Get warm with Insulation before the cold weather arrives

Saving money with insulationWith ever-soaring energy prices and constant reminders about the need to limit CO2 emissions, none of us one can afford to ignore the importance of insulation. New homes are built to high standards of insulation, but older properties will invariably benefit from work to prevent heat loss, leading to lower fuel bills. Continual product innovations mean it is probably worth considering an upgrade even if your home already has a certain amount of insulation. Summer is a good time to do the work.

Where to start? Heat rises, so the biggest loss of heat is often through the roof. For a building with a pitched roof over loft space, laying a thick blanket of glass fibre or mineral wool is the most effective way to insulate and costs can be recouped in lower energy bills within a year or two. Loose-fill material such as vermiculite is another option, but is not as popular because ideally it needs to be thicker than the depth of the joists – so tends to be used only in an awkwardly shaped loft.

Rolls or slabs of insulation material are generally 600mm wide to match standard joist spacing, so it is a fairly simple job, but it is important to wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent skin irritation and a mask to avoid breathing in fibres. Remember to leave the eaves clear for ventilation and to lift electrical cables over the insulation so they do not overheat. Tie insulation around water tanks in the loft but do not insulate underneath them. Wrap a wad of insulation in plastic and secure to the upperside of the loft hatch.

Once the work is done, all those Christmas decorations and other clutter stored in the attic will no longer be bathed in the heat that used to rise through the ceilings below, but the occupants of everywhere apart from the roof space will be a lot warmer!

Pipework is another major source of heat leakage and pipes are at risk of freezing in the roof space if left unlagged. Foam casings are available in various sizes and are easily fitted around pipes. Just join the pieces of foam with PVC tape. For neat joins at corners, cut the ends at 45° using a mitre board and then tape together. Another method of insulating pipes is to box them in using battens and plywood and pouring in loose-fill insulation material. This has the added advantage of concealing unsightly pipes and if the boxing is decorated it will be effectively disguised. Screw, rather than nail the boxing together so the pipework can still be accessed when necessary.

Walls account for a huge surface area in any home and can be the cause of up to 35% heat loss. Cavity wall insulation involves pumping mineral fibres, foam or pellets into the wall space and is a job for an approved contractor. The pay-back period is about five years. External insulation for solid walls is another area for the professionals, but competent DIYers can tackle the interior of solid walls. An economical solution is to dry-line walls with insulated gypsum board, fastened directly to the wall with panel adhesive or nailed to a supporting framework of treated wood strips. Ordinary plasterboard sheets can also be used, combined with insulation blanket and a vapour barrier.

Mark cutting lines on the dry lining board with a pencil before cutting with a fine-toothed saw, on the opposite side to the insulation. Use a padsaw to cut holes for light switches or socket boxes. When nailing the boards in place, hammer them so the nail heads just dimple the surface.

Floors and windows are other places where insulation and draughtproofing can make a big difference to energy bills and to the comfort of the building’s occupants. We’ll come back to those another day.

Seamless Extension Reveals Wonderful view of Garden

bring the outside insideThe Pollins family wanted to add an extra living space to their home and create a room that would remove the boundaries between inside and outside. The main objective was to provide an uninterrupted view of the garden which they could enjoy all year round; in effect the creation of what is now commonly known as the ‘third living space’.

Martin and Sue Pollins moved into their house in Newick five years ago. Although a relatively new build, the grounds originally belonged to an old nursing home, which meant that they inherited a 100-year-old yew hedge and beautiful silver birches encircling their south east facing garden.

The Pollins family knew from the outset that they didn’t just want to add an extra room to the house, they wanted a view. Their first thought was to put in a traditional conservatory, but felt a brick base would detract from what they wanted to achieve, a seamless link between the room and garden.

“It took several years to decide what we actually wanted. Finally when speaking to Lifestyle Conservatories, who were part of the design process from the start, Origin Bi-folding doors were recommended. Once we realised that bi-folds would create the conservatory we had in mind, with large glass expanses and modern architecture, we knew this was the modern chic look we wanted,” says Sue Pollins.

The Pollinses were impressed with the floor to ceiling construction of bi-folding doors and for them the key points – unspoiled design between the room and garden, the security features and the ease of use – proved to be the perfect combination for their ideal conservatory.

