Home improvements that save energy

January 18th, 2010

In the current economic climate and the impending climate change, saving energy in the home has become a priority for most of us. There are various ways to save energy in the home while being eco-friendly at the same time, here are some of the best ways to save money and help the environment:

•    Fitting roof and pipe insulation; this will keep the heat in your house, saving you money on your heating bills.
•    Upgrading your windows and doors to double glazing. Double glazing can reduce heat loss from your house by up to 50% and is a great way to lower your bills.
•    Buy energy efficient household appliances. Over the last few years there has been an increase in energy efficient products hitting the market from washing machines and fridge freezers to televisions and kettles. Energy efficient products help the environment by cutting down on harmful pollutants caused by energy companies.
•    Changing to energy saving light bulbs; this one is pretty self-explanatory, they save energy and last a lot longer than standard light bulbs.
•    Change your old log fire for a gas fire. Installing a gas fireplace in place of your coal or log fire will cut down on harmful pollutants going into the atmosphere and will also save you money.
•    Cavity wall insulation. This is similar to roof insulation in that it reduces heat loos from the house. Cavity wall insulation is installed by drilling a series of holes in the wall and pumping the insulation into the wall cavity.

There are many more energy saving home improvements on the market, so it’s best to have a look round and see which ones are suitable for you and your home.

Cost of Underfloor Heating When Professionally Installed

January 12th, 2010

As with most things, the cost of underfloor heating is going to vary and the best thing you can do is get a quote. For a professional installation there are two options open to you. 

The first option is to seek out an underfloor heating company that will quote you based on the cost of all materials, as well as the time they take to come and install the system for you. Be sure to obtain an itemised list of what they will and won’t be supplying and the exact terms of their fitting prices, as well as any additional charges should the job run over schedule. The best thing to do is get quotes from three different suppliers, as this gives you a good comparison for establishing the cheapest option. Do not rush out and accept the cheapest price before you have checked that the quotes are comparable.

The other way to get a professional installation is to purchase all the components yourself and then employ suitably qualified tradesmen to fit the system for you. In the case of a water underfloor heating system, you will need a plumber and an electrician and if you are burying the pipe work, you will need to find someone who can lay the floor for you after the main heating system has been installed. It is hard to say which will be cheaper, as costs will vary, so shop around and see what deals you can make; there is always a deal to be done.

The Essential DIY Toolkit

January 11th, 2010

For anyone who’s not quite ready for property development, but is not averse to DIY, perhaps suspended somewhere between painting/decorating and confident plastering, assembling a good, practical toolbox is an essential step to honing your skills. But just what should you include?

Here are few ‘must have’ items for any basic toolbox, you can add to them as you gain in confidence and experience.

It’s hard to get very far without a reliable, retractable tape measure. They’re cheap and absolutely essential, so definitely get one. Insulated pliers are exceptionally handy too. If you’re paring back electrical insulation or cutting through old wires they’ll protect you if they aren’t quite as dead as you expected them to be. A claw hammer will enable you to drive nails in and pull them out again if they bend madly.

No toolbox would be complete without a set of screwdrivers, a mix of various sizes and drive profiles, crosshead and straight. An electric screwdriver can help enormously and there is a huge range of screw heads to select, including Allen-key type profiles.

A set of adjustable spanners will be worth their weight in gold, but at least get a small-to-medium sized one. Another absolute essential is a spirit level; some of the laser-line types are great for getting shelves and large picture frames or mirrors level. Finally, a ‘box cutter’ (Stanley knife) and electrical screwdriver should complete the bare essentials.

OK, so experts in building and construction may turn their noses up at it, but as a first step to DIY competence you will now have a at least all the basic tools you need.

Redecorating your bathroom on a budget

January 9th, 2010

Smartening up your bathroom need not cost a fortune. As long as the basics are in place, a few reasonably inexpensive accessories can do wonders to give your bathroom an atmosphere of restrained luxury and comfort.

Towels make a huge difference. Buy good quality plush or deep cotton hand and body towels. Choose the colours carefully, to match the paintwork in your bathroom. Try contrasting shades to make the towels a design feature in themselves.

