The Home Improvement Centre can reveal a new website to provide homeowners with accurate consumer pricing for all manner of home improvement projects.
What Cost? has been launched to provide pricing data for home improvement projects ranging from replacement boilers and central heating to more modern green and renewable technologies including solar, heat pumps and wind turbines.
David Holmes founder of What Cost? commented “Demand for accurate pricing data is becomingly increasingly important especially in times of austerity. Homeowners are being urged to obtain several competitive quotations which is entirely correct but initially it’s important to establish whether it’s worth obtaining quotes in the first place, and are increasingly turning to the internet to establish a benchmark price in which to work from, which is where we can help.
What Cost? collects pricing data from a range of sources that have been verified to ascertain the accuracy of information and ensure published pricing information is unbiased and relatively accurate, providing consumers with a ball-park figure from which to work from.”
The website which is free from advertising will grow as more data becomes available and entirely free to use. For more information visit www.whatcost.co.uk.
Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton will provide a long overdue cash boost to Britain’s flagging economy.
A boost of over £600 million is being predicted by financial analysts prior to Prince Williams Wedding.
Wedding souvenirs are being rushed to production prior to the big day with huge amounts expected to be spent both on and offline on gifts and mementos.
The couple which are expected to tie the knot in Spring or Summer 2011 will have the world’s eyes fixed upon them as they walk down the aisle.
Neil Saunders the retail research expert commented “We think wedding-related merchandise sales could easily top £26 million in the UK, while food and grocery retailers could cash in to the tune of £360 million as consumers buy extra treats to celebrate the occasion as well as Champagne and wine to toast the happy couple.”
The couple are being reminded of the current economic situation which they are “mindful of” according to St James’ Palace but the policing bill for the wedding and security for VIPs could potentially run into tens of millions of pounds.
This huge expense should hopefully be recouped back into the economy from the huge influx of tourism, travel and related merchandising.
Oliver Heath, the television designer and environmental consultant who graduated from Oxford Brookes University in 1992 with a degree in architecture, has recently shared tips from his top-selling book, ‘Urban Eco Chic‘, which was published by Quadrille and costs around £19.99 in most book stores.
The first tip suggested by Mr Heath is for homeowners to consider their long-term objectives and overall strategy. Mr Heath said: “A strategy for the way that they insulate the property, the way they ventilate it, the way they use gas, water and electricity. By separating all those things out you can think very clearly about how to approach each one”. Beyond strategy, Mr Heath argued that air flow ought to be the next major consideration.
Mr Heath explained: “There’s a difference between ventilation and drafts… What we need to do is find the right level of ventilation. We don’t want to block off all the ventilation, which can happen with double glazing and allows moisture to build up and when that happens you get mould and that’s bad for your home and your health”. Mr Heath added that chimney balloons can be used to stop drafts coming down chimneys whilst allowing for a certain amount of ventilation.
The third and perhaps most obvious tip suggested by Mr Heath was that of using central heating systems efficiently. The television designer recommends the replacement of boilers aged eight years or over with new gas condensing boilers, which can be extremely energy efficient. Mr Heath also advocated the use of radiator reflector panels and advanced thermostats.
Another obvious tip by Mr Heath is that of monitoring the household’s electricity consumption. Mr Heath has advised homeowners to replace old light bulbs with energy efficient alternatives whilst investing in an energy meter, which is designed to make people more aware of how much energy they use. Finally, Mr Heath suggested that property owners use natural light more effectively, manage waste carefully and conserve water by replacing inefficient showers and installing ‘Interflush’ units on old toilets.
Despite having been in force now for over twelve years The Party Wall Act still often takes homeowners planning alterations by surprise. As the notice periods are between one and two months it makes sense to get the process started early so that works do not have to be delayed.
Even those owners that are aware of the Act do not always realise that its scope runs considerably wider than work on existing party walls. This explains the ‘etc.’ in the name of the Act, it refers to adjacent excavations and under the Act ‘adjacent’ can mean up to six metres depending upon the type of foundations used.
