We’re talking months rather than weeks, but as I tell myself every morning when I wake up in my dusty, messy house, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

The more perceptive readers among you may have noticed that I’ve used both active and passive forms when talking about all these home improvements. The grammar you use will depend on the degree to which you’re good with your hands! I’m one of the least practical people I know and am quite happy to pay others to do the work for me, so for us we’re having / getting some work done on the house, we’re having / getting an extension done and we’re having / getting a new kitchen fitted. If you’re able to do all these kinds of things yourself, you’d do some work on the house, add an extension and fit a new kitchen . . . and probably save yourself a small fortune in the process!

If you’re the kind of person who can do these things, you’re probably good at DIY. DIY stands for Do-It-Yourself, and covers everything from decorating your home to fixing things around the house to making things like cupboards or tables for the home, rather than paying for them to be done. I’m hopeless at DIY, but have friends who are real DIY enthusiasts. They always seem to have DIY projects on the go and to be endlessly doing a bit of DIYputting up new shelves, sanding down old tables and varnishing them, filling in holes in the wall, fitting new carpets, putting flat pack furniture from IKEA together, and so on. The list is endless!

You may have spotted that two things I haven’t really discussed yet are repairs and refurbishment. If you repair something, you fix it because it’s broken or damaged, so after a terrible storm, you might need to get the roof repaired, and if your washing machine or boiler breaks down, you’ll need to get them repaired as well. Plus, of course, you may well need to get your car repaired, get your teeth fixed or get your laptop looked at. Refurbishment, meanwhile, involves painting, repairing and cleaning a building to make it look new again. We generally talk about public buildings or restaurants, bars and the like being refurbished, so a station might undergo a £15 million refurbishment, your favourite pub might be closed for refurbishment, and the local branch of a big chain may be refurbished and expanded if it starts doing well.

Finally, a question I’m often asked by students: what do we call the activities that need to be done before you move into a new home that has nothing inside? This comes up a lot from my Ukrainian and Russian students and it always slightly stumps me because from a British perspective, it’s a slightly alien concept. In the UK, whether we’re renting or buying, the place we’re moving into would (almost) always have a fitted kitchen, a fully functional bathroom and so on already in place. However, I know that in some countries, people literally just buy a shell. In such circumstances, you might go for one of the following if you wanted to describe how things were going with the new place:

We can’t move in just yet because we’re still doing it up / it’s still being done up.

It’s not quite ready yet. We’re having some work done on it.

They’re still fitting it out.

We’re painting the walls / We’re having the whole place painted.

It still needs a lot of work. / There are still some things left to do.

We’re in the middle of setting it up / getting it all set up at the moment.

We’re still in the process of moving in. We’re not done setting it up yet. It’s still a bit of a work in progress.

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Discuss these questions with a partner.

  • Have you ever had any work done on your house / flat? If yes, what did you have done?
  • If you could have some work done on your place, what would you most like done?
  • Are you any good at DIY? What kinds of things have you done – or tried to do – in the past?
  • Do you know anyone who’s had solar panels fitted? Do you think it’s a good idea?
  • What was the last thing that you needed to get repaired? Why?
  • Have any public buildings in your town / city undergone a refurbishment? What’s changed?
  • What other growing trends have you noticed during the pandemic?
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