Green energy, or renewable energy, and materials are or at least should be at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to home improvement, not only for the sake of their own domestic fuels bills but for the sake of the planet. The adoption of energy saving technologies and changes in behaviour can reduce the “carbon footprint” – the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels, etc. – of an average home by anything up to 40%.
It is now possible to obtain electricity that is 100% renewable by switching to a specialist supplier but there are other changes, large and small, that you can make to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Improving loft or cavity wall insulation, for example, or fitting thermostatic radiator valves or energy efficient light bulbs need not be expensive and there are grants and offers available to ease the cost still further. Larger projects, such as solar panels, or wind turbines are more expensive and require more forethought in terms of the location of your home, etc. but can, nevertheless, slash your annual fuel bills and carbon footprint and often pay for themselves within a few years. Even on a small scale such systems can be used to generate electricity for lighting in your home or garden or for charging mobile phones.
If you are considering a flooring project, you may like to consider using renewable materials such as linoleum or bamboo. In fact, the use of renewable materials has nowadays reached as far as the personal computer; an environmentally friendly PC which uses up to 70% less electricity than a typical PC and has a biodegradable bamboo case is now available.
The state of the British housing market – a further fall of 1% in the price of an average residential dwelling in January contributed to a fall of nearly 10% year-on-year according to recent figures – precludes moving home for many homeowners. Families grow, nevertheless, and the emphasis in the immediate future is likely to be on maximising the space available in, or adding space to, existing homes.
A garage conversion, for example – whether you choose a DIY approach or employ a specialist company to complete the work for you – can be an affordable way of adding living space, and value, to your home. You may, for example, want to create an extra bedroom, or a home office, or even a dedicated home cinema.
A loft conversion, similarly, can add an extra bedroom, or bathroom, or both, and anything up to 20% to the value of your property. If you are planning to sell your home when the market recovers, however, prospective buyers may find a permanent solution more attractive than a retractable loft ladder, and Velux® roof windows.
Bear in mind that older properties – built in the early Seventies or before – may require less structural work than newer properties and clearance of 7½’ is required for a ceiling at standard height. If headroom is an issue, dormer windows – gabled windows that extend above the height of the original roof – may be a possibility, subject to planning, building, and fire safety, regulations.
If you are in any doubt about planning permission, etc., contact your local planning office. If you are considering an extra bathroom in your loft spaceyou also need to consider the location of soil pipes and the capacity of your existing heating and hot water system.
If you have a growing family or a home office –whether it be in the corner of a living room or bedroom or in a box room as is often the case – or both – you may well find that storage space soon becomes an issue.
In a living room, for example, you may like to choose modular storage units which can be added to as your need for storage space increases and arranged to suit your changing needs. Dual purpose furniture, too, can be a boon if your space is limited. A coffee table with drawers or a window seat with drawers or large, lidded baskets beneath may allow you to dispense with a display cabinet or armchair and free floor space. Shelving is an obvious solution for books and magazines, but if you choose wide, sturdy shelves you may be able to double their capacity by adding a block of wood, painted or stained to match the shelf itself; this allows a back row of books to be raised above those at the front of the shelf.
In a home office, space saving may not necessarily revolve around small, compact items. An office desk, of course, needs to be large enough to accommodate a computer, keyboard, books, files, etc., but a desk designed to lean against a wall or a corner unit – especially in glass – can maximise the amount of storage available and create an illusion of space.
The same principles apply to bedroom design, of course, and bedroom furniture, such as a cabinet with multiple drawers or a chest or coffer placed discretely at the end of your bed can provide crucial extra storage. You need not be restricted solely to bedroom furniture per se; bookshelves and/or a small desk area in a guest bedroom, for example, can be an excellent method of using the available space to maximum effect.
“The blind man’s wife needs no painting” according to the Spanish proverb but this is unfortunately not the case with the typical British home. In times of economic uncertainty, with the housing market plumbing new depths on an almost daily basis, many homeowners are choosing to stay put and invest in what they’ve got rather than move home.
