Although the economy continues to shrink with each financial quarter, making it especially hard to negotiate that deserved pay rise, it seems that utility bills, bank charges and taxes continue to rise ‘in line with inflation’. Why, it must be asked, do they not decrease ‘in line with recession’? Nevertheless, as home owners hold on to their properties in hope of an improved financial tomorrow, the property market has, at least so far as most of us are concerned, entered a lull.
During this period, many home owners have decided that home improvements will add value to the house when prices pick up. However, not everybody is in such a position. Alas, that does not mean that nothing can be done to improve the look and feel of a house. On the contrary, 2009 will be all about redecorating on a budget.
Every so often, the urge to throw out the old will be met with an urge to shop for the new. Whilst there is nothing wrong with refreshing the furnishings of your home, it can be a very costly experience. Indeed, it may simply prove completely unaffordable. However, if change is still sought, there is a simple solution: keep what you have, but move it around.
Room planners can be purchased as tangible items or as software programs, and are an excellent way to visualise how a room might look with a little reorganisation. In fact, a room planner can be made to scale from cardboard – with cardboard cut-outs of the furniture pieces being shifted around a dimensionally perfect cardboard cut-out of the room itself. We suggest the software planner, nonetheless, as the homespun variety can prove especially frustrating if the scale cut-outs are not perfectly accurate!
Other ways to redecorate without haemorrhaging cash include designing and producing cushion covers, throw-overs for sofas and armchairs, and even light fixture covers. Routine garden improvements such as light landscaping or new patio furniture can also make a significant difference to the look and feel of a home.
According to weather forecasts – if you dare to believe them – the Summer of 2009 will see Britain basking in equatorial sunshine. Even if, in the deepest, darkest corner of our hearts we all know that Mother Nature will send low pressure and precipitation to our little island this Summer, there appears to be good reason to optimistically plan for the alternative.
Indeed, after several consecutive damp squib Summers, the British public deserves a spot of warm weather. Furthermore, what better way to enjoy the scorching heat than to invite family and friends over for a barbecue? Whether it is a few sausages, burgers and chicken breasts or a rack of juicy ribs, there is something for everyone at a barbecue – well, not counting vegetarians and vegans, that is!
Whilst a barbecue party can comprise of little more than a gas barbecue, handful of guests and a few deck chairs, the more forward-thinking amongst us will interpret this as a great opportunity to make improvements to the garden. Indeed, in a buyer’s market, home owners are reluctant to sell their property at a loss and thus many are holding out for improved financial times. This has resulted in something of a home improvement boom of late, as sellers utilise the weakened economy to improve the value of their home for the future.
A barbecue is, therefore, a perfect excuse for installing hardwood decking and undertaking a little landscaping on the rest of the garden. The decking has a nice feel on the feet, is durable in all weathers and is very aesthetically pleasing. Landscaping the garden is essential in order to choose the right kinds of plants and flowers that will deter certain insects that, like us, cannot get enough of the barbecue food.
Finally, fixed exterior lighting and heating appliances in addition to secured patio furniture would provide another selling major point, as too would a covered area under which the barbecue can be stored… and the guests can shelter when the inevitable happens…
Towards the end of 2008, fashion and showbiz news was dominated by the super-sleek, super-slender – read dangerously underfed – supermodel. Whilst fashion designers sought the perfect human coat hanger, the general public found the sight of super-skeletons strutting their stuff just a tad distasteful. Nevertheless, whilst the ideal human form ought not to be capable of slipping through storm drains, the idea of skinny is everything in today’s digital world.
Thankfully, gone are the days of monster television sets and personal computers the size of planets. No longer do we need to compromise our living space just to accommodate the electronic goods that our consumer impulses constantly demand us to acquire. Indeed, the revolution that introduced Apple Macs, slimline desktops and both plasma and LCD television screens is set for yet another overhaul.
Welcome to the age of the OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen – an ultra-thin standard of digital screen that demands significantly less energy and offers a far more advanced picture quality than anything on today’s market.
Sony’s XEL-1 OLED TV is the first of its kind to use such technology and comprises a television screen depth of just 3mm! With new products including large screen televisions and ultra-slim personal computer screens set to enter the market towards the end of 2009, the OELD will be the ultimate accessory for the living room and home office.
Moreover, home improvement specialists will take great delight in the availability of increased space around the house. Ultra-thin televisions also mean that they are ultra-light, something which the current selection of plasma and LCD screens cannot boast. This means that future OLED screens may be mountable on partition walls, whilst the introduction of OLED computer screens will mean that workstations cope with significantly lighter loads, thus allowing for smaller, more compact units.
Space efficiency is certainly an attractive variable for anybody looking to improve their living space, whilst it also allows for a greater freedom of creativity when it comes to organising the positioning of furniture that would otherwise be dependent on where the digital equipment had to be!
A new type of eco-friendly alternative to air conditioning is better for the health of the person whose home it gets installed in than traditional systems according to independent studies. An air conditioning system called Coolhouse uses several design features of the home itself to lower the property’s temperature on warm days; cooling air, rather than ‘conditioning’ it.
