Cutting Decking To Size

We set out to talk about home wiring and other domestic electrical work when we created this website. However, most of our updates have focused on the exterior of the home. Notable examples include the garden, particularly featuring garden lighting and security/CCTV systems.

Today, we’re going to continue in that theme. The summer months are coming fast, and the ever popular decking projects start to come to mind. More people than ever before are turning to self installs, as it’s a relatively easy project for a beginner to complete. It can be quite time consuming, but you can see the deck coming together quite quickly, which is good for staying motivated. With other projects requiring mitre saws, getting angles spot on is critical. With decking you have more margin for error, as it’s relatively easy to correct or mask mistakes.

Anything involving chopping up wood is the kind of task that men are particularly drawn too, but more often than not, they’re likely to rush into starting without really thinking the project through.

That’s not an attempt to spark a battle of the sexes, just a thinly veiled reminder about the importance of proper planning, at the very least some calculated estimates of the amount of timber you’ll be needing!

Choosing the right mitre saw is key. Do your research well and the time will be more than paid back once you get cutting. Choosing well from the sliding compound chop saws will make things very straightforward, but you’ll need to make sure that the machine can handle the depth of the wood you’re looking to cut. Read a Lumberjack mitre saw review for a great example of an affordable chop saw.

One you get the tools home, take safety seriously, as you’ll be way behind schedule (and probably not be ready for summer!) if you have to factor an unexpected trip to A&E into your project plan. You’ll also feel a touch foolish going to work with a bandaged finger, or worse still a missing thumb! Yes, if a mitre saw can chop a piece of wood, it can certainly managed a DIY amputation too if you’re not using the power tool safely.

It’s not just the tools you should research ahead of time, either, it’s also the way to fit together your wood. Most people build deck in sections, but there are different approaches, and you really do need to decide on your approach before you pick up the first piece of wood. Here’s a great guide from Wickes:

Once you’ve planned and built your decking, why not go back to our garden lighting ideas we referred to earlier? You can take the effect a lot further, and decking is great for hiding cables under, so you don’t need to dig them into the ground or chisel out wall channels!

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Hiring A Good Electrician For Your Home Improvements

There are certain jobs that need a professional, and that includes many of the electrical ones in the home. Plenty of people can connect up a plug, but for bigger jobs, like a new consumer unit or perhaps a complete rewire, getting in a professional is often a better, not to mention safer option.

It’s easy to just say get an electrician in, but how exactly do you know who to hire? There’s a couple of common challenges people face in choosing a sparky, which are how to know who is reputable and competent, and also how to explain the required work clearly, as few of us have much more than a simple understanding of what needs to be done.

Let’s use a couple of recent examples to illustrate the point – garden lighting options are incredibly popular and actually quite functional solutions to enjoying time in the garden after dark, but how exactly to you get the power to the light fittings? You might actually be relieved to know that even as an experienced and qualified electrician, I can’t give you the answer without coming to take a look. Some wiring can be concealed inside walls, whereas others will need to be run along the walls, enclosed in plastic channels or use some other route. The same goes with other wiring jobs like connecting up the cameras for home security systems, we can give you advice on the technology itself over the phone, but the implementation in or around your home will take a visit at the very least.

So, that addresses the second point, but what about the first? How exactly do you know who to put your trust in? A good place to start is always with personal recommendation. Find out if local friends or family have had a good experience with an electrician, as that will give you somewhere to start. Different tradesmen have different specialities, so if a recommendation doesn’t do the kind of work that you need, see if they can pass you on to someone else. Generally speaking, a good electrician will work with other good companies, so it might be that you can find someone worth working with by association.

If you’re not on track with a personal recommendation, you can try turning to sites like Rated People, who are the ones that advertise on TV with Phil Spencer from Location Location Location. They will allow you to either get a quote from a vetted network of electricians, or just view comments about their previous work on their website, collated by Rated People themselves away from the influence of the tradesmen themselves.

Once you’ve extinguished these routes, you’re left with the traditional routes like the Yellow Pages, who list anyone and everyone that takes out an ad. There’s no real way to tell who’s genuine and who’s out to take you for a ride, other than the fact that they might have shelled out for an ad, so that’s probably slightly more reliable than just picking up a flyer that someone’s printed at home and shoved through your letter box.

All in all, there’s no single way to guarantee a tradesmen is reputable unless they have a long and strong track record, which is why we always recommend a personal endorsement in the first instance.

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CCTV Installations: Protecting Your Property

Last time, we touched on security lighting, so with this update we’re going to talk a little more about protecting your home, but this time on a slightly different topic – CCTV.

More and more of us are realising that there are affordable options to keep our belongings safe when we’re away from home, and security systems can help us sleep more comfortably when we are around. The internet has made this even more convenient, with home surveillance systems now widely available that can stay connected to the internet permanently, so we can even check on things while we’re on holiday abroad.

Perhaps this technology is a little over the top, as we probably shouldn’t be spending time on our precious weeks off checking up on the living room, but if it solves a little anxiety, why not? I’ve spent many hours wiring in so called wireless CCTV systems, as people buy them thinking they literally need no wires at all. While some are battery powered or charge up with solar panels, some need to be connected to the mains even though they’re described as wireless. The wireless part actually means they’re connected to the hardware that stores the videos and images over the air, much like your ipad or kindle connects wirelessly to the internet but still at least needs to be recharged via a power cable from time to time.