Before we move on to excavations lets just define what a party wall is. The Act recognises two types; the first and most obvious is a wall that is shared by two owners, typically in a pair of semis or a row of terraced houses, with the boundary being somewhere within the wall. The second type of party wall is a wall that is wholly on one side of the boundary but has been enclosed by an Adjoining Owner. If your neighbour has a structure leaning against your wall the enclosed section of that wall will be classed as ‘Party’ and you cannot alter it without your neighbour’s consent.
Work which typically requires an owner to serve notice under this part of the Act includes the insertion of beams for the purposes of converting a loft or the removal of chimney breasts which are attached to a party wall.
As previously mentioned the part of the Act which catches most homeowners out is Section 6, the section covering adjacent excavations. If your plans involve excavating within three metres of any part of your neighbour’s property, and to a depth greater than the base of their existing foundations, the work will come within the scope of the Act. Unless the adjoining property is of modern type your new foundations will invariably be deeper than their existing foundations. If your excavation is going to be deeper than normal, say for piled foundations, the definition of ‘adjacent’ becomes within six metres.
Having established that your proposed works come within the scope of the Act what do you do next? The answer is ‘serve notice’. There are no prescribed forms for this purpose although the notice must contain certain information; your name and address (include all joint owners), the Adjoining Owner’s name and address, a brief description of the works and a proposed start date. Notices relating to adjacent excavations must be accompanied by a drawing showing the position and depth of the proposed excavation. The notice periods are two months for work to a party wall and one month for an adjacent excavation or new wall on the line of junction.
Upon receipt of your notice the Adjoining Owner will have three choices:
To consent to the proposals – consent from the Adjoining Owner means that work can commence immediately and no Award is required.
To dissent and concur in your choice of surveyor as ‘Agreed’
To dissent and appoint a surveyor of their choice
If the Adjoining Owner plans to consent they should do so within 14 days as after that point a ‘dispute’ is deemed to have arisen under the Act and the two owners must appoint a surveyor to resolve that dispute. While speaking to your neighbour is always encouraged, their verbal consent is not sufficient. Notice must be in writing and so must the Adjoining Owner’s consent.
Adjoining Owners are more likely to consent when the works are fairly minor and they have been given sufficient information to put their mind at rest. For more significant work such as loft or basement conversions most Adjoining Owners will want a surveyor to review the proposals and reduce the risk of any damage occurring to their property.
If surveyors are appointed they will prepare a party wall agreement which is referred to as an ‘Award’. The award sets out the rights and responsibilities of the respective owners and will include clauses covering working hours, contractor’s insurance and the procedures to follow in case of damage occurring. The award will also include a record of the condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property to ensure that any damage is properly attributed.
When the Award is complete it is served upon the two owners. There is a fourteen day appeal period during which either owner can appeal the award in the County Court should they feel that it has been improperly drawn up, or that the surveyors have acted beyond their powers although this is rarely done.
Article by Justin Burns MRICS MFPWS of Peter Barry Party Wall Act Consultants
The question of whether to use paint or wallpaper designs throughout the home has caused plenty of domestic strife over the years. Many dwellers enjoy busy and vibrant wallpaper patterns that exude character – but not necessarily style – whilst others prefer painted walls that feature neutral tones and colours – uncomplicated but not exactly exciting.
Of course, some wallpapers can feature plain patterns and colours whilst certain paints are bold and vibrant, however, in somewhat broad terms, it remains possible to divide people into two categories: those who enjoy the modest charm of painted walls and those who prefer the energy of striking wallpaper prints.
As such, are interior design trends likely to be dominated by paint lovers or wallpaper nuts in 2010? The answer, as perhaps can be expected, is somewhat self-evident; indeed, paint will always remain more popular as it is the weapon of choice when attacking interior walls. Notwithstanding this, it would seem that wallpaper has been afforded greater attention this year by many of the leading retailers, who have released some rather unconventional patterns that will be of concern to paint lovers.
