As many people turn to doing up their homes rather than selling them due to the economic downturn, experts are warning that using solvent based paints which contain volatile compounds can be hazardous for your health and the environment. Industry insiders have said that chemical cleaning products, paints and other chemicals we use to make our houses more attractive in the Spring time can add up to a powerful concoction of toxic substances on the surfaces within our homes.
Instead of using the astringent and contaminating products sold at popular home improvement stores some purists recommend alternative products. According to some experts the air inside a home during the Spring cleaning and redecorating season is more than 3 times more polluted than the air outside it.
Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) are used within products to help cleaning sprays, polishes and paints last longer and stay bright and effective for longer but they constantly emit low levels of gas which are unhealthy to be around for human beings. They have also been linked to several health problems including migraines and cancer. As such there are many products on the market which claim to be ‘low VOC’ and these are one alternative which a concerned home decorator could choose.
House plants are also encouraged by experts because they deodorise air and feed fresh oxygen in to a room. According to some studies the amount of VOC in a room can be dramatically reduced by keeping just three common houseplants. In fact, according to research it can be lowered by as much as 70 percent!
Some of the most popular eco alternatives are based on natural mineral substances such as clay or lime and a quick search for eco paint online will offer a decorator plenty of options. So, although eco paint (free of VOCs, or low in them) won’t stay bright for as long, it will provide most people with peace of mind.
A study by the US Home Improvement Giant Lowes has shown that more people enjoy menial DIY tasks than you may have imagined. A website named MediaPost recently published the figures which make it seem like garden design and choosing a new fitted bathroom are less like chores and more like an enjoyable experience in their own right.
According to Lowes a huge 82 percent of the people in their surveys intend to tackle a garden-based project within the next year. When it came to interior design it was a similar story with 82 percent of the people in the study saying that they would carry out some painting within their home whilst 65 percent of the subjects said that they would paint external walls.
Additional internal DIY work was also something subjects mentioned in the Lowe study and of those questioned 56 percent claimed to want to install their own new flooring and 55 percent said they were ‘remodeling’ or adding a new bathroom to their home.
What is most interesting about the study is that when asked what the main motivation was for doing the DIY, 32 percent of respondents said it was for ‘pleasure.’ This compares with a similar 35 percent which claimed it was to spend less money.
One theory on why people find DIY so pleasurable is related to how we as humans become stressed. According to some researchers we become most stressed when we feel that a lot of factors in our jobs, lives (or DIY project) are out of our control.
The less responsibility we have, the more stressed we become and the more control (or responsibility) we have the happier and less stressed we are. Obviously, DIY allows people to feel entirely in control of their actions and if they do a job well, this is evidenced in their living space so it not only helps some of us to relax but also offers us a lasting reminder of our efforts and our success.
A town in the US has protested against a new home improvement outlet opening near their local leisure centre. This comes as a sharp blow at a time when the industry is struggling more than ever with spending in home improvement and DIY at a challenging low.
One town in the USA, named Burgess Hill has formed a silent protest in opposition for the plans to go ahead, despite the fact it would potentially create new jobs and offer them more choice for decorating and furnishing their homes. A formal meeting was arranged in which townspeople sought to demonstrate against the store which is proposed by the Homebase chain and the councillor for the town has made several displeased statements regarding the plans.
Councillor Denis Jones addressed a group of townspeople at the yearly town meeting and asked if anyone in the room wished to have the store built. Several of the people in the crowd then responded to his question by shouting: ‘No’ and Councillor Jones nodded. He then continued his scheduled talk on new town development plans.
In a County Times article Jones commented on his opposition to the store, saying: “The people of the town know what they want. We live here. It’s our town. One of the things we know about our town is that we don’t want a DIY store at the Triangle.”
The company which arranged the application on behalf of Homebase issued some statements of defence which suggested building the new store would improve the area. They also strongly highlighted how synergistic and in keeping with the area a new, Homebase home improvement store would be. However, the local council is still deciding on whether to pass or reject the proposals and they are expected to make a firm decision within the year.
There are reports from numerous sources heralding the beginning of the end for the home improvement industry due to a fierce decline in demand, but the outlook is less bleak in Scotland. According to reports by the BBC all retailers in Scotland were seeing a slight recovery in March after a fearsome dip in spending during February this year.
According to figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium most stores in Scotland are doing better than outlets in other parts of the UK. Compared with like-for-like sales last year during the same period, Scottish retailers have benefited slightly from a 0.5% rise in spending and the BBC News website reported that: “In contrast, UK-wide figures for March show a drop of 1.2% from the same time last year.”
The reason for this rise in spending has been cited as being a warm spring with many sales being garden, picnic or barbeque related. The Scottish Retail Consortium’s director, Fiona Moriarty, commented on the slight increase in interest from consumers: “Retailers are hoping the increase in sales growth is the first sign of a spring boost but this doesn’t mean the Scottish economy has turned a corner.” she said.
