Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. But with property that goes out the window.

A well presented exterior entices the buyer to see more
A well present exterior says “I want to see more”

You’ve all heard about creating ‘kerb appeal’ to your home for selling purposes. In a tough, competitive market, how you present your property for sale can win or lose a prospective purchaser. A badly maintained exterior can deter prospective buyers and often reflects on the expectations of the interior.

Delightful frontage
I want to see more!

First impressions count. Here’s a few things to bear in mind;

  1. Make your home’s exterior appealing so viewers are eager to come through the door to see more.
  2. Ensure there is no peeling paint, and that UVPC is clean, as well as the windows. Clean and polish your front door, add a new door mat.
  3. Clear away all junk, broken pots etc. Push wheelie bins into an unobtrusive space, if possible.
  4. Tidy up borders, weed, cut back any over grown shrubs and trim hedges. Fill any gaps with inexpensive evergreen shrubs. Place a planter by the front door filled with seasonal plants.
  5. The same can be done with a rear garden, replacing or repairing any broken paving or fencing.
  6. Look at your garden as an outside room, an extension to your home. Place seating and a table to show how a garden can work for entertaining and enjoyment.
A place to sit and enjoy your outside space
A place to sit and enjoy your garden

Did you know that a well-presented garden can add up to 20% to your home’s value?

But a garden is not all about selling and adding value – a garden is for the enjoyment of the occupants.

Which garden to you think is the most amazing? Wales Online has recently run a property and garden awards competition in association with Waterstone Homes,  http://waterstonehomes.com/site/  The Welsh Garden of the Year  criteria was to be an outside space that’s unique, one we would admire and enjoy. The garden category was all about making something special from the outdoor space available, whatever its size.

Create a mood board for your exterior
A mood board for your garden and homes exterior by Thepapermulberry.blogspot.com

The NGS (National Garden Scheme) http://www.ngs.org.uk/gardens.aspx is an organisation which encourages people to open their gardens to the public, of which the proceeds from the entrance fee goes to charity. Some gardens also offer tea and cake – a bonus! It’s an opportunity to ask the owners about their gardens, and glean inspiration. Not everyone of course is brave enough to open their garden for public scrutiny, especially if a ‘Monty Don’ from Gardeners World type expert is among the visitors. Personally, I’m relieved when I spot ‘defects’ like couch grass or ground elder, it makes me feel better about my own gardening capabilities.

I spent one (yes, there was one) sunny June afternoon visiting open gardens in the small village where I live. The Old Rectory was the first stop; a flat lawn (for croquet perhaps?) was flanked one side with an old wall and a beautiful herbaceous border. Paths meandered into the kitchen garden with large greenhouse. Another path led to a large pond and tennis court. A Wisteria in full bloom, hung to the south facing Georgian façade of the house. There was a timeless, classic elegance to both the house and garden.

An herbaceous border blends with the house
An herbaceous border blends with the house image bygapphotos.com pinterest

Another garden was hidden behind a 1980’s home. My goodness me, I felt I was in a Chelsea Flower Show garden (and very relieved I hadn’t opened my own garden). It was beautifully designed in every conceivable way, from the layout to the planting schemes. The grass was a manicured, weedless perfection, and even the hostas were completely holeless! The winding path led to a wild flower meadow, awash with bees and butterflies, and continued to a super duper wooden gazebo.

A small cottage, whose garden was hidden behind a neatly clipped beech hedge was complete with climbing roses, clematis and small fish pond. A small gated access led to a raised vegetable plot and chicken coup. It was charming – the quintessential English cottage garden, who were serving cucumber sandwiches. Of course.

Raised veg beds and chicken coup
Raised beds and chicken coup image This Old House

In another garden there were bird tables, a fish pond – complete with fishing gnomes, with lots of places to sit and enjoy. It was a very ‘busy’ garden. I loved it, although not for me.

A delight was that each garden was an extension of the home it belonged to – a reflection of the style of the house, they went together. What I also observed, was how the gardens also reflected the personalities of the owners, much in the same way a pet or dress sense can.

But don’t just see gardening as an end goal or as a finished product to serve a purpose, it’s also about the journey. Last year the Chicago Tribune published an article on how a garden can teach you creativity, spirituality and more. You can read it here; http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home/sc-fam-0414-creativity-gardening-20150407-story.html

It’s not only at Glastonbury that Jo Whiley, (presenter on BBC Radio 2 and Glastonbury) tackles mud in her wellies. Jo is as passionate about her garden as she is music. “Gardening is my sanity” Jo said in an article in an article in The Sunday Times http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/access-all-acres-with-jo-whiley-x3xl7lf9g

Hopefully this has encouraged you to dust off the trowel and unearth your creativity which has been lying deep beneath the soil. After all, gardens are a space to be enjoyed by you, your friends and family. A place of peace, reflection or ‘just to be’.

It feels apt to end with the final line from the film adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden;

“The garden is always open now. Open, and awake, and alive. If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden”.

Now open up your secret garden.

