Monday, 23 May 2016

French Door Installation with Homebase & Evander

Homebase Window and Doors Review

After nine weeks of waiting, the day finally arrived for the new French doors to be installed! You can read in my last post about the different options we looked at, why we're not doing this job ourselves and why we decided to go with Homebase here.

In short, we picked Homebase Window and Doors as they were the cheapest, however there weren't any online reviews regarding their service or quality on windows and doors, and it was all a bit of a gamble in truth. After having placed the order we learnt Homebase sub-contract a company called Evander for the job and the windows and doors they offer aren't actually made by Homebase as such. We kind of wished we had known this before, just so we could have done a bit more research on the whole thing. As a quick reminder, here's how the old window looked before with the poorly-fitted frosted window..

Turning a Window into a Door
Old Window Turned into French Door

Things I loved about Homebase Windows and Doors was that their quotes are truly no-pressure and not sales-heavy at all. The surveyor turned up, gave us all the information there was to know in paper form without the heavy 20-minute long sales pitch and just left us to make up our own minds in time. We never received a follow-up call (despite how polite these are, I still hate them!) and we weren't pestered by never-ending phone calls like certain other companies. The negatives however was that placing an order was less fuss-free than it needed to be. You have to call into a store to make an actual order, but on arrival we learnt that there were very few staff members who could put through this order. We came back another day only to find the person who could put the order through had never done it before so we had to leave him with our details hoping he could put it through the next day after speaking with another member. We ended up returning to the store three times, the third time to then rectify an error he had then made on the order whilst we weren't there. The error on the order then cost me my nectar points which quickly vanished from my account (I know this shouldn't be a big deal - but c'mon 1000 nectar points!) as he had forgot to re-add the card whilst cancelling and re-making the order. I did try to speak with customer services afterwards twice, but they were less than helpful and pretty much shrugged me off both times, telling me to take it up with Nectar. (Which made no sense as it was their mistake, not Nectar!) So I admitted defeat at my lost nectar points, which yes - I was a little gutted about. In fact, the whole thing left me feeling very unconfident about what I had just bought and I did have some initial buyers regret.

With the order booked, we'll fast forward nine weeks to the day of installation. Since we were turning a window into a door, the installation took place over two parts throughout the day. Firstly, we had builders arrive early in the morning (again, sub-contracted, but paid for as part of the whole order) to knock out the brickwork below the existing window and also to install a lintel above the existing window. They were a lovely pair of guys actually and did a really great job. The cut was really smoothly done and the lintel had been installed seamlessly too. I really hadn't appreciated just how messy this job was going to be and as a result some of our outdoor items got a little bit layered in wet brick dust - I probably should have moved those, oops! (notice the very confused dogs!)

Cutting out brickwork below a window
new opening for french door below window
cutting out brickwork
wet brick dust

After having knocked through the brickwork, the builders left and the window fitters arrived. I didn't really speak much with the fitters, they liaised with the builders initially and then they were very much straight onto the job. Having read lots of reviews from other window and door companies, I expected the job to be over in barely an hour in some kind of speed-fit. (Many reviews for other companies said they had as many as NINE windows fitted in just one day!) But I was really very relieved to see that they were taking their time on the job and they certainly didn't seem rushed in any way. I definitely felt like they were taking the time and care to get the job done to a high standard and it certainly looked amazing when they were done! The door we chose was the 'timeless' version (ideal for period properties) which has an extra little beading on the frame and I absolutely love it!

Homebase and Evander French Doors
Chrome handles on french doors

We did have a little issue after installation a few days in, with the doors 'swelling' in the heat and not closing properly. Evander arrived the very next day to fix the problem and the frame just needed a few extra screws to push it up in the middle to accommodate the heat swelling. Heat swelling by the way, is perfectly normal but of course the door should be fitted to accommodate this and shouldn't cause you any problems with opening and closing. It was a quick 10-minute fix and we've had absolutely no problems since! When both doors are open, I love how it creates a kind of picture-window into the garden.

Picture Window in French Doors
Homebase French Door Installation

The total cost for the door, installation and building work was a touch over £1350 which we took out through a Homebase finance plan (another reason we picked Homebase!). It's definitely not a small figure and it's probably the most we've ever spent on one thing in the house, but it was definitely worth it and of course, the finance plan means it's not such a huge figure to shell out all at once. Having someone come and do the job themselves was ridiculously relaxing. Usually we'd be stressing out, clock-watching, manically trying to work faster to get the job done before sunset and then not finishing the job on time and worrying about security issues throughout the night. Having paid a company to do this for us, was so unbelievably stress-free. It was beautifully fitted, with no dodgy cuts, imperfections or otherwise make-shift solutions that a DIY door might cause. And of course, as it was made to measure, it fits snug as a bug and we can rest assured it's a properly secured door with all those guarantee extras. We still have the walls left to remove, but I can already see the impact this new french door will have on the new to-be room.