She also added: “Conditions remain tough for customers and retailers. Retailers want the Budget to help, not hinder, this glimpse of revival in consumer confidence.” Moriarty also stressed that home improvement and garden items were still not faring as well as some other markets, commenting: “While food sales continued to grow and new season fashions did well, most non-food retailing struggled – especially expensive items, such as furniture and floorings.”
So, while some Scots seem happy to spend on spring time luxuries such as some patio furniture or a new barbeque they are not lifting the home improvement and DIY markets enough to preserve the industry’s future. Further job losses and closures for small businesses whose livelihood rely on home improvement demand are therefore still expected.
According to studies conducted by the LIRA Project affiliated with the prestigious US University, Harvard, home improvement spending is predicted to decline significantly throughout the year. Already, the industry is reeling due to a lack of interest and many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat because of a shortage of demand but these recently released figures are even more concerning.
In fact, over the course of 2009 the amount of money spent on home improvements is expected to fall by 12% over all. Nicolas P. Retsinas, the director at Harvard’s Centre for Housing Studies spoke out about the problem in a press release for the organisation, he said: “The weak housing market and the national economic recession continue to take their toll on remodeling,” he said. He also added: “It looks increasing unlikely that this industry will recover until consumers have more confidence in the housing market.”
As well as the lack of home sales fuelling the desire to not spend on home improvements, the money just hasn’t been there for non-essentials. The Harvard Centre for Housing Studies is home to a specialist Remodelling Futures Program and the director of that section, Kermit Baker, also commented on the new figures: “Lower financing costs are beginning to stabilize the downturn in existing home sales, as they also are reducing the cost of financing a home improvement project,” he suggested.
Continuing: “However, they have not been enough to offset rising unemployment and falling consumer confidence and encourage homeowners to undertake major home improvement projects.” Another study which was published by Datamonitor notes how hard hit the industry was just last year when the recession became a pressing issue. In the report called UK DIY & Gardening Retailers 2008, key findings show how significantly the market has been affected.
Just last year the study suggested: “The DIY sector will bear the brunt of the recession, shrinking in size for the third time in four years in 2008… the market will decline by 4.1% in 2008, taking almost £1.0bn out of the market.”
A new TV Channel aimed at those of us who love home improvement and DIY will soon be launched by UKTV. The channel will be called Home, will require viewers to pay to watch it and the company has reportedly purchased over 170 hours of lifestyle programming in order to kick off the re-launch with plenty of original content.
The channel itself was previously known as UK TV Style and is just one of many channels which the company has recently sought to re-brand. The tag line for Home is ‘There’s no place like Home,’ and it will feature shows on house moves, gardening, home improvement and other property-related programmes. Furthermore, the TV channel will be supported by its own dedicated website called lovehome.com.
Acquisitions Manager and Executive, Alexander Finlay and Nicki McDermott have purchased several notable titles for the channel including: Love it or List it and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition which is respectively aired by ABC and W Network in the US has been distributed over here by Endemol and Big Coat. UKTV have also acquired Room to Improve which is a show based in Ireland and Homes under the Hammer which is distributed by a company called All3 Media.
The show which is grabbing the most headlines, however, is called Gutted and it is an hour long factual show presented by Mark Durden Smith. 10 Episodes of Gutted will run when the channel launches and it is being enthusiastically promoted by UKTV’s Jane Rogerson.
In an article on the Digital Spy website Rogerson commented: “We really wanted something for launch that shook up the familiar format of property programmes.”She also added: “Gutted feels fresh and fun but still touches a truth and revelation about peoples’ lives and relationships – with their nearest and dearest as well as the sometimes bizarre stuff in their lives.” Other programmes which the channel is expected to air include: Celebrity Fantasy Homes, DIY SOS, Ground Force and Escape to the Country.
According to reports recently released by the Scottish Building Federation some special new schemes could mean that VAT on home improvement items (and services) is cut down to just 5%. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, has been offered several similar schemes in the pre-budget period which will end on the 22nd of April and the Scottish Building Federation believe that by reducing VAT on home improvements, an 80% financial boost could help save the struggling industry.
Fears are rife that if something isn’t done soon about decreased interest in the UK and Scottish home improvement industry, increasing numbers of businesses will be forced to close and job losses will increase chaotically. It’s also believed by many experts that by lowering VAT on DIY and home improvement products and services, the Chancellor could help to protect business and jobs which might be lost otherwise.
The projected figures for the number of Scottish homes which could benefit from the VAT cut are in the region of 70,000 and this could be an even higher number if more home owners are enticed to carry out work now, rather than waiting until later due to the drop in tax. In terms of helping the UK Home Improvement industry further, it is hoped that after the initial Scottish tax cuts, VAT cuts in the United Kingdom would follow suit and it is predicted that these tax drops would have a profound effect for small to medium home improvement businesses.