Design Tips by daviddomoney.com
Design tips to help you by Daviddomoney.com

 

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House – As the Dust Settles

After - The completed front elevation of a 1930's house

As extensions begin to settle, and fresh plaster dries out, cracks annoyingly appear in your newly painted rooms and skirting boards will move slightly. One of the most time consuming things on a major renovation project is the snagging. How often have you gone round the house with a bowl of mixed filler, filling in accidental knocks (leave settlement cracks alone for at least six months – they will return or get bigger) odd scratches and holes, to find you’ve mixed up far too much filler. You dispose of the excess filler, only to discover more holes! These of course have to be sanded smooth and touched in with a little matching paint. We have an assortment of paint pots, brushes, filler and sandpaper stacked in one room specifically for this purpose. I will be very glad when these can be stored on shelves in the garage. It’s a good idea to keep the paint used in case of small minor repairs required at a later date.

Snagging goes hand in hand with what I term as ‘The Builders’ Clean’. This is a mega clean. Paint splashes on windows, doors and frames need to be removed with either a small amount of solvent (if UVPC frames) and scraped gently off glass with a razor blade to avoid scratching the glass. This is prior to actually cleaning the windows. The dust will continue to settle and reappear despite your best efforts for some time. However, it’s surprising what a huge improvement these small repairs and cleaning make to the finished house – it actually looks finished.

It wasn't as bad as Miss Havisham's house in Great Expectations
Too be honest, it wasn’t as bad a this!

Finally, we were ready to lay the carpets to the first floor bedrooms, landing and stairs. I chose a plain grey carpet for all these spaces, creating a cohesive look. Grey is a wonderful neutral colour which can be teamed successfully with many other colours, which enables individual character and style for each room. Once the carpets go down, you really feel that the house is almost finished. I was also very pleased to see the back of the dusty floorboards (despite the repeated vacuuming) and noisy stairs. The carpet came from a nationwide carpet shop, who use subcontract fitters. Although we had quite a large area requiring new gripper, underlay and carpet fitting, the rooms were void of furniture, so it made the job a lot easier and quicker. However, I was disappointed to discover that the fitters don’t dispose of the waste and cut offs. They simply bag it up for the customer to dispose of. I have a skip, but what about everyone else? Another trip to the tidy tip? It would be even worse if you had old carpets to remove prior to fitting the new.

The rooms looked much better having carpet, and would have looked amazing if the fitters had bothered to vacuum the carpets before rushing off. There was fluff everywhere, which was also floating around as ‘tumble weed’ downstairs. What happened to pride in your job, leaving looking as best you can? As I was vacuuming the carpet, I noticed in several places that the paint on the skirting board had been damaged by the carpet fitter’s tools. More snagging!

The Sonos System has been connected to the speakers – we have music! Needless to say that my husband and son have enjoyed ‘playing’ with the radio and music selections in different rooms. We have had to have boosters fitted in a few rooms though, due to the poor broad band service speeds available. BT are currently advertising fibre optic service on the television. Why are they advertising a service which is unavailable to so many people?

I have recently received a letter from the local council notifying me that I’m now liable for the Empty Home Council Tax Premium. The council explained that it is one of their priorities to increase the amount of available and affordable housing in the borough. Councillors have introduced this council tax premium for properties which have been unoccupied and unfurnished for two years or more to encourage empty homes back into use. They didn’t specify exactly how much more I had to pay, only that the increased charge would be 150% of full council tax for the property.

The house, when purchased was uninhabitable, and we received six months levy on council tax charges. During this time we had plans drawn up and submitted to the local council for planning permission (permission took twelve weeks) then we had to submit drawings to building control, which took another month, all before we could actually commence work, which took another six months before being habitable – just, (although not finished). Since the initial six month levy period, we have been paying the full council tax charges, despite being unable to move into the house, not until my present house has sold. I can understand and appreciate the councils intentions of encouraging occupancy of empty homes due to the housing shortage, but not all circumstances are the same. The extra council tax was certainly not in our budget or even contingency. Allow for it in your project!

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Useful category for filing purposes

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House – The Great Interior Design Challenges

Buffering Symbol
Buffering – When will it end?

The image above via Google search is not of my new induction hob, but the infuriating buffering symbol we’re all familiar with.

The Open Reach engineer arrived on a re-scheduled appointment and connected the land line and internet connection. I explained my dilemma of broadband speed availability to service my requirements. He carried out a speed test for me – 1.70Mb. (However this was near the server, and my house has a lot of steel in it which does not help either). He explained that our connection came from the exchange which was 3500 metres away from my house. This connection has no fibre optic. There is a junction box cabinet 2000 metres from my home which does have fibre optic, which ideally I should be connected to. Unfortunately B.T. have not put in enough lines in to the junction cabinet to service everyone, and until they do we have to settle for poor service. So whichever service provider you choose, the internet speed will not be any faster.  Gigaclear an internet provider was awarded a £10m contract last year. This is the first time a company other than BT has been awarded funds from the “superfast extension programme”, which is cash from central and local government, overseen by the government’s Broadband Delivery UK. It’s time for  BT not to have the monopoly.  The village isn’t particularly rural either, and know that some towns have the same problem. It’s not just for entertainment value either, many people are working from home and a good service is a necessity. Interestingly, on Right Move http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale.html or Zoopla   http://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/  the internet speed availability is stated on the listed properties and I have heard of cases whereby potential buyers were put off a property purely by the broad band speed, as this is a necessity to them. However, the company Right Move and Zoopla use for their broadband speed information is not always correct, so do your own research, and don’t be put off by a properties speed as listed on these sites.