If your bathroom is in a brisk spa-like white, have a look at shower screens. These now come in a fantastic range of styles and can be used to offset any colour bath or wall.

Flooring is expensive and if you are on a limited budget you may decide that a complete renovation is unaffordable. Instead, have a look at rugs and bathmats. Like shower curtains, a huge range of prints, colours and fabrics are readily available, often at bargain prices. Just be sure to buy fully washable items.

Lighting is another way to add atmosphere to your bathroom. If you already have recessed lighting why not experiment with a chandelier or even a lantern? These items can be picked up at very affordable prices.

Finally, why not replace that outdated vanity unit with an interesting bathroom mirror? They make a great focal point for any bathroom and frames come in all manner of shapes and sizes. Try flea markets for real bargains.

Persian Gazebos – a brief history

January 6th, 2010

For thousands of years, people have viewed the peace and beauty of a garden and surrounding countryside from a gazebo.

We know that gardens have been a central factor for wealthy members of society for thousands of years.  In modern day Iran, The Persians designed gardens filled with lush plants of striking colours at odds with the hot dry environs of the landscape, the most famous being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon renowned as one of The Seven Wonders of the World.  They were able to achieve these marvels because of qanats, an underground engineering system of aqueducts that brought melted snow from the mountains down onto the plains.  Water was a major feature of a Persian garden with pools and fountains inserted into the geometrical design.  A wealthy Persian would escape from the heat and make his way to a gazebo situated in his own bit of paradise.

Gardens were built to be viewed aesthetically and to raise the spirits, but Persians did not only relax under their gazebos; gardens were also areas where politics and business took place, treaties were signed, diplomats greeted and were central to Persian life.

Persian gazebos were influenced by Islamic architecture and were called kiosks that could range from a tent with mats scattered inside to buildings made from marble with cupolas.  Some gazebos were constructed with running water underneath the floors to maintain a cooler temperature.  Occasionally, gazebos were used as tombs.

Planning Your Conservatory

January 4th, 2010

This project lies somewhere between property development and DIY, although building a conservatory won’t need the services of architects unless you’re being really extravagant. With all that glazing, you might need to do a little painting and decorating, but there’ll be precious little plastering. Provided you’re not planning to cover half your garden or build one higher than your existing roof, you won’t need planning permission to build a superb new conservatory. If your planned construction is (a) at ground level, (b) under 30sqm, (c) mostly glazed and (d) with an external door between it and the house, there are no building regulations to comply with.

Try to be balanced; the conservatory needs to be in proportion with the house. A massive glassy atrium stuck on the end of a small terraced house will look a trifle odd and don’t squeeze the garden into oblivion.

Try to picture what you use the extra space for before building, a breakfast room, home office, dining room, play room? Each will have different requirements.

Check the building regulations for the thermal quality of the glazing, the ‘U’ value determines how much heat it will let in or out. Also consider the direction the conservatory will be facing, this will inevitably influence internal temperature. South-facing conservatories should be glazed with solar glass, it really keeps the interior cool, but north-facing ones need ‘low emissivity’ or ‘Low E’ glass, to keep the heat in. Finally, don’t forget about good quality blinds, they’ll reduce both heat and glare.

Cheap Bathroom Refurbishment

December 31st, 2009

Giving your bathroom a thorough refurbishment need not cost the earth. In fact, for around £75, you can freshen up even the most jaded room and all it takes is a little paint and some inexpensive DIY supplies.

Firstly, take a look around the bathroom. Flooring and plumbing tend to be costly to replace, so try to live with them until you have a little more money in your wallet.

Apart from the bath, wall colour is perhaps the first thing people notice in a bathroom, so try to contrast both. For a soft, romantic atmosphere use pastels, such as pale yellow or fuchsia or strong bold colours like cobalt blue. Perhaps you might consider a monochrome look, with bamboo or rattan to soften the harshness. Whichever colour you choose, be sure to use an eggshell finish. It repels moisture and is easy to clean.

