September is Repairs Month…

My street is a hive of activity right now. Every other home is having work done; painting the exterior, repairing gutters and windows, even changing paving in the front garden. And I’m one of that number. My replacement windows arrived yesterday and will be fitted as soon as the scaffolding comes down from the repainting of the upper floor. Very soon my house will be looking smart and be well protected from the winter storms no doubt to come.

scaffold tower in place

The bizarre thing is we’ve had such a great summer that on Saturday evening when it was much cooler than usual, it was instantly recognisable that autumn was here. Just like that. So why is September the time of year that everyone plans their outdoor work? You’d think May or June would be more practical. The summer is still to come, the days are extra long because its not dark til 10pm, but instead we end up racing against the weather! The last two weeks have been settled and fine. Last night it rained. And the sky has continued to drip on and off all morning. Grrr.

I didn’t actually plan to have my exterior painted in September. That much I have to say in my defence, it was all planned for the end of August, but my windows were delayed. They took about three weeks longer than expected and the contractors didn’t want to be here more than a week in advance of the windows. So it all got pushed back.

Which one will it be?

Which one will it be?

I started planning my window replacement and exterior repainting in about February. I stood looking at the rain as is lashed against my damaged window sill and knew that I had no choice but to schedule the repairs for the summer – and unless you plan on doing the work yourself, there is a lot to schedule. Why? Because any contractor that is currently decorating an interiors project will be snaffled by his clients and asked to ‘carry on’ and do the outside as well. You may be lucky and live in a home that is unpainted brick. So much easier because the only choices required are for the window frames, reveals, woodwork and doors, but given the height of most of our houses in the UK, even that requires scaffolding which is now generally used for exterior redecorating and they too get booked up. And as they get booked and the available choice gets smaller, the price goes up. Where scaffolding is concerned, get this booked by your decorator, it’ll be so much less complicated. And there are some companies that have their own scaffold, as mine do. It’s a mobile tower that fits in small spaces and can be moved along the building as required. Such a good idea, I can’t quite understand why more contractors/decorators don’t have them.

If, as I do, you live in a house that has a painted pebble dash and brick exterior, you also have the mine field that is choosing your paint colour. I do this every day for other people and feel completely relaxed in helping them decide what colours they’ll use. For myself, it’s a nightmare! I don’t even know how many colours I’ve looked at, how many tester pots I’ve bought, how many patches of colour I’ve painted on the side of the house – and how many I’ve painted over because I instantly hated the choice that at first had looked wonderful on the colour chart. I think it’s fair to say I’ve been looking for the right colour for three months. No client in the world would allow me that long to put the scheme together for them!

The top four

The top four

As part of the process, I investigated bespoke paint mixing. It sounds a great idea if you’ve fallen in love with a colour that doesn’t come in the formulation you need – in this case masonry paint. But then things get complicated, the company I visited is a firm that has a long history of paint mixing, but they do it for a cost. To have the exact colour mixed was going to take two weeks in a laboratory and then a £25 charge for a 300ml sample, plus a mixing charge for the colour to be blended into masonry paint. This was all on top of the paint cost, there was no offsetting of the lab charge against the final product. It didn’t take me long to decide no dice.

So, the lessons to be learned from this are that planning exterior work is a slow process and that delays to components make it even more unpredictable. Don’t think that you can decide one Saturday that you’ll get the work done and it’ll all be finished by the end of the week. Allow for your work to be scheduled and for the previous jobs to overrun – there’s no-one who’ll let their contractors go without adding a few extras to the snagging list! And even if you’re doing the work yourself, allow time to find the colour you really want.

Next on the list, paving my front garden and patio….