I’m all for up-cycling, re-cycling and re-purposing furniture and objects where possible, and enjoyed watching   The Great Interior Design Challenge    http://www.sophieanddaniel.com/          http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04nj4d5/episodes/guide    re-purpose items given as part of the challenge to incorporate in their rooms. I was given a collection of odd items of furniture from a friend’s garage – a wooden bed head, metal bed parts and a small table. I discussed various options with my carpenter Tom, and to ensure that I wasn’t dismantling furniture of any value to incorporate into the boot room – shelf, boot storage and coat hangers and hooks.

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Bed head, and tables prior to re-purposing

A bracket for the shelf was made from the metal bed frame, a carved detailed piece of wood was used for the hooks to hang from. The table top and bed head have been re -designed for boot and shoe storage.

I bought a dressing table from my friend too, who was slowly clearing out her old family home. A mahogany veneer with a swivel mirror, glass top, original Bakelite knobs and carved detailing. There was a little damage in places caused by years of use. This type of furniture is currently out of vogue and therefore no one wants them. I needed a dressing table for the master bedroom, so painted the dressing table (including drawer interiors) with Annie Sloan ‘Paris Grey’ Chalk Paint.       http://www.anniesloan.com/annie-sloan-products/paints/chalk-paint.html   To enhance the carved detailing I applied a coat of dark wax diluted with a little white spirit, wiping away the excess. This also gave the dressing table the appearance of ‘antiqued’ or ‘aged’. The Bakelite knobs were put back on, and I now have a bespoke item of furniture. So glad this didn’t end up in landfill!

We found rolls of fabric in a cupboard, one of which was still wrapped the original paper, complete with sales label. Un- rolled, the fabric by Sanderson, who are celebrating 150 years this year.     https://www.sanderson-uk.com/shop/fabric/?act=ssocomplete    is still as good as new.  We still have the whole nine yards! The design is very 60’s/70’s and can’t presently find anywhere to reuse it. I’m open to offers!

 

We also discovered about two yards of 1970’s cotton dress fabric – cushion covers perhaps?

 

 

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House – Don’t You Just Love Technology?

Sonas System image via Pinterest

 

Sonas System image via Pinterest
Sonos System

It was suggested, prior to the first fix electrics to install a Sonos music system.  After much thought and discussion about going over our original budget, we decided it would be a good idea. TV and internet ports were also installed in some bedrooms as well as the living areas, the idea being that family members could use the internet independently to stream films, games etc.  Our electrician laid all the cables and the builders left gaps in the ceiling ready for the speakers. The mass of wires leading back to a cupboard where the system will be controlled from. The installers of the Sonos System wanted the house to be virtually dust free before fitting.

Ceiling Speaker
An unobtrusive ceiling speaker

Sounds good, and so far so good, until we came to install a phone line and broadband. An internet search of post code speeds and providers showed lots of options and costs too, including BT Infinity, Sky Fibre Unlimited, EE and TalkTalk. BT Infinity showed the estimated speed at 22.8 – 38Mb. As a current BT customer I organised the contract and booked in an installation date. However, when reading through the info received BT had estimated the broadband speed at 1Mb – 4Mb. This is a huge difference, especially when streaming films, downloading computer games and music. I questioned BT about the speed, and they explained that half the village did indeed have fibre optic cable, but my house is in the half that doesn’t; and they had no plans in the foreseeable future to install the other half. So we have all the technology wired in, but inadequate broad band service to actually run it all at the same time.

Broad Band Speeds for your area can be found in the internet
Broad Band speeds for our post code found on the Internet

A neighbour came by just by chance with some information about a company who provide a better broadband speed of up to 40Mb. He had just set up an account and had the system installed, due to his frustration with BT. This sounded promising.

The system works via EE’s 4G mobile network. The company will install an external antenna which connects to a 4G modem and allows for both wired and WIFI access through EE. It is also possible to move your current landline number to an internet based phone system, removing the need for a BT landline. The cost of this phone system is £2.50 a month line rental and 1.2p per minute for calls. A typical cost for the installation is £799.00, plus system interface and configuration charges plus plugs, plus plus….. But then we may save on call charges etc.

Two contracts are offered, either a 30 day rolling contract offering 15GB for £20.00 or 25GB for £30.00 per month. Or 24 month contract at £28.00 a month for 25 GB or 50GB at £55.00. Checking our current average monthly data usage (currently unlimited) this was insufficient for our needs. The maximum for a consumer available is 50GB a month, but we can add more at £15.00 for 10GB. The company didn’t specify whether that was £15.00 for each additional 10GB on top, but guessing it is. This makes a huge difference to the cost. If your usage comes within 50GB, then it’s sounds like a great system in rural and not so rural areas. Anywhere in fact BT haven’t bothered to install sufficient fibre optic cable, despite the Government promises!

So where does that leave us? Well, with BT, as there appears to be little else we can do.  Unfortunately, BT failed to turn up at the appointed time and date. Neither did they call or text to say they weren’t coming. For a communications company their communication skills are shocking. So back to the buffering and waiting for things to down load. Don’t you just love technology?

Selecting tiles for kitchen
‘Mood Board’ of tiles and work top

The work top in the kitchen has been installed by a local stone supplier, who have a huge range and choice of materials and colours to choose from. They also template and fit the work tops. I was lucky enough to find an off cut of Silestone which was suitable, and therefore a little cheaper. Silestone is a composite stone, offering hardwearing capabilities, and is less expensive than granite. Again shop around as prices vary enormously between suppliers. I have chosen to tile the splash back rather than have an upstand, to make the space more cohesive. I didn’t want an upstand with a tiled or glass backing behind the hob, which would break up the run above the work top.