They specified a five-door and a three-door set for their 16 sq m conservatory, with all doors in both sets folding and sliding in the same direction. Incorporating two sets of folding sliding doors into the room design meant that the entire opening and wonderful view of their garden would be revealed.

The five-door set was fitted in an aperture of 5123mm with each door leaf measuring 989mm wide by a standard height of approximately 2351mm. The three-door set was installed into a 3050mm aperture with each door measuring approximately 966mm x 2351mm. The aluminium doors were powder coated in hipca white to maintain a modern fresh look, but also to match the french doors already installed in the house.

The high grade powder coated finish of the doors removes the need for periodic painting and maintenance. The hard wearing finish protects against scratches and colour fading, minimising the upkeep of the doors. Martin and Sue Pollins chose their specific opening configurations to ensure they had use of an everyday traffic door or master door, which when opened connects to a magnetic keep to prevent the door slamming shut. The main traffic door houses an eight-point multi-point locking system and satisfied concerns about security.

In terms of a conservatory extension ‘bringing the outside in’, the bi-folds give the home a super sleek structural integrity and the concertina effect of the doors creates an affinity between the house and garden.

home extensionConstructed to the highest standards, Origin Bi-fold doors combine not only elegance, but also the very latest in door security, with an eight-point multi-point locking system and magnum security cylinder which protects against all forms of physical attack. Manufactured and assembled at its High Wycombe factory, Origin’s eight point locking system conforms to police preferred ‘Secured by Design’ standards. Chamfered 20mm linear bolts give a smooth lock-engaging mechanism, as well as maximum compression for increased weather resistance. Add to this the deep throw 25mm security hooks – the deepest engagement – and the result is a lock which provides the best in security and weather proofing.

Internally the lantern roof creates a naturally bright, airy space giving a warm and therapeutic feel, so consequently the room has become a key feature of the house completely incorporating the garden.

When the doors were fitted in May 2012, marking an end to the project, Martin and Sue Pollins noticed a huge change in their day-to-day living. “We find ourselves sitting out here come rain or shine. When the doors are folded back it feels as if you are out in the garden, but we experience the comfort of being indoors. The whole process from beginning to end has been effortless – we have brought the garden into the house without having to move the earth,” concludes Martin Pollins.

TESTIMONIAL: “The doors are made to an exceptionally high standard; they fit perfectly, keep all the elements out, are incredibly secure and open with ease. Origin is to bi-fold what Apple is to computers” – Martin Pollins

Article by Neil Ginger: Origin Easifold Doors

Capital Allowances for your Business Property

Save money with capital allowancesCapital allowance is not the most easy to understand topic in the world, nor is it the most riveting, but it can save you money. In its simplest form capital allowance is a method of factoring in depreciation for tax purposes. What it means is that you will be able to write off the cost of the asset based on the type of asset and the rate of depreciation.
The following assets are eligible to be claimed as capital allowance:

  • Plant and machinery costs
  • Vehicles, machines, tools, equipment, computers, furniture etc.
  • Some forms of construction i.e. property improvement and converting property above commercial buildings to rent as flats

You can easily find out more about what can and can’t be claimed under capital allowance from the Capital Allowances Act 2001. Capital allowance is most commonly associated with businesses but there are situations where you may be able to claim for items used at a personal property. Safe Site Facilities have a guide detailing those situations that may be of interest. Although be aware that if used on a personal property you will only be able to claim on the portion of the asset that relates to your trade or business.

For Business Property

Now that you understand a bit about capital allowance and how it works we’ll take a look at how it applies to business properties and what it could mean for you if you can claim under one of the following areas.

Renovating Business Premises:
The whole idea behind BPRA or Business Premises Renovation Allowance is to encourage the development of empty business properties located in ‘assisted areas’. The act provides 100% tax allowance for expenses incurred when renovating or converting vacant commercial building located within these disadvantaged areas. You can find more information regarding this act and what constitutes a disadvantaged area by visiting the HMRC website.

Also be aware that in order to receive this tax allowance the business premises must qualify by being from one of the following sectors:

  • Shipbuilding
  • Coal industry
  • Steel industry
  • Fisheries
  • Synthetic fibres
  • Certain agricultural products
  • Milk or milk substitutes

Tax and allowancesProperty Fixtures:
At the time of a property being sold or purchased the assets, for which capital allowances have been claimed, will need to be quantified for their contribution to the overall sale price.

