Tag: central heating

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Knocking down walls, digging up driveways, ripping out carpets – they’re all effective ways of starting home improvements, but none of them feel particularly high-tech. However, not all projects are about simple bricks and mortar. Hiring a tradesman for the right job can help add some serious technology to upgrade your home, and future-proof your property for years to come. Here are some of the top home improvements to reboot your home.

 

Hack your Heating

 

2016 saw a lot of people talking about “The Internet of Things” and the idea of smart homes – where appliances in the house are online and always connected, allowing you to control everything with the press of a button from your phone or tablet. 2017 will be no different, as the technology becomes more affordable and more commonplace. One of the first steps you can take is to install a thermostat that you can control remotely, allowing you to change your heating, and the time it’s on, from anywhere. Paul Caton of Paul Caton Gas Services in Chesterfield, a gas engineer with more than 360 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, says: “I always recommend modern thermostats that connect to wi-fi nowadays. They may still cost a bit more, but they come with a good guarantee, and they’re so useful to have.”

 

The Power of Solar

 

If one of your aims for 2017 is to reduce your carbon footprint, installing photovoltaic (PV) solar panels is a great way to go about it. As well as working to generate your own electricity, thus lowering your energy bills, the government also pays a feed-in tariff to homes producing electricity, while there is an export tariff for energy you send to the National Grid. Installing solar panels generally doesn’t require planning permission unless your home is listed or in a conservation area – but you will need a south-facing roof, free from shade, and it helps if your home has a Grade D or above Energy Performance Certificate. It can take some time to recoup initial costs, but speak to an installer to see how it could work for you.

 

Secure your Space

 

Good locks are vital to keeping your home protected, but there are a number of more high-tech ways to go about looking after your property. From alarm systems that automatically notify a response team or the police, to cameras you can monitor on your phone, the technology is more accessible than ever. Stephen Mackinlay of DRAM Security, which has 100% positive feedback on MyBuilder, said: “My first recommendation is always motion detector lights – you don’t want dark areas around your home, especially windows and doors, and they are very cost effective. Then I’d suggest a good intruder alarm, and then CCTV. We only supply HD systems – the whole point is to see people.” A dedicated security installer can talk you through the options available.

 

Entertainment Everywhere

 

In this day and age, just having a TV and stereo doesn’t quite cut it. With all the options available with smart TVs, projectors, and wired and wireless speakers, your home can boast cinema-like quality, without the sticky floors and smell of popcorn. Music fans can also create multi-room sound systems, even using tablet docks to control them, along with other smart home features. For the best way to present and store your set-up, a carpenter is a good place to start. They’re used to building bespoke shelving and cabinets, and can design the perfect home for your high-end rig.

 

Plugging Away

 

Not all high-tech updates to your home have to be flashy – some are just really useful. For example, even the lowly plug socket can be upgraded to make it ready for 21st century living. If you’re renovating the electrics in your home, consider installing plugs that also incorporate USB sockets, allowing you to charge devices without the needs for a mains adapter. Jason Briscoe of Electrical Safety Services, an electrician with more than 500 positive pieces of feedback on MyBuilder, said: “They’re the latest thing and more people are asking for them. They’re more expensive than the old-fashioned sockets, but you do get what you pay for.”

 

 

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When we meet Colin Clark in his home just outside Leeds, he’s fitting out his pristine new van ready for action. The sign writing hasn’t been done yet, but when it is, there are lots of things he can proudly display on its side.

 

The Power of Feedback

With more than 200 pieces of positive feedback on MyBuilder, Colin is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking out his best recommendations. “Carlsberg don’t do gasfitting,” says one review, “but if they did, they wouldn’t be as good as Skeltonwood Gas”. Other reviews praise his time-keeping, his tidiness, his politeness and his pricing – as one says, “I’ve recommended him to my grandma too, that says it all!”