 

 

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House – Wind in the Willows

Mole from Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows

 

 

The wind in our willow and the only mole was ‘Mole’s Breath’ by Farrow and Ball.

We were very upset one morning looking down the garden. The whole of the lawn was covered with a fallen tree, battered by the wind from a storm the previous night. The tree had been a magnificent weeping willow and we installed a light especially highlight it when dark, with plans for a shaded seating area below its boughs.  Now all that remains is a broken stump – two thirds of the original size, not quite the ambience I had envisaged.  The willow had been key to the garden design. I really miss that tree.

 

Luckily the tree had not fallen on either our or our neighbours shed, however, it had to be cleared and removed as soon as possible so as not to damage the lawn further. Another huge job which took several days.  The tree had to be cut into manageable pieces to move it – logs for the multi-fuel stove, smaller twigs, branches and leaves. This was done in the relentless pouring rain. We had toyed about making a willow fence which was a nice idea but we really don’t have the time, know how or inclination.

A willow fence looks lovely in a garden
Making a willow fence from our pile of debris was beyond my caperbilities!

We hired a shredder so the smaller pieces could then be used as a mulch on the borders to help keep the weeds down. Its been so mild this winter they were continuing to sprout, along with the lawn. But, instead of raking the mulch over the borders my husband placed small neat piles and I now have what looks like termite mounds (or mole hills for that matter) all over the borders.

 

I had applied one coat of deep grey paint to a wall in the study, behind the original brick fireplace some months ago, prior to the wooden floor being laid.  Unfortunately it had dried in patches of lighter and darker tones, despite the wall having been prepped with a mist coat of paint over the bare dried plaster. I thought it was just a dodgy tin of paint although bought from a reputable company. My husband said it was the way I had painted it? –  I purchased another tin of exactly the same paint, and this time my husband painted the same wall. This also dried in patches. He applied a second coat, but with the same results. Dark at the edges where applied ‘cut in’ with a brush and around sockets, light where applied with a roller, and lighter still showing the outline of the plasterers mesh.

 

I abandoned this make of paint and purchased Farrow and Ball’s Mole’s Breath – being a similar colour to my original choice. http://www.farrow-ball.com/mole’s-breath//farrow-ball/fcp-product/100276    One coat of paint was applied and dried perfectly. Having already experienced problems with patchy and colour differentials in the master bedroom, I felt the company should be told about the problems with their product. After several weeks of email exchanges containing pictures, receipts of proof of purchase and batch numbers I received a refund for the two faulty tins of paint and a £5.00 gift voucher for my trouble. This hardly covers the time and expense of repeated wall painting. I just hope that the paint product problems will be investigated by the company concerned and rectified.

 

Farrow and Ball – Mole’s Breath dried uniformly and a great finish.

The wood flooring has now been laid to the ground floor. What a difference it has made to the whole house. Not only covering up dusty concrete floors, but means we can now fix the architraves and skirting boards to the walls. These can now be prepped for painting and a final coat of paint applied to the ground floor walls.

 

Although mild for the season, the underfloor heating has been switched on low to gradually acclimatise the wooden floor. This will swell and contact, as will some of the doors, which may need some adjustment.

Renovation Restoration a 1930’s House – Come On Baby Light My Fire

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Image from Bloglovin

 

Several months of trying to get the multi-fuel installers back to the house to complete the outside flue resulted in two ‘no shows’. They twice failed to turn up without contacting us; and once turned, up and then left after ten minutes explaining that they couldn’t do the job as our tower was not tall enough. I did wonder why they hadn’t bought their own tower or ladder with them to enable them to do the job.  I eventually managed to speak to them, and they explained that it would be best if we found someone else to finish the job. I had been dumped!

This posed two options, we either find another approved installer so we can get our HETAS certificate, which may be difficult because they hadn’t installed the first part of the multi-fuel stove, and may not want to certify someone else’s work.  Also they would be wary of us, as they would wonder why the installer had refused to return to finish the job. This I couldn’t explain. The other option would be to have the flue installed without a certificate and ask Building Control to come and inspect it and hopefully issue the certificate. However, if it failed the Building Control inspection which company would we return to rectify installation problems? We also had to get our flue returned from the original installers which was purchased by us months ago. Luckily, we found a great company who were prepared to complete the installation of the outside flue, (reclaimed from the original company) and issue a certificate. Interestingly they only needed a ladder to finish the job!

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The outside flue, now completed

 

The utility and boot room floors have now been laid with tiles resembling wooden floor boards. These are very popular at the moment and the choice of colours, textures and meterage costs are numerous. We purchased our tiles from a local tile merchant Acorn Tiles. They take time in planning the layout prior to laying, but makes the actual laying a lot easier, especially if using fast set adhesive. I have used grey grout to blend with the tiles. Fired Earth  http://www.firedearth.com/tiles/range/newlyn/mode/grid  also have a selection, and are surprisingly close in price of Topps Tiles, which one would imagine being cheaper.

The back splash has also been tiled with ‘subway’ or ‘metro’ tiles laid in brick style and grey grout used in between.

The wooden and glass partitions were fixed in place without the safety glass, and have been stained along with the wooden beading for fixing the glass for ease of application. The glass was then fixed in place, fixing holes filled and a light sanding all over. The partitions then had another coat of stain applied. Despite not being metal ‘Crittal’ style as originally planned, we got a great result at a fraction of the cost.