As of April 2012 this portion of the purchase price must be agreed with the other party. The simplest way to do this is via a joint election (a section 198 or 199) which must be communicated to HMRC within a period of 2 years.


Make sure that the election includes:

  • A description of the fixtures and their agreed value
  • Information identifying both the buyer and the seller
  • Details of the property

However if an agreement can’t be reached over the value of these assets then the case can be referred to a First Tier Tribunal. Again this must be done within 2 years.

Hopefully this article has provided some insights into the world of capital allowances. While the documentation can be hard going at times, ultimately there is money to be saved by claiming capital allowance where possible. One of the best places to start your quest is the HMRC website.

Article by Alex Murray – Community Coordinator, Safe Site Facilities.

Should we build houses on Greenfield Sites?

Field withTreeThe Planning Minister, Nick Boles has caused strong reactions amongst environmental campaigners and groups with his radical plans to increase the number of houses across the UK, particularly on Greenfield sites.

New reforms to planning permission laws are due to come into effect today. In particular the rules have been relaxed to allow home owners to build some extensions without the need for full planning permission.

The caveat is that the adjoining neighbours must not object to the development. Plans will still need to be submitted to the council to ensure the dimensions are within the permitted development allowances and details of neighbours must be given.

The council will then notify the neighbours and if no objection is received within 21 days, the development will be permitted.

In addition councils have been instructed to consider new build projects on Greenfield land with a more favourable eye, especially self build projects. The idea being that new and beautiful homes will be developed rather than as Mr Boles describes them, “soulless identikit rabbit hutches”. Not only are environmental campaigners concerned about the protection of the countryside and Greenfield sites, but also whether these new builds will become ‘monsters’ of design on the landscape.

However Mr Boles does not stop there, he also is trying to ease street planning legislation to convert shops back to residential use and allowing more agricultural barns to be converted to homes. Although it is plain to see that the high street today is gradually declining, allowing a free for all with regard to converting shops back to homes does not build the case for local communities to thrive again.

Conservationists are worried that with a relaxation on Greenfield sites that villages and towns will simply sprawl out into our beautiful countryside.

I can understand Nick Boles is trying to look for different solutions to our housing deficit but are his ideas the only way. I don’t think so; there are still plenty of areas within towns and cities which are ripe for redevelopment. The UK still has a plethora of Brownfield sites yet to be taken advantage of.

In my view it is important to redevelop areas which have already been built upon than churning up fields to establish lots of little pockets of houses.

How to choose and lay tiles

Grouting dark tilesTiles have been around for centuries but it’s fair to say that the choice of styles and designs has never been greater. A time-travelling Roman would still be able to find familiar mosaics incorporating stone and glass, but the majority of tiles used today owe their existence to the development of the ceramic tile industry in The Netherlands in the 17th century. With a resurgence in interest in authentic period details, Victorian tiled panels are in demand once more and friezes are appearing in courtyards.

To lay tiles on walls, ceramic and porcelain tiles reign supreme but glass and natural stone also have their place. Ceramic and porcelain floor tiles are widely available, but hardwearing natural stone tiles such as limestone, slate and travertine are frequently chosen for floors and are ideal for areas such as conservatories and orangeries. Even with stone, there is a surprisingly wide range of colours and effects. With ceramic and porcelain tiles, the sky’s the limit on choice of colour and finish – glossy, matt, sparkly, crinkled or smooth. For something really unique, there are hand-made and hand-painted tiles on offer.

So having chosen your style of tile and decided to tackle the job yourself, how do you lay tiles to achieve that perfect hard-wearing decorative finish on a wall or floor? As with so many DIY jobs, preparation and planning is the key to success.

Work out how many tiles you will need, by careful measuring of the wall or floor and calculating the number of rows of tiles in each direction. If tiles of different sizes are to be used and a pattern or border introduced, it will be easiest to set out the design on paper. Count any part tiles as a whole and whatever figure you arrive at, add at least 5% to allow for breakages or miscalculations. Some tile suppliers have estimation grids on their websites.