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Local Regulations

I’ve been working on the conversion of a one bedroom flat for the last month now and we’ve finally got to the point of getting building control in for their first visit. Ordinarily you’d get them in before works started, but we had a few issues that had to be addressed immediately. The flat was bought at auction, it’s on the second floor and started out as a studio with separate kitchen and bathroom. It was in a very sorry state because it had been uninhabited for a number of years. This meant that the boiler and cooker were considered unsafe and that whatever the client did within the space, we had to have new appliances factored into the building costs and scheme.

floorplan saunt

Not only that we had a structural engineer assess the building because there were a number of unusual cracks in the walls – and the roof joists were deemed to be unsafe. The roof had been changed at some point in the recent history of the building and they’d re-roofed with concrete tiles – too heavy for the size of the joists. So the first job was to make the building structurally sound. This involved the inspection of the junction between the ceiling and the walls and calculations being done by the structural engineer for the support of the roof. He advised and supplied all drawings and calculations for the installation of a steel girder spanning the width of the building.

cracks in spine wall

This sounds terrifying, but in fact this type of job happens all the time. Supporting a building that isn’t able to cope with modern materials is one of the most common issues encountered during refurbishments and many people simply don’t realise that the integrity of the building has to be considered when they plan a refit. That sounds fundamental, but if you’re planning a wonderful new open-plan kitchen, I bet you were only looking at the costs of the kitchen units and not at the costs of taking out the walls that are currently making the space so annoying. Making sure your property is structurally sound is the reason why you would pay a master builder to do the work, because without it your investment is compromised to the point of unsaleability; the reason this property had ended up at auction. And that’s where Building Control comes in.
steel girder

Don’t mess around with supporting walls, pilings and roof trusses without knowing your stuff. Too many people think that they should be clever and ‘pull the wool over their eyes’ but Building Control are there to protect you, not to try and make life hard – the only time things get sticky is if you ARE trying to hide something! If any of the work you want to do requires any changes to the structure, get it assessed by a structural engineer – your builder will probably advise you to do this anyway, because he will need to know the ‘stresses and strains’ involved in the project. Arrange a meeting with both engineer and contractor and then you know that both are on the same page, that they’ve talked about the project as a whole and that the building is being looked after for the safety of its inhabitants and those who work there. Just as importantly, it will also have the certificates to prove it – something you will need when you come to sell.

Building regulations have changed a lot over the last ten years and this means you need to be informed when you’re thinking about a project. Even window replacements can be considered outside of the regulations, so it’s important you know which parts of your project will need to be inspected. For example on this project we need to have the RSJ inspected. They will also want to see the new boiler, the wiring, the plumbing and the extraction used for the bathroom and kitchen. We will also be insulating between the floor and the ceiling of the flat below, but because its internal, the council don’t need to inspect it. Every local authority is different so make sure to check with them at the same time as you consider doing any work. Their website will have lots of links and forms that you can download.


So are there times that you don’t need to have work inspected? Yes. If we hadn’t been working on a flat bought at auction with condemned appliances and known structural issues that needed to have its walls reconfigured we wouldn’t have involved Building Control because the work would have been cosmetic. Kitchen and bathroom fit outs that don’t include any structural changes don’t need to be inspected. (The individual trades have governing bodies that regulate the installation and registration of gas appliances or electrics – but because the works don’t HAVE to be inspected, there are a lot of projects that look less than polished because they don’t need to be signed off by an authority.) However the minute you want to make changes that involve the fabric of the building – and particularly a shared building – you need to document the process. That’s all that Building Control are doing really; making sure that the way your works are undertaken is in compliance with the regulations that keep the occupants safe.

chimney breast reconfiguration

I’m all for people having a go themselves, but doing DIY doesn’t mean you can operate outside the regulations. Being enthusiastic is no excuse for ignorance. If you are going to take a sledgehammer to a wall, you need to know first and foremost if it’s supporting anything above. Any time you create an opening, be it window or door, you compromise the structure of the building. You can’t just ‘think’ it’ll be ok. It HAS to be more than ok, it has to be safe. If you can’t answer yes to that, you have to use a structural engineer on your project. It’s sheer madness to take risks with the biggest investment or asset you have.