After much research we finally chose the engineered wood flooring. It’s a light oak veneer with a matt lacquered finish. The company, Posh Flooring  https://www.poshflooring.co.uk/engineered-wood-flooring/oak  were very helpful, efficient and offered advice on the underlay and installation. Delivery was two to three days and the wood had to be laid flat for at least a week prior to laying to acclimatise. Due to the amount needed, we ordered half what was  required and sufficient for two rooms for ease of laying and space. A vapour barrier is laid down first on the floor and then the wood laid on top. Some flooring systems are clicked together and others are glued. It is important to leave a 10mm gap around the edges of the room to allow for expansion. The wood will expand and contract, and if you don’t leave a gap the floor will buckle and in some cases need relaying. This gap will be hidden by skirting boards, or if a retro fit by wooden beading.

 

 

 

 

 

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House (10) It gets Worse Before it Gets Better

A lonely, empty and neglected house.
A lonely, empty and neglected house.

 

Since the builders arrived on 8th January, the house has changed dramatically. The side lean to housing the old boiler has been demolished, as has the garage. The roof tiles being removed first and stored safely for re-use elsewhere. One chimney stack has been removed and the roof reinstated using the old tiles from the lean to.

 

The wooden floor in the old dining room has been removed and the wood stacked in the sitting room for re-use where possible. The original internal doors have been taken off and also stored in the sitting room for re-use. These doors will need a lot of preparation prior to painting, and the handles will need restoring too, as I feel it’s important to re-use and re-cycle where possible and to retain the integrity of the house to use fixtures, fittings and finishings that enhance the existing architectural details, but are still functional. It may not save you much money on your materials bill when you equate the labour hours spent, but you can do it yourself to make savings. Original skirting boards and picture rails had been carefully taken off and stored before the walls were removed, also to be re-instated in some rooms of the original house after the plastering has been carried out. This has caused interesting comments from builders – basically they think the picture rails should go!

Flooring and doors stored for re-use
Flooring and doors stored for re-use

The chimney breast has been knocked out. Easy to say, and not so easy to do. There were masses of bricks and was solid as a rock! The existing wall between the kitchen and dining room has gone too. So we are left with one large space and a beam and block floor, which is ready for the insulation, damp proofing, underfloor heating and concrete to be laid upon. Some of the hall/ dining room wall has also gone, with a lintel in place ready for (much later on) our glass petition wall and door. Block work  has been laid to form a new wall and doorway into, what will be a cloak room. It is a challenge getting to the kettle which is perched on what was a shelf in the pantry ( also gone) to switch it on for tea. That is, after filling the kettle from a small water pipe on the other side of the ‘kitchen’. The rusty old sink is in the skip. Hence no one wants to make the tea!

The walls dividing the airing cupboard, bathroom, toilet and corridor have been take down leaving one huge space upstairs. The dividing brick wall between the two bedrooms was removed because it was only sitting on the floorboards and not a supporting wall. By replacing the wall with stud work (wooden frame, insulation and plaster board) it will be lighter, making a steel beam below unnecessary.

A huge pile of rubble from all the masonary removal was piled in the front garden, some has been crushed and flattened to avoid a ‘mud bath’ and the rear garden looks like the Battle of the Somme. A deep hole has been dug for the soakaway, with earth piled up in mounds all along the sides. Some of the crushed bricks and mortar will be used as a hardcore base for the terrace. Somehow our past efforts with the weed killer look quite feeble and perhaps unnecessary.

The builders have been working on the internal structure work, which needs doing whilst waiting for our neighbours surveyor to complete the Party Wall Agreement. However, we would like to commence digging the footings this week, but can’t until the Agreement is signed. I’m concerned that this is going to hold up our progress. I’m chasing all parties hard.

I have found some information which maybe of help if your planning you’re own self build or renovation project, if you didn’t already know that Jewsons (among other suppliers) offer a pricing service for the project and list all the materials required with their prices. If Jewsons don’t supply a particular material they still include in it a market price. These prices can be compared to other suppliers prices to get the best deal. They charge £180.00 plus vat for this service and I think well worth the money.

Plant hire can be difficult for self builders, due to the insurance policy required to cover the plant. Jewsons also offer self build insurance which covers plant hire too. They have recognized the growing market of self build and home renovations. But as stated before, shop around for insurance cover and be sure to read the small print!

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House (7) Behind the Scenes

Present front elevation of the house, waiting planning permission.
Present front elevation of the house, waiting planning permission.

The house stands empty, a shell of it’s former home in a plot with a few mature trees, but void of flower beds and borders. There it sits waiting for action to transform it into a home once more. It appears from the outside that nothing is happening, but nothing is further from the truth. A flurry of activity is taking place off site.