Take a good look at your bathroom accessories. Markets are a great place to pick up interesting glassware or ceramic items. These make a huge difference and easily double up as toothbrush holders or soap dishes.

Also have a search around your home. The chances are that somewhere in the back of a cupboard is an interesting vase or glass container. Any basket or box can be used to store towels and toilet rolls or how about an old bedside table? Perfect for an impromptu vanity unit. Just make sure it is eye-catching. Why not paint it to make a standout feature?

Finally, have a look for tiles that are being sold off cheaply at your local hardware shop. These could provide an inexpensive and chic way of cladding the bath and allow you to create your own stunning patterns and design.

Is Underfloor Heating Cheaper Than Radiators?

December 28th, 2009

The simple answer to this question is yes; underfloor heating is most definitely cheaper than using normal central heating radiator systems. Firstly this is a more logical system, as it acknowledges the principle that heat rises and starts the heating process from the lowest point in the room, rather than two or three feet above the floor. As a result, the underfloor heating system can be operated at a much lower temperature, as there are no ‘cold spots’ in the room. When using radiators there is a cold spot along the floor of the room, especially downstairs, which is never heated and this makes the thermostat register the temperature as lower, which in turn means that the heating system is turned up and stays on for longer to achieve the required temperature.

Insulation, such as Marmox Insulation also prevents any heat from the underfloor heating system being lost into the floor. Again, this means that all the heat generated is used in an upward direction and pushed into the room. As the system runs at a lower temperature overall, it means that less fuel, in this case electricity, is burned getting the system to the correct heat. By having underfloor heating installed in the room you should see an overall drop in your electricity bill, as the room will also be drier, which makes it feel warmer, so you will turn the thermostat down even further, saving you even more money.

Gazebos – great for giving shelter and shade to your garden

December 23rd, 2009

A gazebo is a structure that is built in parks, public spaces and private gardens, but away from the main residence.  They can be freestanding, or attached to a wall, roofed and open at all sides.  They may be used as a rain shelter, to provide shade, to provide a place for solitude and reflection or just as a decorative features in a landscape.  They key element of a gazebo is that they are situated strategically to offer beautiful views of the surrounding area.

Structures that are included in the umbrella-term gazebo are alambras, belvederes, follies, kiosks, pagodas, pavillions, pergolas and rotundas.  Archaeological evidence shows that gazebos have been in use for thousands of years in the ancient societies of Persia, Egypt and China.  They were used as a means of shade, for spiritual meditation, for worship and for concluding business deals.

The origin of the word is unknown and it has no cognate in any European language.   Several theories have been put forward that it may have its origins in Islam, Latin Hispano-Arabic or French.  It first entered the English language in the middle of the 18th century when an architectural writer, William Halfpenny, published a book on Chinese architecture.

Gazebos were common in Western Europe during the Middle Ages but did not gain in popularity in the United States until the middle of the 18th century when a new wealthier middle class began to emerge.

Save Energy and Money with Your Existing Heating System

December 21st, 2009

If your radiators don’t already have TRVs (Thermostat Radiator Valves) they are worth adding to your heating system as they could potentially save energy and money. Giving you control over each room’s temperature and also having frost guard for unused / spare rooms. If you want to add TRVs to all the radiators in your home you will have to check that your system has an ABV (Automatic Bypass (pressure balancing)) Valve fitted. This will be located near to the central heating pump between the flow and return pipe. If you don’t have an ABV fitted then a couple of TRV say in a small cloak room or toilet should be fine, but don’t exceed 50% of the system in each zone (upstairs & downstairs). A major don’t is, don’t add a TRV in the same room as the main house thermostat.

A cheap and simple money saving method is foil backing your radiators, this is basically a foil covering that you stick to the wall behind the radiator; this stops the heat from the back of the radiator being absorbed by the wall and reflects it back into the room. Cheap, effective and easy to DIY and could potentially increase the air temperature by 1ºC in your home. You can buy this on rolls of foil backed with polystyrene for around £10 for 2.5 square meters, but for the more creative out there you could try use standard kitchen foil possibly stuck to bubble wrap.