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03 January 2012

"Top Tips" for 2012.

With the New Year I think it’s time to wrap up the story of my (today very storm racked) new home and summarise the lessons learned, this, after all, being the purpose of this particular exercise: to share and learn.

The biggest lesson has been to never trust a roofer. Even the firm recommended to us by one of the largest roofing systems manufacturers in the UK took 9 months to do a 9 week job, with works still incomplete. I suppose I could update you on the imminent vicissitudes through to final completion but, in all honesty, it’s simply too boring to even contemplate. I’m sure you will agree. In essence the “largest roofing systems manufacturer” has undertaken to complete but we are still waiting over a month after their site visit. Like I say, never trust a roofer. Or a man in a red sportscar. Or a man who likes cats. Or a man in a necklace. And definitely don’t trust a roofer, in a red sports car, wearing a necklace (or indeed a bracelet) and whose clothing is sprinkled with tell tale cat hairs.

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The second biggest lesson is if you find just a small bit of asbestos in a building the likelihood is that there will be a whole load more in places you hadn’t thought there would be e.g. a bit sawn up to create an ironing board. This, in spite of the previous owner being part of the scientific team that established the link between asbestos and lung disease: such a pedigree is no guarantee of the absence of asbestos.

Likewise, where there is asbestos there is a strong likelihood of there being pitch fibre drains. As I have said in earlier posts this is another sadly suspect building products invention of the 1960s, and one that invariably fails within decades. Meanwhile the terracotta and stone drains of the Romans, a civilization not entirely unknown in this part of the world, are still going strong.

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But enough whinging, especially as building wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without a few challenges. In addition to lessons learned are those things that I have been reminded of, the primary factor being engaging a really good contractor, and contingent to this is taking time to research firms, their references and even their financial soundness. In this we has some luck with N. J. Whittaker Ltd.

Herewith a few other “top tips”, as the shelter mags like to call them, that I hope will guide and inspire you in any renovation you undertake this new year:

- in spite of my comments above on roofers if your roof needs fixing, fix this first, so that all the new work you need to do inside is not ruined by the weather.

- if fitting new windows and glass doors be sure you are advised by a structural engineer as the window company will not always provide in this regard.

- always insist on seeing samples and look at them in situ. And don’t be afraid to change your mind if what you thought would look good doesn’t. We’re talking a home in which we hope you will live a number of years so it’s worth getting it right.

- never take just one person’s advice. Experts will nearly always have different opinions, which are often usefully free. Make your own informed mind up.

- do be nice to your builders. They are delicate flowers and need to be loved. The odd box of doughnuts helps, especially if you’re building through the winter.

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- if you’re battling with a partner over decor decisions just think about whether you would want to save them from your burning home or your cushions: some things aren’t worth fighting over.

- always negotiate on everything, especially in these trying times. People want business and you’ve got the business to give.

- budget, budget, budget. Set up that excel spreadsheet and regularly check actual figures against those you’ve projected so you can stay on top. Always factor in 20% contingency in a renovation. And if you find something extraordinary – as we did with the asbestos and drains – be prepared to drop what could be described as an indulgence, in our case a green roof, and deal with it another time when times are less stressful.

- If you are renovating a property that’s been empty for 2 years or more you should only be paying VAT at 5% instead of 20%. Not many people know this and the VAT office isn’t exactly advertising the fact either. No matter what the circumstances of you and your property it’s probably a good idea to check your status with HMRC to see what benefits are available to you as a hard-working, responsible, law-abiding, tax-paying renovator. Good luck with that!

- only finalise your lighting and electrical plan once you know exactly what fittings you are going to use. Where you might indicate a single pendant you may in fact want a cluster if you find a particularly fetching fitting that would suit clustering. It makes things much more straightforward when it comes to the Scope of Works and the Final Account.

- liaise with your electrical contractor on your choice of appliances so you can be sure he/she has allowed for any special feeds.

- try to avoid transformers. They are a pain.

- keep lighting schemes flexible to serve infinitely variable functions. A rash of recessed spot lights or simply central pendant lights are often unnecessary in spaces other than kitchens and bathrooms, when you can have circuits of well placed table lamps.

- if your decorators raise their eyebrows at your choices this is, officially, a good sign. They will usually say how much they like your scheme at the end and this is nothing to do with the fact they are after their final payment, honest.

- decorators are not a fan of poncy paints, paints that are called things like "Mouse's Arse" or "Elephants Turd". And nor am I actually. Dulux offer a thoroughly comprehensive colour range, and will match any colour, and have loads of different finishes which decorators love to work with. Having said this I understand Little Greene is acceptable too. 

- the internet is your friend. Try not to worry about bum-spread as you sit at your computer for hours, sometimes days, as you trawl through its depths. I found a seagrass wallpaper for £25 per roll instead of the £250 per roll it was being sold for by Nobilis. Though I probably could have earned ten times what I saved in the time I spent researching, it felt like it was worth it.

- ebay is your friend too. Why buy new when the world is already so full of stuff? But we really need to do something about the excess of packaging! Also try furnish.co.uk. It seems to be much more discerning that mydeco.

- a home is not complete when you move in so do not fear if it doesn’t feel like home. Real homes need stuff, the flotsam and jetsam of life. I like to use an interpretation of the saying, “something old, something new......” when assembling rooms. Try it. 

- it’s the small things that can really count. Don’t settle for white plastic or brushed steel switches and sockets, or brushed steel door furniture: look for something different for individuality at all levels. I chose the bakelite rocker switches and sockets from Bromleighs. And bronzed steel door handles from SDS.

- don’t be afraid to consider recycling and repurposing fixtures, fittings and building materials. It will make for a much richer scheme and save you in landfill fees.

- don’t worry about trends or what others think is fashionable. Read my book, "The Joy of Home", or attend one of my courses to find out how to develop your own creative ideas into successful design schemes.

- I think that’s it for now. So enjoy! 

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