Quotes for the Structural Engineers drawings have been obtained for the work which can be carried out on the existing house not requiring Planning Permission, but just Building Control. These drawings provide the calculations for the steel lintels and supports required, for builders to work to, and for Building Regulations to come and check, and sign off once satisfied that the work has been carried out satisfactorily. To remove a chimney breast (leaving the stack in situ) knocking out the  wall between the existing kitchen and dining room, knocking a wall out between the hall and new kitchen for a glass partition and doorway. Also to add enforcement in the attic roof area for extra support for the removal of the walls between the existing bathroom, toilet and airing cupboard, to make a bedroom. I also asked for a quote for the additional structural drawings and calculations for the work which does need to wait for Planning Permission. The choice was easily decided upon, in this case the price. One quote for the initial work was for £325.00 with no VAT, the other was £560.00 plus VAT plus disbursements (these being an unknown amount). The quotes for the additional structural drawings subject to Planning Permission i.e. structural calculations, for supporting beams, foundations and ground slab. One was £1325.00 with no VAT, and the other £1595.00 plus VAT and disbursements. As the drawings should be exactly the same, it was an easy decision. The drawings have been sent to a builder we know, and have worked with before, and a copy has been sent to our Architect to pass onto a ‘friendly builder’ he knows to quote on the initial work. It appears however, that builders are extremely busy and think our major stumbling block will be the availability for our planned schedule. We would like a builder to start the work the week beginning the 20th or 27th October, so this work can be finished prior to commencing the extension. We should receive our planning decision by the end of October, and hopefully it will be approved. If successful our Architect will prepare the working drawings. We will also require a Party Wall Agreement.  http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/mar/14/home-extensions-plans-party-wall This is an agreement drawn up between ourselves and our neighbour, because the extension will be less than 3 metres from their boundary. Photographs are included as visual evidence, so if any damage should occur to their property whilst work is being carried out, they will be covered for repairs and damage caused. I have two quotes already for a Party Wall Agreement, one for £650.00 plus VAT and one for approximately £1200.00 plus VAT, as I say, shop around.

In the meantime, the old kitchen units will be stripped out, leaving the sink and working taps for the all important cups of tea. The bathroom, and upstairs toilet will also be removed, leaving the downstairs cloak room in situ for the time being.  The existing radiators and plumbing pipes which are mainly lead will also be removed. All items I would like to clean up and restore to possibly re-use in the house, such as the basin in the bedroom in the new downstairs cloakroom and the original glass splashbacks I will bring home and store in my garage off site, to prevent from being ‘skipped’ or damaged by builders. Anything else salvageable which I shall not be re-using will also be stored off site and sold. Remember that copper and lead are valuable materials and these too can be sold and the proceeds put towards something else needed for the renovation. In one of the bedroom cupboards are some wrapped up bolts of fabric left by the previous owner. Much to the consternation of my husband,  these too will be bought home and inspected to see if I can re-use the material anywhere in the house or sold as ‘Vintage’ fabric. It will need to be laundered first.

Our Architect has arranged a meeting with one of his ‘friendly’ builders to look at the proposed plans and give a rough budget guide price for the extension and other work. This will be a guide price only, to give us an idea, as the  working drawings will detail the materials to be used for the structure, finishes and fittings. The drawings will also include electrical and plumbing requirements. These detailed drawings will then be sent to builders to quote on, so they are all quoting for exactly the same work, making comparisons easier. However, we are going to to our own detailed and scaled plumbing and electrical drawings ourselves. This is because we know where we want to place our furniture, bathroom and kitchen plan, the rooms functions and our lifestyle and how we want the space lit. My husband is a professional plumber who will install the bathrooms and domestic plumbing requirements. He is under the VAT threshold, hence saving 20% on the plumbing bill. The electrical drawings, along with details of switches and socket products required will be sent to the building  firm to add to their quote package and to individual qualified electricians. However, despite having detailed drawings some tradespeople will still ignore the details and take the easiest route for them, including placing a room thermostat in the centre of a wall. I don’t know about you, but I would rather look at a painting, or hang a mirror or shelves on a wall than look at a room thermostat! It has been done, and moving the switch once the wall has been plastered is an added cost. So keep an eye open as work progresses.

Ensure thermostats are place to the side on a wall so you can use the wall to hang pictures.
Ensure thermostats are place to the side on a wall so you can use the wall to hang pictures.

This decision is going to be unpopular with builders. Most builders use their own preferred sub-contractors who invoice the builder direct, and then in turn the customer receives a bill from the builder. Our Architect offers a service of preparing a tender/ negotiation and obtain competitive tenders from builders he has used and worked with before. These fees are based on 1% of the build costs plus VAT. The Architect will also prepare a contract between us and the contractor, issue certificates for payments, for practical completion and final certificate after checking the final account. Again this cost is based on 1% of the build costs plus VAT. This is a great service if you don’t have a clue abut building and renovation or really don’t have the time to project manage yourself. It should remove a lot of the stress and responsibility. Should you be more adept and have the time to project manage, and be able to do some of the work yourself, schedule the trades at the appropriate time, this will save you money. Be realistic about your time and capabilities. Some of the house renovation programmes on television are misleading. I would love to see the detailed budget breakdown on their costs for a substantial building project said to cost £88,000.00 and completed start to finish in just five months, doing most of the work themselves, despite having full time employment.

Outline of where the house will be extended. What's the cost?
Outline of where the house will be extended. What’s the cost?