One expert writing for the Financial Advice website commented on the schemes, saying that: “One potential by-product of a reduction in VAT for home improvements would also be the undermining of the current pricing advantage which “cowboy builders” have over law-abiding, taxpaying businesses.” They added: “In theory this potential scheme could well be a win-win situation for all involved.”
An increasing number of DIY enthusiasts are combating rising fuel prices and lowering their carbon footprint by harnessing the power of the sun. Ecological fears and the recession have resulted in two trends permeating the home improvement industry; the first trend is the desire to damage the planet less by making houses ‘greener,’ and this could involve fitting solar panels and using renewable energy sources. The second trend is to save money, because in the UK the recession is hitting our purses hard.
Some of us take the time to compost left over vegetables, or have a water butt to catch rain to water the garden but now some people are actually creating their own green energy. Smart Energy UK are able to install solar systems which can supply a home with 70% of their annual hot water requirement and this not only reduces the amount of money a person needs to spend on their energy bill but also reduces the amount of fossil fuels (such as coal, gas and oil) which they are responsible for using each year.
Once installed, specialist solar devices provide an everlasting and totally free energy source for heating the water in your home. According to the Smart Energy UK website carbon emissions can be reduced by 2000 cubic meters per year using solar water heating for a single home.
Sarah Othman, writer for a number of home improvement websites, says that solar power is a useful tool and a good investment. She commented: “There are lots of benefits to using solar power in your home, obviously the main ones being financial and environmental. Some people think that in the UK we don’t have enough sunlight to benefit from solar panels but that isn’t true.”
She continued: “In winter you will still use the national grid but in the summer time you’ll see a big difference on your energy bills and feel great for doing your part to protect the planet.” She added: “You can even light up your garden with mini solar lanterns for those summer evening barbeques.”
A recent article published by the Evening Gazette has highlighted a trend towards home improvement, in response to the fall in house sales. This comes at a time when home improvement businesses are experiencing low demand and struggling with the recession. Additionally, people are wary of selling because house prices are down and banks are being tough on lending, so mortgages are difficult to get.
Other reports have also shown that UK home-owners are choosing to carry out DIY improvements instead of employing skilled workers and this has hit the industry hard, with many small businesses unable to find work. Some DIY experts are saying that the fall in mortgage interest rates is what is fueling the DIY boom, as people have to spend less money on their home overall and are therefore finding other ways to invest in it; in this case, by improving it.
In fact, one kitchen and bathroom supplier said that it had seen an 80% increase in visitors to its stores from January to March this year. According to Paul Henderson the Sales Director at Court Homemakers: “People are obviously concerned about the economic situation but they are encouraged by the fall in the cost of borrowing and are taking the decision to invest in improvements to their existing homes rather than seeking to enter the property market.”
Traditionally, the Easter holiday is the busiest period for home improvement stores and according to research by the Yorkshire Bank 71% of UK citizens are intending to do some home improvements over the Easter break.
The study also showed that expert predictions regarding the increase in DIY activity were correct, as 61% of the people surveyed said that they would be doing their own home improvement work such as adding solar panels to a roof or creating a new kitchen design rather than hiring a professional for the job. However, 11% of these people said that they later would probably have to hire a tradesperson to finish their DIY job or spend more money to fix or finish a botched attempt.
Several prominent DIY experts and insurers have warned that the Easter holidays are a common time for people to take on home improvement projects which may be dangerous. These warnings come, after the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has confirmed that every year 200,000 people are injured due to preventable accidents which range from cut fingers to broken legs and electrical shocks.
DIY is, along with the traditional spring clean one of the activities many Brits will be getting up to this coming week. However, we should be cautious and take great care to avoid accidents. TV celebrity and home improvement expert, Handy Andy has always stressed the importance of working in a safe environment, saying: “Be safe. Make sure you wear gloves and protective goggles where necessary, and tie back long hair. If you start to get tired take a tea break, and don’t rush jobs.”
Other experts suggested that before you undertake a DIY loft conversion or tackle a new bedroom design it’s essential that you assess your insurance coverage first. If you had a serious accident which affected your home you may not be covered for damage which you, yourself have caused.
In fact, speaking in a ‘My Finances’ article M & S insurance manager Judith Roberts said: “Always make sure you plan well before attempting DIY and seek professional advice if necessary. Also check that your home insurance policy covers you for accidental damage and whether there is a limit to that cover.”
She added: “Easter is always a popular time of the year to get jobs done around the home. The current financial climate means that even more people will be having a go at DIY, either as an alternative to moving home or instead of employing a professional. But be careful: nearly one in five has had an accident doing-it-themselves in the past.”