Installing French Doors
French Doors by Homebase

Visually, it's much better and has a much greater impact that I had imagined. It looks so new and white - it really puts to shame our otherwise yellowing uPVC windows! I love the chrome handles and I love how its really updated the exterior at the back of the house too. It's looks really high quality and modern and I'm thrilled to bits with it. We've already had the doors open fully during some beautiful spring weather recently and just having a view in this room is amazing!

What do you think to the new doors? Have you ever had french doors installed?

Total Cost:

Installation & Materials: £1350

Friday, 20 May 2016

Interior Insights: Get to know me a little bit better ;)

I've been blogging for a couple of years now, documenting the progress of our victorian home renovation and sharing a few little DIY and tips along the way. You probably know about my tedious feelings towards getting quotes from tradesmen(!) and how we prefer to take a bazillion trips to the rubbish tip than fork out the cost of paying for a skip. But with the house in a state of resembling a building site, I haven't yet been able to share too much interior stuff. The 'finished' rooms are barely skeletons awaiting the finishing touches.... Which can only happen when we have the money (if ever!).

But, last week on the FourWalls blog, I was asked to share a few interior insights into my inspirations, my style, favourite brands and basically everything interior-wise. So, if you'd like to  get to know my interior style a little better and some of my favourites/dislikes, then do pop along to the FourWalls site right here to read the article.

It's the first little Question and Answer feature I've been involved with, so huge thanks to FourWalls for asking me to get involved with this! I feel really quite honoured :)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

DIY: Painting a Doormat

DIY Painting a Doormat

Pre-made beautifully designed doormats can be quite pricey, so making your own is a brilliant inexpensive solution to adding a bit of front door style! You get to come up with your own design and your creations and will be truly bespoke and unique. It's really cheap to do and a lovely little fun summer project!

You Will Need:

How to Make a Custom Doormat

Step 1 - Create an Idea

This is the fun part, but probably also the hardest. I had loads of different ideas for doormats (I think I'll definitely be making another!) but you just need one idea drawn out and perfected that will eventually become a stencil. Remember when designing stencils that certain letters can be difficult to cut out ('O' for example) if not drawn in a certain way. You can of course, go for shapes instead - and your design can be as simple or as complex as you'd like! I've gone for a simple, yet bold and playful 'hey!'.

Step 2 - Draw onto Card

Firstly, you want to cut a bit of card to the same size at the door mat. This will help you draw out your stencil so that it will be in the right position on the doormat when you come to painting it. I've used a chunky permanent marker to do this - it's easy to see on the card and make sure there are no imperfections in your design.

How to Make a Stencil

Step 3 - Cut out Stencil

Using a sharp pen knife, simply cut out around the permanent market to create a stencil. You need to take your time over this step as any jagged or rough edges will show up when painting.

Doormat Stencil Ideas

Step 4 - Spray Paint

Using a flexible fabric spray paint (I've used this one by Rustoleum, which is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use), hold down the stencil against the doormat and spray away. You don't want to spray too close or heavily or you may have paint bleed through. I asked my lovely boyfriend to hold down the card nice and firm against the mat whilst spraying, just to make sure this didn't happen. You can also weigh the stencil down with objects you don't mind getting a little covered in paint.

Doormat Stencil
Spray Painting a Doormat with Rustoleum

Step 5 - Put to Use!

And you're done! You can now find a nice little spot for your doormat and put it to use wiping some dirty shoes.

DIY Spray Painted Doormat
DIY painted doormat
'Hey' Painted Doormat
Spray Painting a Doormat with Rustoleum Fabric Paint

Do you have an old door mat you'd like to decorate? What kind of design would you go for?

*Paint was kindly provided by Rustoleum for this tutorial, all reviews, words and opinions are my own :)

Monday, 16 May 2016

Save Money on Plastering: Take a Course

Trade Ability Reviews

When it comes to paying tradesmen to do work for us, we only pay for jobs we know we cannot do ourselves, either legally or just because our skills do not match up to the job. That being said, we're happy to give most things a go and if I've learnt anything through our home renovation journey it's that new skills can be learnt and lots of jobs aren't as difficult as they may seem at first glance.