So, I’m busy sketching, drawing, sourcing and putting details onto my spreadsheet. Don’t forget the exterior of the house and landscaping too at this stage. Incorporate outside and garden lighting, patios, terraces, paths and drives into the drawings. This is time consuming, but will save a lot of time later.The London Design Festival is on at the moment, and have taken the opportunity to visit some of the events. There has been so much to see, which I would have loved to attend, but time has not allowed. These exhibitions and shows are great for ideas and sourcing products. The Home Renovation and Building Show  http://www.homebuildingshow.co.uk/ is being held at Olympia from 26th to 28th October (this weekend). This is a great show to visit for ideas, help, advice, talks and lectures on different subjects and have specialist teams on hand to help you. Well worth a visit. If you can’t make it to London this weekend, the show is also being held on other dates around the country.

http://www.originalbtc.com/catalogue_main.php?catID=5516

Light My Fire! – Ideas and Advice for Open Fires, Wood Burning Stoves and Decor

Advice and ideas on open fires and multifuel stoves
Advice and ideas on open fires and multifuel stoves
Advice and ideas on open fires and Multifuel Stoves

As the evenings draw in and get cooler we are forced to retreat once more indoors for the evenings, we long to ‘cosy up’. Nothing quite fits the bill the same as a fire, be it open, woodburning or other fuel. With a fire lit, the room immediately becomes welcoming and creates a focal point. In our 1930’s house, we have an original brick fireplace, which we intend to keep. However, as this room will be used as a family room or office, I doubt very much if we will ever use it. With this in mind, we have thought about a small wood burning stove to fit into the existing aperture. This would keep our options open. I’m rubbish at lighting open fires and find a stove is far easier. In the new sitting room (when it has been built, subject to planning approval) we would like a large woodburning stove. This stove will not have a chimney breast, but will be placed against a flat wall, with the flue going out through the outside wall. This gives a challenge to the design of the surround and focal point of the room, which needs to include wood storage of some description too. I’m working on this, but need to decide on the stove first. Here are some considerations and advice to think about.

1.Open Fires – If you have a chimney breast, but the fireplace has been long removed, you can open this up to use again. There should be a heat resistant hearth, a fire back to enclose the fire, a lintel to support the the brickwork above, a flue and a chimney. You will need to check that the chimney is not blocked with debris or ‘capped’on the chimney pot. It is also important that smoke is drawn up the chimney and doesn’t billow into the room. This can tend to be more of a  a problem in open fireplaces. Contact The Solid Fuel Advisory Association http://www.solidfuel.co.uk/frame/800index.html who can advise you and suggest approved merchants. The chimney needs to be swept too. Depending on the fuel you intend to burn, this has a has bearing on the choice of grate to go in the fireplace. Seasoned logs (at least a year old, otherwise the sap will clog up the flue) wood pellets, coal or coke or a mixture of these fuels. Check if you are in a smoke controlled area with your local authority first. Remember that wood needs plenty of dry storage space, and be cut small enough to fit in the fire.

2. Wood Burning Stoves – When choosing a woodburning stove the style is not the only consideration, but the size and heat output of the stove in relation to the rooms capacity. Too large and you will ‘roast’, too small and it will not provide sufficient warmth. The basic calculation is to divide the volume of the room in cubic metres by 14. This gives you the heat out put you need. It is advisable to purchase a DEFRA approved stove. Stoves have become very popular over the last few years, and create a real focal point, whether traditional, cylindrical, wall mounted or raised in a simple hearth. The design and fire surround should be in scale with the room.

3. Flueless Fires – Just because you don’t have a chimney breast, it  doesn’t mean you can’t have a fire. Opt for a flueless design. These fires are super efficient, with running costs on average a third of the price of comparable conventional fires. Another option is a balanced flue fire, which has a sealed glass front and a direct vent to the outside. Flueless options can be run on gas, electricity or bio-ethanol. Gas being the cheapest option at present, providing heat over a longer period of time. Bio-ethanol is generally the most expensive option, and can cause condensation, so are best used for shorter periods of time and used more as a feature.

4. Fire Surrounds – Position the mantle shelf either below or above the halfway point between the ceiling and the floor to avoid cutting the wall in half visually. The mantle shelf should not over hang the chimney breast and looks best being the same length as the breast. Always choose a larger surround than a smaller one to make a statement. Architectural salvage and reclaimed surrounds, whether wooden, stone, marble tiled or cast iron can look stunning in either traditional or modern interiors. If you’re prepared to put in the work to restore the surround this will save you money, as fully restored can be pricey. You can make your own surround from timber, and if you’re going to paint it use a heat resistant paint.

5. Fireplace Wall and Mantle Shelf Decor – This is an important part of the rooms decor. Hang a large single painting or statement mirror centrally over the fireplace. The fireplace will ‘anchor’ the piece. Hanging a television over the fireplace has been a popular choice  for some, but personally the T.V. tends to be too high for me, and I dislike the blank dark screen as a focal point and prefer to place the T.V. in a less obtrusive place, perhaps hidden from view when not in use. There are T.V.’s available which look like a mirror when switched off which is ideal, but are expensive. A set of prints or an eclectic mix hung above can work well too. Try painting the chimney breast a darker shade than the surrounding walls, or paint the whole wall a darker shade than the rest of the room.

The mantle shelf holding a small selection of decorative items to enhance the wall hung decor, fireplace, and room, adds the finishing touches. Create a vignette and treat as a whole entity. Small framed photographs, candles or ornaments. But remember less is often more, so don’t over do it.