However, nothing signals neglect to a prospective homebuyer more than dull, cracked, exterior paintwork or a tired, worn, interior. Sanding and touching up exterior woodwork, even if there is only a small amount, can add a fresh look to your home without breaking the bank and without taking more than a few hours to complete. Similarly, painting enclosed interior spaces such as hallways or stairwells in bright bold colours can add a sense of space; if you don’t like the result you can always repaint in a more neutral colour at a later date without wasting too much money.
Painting – and wallpapering, for that matter – is also no longer just a question of aesthetics for many people as there are some fairly serious health, and environmental, issues attached to some of the older, traditional materials used. Modern, naturally produced paints provide the same performance as older, chemical based paints without giving off potentially harmful fumes and volatile organic compounds which contribute to the concentration of ground-level ozone, the primary constituent of smog and a contributory factor in hundreds of deaths per year in the United Kingdom. Linseed oil paints, for example, are renowned for their longevity, and weather to an attractive appearance, whilst water based acrylic paints, in gloss or matt finishes, similarly release no harmful chemicals. Both types of paint are obviously also free of white lead a toxic constituent of some traditional paints.
With house prices falling nearly 16% during 2008 and the housing market not expected to bottom out until the end of 2009 moving house is off the immediate agenda for many homeowners. They are looking instead to add value to their existing properties to increase their saleability when the market does recover. Whether you are looking to move, or simply to improve the allure and comfort of your existing living space, hardwood flooring can make an attractive and cost-effective addition to any home.
Hardwoods such as maple, oak and walnut are more durable than softwoods and available in natural variations of colour and grain, unfinished, factory finished, or engineered. Engineered wood is constructed from several tightly compressed layers, or veneers, of hardwood; as such it is less flexible than solid wood, and suitable for use with underfloor heating, if you place an emphasis on green energy, and reducing your carbon footprint, in designing the interior of your home. Solid hardwood can be sanded to remove scratches whereas engineered wood has a top layer of hardwood that is only a few millimetres thick limiting the possibilities for sanding. Both types of flooring require minimal maintenance, however, and unlike carpet, for example, do not harbour mould, mildew and other allergens. Hardwood floors can be maintained by regular sweeping or vacuuming and occasional treatment with a cleaning product recommended by the manufacturer.
Hardwood flooring is water resistant, rather than waterproof, so while it can become an important component of bedroom design, or kitchen design, it is less suitable for bathrooms or other “wet” areas where staining or cracking can occur. Carefully chosen, correctly installed, and properly cared for, however, hardwood flooring will age beautifully and retain its character for many years.
The current economic downturn and the fact that housing prices are likely to fall by a further 15% or 20% during 2009, according to the most pessimistic estimates, dictates that for many people moving home does not make economic sense. By the same token, the credit crunch means that the amount of disposable income available for home improvements is limited so the emphasis for 2009 is likely to be on affordable, practical improvements.
Even something as simple as a new coat of paint on exterior woodwork can vastly improve the appearance of your home, not to mention providing essential weatherproofing of say timber window frames. Exterior paint is available in a number of different finishes – gloss, matte, eggshell, etc. – and while you are likely to err on the side of caution colour-wise on the exterior of your home, 2009 is likely to be all about bright colours and bold patterns when it comes to the interior. Warm, autumnal colours – natural greens, yellows and reds – are destined to be popular, as are fig or aubergine. Furniture is likely to be rounded and more comfortable although there may also be moves towards abstract shapes, geometric patterns, and, of course, bold colours associated with a retro Fifties look.
Small but carefully chosen flourishes such as cushions, vases, lamps, curtains, and blinds – complete with interchangeable covers, shades, etc. – can be used to brighten up an interior without breaking the bank and with green energy very much on the agenda, make sure you opt for energy efficient light bulbs. A colourful piece of furniture can likewise form the focal point for a room, and be complimented by affordable, but stylish, accessories spread throughout the room.