“It’s always nice to hear reviews like that,” says Colin, “I work hard to make sure people are happy with their jobs, so knowing that people are leaving you good feedback is a real boost.” Making sure the reviews come in is a vital part of his admin, politely asking for feedback from his happy clients. “People are usually very happy to give feedback if the job’s done well. Little things, like clearing up at the end of every day, go a long way to making people happy. I always ask if they’d leave a comment, and they nearly always do.” The more feedback he gets, the stronger his profile looks, and the more work comes his way. “I’ve been on MyBuilder for a long time now, and it’s a great way to get regular work. Then for every person you meet through it, they can recommend you to other people, and it keeps going.”

Family Business

Colin has built up his reputation thanks to years of experience in the trade, starting out at the Gas Board (later British Gas) in his native Yorkshire, before setting up Skeltonwood Gas alongside his brother, Chris. Nowadays, Chris’ son Nick is also getting involved, building up his own experience by working alongside his uncle with thoughts of expanding the business. “It’s nice to work alongside family,” Colin explained, “especially bringing another generation into it. I have years of experience I can pass on, because I’ve seen everything before, I’ve had to deal with every problem going. That doesn’t mean he always wants to listen to me, but it’s working out so far,” he says with a laugh.

When it comes to the business, it’s the more the merrier as far as Colin is concerned, as there’s plenty of work to be done. Colin told us: “It can be a busy trade, working with gas and boilers. There’s always work to be done, as every boiler and central heating system needs regular checking and servicing to make sure they’re in good nick. I keep a diary so I know when I’ve installed every boiler, and can make a note to give them a call and come and check on it in a year’s time. There’s lots to do.”

Tried and Tested

With a list of qualifications as long as his experience, including being a gold star accredited Worcester Bosch installer, Colin thinks he’s seen it all in his time in the business. “I’ve seen some death traps in my time for sure,” he said. “A lot of the time, people want the simplest solution – just a quick check. If they’re thinking of moving out soon, they might want to leave any bigger issues for the next person to deal with. A full service, changing the filters and everything, is better than a basic check up, and it’s worth doing. You find sometimes that some landlords don’t want to pay for the full service, but I’d always recommend it. It’s the same when it comes to buying new boilers – some are cheap in the grand scheme of things, only about £400, but the chances are they’ll only last you a few years at best. A good boiler might cost a little bit more up front, but it can last you for 20 years, so it makes good sense to buy the best you can afford. The only thing a cheap boiler is good for is someone looking to move house in the near future, and they know the problem will be dealt with by the next owner somewhere down the line.”

As with many tradesmen – and doctors – he also advocates for prevention rather than cure. “I always advice people to have their boilers looked at in the summer, when you can maybe afford to be without it, rather than in the winter when you’ll be relying on it.”

Advice for tradesmen

  • Plan your diary: While admin and paperwork is often the aspect of work that many tradesman would rather ignore, the value it can have on your business is crucial. Colin said: “I always make sure I follow up with all my customers to get services booked in down the line. It’s a bit of extra work and preparation to get it all down and be organised, but it pays off for you.”
  • Cultivate your feedback: As with other admin, chasing feedback can feel like a chore, but one good piece can really stick with you and boost your profile. “It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort,” Colin said, “you just have to think to do it. When you’re finishing the job, just remember to ask them to leave some feedback, and get into the habit of doing it.”
  • Go above and beyond: Colin is proud of the qualifications he has acquired over the years, and of course cannot work on domestic gas without his registration with Gas Safe. But on top of the qualifications, he is always keen to keep learning and adding to his knowledge: “There’s no substitute for real experience,” said. “Getting your Gas Safe and other qualifications is essential, but it’s just a starting point.”

With the long-range weather forecast predicting a cold November and possible snow, we’ve come up with a checklist of DOs and DON’Ts in preparation for the winter weather, including tips from some of our expert tradesmen.