All images from Pinterest

Renovation and Restoration of a 1930’s House – (6) Planning and Resources

I recently met with one of my neighbours’ whilst clearing the front garden, who inquired what plans we were thinking of implementing on the house. I explained roughly our idea of demolishing the detached garage ( which is the side closest to her boundary), re-building a garage with bathrooms above and going out from the rear, a sort of ‘wrap around’. I could tell she wasn’t keen on our plans. I assured her that it wasn’t going to be as big as the house on the other side to us. Still not convinced, I pointed out that her house had been extended from the original footprint, and ours hadn’t. Her main concern is light. I promised I would show her our drawings, so she can see for herself. It is good idea to try and keep a good relationship with neighbours’ during building and renovation work, providing information and communication (prior notification of noisy work etc.) However, it is not possible to please all of the people all of the time despite your best efforts!

 

Proposed Plans submitted to Planning
Proposed Plans submitted to Planning

Note: The drawings do not illustrate the chosen window design.

We would like to have included a ‘greener’ eco friendly home, and incorporate technologies to help,  but often the costs to install specialist systems prevent us from doing so, despite the long term benefits to both the environment and our pockets. In a new build home it is far easier to incorporate a lot of these technologies than to retro fit. Solar panels, air source heat pumps, brown water harvesting (using rain water collected from the roof into an underground storage tank to be used for car washing etc.) are all possibilities on existing properties. With this in mind I researched the Governments Green Deal initiative, which sounded perfect to help people finance insulating their homes. You could get up to £7800.00 payback from the Government towards installing a more efficient boiler, cavity wall and loft  insulation and glazing. Perfect for our 1930’s home which is definitely not eco by any stretch of the imagination. Alas, when I  came to apply the deal had been withdrawn to new applicants due to overwhelming demand. Basically they had run out money in  just six weeks after launching the initiative.  I was going to share lots of useful information on this, but there’s no point now. The Green Deal can still be applied for, but is more of a loan, which you pay back over time using the savings you make from your energy bills. Should you need to move house for any reason, the new owners take over the payments and receive the benefits of reduced bills. British Gas were also offering money towards a new boiler, and you didn’t have to be a customer of theirs, which I applied for online. British Gas said they would get back to me shortly. This was some weeks ago, and they haven’t. However, by installing LED (light-emitting diodes) lights which don’t have filaments and therefore don’t get hot or burn out tend to be  more expensive to purchase, but are much cheaper to run, putting in a water butt, and sourcing our materials from sustainable (renewable) resources, and even using reclaimed materials we can do our bit to help when renovating or restoring our homes.

 

 

Our plans have been submitted to the local Planning Department and whilst waiting the ten weeks for a decision, we intend to push the project on by starting on the work to the existing house which are not affected by planning approval. Our architects think we’re being too hasty in case the plans don’t pass and we have to change them to a different layout. Point taken, but the removal of the chimney stack, chimney breast and internal wall removals will not be changing. The only changes would be to the extension plans. The Architect also explained that was easier for  contractors to quote for the whole project. Why? Surely they can quote for the extension separately when we have planning permission. He also questioned my wall paper stripping and that contractors would do it. Why pay someone else to do something I’m quite capable of doing myself?Not to be dissuaded, we need structural engineers drawings for the steel which is to be put in between the existing kitchen and dining room to hold the house up when the wall is removed. These drawings will be sent by the structural engineer to Building Control and given to contractors to quote on.

ADVICE: Never ask for, or accept an estimate. An estimate is exactly what it says, and no doubt will cost you more than you budgeted for. For ease of quote comparisons draw up a detailed list of the work you require them to do, along with any drawings which can include specific details. A written contract or agreement of some type should be signed to avoid disputes.  Building Control will visit the site during the work to ensure it meets with regulations. If it does they will issue you with an Approval notice. We also intend to remove the old radiators, bathroom, upstairs toilet and knock through to form a bedroom.

I have started to look for ideas for fixtures and fittings, which I feel will suit the house, but with a contemporary feel. There is a lot of inspiration to be found on the internet including  Pinterest,  https://www.pinterest.com/ Houzz  https://www.houzz.com/signup/u=L3VwbG9hZFNwYWNlcw  and online magazines. If renovating or restoring a period or listed house,  information and guidance can be found on  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/  If you’re searching for salvaged or reclaimed materials try Slavo, an online shop. http://www.salvo.co.uk/forsale.html or reclamation yards located near to you. There is of course eBay and Gum Tree.  Visiting shops and showrooms for inspiration is great too. There is nothing like actually seeing the products. Researching sanitary and brass ware (taps etc.) tiles,  flooring and kitchen products I would possibly like to use, and listing the details on a spreadsheet room by room including product code, name supplier and cost. It is useful to have all the information in one place to refer to as the project progresses. It doesn’t matter how large or small your budget is,  this is key to a successful project, including a 20% contingency fund for unforeseen problems (and expenses) should they arise.  The most expensive items may not always be the best quality so shop around. When any changes are made (usually the cost) to fixtures and fittings you can immediately see how much over budget you are, and perhaps see where cost cutting can be made elsewhere.  There are usually compromises to be made.

The images below are examples of interior fashions from the 1930’s, which you can draw upon for ideas too, interpreting them to suit your individual style and preferences.

Spreadsheet sample
Spreadsheet sample

I’m also fighting a losing battle with brambles and nettles, it is amazing how resilient they are despite being cleared and are trying to invade the garden again. Whilst digging, I  have unearthed some attractive, original terracotta path edgings, and plant pots which I intend to re-use, and a Kilner jar of apricots, which I definitely won’t!

 

A collection of items found in the garden to be used. (not the jar of apricots).
A collection of items found in the garden to be used. (not the jar of apricots).