We've tiled, built stud walls, fitted flooring, skirting, plumbed a new bathroom suite, even fitted a whole new kitchen - all of which were not as difficult as they sound and have saved us heaps in cash. So far, we've managed to avoid one job that does require a high level of skill and perfection: plastering. Well, I tell a small lie. I did plaster the ceiling of our bathroom and I also plastered around the fireplace in the smallest bedroom, but neither were as perfect as I would have liked. The fireplace was a very small area to plaster and the ceiling.... Well, lets just say it matches the less-than-perfect ceilings in the rest of the house!

We're quite lucky that the plaster in both the houses we've owned to date haven't been that bad. In our first house, we mastered the art of poly-filling large areas to avoid re-plastering and in this house, we're so very lucky to have the original lime plaster throughout (excluding kitchen extension and basement) which has stood the test of time and I'm determined to keep, regardless that it's not perfectly straight. It's all charm! However some areas of the house really need do need re-plastering - the kitchen has horrendous walls, the basement has no plaster at all, the attic has very badly cracked lath and plaster walls and the conservatory too, needs some plaster over the exposed brick. Plastering was definitely on the to-do list this year!

Despite plastering definitely being a skill, I think it's one that can be learnt with practise and patience. In fact, professional plasterers don't even need specific qualifications. Lots of builders simply "pick it up as they go" and companies that only need little plastering skills (electricians and log-burner installers, for example) often just take a course over a few days and start straight from there. We hate spending money on tradespeople, we enjoy the fact our home is a DIY-renovation and we're doing most of it ourselves, so it made sense to do the plastering ourselves too. Having learnt from experience with previous plastering mistakes and knowing it's not an easy task, we thought it would be most beneficial to take a course.

Grant had wanted to do one of these courses way before we even moved into this house, but we had been putting it off for months. Now that we're onto the kitchen and conservatory renovation, the time seemed right. Kayleigh from Yellow House Tales (go check her out!) also gave me the prompting I needed, after she had booked herself on a course right in our town! She also took away the need to research, as she had already found the best price and course in the area - huge thank you!!

(I should mention that we only booked Grant on this course, not myself (although I really wanted to go too!) - it obviously made financial sense for just one of us to do this course and Grant had wanted to do this for some time. So all info below is written with the help from my lovely OH :))

Location & Course

The 'school' we used was Trade-Ability which is located in our town, not very far from where we live actually (Newark-on-Trent, if you were wondering). As chance would have it, the owner even owns and rents-out the house straight opposite us! They offer a whole range of courses, from Bricklaying to Plastering, Tiling, Plumbing and even Block Paving. The plastering courses can be done either over a whole week or over two weekends and can come with or without a BTEC certificate. The prices vary slightly for either option, but we opted for the week course with a BTEC which cost £300. The courses only have a max of 6 individuals within them, so they're quite small and personal too.

Trade Ability DIY courses
Inside Trade Ability

What's Involved?

So the course actually covered much more than just plastering; it also included exterior rendering, plaster-boarding/dry-lining onto stud walls as well as using dot and dab techniques. The plastering itself included using different types of plasters, different tools, plastering ceilings as well as walls, using angle beads and even patching holes in plasterboard too.

Over the course of the week, Grant plastered around two to three walls a day, so there was plenty of practise and time to improve. Plastering does involve a lot of arm work, so you'll need a bit of arm strength, a lot of patience and an eye for perfection.

DIY Plastering Course
How to Patch Holes in Plasterboard

What can you Learn?

As I mentioned previously, we had attempted plastering before, so Grant did have a general idea of how to plaster.... So - did he actually learn anything new? Well, yes! Massively. A few key things that he learnt was that the quality of the plastering towel does matter. The trowel we initially bought cost no more than £5. But what's so different about more expensive trowels, I hear you ask? Well, they have pre-worn, curved edges which means it applies plaster much smoother without leaving any lines. A quality towel is also made from tempered stainless steel so that it's really strong but also flexible, meaning you can apply pressure without digging into the wall and it wont rust either (unlike our £5 one!). We've already re-invested in a new Marshalltown Permashape Finishing Trowel which we picked up from eBay for £35.

The biggest learning experience of the course was mastering the technique of using the trowel and applying the correct pressure to smooth the plaster out and not just push it around the wall. It's really easy to fall into bad habits, so taking a course before attempting to plaster is definitely a good idea for making sure your technique is correct, something I struggle with. Using a wet paintbrush to dampen the plaster helps massively to feather in edges and also allows you to work on the plaster for longer too.

Another thing the course taught him, was that it's really important to know when to leave the plaster alone, let it dry and firm up a little before coming back to it later. Too much faffing is never a good thing and generally does more harm than good. Any imperfections or knicks in the plaster can always be re-filled a little later.

