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blog posts for November 2014

Simple Household Ingredients for Sparkling Bathrooms

Cleaning the bathroom is probably one of the many chores on your “to do” list. In an ideal word the bathroom would be thoroughly cleaned every single day, but if you are permanently chasing your tail, it is a once-per-week task. Yes, Saturday mornings are a time to dig out some rubber gloves and a bottle of bleach before knuckling down to scrub the bath and toilet. But how can you ensure your bathroom is spotlessly clean if you have run out of big brand name cleaning sprays and solutions?

Brand name cleaning products are expensive and not especially good for the environment. Products containing harsh chemicals are also not recommended to us on your designer towel radiators. If the advertisements are to be believed, your bathroom will be a festering cesspit of germs if you don’t blitz it with a few brand name sprays and solutions. However, you don’t need any brand name cleaners to maintain a hygienic and sparkling clean bathroom – there are lots of simple household ingredients you can use instead.

Home Cleaning Productsimage credit to 

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a fantastic all-purpose cleaning solution. You can use it anywhere, even radiators and skirting boards, but it is especially good on glass and ceramic tiles because will remove water marks and soap scum effortlessly. Dilute vinegar with water in a 50:50 solution and use a spray bottle to apply the solution to glass and tiles. Diluted vinegar is great for cleaning floors and neat vinegar can be used to clean toilet bowls and sinks.

Baking Soda

Baking Soda is another handy store cupboard ingredient that doubles as a household cleaner. Its abrasive qualities make it perfect as a scrubbing agent on grimy sinks and other hard surfaces. It can also be used to absorb nasty odours, so sprinkle some on the hinges of the toilet seat or around the base of the toilet if it gets a bit whiffy and finish off with a solution of bleach.

Clear Blocked Sinks and Baths

If your sink or bath drain is slow to empty because of a build up of soap scum, instead of spending money on expensive drain cleaning agents, pour some baking soda down the plug hole and add a cup of vinegar. The resultant volcano of white foam will clear the blockage and refresh your drains, plus it will keep the kids entertained and ignite their interest in science.


Lemons are a lot more than a great accompaniment to a nice gin and tonic. If you have a lemon handy you can put it to good use in the bathroom for it is an excellent natural bleaching agent. Lemon juice is very efficient at removing soap scum and hard watermarks in bathrooms. Lemon juice is also very useful if you have brass plated taps; unlike other cleaning products, lemon juice won’t damage the finish. If you need a more abrasive cleaner, use a cut lemon in conjunction with some baking soda.

Cleaning Floors and Tile Grout

Bathroom floors can be freshened up with solutions of vinegar and water. For tougher stains, sprinkle baking soda over the floor and follow it up with a dilute solution of bleach. Baking soda can also be used as a very effective cleaner for grubby grout between tiles. Mix some baking soda into a thick paste and apply to the affected areas.

With a bottle of white vinegar, some baking soda and a bit of elbow grease, your bathroom will be soon be looking as good as new. You do need to be careful, however, because lemons in particular can bleach surfaces. Always test your cleaning agent in an inconspicuous area if you are trying it out for the first time. That way you won’t end up with marks you can’t get rid of.

Basement Conversions and Creations - Good or Bad?

When space is at a premium, and you have exhausted all other avenues of expansion, a basement conversion could be the way forward. Certainly in overcrowded central London, expensive basement conversions have become the norm with super-rich Oligarchs and well-known celebrities vying on who can build the most ostentatious basement conversion. But is a basement conversion a good idea for the average person? Or would you be better renovating the attic or building a regular extension instead?

If you already have an existing basement, converting it into a habitable space won’t be too difficult. Your basement should already be waterproofed and ventilated, so aside from the addition of extra lighting and other mod cons, it will not cost you too much money to turn it into a spare bedroom, playroom, or whatever else you need.

Creating a whole basement from scratch is a different story and definitely not one for the faint hearted. Digging out a basement is a major project. It is not something a keen DIY enthusiast can do on their weekends as foundations need to be checked to ensure they can support the structural alterations. There is also water drainage to consider – imagine the carnage if you accidentally severed a water main. Lastly, there is a cost implication – digging out a whole new basement from scratch is not cheap, so be prepared to spend a lot of money to achieve your perfect underground living space. 

Is Planning Permission Needed?

You shouldn’t need planning permission if you are converting an existing basement. Your new basement living space can even be larger than the old basement as long as you don’t extend beyond the boundary of your property. However, in some cases, specific planning permission will be required. For example, if you live in a terrace house, you will need a Party Wall Agreement in place since you share a common wall with your neighbours. To avoid any problems, always check with the local planning office before you start excavating – or it could get a bit messy further down the line.