Prepare the wall or floor to make sure the surface is smooth, clean and dry. Modern adhesives allow new tiles to be laid on old, provided they are not loose, but if the wall is currently papered, this will have to be removed. Make sure there are no ‘nibs’ of wallpaper left. Painted walls will just need to be thoroughly cleaned. New plaster must be completely dry and might need a coat of primer.

It is possible to lay tiles straight onto concrete floors as long as they are level, dry and free of dust. With floorboards, a layer of plywood will need to be fixed on top before tiling commences. And remember that not all suspended wooden floors can bear the considerable weight of ceramic or stone tiles.

Essential tools are a notched trowel for spreading adhesive, a tile cutter, grout float and spirit level. Nippers for trimming edges are also useful and safety goggles to protect eyes. Different types of adhesive and grout are available depending on the type of tiles, the surface they are being fixed to and how much water they will be encountering. Manufacturers provide detailed explanations of suitability.

Decorative wall tilesAn important part of the planning stage is working out the starting point and order of tiling to minimise the number of tiles that need to be cut and avoid having very thin slivers of tile. Obstacles such as window reveals and door openings often mean that the centre point is different to where it would be on a plain, uninterrupted wall. Mark the starting line and nail battens to the wall as support strips.

Check, check and check again with a spirit level. A row of tiles that are not horizontal will cause untold problems. Setting out floor tiles is easier as they can be dry laid on the surface and moved around to find the best arrangement. Try to avoid having a lot of cut tiles where the eye falls as you enter the room. When it comes to the actual fixing of the tiles, don’t get caught out like in the old comedy films. It might be stating the obvious, but make sure you work back to an exit and don’t get trapped in a corner!

Apply the adhesive evenly using a trowel or spreader. The notches produce ridges that help to create an equal amount of adhesive under each tile so that they sit level. Only cover about 1m² of the wall or floor with adhesive at a time, so that you can lay tiles before the adhesive starts to dry. Some tiles have built-in spacers but others will need to be separated by small plastic spacers that are removed once the tiles have set. Spacers ensure a uniform distance between each tile giving aesthetically pleasing grouting. Wipe away any excess adhesive that squeezes out as more tiles are placed and keep using the spirit levels as you add more rows.

Once the adhesive has set, the tiled area should be grouted. Grout is now available in several colours so you can choose whether you want it to blend with the tiles or go for dramatic effects with a contrast colour. Use the float in long, diagonal strokes and make sure the joints are firmly filled. Compressing the grout with a blunt tool gives a professional finish. Frequently wipe the surface with a damp sponge as dried-on grout is very difficult to remove. Allow the grout to dry, then polish with a soft cloth. Stand back and admire your handiwork!

Making the most out of your Bifolds

Bi-folding doors can bring a modern look to any home, providing a spacious living area and transforming the look and feel of a room by letting extra light in. Natural light and the integration of garden and home, effectively known as the ‘third-space’, has become very important not only to homeowners, but also for house hunters as bifolds add the a real ‘wow factor’ to any home.

rear extension to houseAluminium is the recommended material of choice due to precision design and engineering required for bifolds, making timber and UPVC unsuitable materials for maintaining alignment over the lifetime of the product. Origin has been recommending aluminium bifolds for over 10 years due to its strength and durability, which allows for narrow, more aesthetically pleasing frames.

More than just black, white or grey! Bifolds now come in a range of colours from bright primary shades to candy pastels and deeper earthy tones – designed to give people the opportunity to express their creativity and individuality through their choice of door colour. In addition, the interior and exterior door frames can be in opposing colours, enabling the outside of the doors to match the external fixtures and fittings of the house, with the interior frame in a different colour to match the room.

Origin doors are available in a huge range of configurations, ranging from two-door options right through to large eight-door configurations that can open up the side of a house. Corner and bay window style configurations also allow the whole corner of a home to be opened up offering unrestricted vision and maximising access in and out of the property.

Bespoke electric blinds will add the perfect finishing touch, available in a wide selection of colours; they provide shade from the sun and privacy at night, as well as that sought-after designer look. The possibilities are endless.

Article by Neil Ginger, CEO Origin Easifold Doors.

Do all Glass Balustrades need Handrails?