Are Plastering Courses worth it?
Plastering a Ceiling on a Course

What the Course didn't Cover

Like any week long course, you cannot expect to learn everything in just a week. Whilst all the basics were covered to set you up to begin your plastering experience, some things can't be covered in a week long course. There was no practise for things like plastering around obstacles, or any areas that require a bit more intricate work. But of course all these things should just develop with practise and time, and once you've mastered the basics these things shouldn't be too hard to tend to.

Another thing to remember about plastering courses are that you will be plastering (mostly) flat surfaces. Older walls in your home may be trickier to work with (as we learnt) and if you're looking to plaster over Artex of course you wont have the practise for this on a course either.

Was it worth it?

Yes, yes and yes. Whilst we haven't fully tested out Grant's new plastering skills at home yet, he's much more confident in his ability and definitely feels as though plastering is a DIY job he can achieve a high level of perfection on without the need to splash the cash on with tradesmen. Plasterers charge extortionate rates, so £300 was an absolute bargain to be able to come home with new skills and be able to take on any plastering we need. Having plastered without doing a course myself previously, I can definitely say it's a skill that does need a little help to learn, and Grant definitely seems to have learnt a lot! At such a small cost - I think it's highly worth it and will save you hundreds!

My only reget is that I didn't get to do the course along with him.... But then £600 wouldn't have been such a great investment would it? I'm sure he'll be teaching me everything he knows though and I'll soon be a plastering pro too!

Have you ever taken a DIY course to increase your DIY skills?

Friday, 13 May 2016

How to Seal Holes in Plant Pots

How to Seal Holes in Plant Pots

I have a small obsession with plants - I just can't stop buying them. One of the things I love most about our garden is the variety of mature flowers and plants, but our house is the total opposite and has been lacking plant life for such a long time. I've been slowly building up our indoor garden with array of colours, sizes and smells. Plants aren't that cheap, but what's more neither are pots. I'm particularly fussy when it comes to plant pots, I don't like anything too plain or boring. I find indoor plant pots often very limited in choice and you always have to check exterior plant pots to see if they have a drainage hole - if they do, you need a matching saucer and before you know it, you've spent even more money.

About a month ago I stumbled across some lovely little plant pots in TK Maxx. I really wanted to buy them all - problem was, they were outdoor pots. They had that hole. I picked one up anyway determined I could find a way to plug it.

Concrete Effect Plant Pot
How to Fill Holes in a Plant Pot
Plugging a Hole in a Plant Pot

You Will Need:

  • Sealant
  • Caulk Gun
  • Tape

Step 1

Place tape over the bottom of the hole, when it comes to filling the hole, this will ensure nothing will splurge out on the other side. You really don't want that, otherwise your plant pot wont sit flush to the floor.

How to Cover a Drainage hole in a plant pot

Step 2

Apply sealant. What's so great about sealant is that its completely waterproof. We use it to seal shower trays, around waste pipes, anywhere we don't want water ingress, so it made perfect sense to use it for this job too. When this pot is filled with water, it needs to be able to retains water with absolutely no leaks. Make sure to apply a real good amount that covers the entire hole, don't worry if it's a little splurged over the hole on the inside.

Using sealant to fill a hole in a plant pot

Step 3

Leave to dry overnight and then peel off the tape on the other side. You should now have a flat blob of sealant just poking through the hole. Add some water into the pot and leave to stand for a few hours, checking back to see if any water has escaped. If it has, you may need to apply more sealant, but if it hasn't then you're ready to fill the pot with soil and your new plant.

Calathea Mix Plant
Spiked Interior Plant Pot

This plant is a Calathea Mix, which I picked up from Homebase. I absolutely love the pink tones on the underside of the leaves and I love that you can turn and position the plant pot in different ways for a totally different look at the plant. The plant pot has a lovely concrete-effect to it, it's a real mix of greys to look real and its even speckled too. And of course, the white triangular spikes are completely up my street!

Calathea Mix Indoor Plant
Calathea Mix Leaves
Calathea Mix in Plant Pot
Calathea Mix with Pink Leaves

Both the plant and pot were £10 each and they now live in my office. Having plants in a work space really helps me to feel more creative and relaxed, but I think I definitely need a few more!

Are you addicted to indoor plants? Let me know if you have any specific plant recommendations!