Jes Mainwaring, a UK environmental architect developed the system when working for a property development agency called Elixir and the combination of cutting edge design and technology has already been used to cool a new build of holiday apartments in the Algarve. In a similar way to how under-floor heating warms a room, the Coolhouse system uses ordinary water draining pipes under the property to cool a home or apartment by placing those pipes in a void. Meanwhile, specially located vents are in place above skirting boards delivering fresh cool air to the building so that a breeze can flow through the rooms.
Solar-controlled glass for the windows which doesn’t heat up or magnify light like ordinary glass also makes the new Coolhouse buildings a lower temperature internally. Independent studies showed that the internal temperature can be reduced by as much as 12 degrees compared with a 37 degree outside temperature by exploiting the Coolhouse design features.
Studies also revealed 30% lower humidity levels in a property using Coolhouse than those in a property cooled by air con, which leads to less growth of black mould (known to be bad for an occupant’s health) and other symptoms of internal condensation. Researchers also believe that whilst traditional air con gives occupants dry eyes and collects and circulates potentially harmful bacteria within homes, Coolhouse, does neither, creating a natural temperature and forcing a flow of fresh clean air from outside through the internal structures instead.
As expense is also a drawback of traditional air conditioning which takes a lot of energy to run (especially for hours on end in hot climates and during Summer heat-waves,) several experts have also said that Coolhouse is economical as well as ecological.
A new style of home improvement store has burst on to the market in the US. The idea behind the store is for people to repurpose and share used items from their home that they want to replace with new ones instead of throwing them away. If, for example someone wants to replace old kitchen cabinets or ancient sinks instead of ending up in landfill they can go to the business, called Habitat for ReStore and donate them there instead. The company aims to give the older, more replaceable items in peoples’ home a second life in a new home.
Habitat is offering the scheme through their branches which are located throughout the US. Goods are dropped off at the store by people who no longer want them, instead of being taken to the tip and then they can be bought at a far lower price than new goods by those who want and need them. Speaking about the scheme Jeffrey Bowen the ReStore Executive Director said that he hopes people will spread the word about the frugal and green approach of the company.
He says that they specialise in items which really don’t need to go to landfill because they’re still in good condition and ReStore then resells them at a very powerful discount. The stores are part of Habitat’s mission to improve homes and communities renewably. The idea is that when someone buys something from a Habitat store, it might one day end up back in the ReStore so that it can be used and enjoyed more than just once, giving products a longer life and providing a greener way to renovate homes.
In the current economic environment shops like ReStore are set to make home improvement opportunities more widely available and practical, even for those with very small budgets. Bowen noted that if someone buys a new oven or fridge and has an older, working model to discard rather than sitting in a landfill site and doing no-one any good, it can go to ReStore and help the community instead.
Recently the press has covered the highly questionable use of tax payers money to fund all manner of self-indulgent spends by UK MPs. The latest of these spends which has come to light, are purchases made by Stephen Byers, former Cabinet Minister. Byers resides in a flat belonging to his girlfriend on a rent-free basis and has claimed £125,000 in expenses for home improvements to the property.
Critics have commented that anyone in any other line of work would have to save from their salary or borrow to make improvements to their home rather than add decorating bills to their corporate expenses accounts. Some journalists have therefore described the Byer’s spending as a flagrant misuse of power.
As well as re-decorating his partner’s flat with tax-payers money he also spent large sums on new appliances for his home. Byer’s partner, a lawyer is believed to have first purchased the flat in 1982 and a similar flat in the building sold for £170,000 in the 2001. As Jan Cookson, Byer’s girlfriend doesn’t have any mortgage to pay on the property Byers was unable to claim any interest from the government. Instead, by making renovations between the year 2001 and 2008 he had clocked £26,648 in expenses.
In addition to the flat, Byers and Cookson also live in a semi-detached property located in Byer’s North Tyneside constituency. This house is believed to be worth in the region of £400,000 and was bought by the couple in 1996. Byers is also the sole-owner of a third property located in Newcastle which he rents out privately.
As well as making expensive superficial (decorative) changes to the London flat at the tax-payers’ expense, Byers also charged the government £4,867 between 2004 and 2005 citing repairs, security, maintenance and insurance as the reasons for the spending. According to some reports he also spent £388 on a washing machine using tax-payers’ money and claimed £530 to repair and repaint internal doors. When questioned on his spending, Byers said his claims were all within House of Commons guidelines and were quickly approved.
Many new houses in the US are being built as ‘passive homes’ which use solar power differently to conventional green builds. Whilst an ordinary new home with solar panels feeds energy back in to the national grid, ‘passive homes’ work differently by collecting and storing heat energy from the sun and then keeping it in envelopes within the building which means there’s no need for a furnace or central heating. The buildings have dense, wide walls and their windows are South-facing. They’re also made from a number of heat storing building supplies including concrete.
Some experts claim that ‘passive heating’ is the most efficient way to heat a home because no energy or water is needed. Instead, the house is kept warmer in the Winter and cooler in the Summer months because of the ways in which the building stores heat. The technology to make ‘passive homes’ is not new and the earliest known build in the US was back in 1989 and the fruit of a civil engineer’s passion for green living.