One such wallpaper is Osborne and Little’s “Dog Silhouette” design, which is available in 3 colours and features images of man’s most cherished breeds. At more than £90 per roll from wallpaperdirect.co.uk, the design, which is part of the Walk in the Park collection, is unlikely to be popular with the typical magnolia man. Also available at wallpaperdirect.co.uk is the daring “Fashion” wallpaper, which is designed by Ferm Living and depicts various models in silhouette form. With floral and animal designs also set to be popular in 2010, it would seem that paint lovers are set for a rough ride this year – especially as embossed wallpaper is all set for a comeback.
The story of early 2010 is likely to read the same as 2009, with the ongoing economic crisis dominating the thoughts and actions of many people. Homeowners in particular are expected to struggle with deflated property prices, whilst many have already constructed extensions or had lofts and garages converted to meet demands for additional space.
As such, home improvements are likely to be somewhat understated, with attention turning to interior designs, of which Channel 4 Homes has selected five trends for 2010: folk style, big blooms, natural materials, retro or vintage and country house glamour.
Folk style is somewhat vintage in design and appeal, featuring animal and floral motifs which recently slipped out of favour. As mentioned in an earlier article, John Lewis has planned to bring such designs back into the homes of mainstream Britain during 2010 – and the folk style range of ‘Maisie’ duvet covers and pillowcases is a good example of the retailer’s ambitions. Other folk style items highlighted by Channel 4 Homes include an owl screen print (approximately £20) from Roddy & Ginger and a selection of velvet fruit and animal style cushions from Bhs (£14-£22).
The big blooms style features more striking designs, with large floral prints adorning bed sets from House of Fraser and colourful bowls, jars, bottles and saucers available from Bhs. Channel 4 Homes’ natural materials style is far more subtle in design, with the John Rocha kitchen set from Debenhams serving as a fine example of the trend. At the opposite end of the design spectrum, the retro or vintage style is exemplified by Cath Kidston’s daring Provence rose cereal bowls and cutlery. Meanwhile, the understated elegance of the country house glamour style is brought to life with House of Fraser’s living room selection, which comprises a pink lacquer floor lamp and polished side table among other decorative pieces.
Following the publication of his latest pre-budget report, Chancellor Alistair Darling has not won favours with everybody it would seem but, so far as homeowners are concerned, next year could have been much worse. In fact, the pre-budget report comes as good news to homeowners whose central heating boilers have seen better days.
The Chancellor aims to introduce the Boiler Scrappage Scheme in early 2010, which enables homeowners to trade in their existing boilers for a newer, more energy efficient condensing model. Most importantly, the Boiler Scrappage Scheme provides a cash incentive of up to £400 towards the replacement.
The Chancellor’s plan is certainly not a bad idea in the short term but, so far as long term environmental targets are concerned, it does little to address the fact that imported non-renewable fuels will still be required to heat most homes throughout the country, thereby making it a little less of a bad thing.
Another criticism of the Boiler Scrappage Scheme is the 125,000 home cap is probably not enough to drive significant environmental change in the country. Moreover, it is thought many of the most inefficient boilers can be found in privately rented homes, so it is somewhat unrealistic to expect landlords to purchase a new boiler installation for the sake of their tenants’ energy bills and a £400 cash incentive.
The recently published pre-budget report has largely been derided as too soft on repaying the national deficit and too hard on the everyday Joe. Of course, all budgets are subject to criticism of some form or another and they rarely involve black or white issues – especially with regard to pre-election budgets – so not everybody’s needs will always be satisfied. However, the recent pre-budget report released by Alistair Darling features surprisingly good news for homeowners and property developers.