Important Considerations for Basement Development

  • Damp proofing – A damp basement might be ok for storing old tins of paint and a few bottles of wine, but it certainly won’t be very pleasant for guests, so an adequate damp proofing strategy is essential. There are different methods of keeping the water out; your building contractor will be able to advise you on the most appropriate one for your basement. A water membrane system can be used to seal the space and allow water to drain away. Alternatively a cement based system may be more suitable.
  • Heating - Basements are usually cool all year round which can be comfortable in summer but a bit chilly in winter months. Basements are often partially insulated by the ground around them, so your existing heating system should provide the reasonable amount of heat required for comfortable temperatures. You will however need to check with a heating engineer to see if your existing central heating system can handle a new designer vertical radiator. Alternatively, you can opt in for an electric designer heated towel rail independent from your central heating system.
  • Lighting – Natural light is key to a successful basement renovation. Often natural light is in short supply when you build down instead of up, but there are ways and means to introduce natural light into a basement, even if you don’t have any windows. Light tubes can be used to pipe light down into a basement. Alternatively, you may be able to fit a flat double glazed window at ground level, which will have the added benefit of giving you an extra source of ventilation.

Plan the Space Carefully

How you use the extra space will probably depend on how much light there is down below. If natural light is in short supply, consider turning your new basement into a games room or gym, but if you are able to introduce natural light, it could make a great guest bedroom or teenager’s bolt hole.

Choose an Experienced Contractor

Basement renovations can be challenging, so always choose a reputable contractor who has previous experience with basement conversions. It can be tempting to try and save money in the short term, but when things go wrong, it is usually extremely expensive to try and fix them.

Can the Green Deal Save You Cash?

An energy efficient home is far more than an eco-home with a compost toilet and a turf roof. By maximising your energy efficiency you can potentially save hundreds of pounds per year. You can also have a much nicer home; a home that is warm in the winter. So what is the Green Deal and how can it help to make your home more energy efficient?

The Green Deal is a scheme devised by the government to help households pay for home improvements that can reduce energy bills. The idea is that instead of taking out a loan to pay for big home improvements such as installing double-glazing or a new energy efficient boiler, you pay for the improvements via savings made on your electricity bill. And if this sounds way too good to be true don’t worry because it really is a very good scheme; or at least it is for most households.

Green Deal Stamp

A Green Deal for Everyone

Unlike some government sponsored schemes, the Green Deal is open to everyone. You don’t have to be on a low income to qualify for Green Deal grants. Anyone can apply for Green Deal money, although those on a low income will be eligible for extra assistance. The Green Deal is even available to tenants, the only caveat being that a tenant must get their landlord’s permission as the repayments are tied to the property rather than the tenant. You can also apply for Green Deal money if you have an electricity meter.

How the Green Deal Works

Borrowing money to pay for energy efficiency improvements via the Green Deal initiative is fairly straightforward. Unlike a regular loan, Green Deal repayments shouldn’t cost you any more per month than what you are currently paying out on bills. Because the Green Deal scheme is supposed to save you money on your energy bills, once the energy improvements have been made, your energy bills will be lower and therefore there will be no net increase in annual expenditure.

Repayments are the amount you are predicted to save on your bills, plus interest. The repayments are spread over a long period of time – between 10 and 25 years. The money is deducted directly from the electricity account, so if you move home, the debt stays with the property.

To apply for Greed Deal funding, you need to invite a Green Deal assessor to come and check out your home. This part of the process isn’t free, so make sure you shop around for one of the cheaper organisations. You should also check that whomever you invite is a member of the Greed Deal scheme. There may also be free assessment deals available in your area – so check before you pay for an assessment.

Eligible Home Improvements

There are lots of home improvements you can make with Green Deal funding:

  • Double-glazing
  • Loft insulation
  • Replacement boiler
  • Solar panels
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Solid wall insulation

One important thing to note is the some of the more expensive home improvements will require a portion of the payment upfront. The reason for this being that the energy savings you are predicted to make will not cover the cost of the installation entirely. So do make sure you can afford to inject some cash into the deal before you apply for funding.

Once you have had your energy assessment done, you can shop around for the cheapest quote for the work. You are not obliged to have the work carried out by the company that did the Green Deal assessment, even if they imply you are. So don’t be ripped off – get at least three quotes before you sign on the dotted line.

Here are some useful links for more information on Green Deal;

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