So as always, ask questions and make sure you’re happy with the answers. Ask friends for a referral to a structural engineer that they have used and get advice. Do this before the work starts and before the costs spiral. It may be that there are other ways to achieve your building works without making structural changes, again a structural engineer will see more than you do during the assessment of your home.

And don’t be afraid of structural changes – but don’t take silly risks either!

please vote for the blog

please vote for the blog

A Quick Round Up

Putting the Love In is 13 months old and I thought as the summer is coming to an end and we’re all still trying to pretend that autumn isn’t quite around the corner, that I’d do a recap on some of the most popular topics I’ve covered. By far the most commented post was The Shed Roof Project Part 1.

Green Roofs are a topic that seems to mystify people. I had someone ask me what stresses and strains needed to be calculated for the construction of the roof. Over a large area this would need to be taken into consideration, but the company you buy the substrate from will have this type of information and your builder will know how far apart the joists need to be – and what weight of timber to use – to support the additional weight. It isn’t as scary as it sounds. My advice is to ask questions of the suppliers you’re considering. If they share information readily then you will feel supported – and that you can go back to them if a problem occurs – as was my case in April this year.

The roof went on in September. The Riefa Boards were well moistened and the sedum wildflower turf was laid on top. Then we had the wettest winter on record and my garden smelt appalling! The boards and turf were so waterlogged that they had started to rot. We took the front up stand off to allow drainage and then almost overnight the sun came out, the temperature rose and my roof was suddenly parched and crispy! Having been told that I would never need to water my roof I was completely confused as to what I should be doing.

dried out sedum

Apparently removing the front up stand had caused the roof to dry out very rapidly, I was advised to put it back on, but not knowing what to expect of the weather was nervous that the boards and turf would rot again. So we left the up stand off and took the decision to water the roof when the weather was dry. I didn’t water every day, but probably got up on the ladder with the hose every third. The roof has coped well with this method (the boards do seem to have shrunk a little though, perhaps if the up stand had gone back on this wouldn’t have happened) – but I acknowledge that with a bigger, higher roof this would be difficult – and all the bare patches from the early summer have now been filled in. The birds love it as do the butterflies and bees. Big tick!!!

Nearly a year on my green roof looks wonderful, the shed is nicely insulated, not overly hot in the summer and not at all damp; fabric stays dry as does wood. I feel really happy with the results, but it isn’t the straightforward approach to re-roofing, so expect a bit of trial and error!

Next on the list was Glass Half Full which suggests that glass is still a strong contender for refurbishments. As I said in the post, do your homework. Research the suppliers you want to use and ask questions. If you really can’t get the look you want, talk to an interior designer who is experienced in working with glass. Most will consult and offer guidance for a fee. But don’t forget, if you haven’t commissioned them to oversee the project, the responsibility is yours.

glass insert and balustrade

glass insert and balustrade

When working with glass it is sensible to pay the extra so that the job is handled by experienced suppliers.

Then we had From Lampshade to Hamper a post about repurposing a car boot sale find. It’s only in looking back that I’ve realised there was interest in this – so watch this space – more hand crafts to come.

Lampshade Hamper

I’ve come to understand that writing a blog is as much about the sharing as it is about the content and in the last year I’ve had great advice and wonderful sharing from people within the blogging community. Kimberly, editor of AO at Home was very generous with her advice and as someone who both edits and writes her own blog ( it was like a training session with hand holding. The perfect balance of ‘man up’ and believe in your content, it really got me motivated. Selina Lake, stylist, author and vintage lover was kind enough to retweet my post Moving Outdoors for Summer and gained the blog its biggest viewing audience to date.

afternoon tea

I’ve also had several sponsored posts and been a contributor on other blogs (handcrafts and interiors for Londonmumsmagazine

Autumn looks busy, I have new clients to work with and new projects to talk about on the blog, including reconfiguring a studio flat into a one bedroom home. It’s been great to take a little break over the summer, here’s to recharged batteries and all things creative.