Glass Balustrade with no handrailsWe all see on programmes such as Grand Designs, glossy magazines, glass expanses etc, beautiful glass balustrades, some with handrails and some without.

There is a lot of confusion regarding the requirements for a handrail on glass balustrades and glass railings. So what exactly are the legal requirements? As Managing Director at Volarus Special Projects and having met Kevin McLeod at the Grand Designs show I wanted to investigate the legalities as to what can be achieved with glass balustrades while being mindful of safety, especially when creating inspirational properties or areas around the home.

While developing a new structural glass system I had to consider all the design and safety elements alongside regulations while still creating a spectacular finish and look for clients.

According to British Standards 6180-2011 which have superseded British Standards 6180-1999, glass balustrades can be provided on single structure glass such as toughened as long as it complies with the regulation that states it must have a safety handrail in the event that the glass panel fails.

Glass balustrade with a handrail does not provide un-interrupted views. Although in the event that the toughened glass fails, the handrail will remain in position and top any adult falling over the edge. The same rules may not apply for a young child who is under the height of 1100mm and I strongly believe that anyone investing in structural glass balustrade with young children should seriously think about the risks.

Glass Balcony BalustradeHere at Volarus Special Projects we have developed a unique balustrade system which does not require a handrail and which incorporates the standard channel retaining system but is capable of taking glass up to 25mm thick, the benefits of this system is that glass panels can be laminated together giving a typical overall thickness of 21.5mm thick which makes our system 100% completely safe and fully compliant to British Standards.

In the event that a glass panel is impacted with a localised force the panels will not fail as the lamination and the outer glass panel will retain its rigidity and stop any person falling through. In addition, our system can also incorporate our exclusive LED lighting system which offers various options and furthermore, can be enhanced with feature panels such as “cracked ice” and laminated images for that personal touch.

In order to satisfy modern architectural design while offering the required safety levels my aim was to ensure the product we developed not only looked spectacular but offered clients the full confidence of a safe and secure installation.

Author: Paul Revill, Managing Director at Volarus Special Projects.

What is the best Material for Bifolding Doors?

bifolding doorsBifolding doors continue to be an increasingly popular choice for new build and renovation projects. There are many factors to consider, but the choice of material is probably one of the most important considerations.

In the high end, bespoke bi folding doors market, there are really just 3 choices for consideration.

Firstly there are thermally broken aluminium systems which are by far the most commonly used and indeed the most popular choice for many reasons. Panels are constructed from extruded aluminium profiles which are split by a poly-amide thermal break which helps prevent heat transfer between the inside and outside of the door. This is the minimum requirement for any aluminium door to ensure it conforms to building regulations.

Choosing an aluminium system means your doors are virtually maintenance free. Aluminium is far harder wearing and much longer lasting than uPVC. It can be finished in any RAL colour and you can choose from a number of finish options.With the benefit of large panel sizes and slim slightlines, aluminium is aesthetically pleasing. Marine treatment is also available when needed for coastal areas to prevent saline corrosion. Bearing all this in mind, along with the fact that two thirds of all the aluminium ever produced is still in use today, making is an ecologically sound choice. You can see why aluminium systems are the most popular.

Timber systems are also a popular choice. The highest quality timber systems are produced in engineered timber that has been triple laminated to increase the strength and reduce chances of the timber warping over time. The types of timber available vary, but oak and pine are used the most regularly.

As timber is naturally insulating compared to aluminium, there is no requirement for a thermal break between the interior and exterior faces.

And finally, there are composite bifolding doors. This is a combination of aluminium and timber. Choosing a composite system allows for all the warm and natural appearance of timber internally, whist providing all the maintenance free benefits of aluminium to the exterior. Due to weathering, any system using timber externally would require re-painting or staining within two to three years, then annually thereafter. This requirement is therefore avoided through the use of a composite system.

Author Carly Grigglestone: Sunfold Systems

How to put up wall shelves

Wall ShelvesWe’ve all seen the old comedy sketches where a DIYer steps proudly back after filling up newly-installed wall shelves – only for them to immediately collapse or for everything to slide off onto the floor. But in reality, creating sufficient storage and display space is serious business. The ability to make and fit shelves is a valuable skill that will bring a smile from grateful family members in homes everywhere.