Quite rightly, some people feel this is badly described, but I think most now accept wireless to be a term associates with getting online, and not necessarily relating to power. So that does get me a lot of business, finding a way to get power to an external CCTV installation can be a challenge, especially it they’re not attached to the home.

Of course, that bargain £30 set from the local hardware store suddenly turns out to be less bargain like once my fee for wiring it all in is added on, so I’d highly advise people to take a look at some of their local installation companies. For example, near me in the West Midlands, there are plenty of companies that can supply and install CCTV systems with minimum cost and inconvenience.

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Garden Lighting Ideas

As we head into the summer of 2015, more and more of us will make the most of the outdoors, and begin to eat and relax out in the garden. Now that luxuries like gas-powered patio heaters are quite common, the British weather is less of a problem in stopping us getting out in the fresh air.

patio lightingOutdoor Lighting Idea 1 – Patios

British culture is now embracing the formerly continental tradition of spending long evenings out on the patio in the fading light, perhaps even with a glass of wine or two. It’s even become the unlikely venue for a social gathering, perhaps with neighbours, family or friends to enjoy.

Electricians are benefiting greatly from this change in trends, with outdoor lighting installations becoming more popular, especially the subtle variety which provides a delicate glow after dark. It’s cheaper to install than many people think too, as it’s far easier to dig a shallow trench along the edge of a lawn, or embed lighting into a wall, than it is to channel out a wall inside the home.

gardening lightingOutdoor Lighting Idea 2 – Gardening

It’s not just the social animals that are getting in on the act either, the green fingered among us are seeing the advantages too. Whereas in the past many of us were limited to gardening in the light summer evenings or at weekends, we can now use garden lighting to extend our available hours into the evening all year around, although the cold winter evenings may not be too welcoming. So, if you’re a keen plant grower, you might be able to try out new ideas all year around rather than just in the summer months.

security lighting

Outdoor Lighting Idea 3 – Security

The third type of garden lighting that your local electrician will be able to help with is security lighting. There’s a huge range of affordable solutions to make your home less attractive to thieves, and the most popular variety are the floodlight type fittings which light up huge areas when a built in sensor detects movement. As with most security enhancements, it’s about sending the criminals somewhere else, so a small investment in getting security lights installed can make a huge difference.

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Getting The Job Done With Re-wiring

Just after the turn of the century, the property world went crazy. We all know the story of the boom and bust, culminating in the collapse of the housing market across the UK in late 2007, and propagating through the subsequent years. Even now, seven years later, we’re only just seeing the murmurs of interest rates starting to move into a direction vaguely towards their historical norms, and the top dogs are predicting that the full journey to (if there’s such thing) normality will take another decade. That means that we’re not even half way through the story yet.

The good news is that the property market has staggered its way back to the value of its previous peak, at least that’s good news if you were a home owner and didn’t lose it along the way. If you were really unlucky and bought around 2006 or the first half of 2007, you’ve no doubt had a more difficult that expected few years. Finally though, you should be back in positive equity, or very close to it. There’s still plenty of people out there who got caught up in the Northern Rock 125% mortgages though, and they’re probably still a year or two from safety, as their mortgages slowly get paid down. Having said that, it’s probably the rising house prices that will be their saviour too, as they’ll miraculously massage the magic loan to value ratio when they re-mortgage just in time to miss the monthly fee hikes that are coming soon.

That’s not what this piece is about, though, as we’re here to focus on home improvement, and more specifically (in most cases) electrical work. That was one of the more hidden effects of the crash. Normally, in the sense of the norm for the pre-collapse years, finding property in the price range that was common around 2008 and 2009 would have been snapped up fast by investors, but a strange thing happened. Many had got greedy in the preceding years and had bought up what they could, when they could. This was because the double digit growth had become the norm, so missing a property could mean an extra £10,000 or more six months later when they moved onto the next project. No-one in those circles had the faintest idea of how abruptly the market would shut up shop though. Investors suddenly found themselves sitting on property that was becoming less valuable every day, needed work doing before being resold and having banks suddenly unwilling to provide the crucial cash-flow for the jobs. Ouch!

That had a knock on effect to tradesmen, as the market was flooded with people but a lack of work – there was little in the way of new home-building happening, so there was a perfect storm brewing, which had no visible fast fix.

So, electricians like us were in a race to the bottom in providing the cheapest quotes to try and get enough work to weather the storm – to put it bluntly, see who could last longest to go under, and hope that was long enough for things to improve. And improve they did, which then caused an under supply of companies to take on work. The workmen were out there, but unemployed, and companies were very cautious about taking too many people on in case double dips turned to triple dips and beyond.

So, from the old investment property stock (from 2007ish), we’re only now seeing the work start. As you might imagine, the easy jobs were done fast, and any possible profit job salvaged. What’s left is the more complicated and sometimes dangerous jobs, involving properties that needed work over half a decade ago and having become more run down since.

For example, there’s been slow progress on removing existing threats from asbestos in the inner city buildings of the UK, as they were construction hotspots during the 70s and early 80s when asbestos use was commonplace, and then very attractive to investors in the boom years. All too often jobs are getting held up for these reasons, as no-one’s going to want to risk channelling out an artex wall as part of a re-wire if it might contain asbestos.

So there’s the story behind the story. While the news channels talked of bankrupt Britain, corrupt bankers and any other sensationalist headlines they could think of, there was a much deeper mess hiding beneath the surface, and we’ve only talked about one small part of that spaghetti like tangle here.

There is one huge positive to come out of all this though, and that’s that we’re bouncing back – it’s just going to take longer than anyone ever imagined back in 2007.

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