GAS

DO review your fuel options

MyBuilder tradesman Tom Paterson, of Paterson Heating and Plumbing Services in the West Midlands, has started to heat his house with solid fuel (wood) due to the escalating cost of natural gas, although he still uses gas for cooking and hot water. He’s not the only one switching over from gas either, with many of his customers turning to solid fuel to keep their homes warm and costs down. We’d be interested to hear from other people who have done the same.

DON’T keep turning on the heating

Turning off the heating during the day is a commonly used tactic to save on the gas bill. The suprising bit is that it doesn’t always work. When you let your home get cold during the day, your boiler has to work extremely hard to get it back up to a comfortable temperature, and may end up over compensating and using up the same amount of energy that you saved during the day. And don’t underestimate the tendency of family members to get frustrated with the cold house and crank up the heating when it suits them. You might be better off keeping the thermostat at 17-19 degrees and maintaining a warm house throughout the whole day. To find out whether this works best for your home, it’s easy to run a test and measure usage.


ROOFING

DO get your roof checked

To avoid winter leaks, get an expert to check for broken, missing or slipped tiles. According to Garry Connor, an experienced roofer based in Cheshire, one of the most common sources of winter leaks are ridge tiles that have come apart, allowing water to seep into the roof line. Another key place a specialist will look at is the flashing round the chimney stack, as it can lift up or tear and expose the joint to the elements.

DON’T go clambering on your roof

Roofers use specialist equipment including purpose-built ladders, scaffolding and cherry pickers. Given that you can’t do a proper roof inspection from the ground, it is more sensible and safer to let the experts (who are insured and trained) get up there and give you their informed opinion.

winterdosanddonts

CHIMNEYS AND FIREPLACES

DO buy wood from a reputable seller

With gas prices on the rise and woodburners making a big comeback, there’s plenty of opportunity for unscrupulous log sellers to try and offload poor quality fuel. Get a moisture meter (you should be able to pick one up for less than £20) and check the moisture content in your logs before you use them – if it’s over 20% you need to leave them to dry out. A bona fide log supplier will only sell properly seasoned wood.

DON’T burn unseasoned or damp wood

Chimney and fireplace specialist Courtney Gibbs warns that burning damp wood can create a tar that sticks to the flue, potentially causing a blockage and putting you at risk of a chimney fire. If the window on your wood burner turns black, the chances are that your wood is too wet or you have a problem with your flue.


DAMP PROOFING

DO clear your drains

Make sure there are no leaves or debris clogging up your drains, guttering and down-pipes advises Dean Webster of South East Timber and Damp. It’s important to get water away from your property because if it hangs around, you risk developing a problem with damp.

DON’T overlook your brickwork

Pointing should be checked for cracks where water could seep in. Keep an eye out for signs of spalling on your brickwork. Spalling occurs when moisture has got into the brick and the freezing and thawing process causes it to flake.


PLUMBING

DO insulate exposed pipework and tanks in lofts

Berkshire-based plumber Kevin Parsons was brought up in Edmonton, Canada where temperatures can fall as low as minus 25 degrees. He knows the importance of insulating all pipework; back home in Canada electrically charged lagging is used to counteract freezing temperatures. It is now available in the UK but foam insulation lagging wrap is more generally used, and is highly effective as long as joints and corners are well covered.

DON’T ignore that dripping tap

Changes in temperature cause pipes to expand and contract, and joints can become loose. However, leaky pipes may not be immediately visible or accessible so keep an eye out for evidence of watermarks on walls and ceilings and act quickly if you spot anything. Something as simple as a dripping tap could be the sign of something more severe!


At MyBuilder, we see jobs posted from massive home renovation projects to small odd jobs around the house. A few decades ago, some of these smaller jobs were done by members of the household, and much like hemming a pair of trousers or sewing up a loose button, it wouldn’t have even been considered to hire someone else to do these jobs. Below we review some of the household tricks your parents should have taught you…

Fix a leaky tap

Mending a dripping tap is something that can take less than five minutes if you have the right tools and some replacement valves or washers. It’s not that hard at all – just remember to cut off the water supply before beginning. One of the hesitancies in tackling taps is the fear of not having running water at all or creating a flood, but the only thing to fear is fear itself. The ‘how to’ can depend on the type of tap, but in general should not be a serious job.