How to Seal Drainage Holes in Plant Pots

Monday, 9 May 2016

How to Plan Removing a Load Bearing Wall

How to Plan Removing a Load Bearing Wall

Before I'd ever looked into removing a load bearing wall, I assumed it would be as simple as getting a builder in, fitting the beam and taking the wall down, job done. I'd never really thought about there being different beams for different loads, or that I would need to hire an engineer to calculate the load. I had never really thought about it properly. So, if you're thinking about removing a load bearing wall, I thought I would share the process, what you need to know, and things you'll need to consider...

Do it once, do it right.

You might find a builder who claims to be able to do it all - he may well be capable of calculating requirements for a beam free of charge - after all, he's been a builder for thirty odd years right? He might tell you not to bother with involving building control, it's only necessary if you're ever going to sell your home - and even then he might tell you that you can just lie on the sellers form and nobody will ever know. After all, you'll save yourself heaps of money right? Perhaps you can get away with all these things, the job will be done right, you'll sell your home in the future hassle-free and you'll  have saved yourself a few hundred quid, sure. But what if it all goes wrong? He fits an inadequate beam? Ends up causing you damage to your home? A home-buyers report picks up on structural alterations and requests certificates? That few hundred pounds you saved originally has now turned into much more money to put right.

Taking down a load bearing wall and installing an RSJ isn't a cheap job - if you want to do it, do it once and do it right.

Party Walls

If you live in either a terrace or semi-detached you will need to take into consideration that any work you plan on making to a wall that you share with a neighbour requires permission from said neighbour. Installing an RSJ into a wall will give a seamless opening, but it requires the beam to be leant/built onto the wall. If that wall is subject to co-ownership, you cannot install the beam without agreement from your neighbours. Simply put, you or your builder will need to draw up documents to be signed by both parties. Failure to do this and install an RSJ into a party wall otherwise, is breaking the law! To avoid this, you can of course leave a column against the party wall for the RSJ to rest upon, thus meaning it's not built into the party wall. It wont be as seamless in appearance, but may be necessary if your neighbours don't approve of the work, or if you don't want to go down the party wall permission route.

So, here's a few steps to planning and removing a load bearing wall.....

Things to Know about Removing Load Bearing Walls

Step 1 - Load Bearing Calculations

Unless you want to risk the possibility of your job being done incorrectly, it's best to have proper structural calculations done to ensure any RSJ that will be installed, is suitable to hold up the load above. Most people employ structural engineers for this - the cost of which depends on house size and location, but usually will cost £250 upwards. They will be able to advise you on the size of the opening and will also often draw up plans for builders to follow.

Alternatively, you may be able to see if your local building control can provide a service to do this at a much reduced cost - we paid just £115. Plans aren't drawn up, but you receive a proper document calculating loads, padstone requirements and RSJ specs. The document made absolutely no sense to me, but the builders seemed to be rather accustomed to it.

Alternatively, your builder may be able to do the calculations, which is absolutely fine too. But unless you're certain of his abilities, I personally wouldn't risk it.

Step 2 - Apply for a Building Notice

For any structural alterations, you will need a building notice. This is basically a notice to the council to let them know you're carrying out an alteration to your home. The cost of this also includes building control inspections and certifications. Prices vary throughout councils, but ours was £265. It's worth noting that you can get reduced prices on other notices if you need more than one at a time, for example a second for a log burner installation or a window/door. (Both of these are only required when not using approved installers)

Step 3 - Quotes

I'd recommend getting calculations first, so that a builder will know exactly what he's costing up, giving a far more accurate quote. We really struggled to get quotes from builders, generally speaking this kind of job is quite small and the best builders are often fully booked for months in advance. Perseverance is key and being added to a waiting list is often common. The price of the job will depend on the kind of RSJ you require and the size of the opening. For an opening just under 3m we were quoted around £800-900 (including VAT).

Step 4 - Complete Works & Sign Off with Building Control

Removing a load bearing wall is really dusty work. Do not underestimate how far and how much dust will be created. Make sure to cover any furnishings and seal around as many doors as you can. Don't forget if you have exposed wooden floorboards in the rooms above, dust will travel through those gaps too! You'll probably need to disconnect smoke alarms for the day and you may even want to consider spending the day outside of the house if chaos and dust is not your thing.

After the RSJ has been installed, you must then arrange an inspection with building control to sign off the installation of the beam before being boxed in with plasterboard. You'll also need the plasterboard work to be signed off separately (don't forget it must be done in a fireproof board!) and then you will receive a certificate which you will need should you ever sell your home.

How to Remove a Load Bearing Wall

I'll be sharing some more pictures of the progress of our load bearing wall being removed soon... so watch this space!

Have you ever had a load bearing wall removed? How did go about planning its removal?