Although there are many pieces of furniture offering ready-made rows of shelving, building your own wall shelves is not only much cheaper, but also more versatile. Shelves can be fitted into alcoves and tailored to suit the room function. The shelving can be arranged in a layout to suit different sized books, vases and other display items, pots and pans or clothing accessories.

So where to start? The most basic way to create more storage is to buy ready-made shelves in wood, board, glass or metal and place them onto brackets or shelf support strips which are simply attached to the wall. Brackets are on show, so choose metal or wooden brackets suitable for the room décor. Fixed brackets screw directly into the wall and the only tools required are a drill with masonry bit, spirit level, screwdriver and wall plugs. An alternative is adjustable shelving, using brackets that slot into pre-fixed uprights and can be easily repositioned.

A drawback of ready-made wall shelves is the pre-determined lengths. To make the best use of available wall space, buy lengths of timber or manufactured board and saw to the exact size required. Whichever option you choose, remember that all shelves will sag under heavy loads if the support brackets are too far apart.

Spacing of brackets varies with the type of board used and the expected load.

A useful guide is:

  • With 12mm particle board and ready made veneered or melamine-faced shelves, allow 450mm for heavy loads and 600mm for light loads.
  • With 19mm particle board or 12mm plywood, this can be increased to 600mm for heavy loads and 750mm for light loads.
  • For 19mm plywood, blockboard, MDF or natural wood, space brackets at 750mm for heavy loads and 900mm for light loads.

Brackets are available in various sizes. For adequate support, they should span between two-thirds and three-quarters the width of the board.

Accurate positioning is vital. Draw a pencil line across a straight batten to mark where the shelf is to go and keep using the spirit level to check all horizontal or vertical lines. Make sure the overhang at each end is equal. With adjustable shelving, the uprights should be placed so there is a quarter length of the shelf at each end.

When fitting several shelves into an alcove, measure for each shelf separately, as the walls may not be square. Brackets are generally not needed here, as the back and side walls provide support. Instead, the shelves can sit on top of inexpensive wood or metal support strips. With wooden battens, cutting the front ends at an angle and painting them the same colour as the walls makes them less noticeable.

A power jigsaw makes light work of following a scribed line to cut wall shelves to the required size. If sawing through lengths of veneered plywood or MDF, you will be left with an unattractive exposed edge. Solid wood trim can be bought to cover and protect this.

More advanced DIYers will be able to make attractive shelf units with timber ends; but for the majority of amateurs, shelves fixed to brackets or support strips are the most straightforward way to provide loads of useful storage space.

So now you can put up your shelves with confidence; let us know how you get on and send in some pictures of your work!

Save our Beach Huts

With such cold weather plaguing the UK well into April, there is another area of UK property sales which is also suffering a major downturn; our beloved Beach Huts!

Quintessentially British, the seafront beach hut has afforded many families a wonderful way to holiday right on the beach. During the property boom, many huts were enhanced to offer luxury bathrooms or living spaces which sent prices soaring.

Brightly coloured beach huts at Southwold, Suffolk

Depending on location and standard of accommodation prices range from around £5,000 to an incredible £250,000. Since the property crash and financial downturn, the buying and selling of beach huts have, as you might imagine, suffered.

Many people who own huts, benefit from great rental income to tourists, however the costs of owning a hut have increased over the years in ground rent and maintenance charges. If an owner does decide to sell, it now appears to become quite difficult. In today’s market, mortgage lending for a beach hut just doesn’t happen, so sales generally have to be cash.

For some of the more expensive beach huts, this poses a significant problem and certainly reduces the number of readily available buyers.

I love the colourful beach huts which line our sandy shores, and it’s certainly a tradition that should stand the test of time. It’s at the top of those quirky British aspects which brings forth the tourist to our beaches; it would be a shame to see the beach hut life die out.

So what can be done? Well there are many different rules and regulations depending on the location of the hut. Some local Councils do not allow occupants to stay overnight, others don’t have nearby facilities such as toilets and water supplies.

Perhaps there is a case for establishing a lending facility which will keep this essential beach front tradition going. Maybe further investment into the services which can be provided or a relaxation of some of the long-standing restrictive rules in order to offer more flexibility to the owner.

The colour and flair of the UK’s wonderful beach huts needs to be maintained and protected!