In fact, there are two notable provisions of the pre-budget report that are likely to be of great value and interest to homeowners. First, the boiler scrappage scheme, which will most likely be launched in early 2010, enables homeowners to trade in their old boilers for up to £400. In respect to meeting the UK Government’s environmental targets, which ultimately aim to cut the emission of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the boiler scrappage scheme is useful in so much as it allows homeowners to replace their old boilers with new and efficient condensing boilers, whilst receiving a cash incentive in the process.
However, the boiler scrappage scheme does present a potentially awkward problem in respect to existing boilers that are fitted on internal walls, which is fairly common for old boilers. Indeed, the new condensing boilers must be installed to an external wall in order to condense efficiently, so this could pose a few problems for homeowners. Nevertheless, the scheme is likely to be of benefit to homeowners on the whole. Finally, the Chancellor has also announced that environmentally conscious homeowners will be entitled to feed-in tariffs, which guarantee a price for electricity fed back to the national grid (via solar panels, wind turbines, etc.) as of April 2010, which could provide more than £900 tax free each year on average per household.
On Tuesday, one of the UK’s leading mortgage lenders announced that house prices in the UK have risen for the fifth consecutive month, which adds further weight to the view shared by many that the country’s weakened housing market is well on the road to recovery.
However, whilst the Halifax’s figures bolster those published by the Nationwide Building Society last week, which suggest that house prices have in fact risen for seven consecutive months as of November 2009, there remains a healthy scepticism over claims that the slump is over.
According to the Halifax’s figures, house prices rose by 1.4% in November, which elevated the average cost of a home in the UK to £167,664. These figures can be compared with those of the Nationwide, which comprised a 0.5% rise during the same month and an average house price of £162,764. However, the Halifax’s figures remain 1.6% lower than they were in 2008, although they have risen by 4.2% over the current year. In any case, homeowners who are eager to sell up at former market prices should not be counting their idiomatic chickens just yet.
Indeed, despite strong signs that the housing market is continuing to recover steadily in the UK, the Halifax has issued a caution to potential buyers and sellers who intend to do business in the New Year. Speaking to the BBC news service, Martin Ellis, an economist at the Halifax, warned that house prices had been “driven by increased demand for property, largely due to the improvement in affordability for existing homeowners and first-time buyers”, whilst “the prospects for the market will depend on how the UK economy evolves and whether there is a significant increase in the supply of properties for sale”. Specifically, the Halifax is predicting that current house prices can only be sustained in 2010 if more homes enter the market.
If the current range of high street Christmas trees is anything to go by, Christmas 2009 will be notable for its rather unusual selection of artificial trees. Indeed, although it is fairly traditional nowadays – not to mention considerably more practical – to purchase plastic Christmas trees in place of natural pines, firs and spruces, the availability of choice has always been fairly limited.
However, the recent unveiling of John Galliano’s Christmas tree, which was designed for Dior and Claridge’s, marks the beginning of a trend or fashion statement that aims to put the traditional Christmas tree in the shade. In fact, some would argue that John Galliano’s work of art, which he described in the Guardian newspaper last week as a creation of “icy frozen snow scenes mixed with a tropical twist”, is nothing short of sheer butchery.
Indeed, there are many ways in which the home can be properly decorated for Christmas, yet the most common and important of these involves the selection of a traditional natural or artificial Christmas tree that is appropriately adorned with baubles, tinsel, fairy lights and other such festive treats. Therefore, John Galliano’s Christmas tree, the artistic value of which could be easily branded as gaudy, austere and characterless, is anathema to anybody who appreciates the more traditional elements of Christmas.
Nevertheless, it would seem that many of the top high street department stores have followed suit by introducing their own unusual Christmas tree designs for 2009. John Lewis, for instance, is selling its Pre-Lit Mistletoe tree for around £50, which is perhaps not such a great deal considering its diminutive size (75 cm height) and gaunt appearance. John Lewis also boasts a rather odd 6ft Reversible Upside Down Christmas tree and a Snowy Paper Christmas tree, which offers a distinctly wintry look and feel.