These homes could be very useful in the UK where millions of pounds are donated by the Government to the elderly each Winter in order to keep the most vulnerable adults warm over the coldest months of the year. It’s believed that if they had ‘passive homes’ instead of living in conventional properties these expenses could be dramatically reduced.
Outside-facing walls are almost two feet thick on ‘passive homes’ and there’s plenty of light and air within them as the building’s South facing walls are fitted with plenty of windows. Even the landscaping of some of the US builds has been carefully designed so that trees and bushes help to block out the wind.
As the need for us all to have greener lifestyles increases, it’s believed that more contractors both in the US and here in the UK, will invest in ‘passive homes’ because the benefits for the environment and the savings they offer homeowners far outweigh the costs of construction.
Despite the home improvement industry being hard hit by the recession, B & Q are investing £10 million in bonuses for store management to help promote good performance across the brand. The rewards are being granted by parent company, Kingfisher, in the form of stocks and shares. In total, 9 million pounds worth of the parent company’s shares will be split between over 300 Store Managers throughout the UK. The reward plan is called ‘let’s share it’ and the managers who fulfil certain criteria (including meeting store targets) will be given shares that are expected to be worth the equivalent of half a year’s salary.
According to some sources the Store Managers on the scheme might benefit from earning an additional £25,000 as a result of the project. They do have to fulfil a lot of criteria, however, most of which relates to how the store looks, what sales material is on display and how high the store’s customer service standards are. Area Managers are also eligible for the scheme, which is making other UK home improvement stores a less attractive career option.
A spokesperson for B & Q described the current economic situation as ‘tough’ and he highlighted the need for motivated managers who see an incentive for doing their best. Euan Sutherland, the Chief Executive of Kingfisher and B & Q in the UK, also said that managers who contribute to the success and the growth of the business deserve to be rewarded. He also suggested that the scheme offers a substantial way to do this.
As well as the 9 million pounds worth of shares that the company is investing in its workforce, a further 1 million pounds will be invested by the home improvement company for training and developing store staff using several qualification plans. In fact, B & Q is paying for over 15,000 members of staff to achieve highly regarded City and Guilds qualifications in the next 12 months.
Reports have recently revealed that the company behind UK Wickes home improvement stores, Travis Perkins Plc is trying to find £300 million in order to get rid of debt. The business, which supplies bricks and tiles to construction companies and the public, has been badly affected by the downturn in the housing markets and this has prompted it to appeal to investors.
Travis Perkins Plc, owner of Wickes, is based in Northampton and sent out requests for aid to its investors this month as it intends to sell in the region of 86 million of its shares before the year ends. Each share will be priced at £3.65 and that’s a full 52% lower than the price which Travis Perkins Plc closed at in May this year.
The company’s Chief Executive, Geoffrey Cooper, is thought to be worried about defying banking rules and it has been suggested that he is looking for new investment funds to strengthen the company within banking guidelines. The sale of its shares is underwritten by several companies including Tricorn, HSBC Holdings and Citigroup.
It’s understood that the share sales will take place to bring the company in line with laws which it is close to breaking. The laws govern the borrowing power of companies like Travis Perkins which is close to breaking contract by borrowing 3.5 its annual earnings. According to one financial analyst named Flor O’Donogue estimated earnings for the company are in the region of 210 million pounds a year, whilst the debt is 3.9 times this, at £823 million.
In order to save money over the past two years Travis Perkins Plc has laid off in the region of 12% of its workers. This is largely a result of the slump in the construction and home improvement markets due to the associated dip in housing markets.
A US home improvement show called Man Caves has brought a new DIY concept in to common vernacular and created a growing fad. In the show a team of lively work people visit the home of a couple and set about creating a ‘man cave’ for the male partner who apparently needs his own space. So far the show has focussed on heterosexual couples.
The ‘man caves’, which are also named ‘mantuaries’ in the show are simply a room, garage or basement which the show’s team transform or remodel in to a leisure room aimed at providing a male partner with somewhere to relax, play poker or watch sports.
In one episode of the show, a couple said they needed a man cave because the female partner Elissa taught piano lessons in the main home until as late as 8.30pm on some nights and that the male partner called Steve wanted a space where he could get online or watch TV privately.
Popular features of the male oriented relaxation rooms are big screen televisions, sports memorabilia, poker tables, home bars, beer fridges and video game consoles. ‘Man caves’ in the TV show usually have a unifying theme, such as a Texas casino design motif for one man’s poker room.
One expert on the fad, Mike Yost who runs mancavesite.org said that there are some simple attributes which almost all of the new, ‘man cave’ rooms share. He started by saying that food and drink was often integral to their design, with a refrigerator being a must for stashing beer, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. He also said that some men get ‘kegorators’ to keep beer cool and provide it on draft.
Another essential item for almost all ‘mantuaries,’ according to Yost, meanwhile; is apparently a big screen TV. Both he and the show’s presenter agree that a sofa or comfortable place to sit is also essential. Some critics of the show liken the rooms to ‘play pens for men’ and say that they promote ‘un-useful’ gender stereotypes.