Bleed a radiator

If the heat is not the same at the top and the bottom of your radiator(s), then you probably have air collecting at the top and they need bleeding. It’s a routine and minor maintenance issue that every man, woman and pet should know how to do. All you need is the radiator key and a cloth to catch any drips. Why call in a specialist to do the plumbing equivalent of tying your shoes? Loosen the screw until water comes out, then tighten. Just be careful not to burn yourself!

Change a plug

“Red is hot, blue is not, green and yellow earth the lot.” In the good old days, you had to know which were the earth, live and neutral wires in a plug, and there were lots of different ways to remember which was which.

No one wants to advocate playing around with electrics these days. While sensible from a safety point of view, the great British tinkering culture has taken a real knock. We’re all worse off for it, too!

Put up a bookshelf

Have you ever screwed something into the wall, only to have it slowly and annoyingly sag and then eventually fall right off the wall? Bookshelves are the typical example of this, partly because they end up carrying so much weight. It’s easy enough to place your bookshelf on the wall, get it level and draw circles where the screws go.

The real trick is getting the fixings right, based on the type of wall you have. With a brick wall, you need wall plugs – and good ones. You need to drill deep with a hammer drill and make sure the hole is the right size. Tape an envelope to the wall just underneath the hole to catch all the dust. If you’ve hit loose mortar or plaster, fill the hole and move the shelf somewhere else; if the wall isn’t solid, the bookshelf won’t be either. The plug should be snug and tapped in lightly with a hammer, and make sure the screws are long enough to go all the way into the plugs. There are a few steps so plan on taking up to 30 minutes to do the job, but overall, putting up a bookshelf is a straightforward DIY job that you can teach to your children.

Change fuse in a fusebox

Another activity that’s changed over time is replacing fuse wires in the fuse box of a property. This could be a tricky process that involved inserting fuse wire through a small cylinder, and tying up the ends around tiny screws. Nowadays, modern consumer units remove the need for this, and if simply tripped means the homeowner can turn the relevant switch from off to on. It’s another item in the house that is neatly boxed up and is not exposed (not literally) to the homeowner, meaning less is understood about the process.

Drive a screw

Using electric drills as a screwdriver mostly just ends up stripping the head and making it impossible to remove. You’re really in for it if you ever have to take it out again. What happened to the good old fashioned screw driver and a bit of elbow grease? Much less painful in the long run!

Locate stopcock

It’s one of those situations where you might not need to know this until it becomes a problem, but knowing this beforehand can make things so much easier in an emergency. Stopping the water coming into a property shouldn’t be a common occurrence, but if you needed to immediately stop the water flow (let’s say in a flat where could cause flooding to the flat below), would you know what to do?

We haven’t convinced you to brush up on your DIY? Post your job and our tradesmen will still be happy to help!

It may well have been coats and jumpers weather recently, but the summer is generally the best time to test your central heating system and make sure it is in tip-top shape for when you need it. To this end we have a second video from James of James Gas Services for you. Here James shows how to make sure that your radiators heat all the way to the top, thus saving money on your heating bills, keeping you warm and saving you calling out a tradesman into the bargain.

Our Ask a Tradesman section on the MyBuilder website is a great forum for those who need to hire a builder as well as DIY enthusiasts to interact with our expert tradesmen. Our tradesmen are generous with their time and their expertise, but they are not afraid to tell you when you need to get a professional on the job. Their advice on safety could even save your life in some cases.

Some things that seem simple to the experts are a puzzle for amateurs, so we will be adding some more instructional videos to the blog. In this one James from James Gas Services shows how to make sure your radiators are working efficiently and how tradesmen should be setting your radiators up correctly.


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