Want the perfect bathroom? Don’t start planning your space until you’ve seen how the experts do it…

As a bathroom is one of the most difficult rooms to design, it’s important you take the time to really think about the space you have and how you want to use it. Start by writing a list detailing who uses your bathroom, at what time of the day and what for. This will give you an idea of the kind of bathroom arrangement(s) and fittings that might best suit you and your family.


Next, think about what sort of look or mood you’d like to create. Start a file for tear sheets from magazines, brochures, computer print-outs and samples so you can begin to get a clear style in your mind. Don’t forget to think about storage. It’s no good going for a sleek, minimalist suite if there’s nowhere to store your towels and toiletries.
Somewhere along the line, you’ll need to consult a specialist to decide on the best layout and fittings, but you can start by drawing up a basic floorplan yourself. Draw it to scale on squared paper at a suggested scale of 1:20. On a separate piece of paper, draw your new fittings to the same scale (get measurements from a brochure or the internet), cut them out and position them on your bathroom plan.

Your lifestyle

Before you make any decisions, think about who uses your bathroom, how you use it and whether your needs will change in the future. If you love showers and barely use a bath, and your bathroom is on the bijou side, perhaps it’s worth converting it to a wet room. If you have a family and your bathroom is tiny, how about relocating to a larger room? And if elderly relatives are regular visitors or you have small children, you’ll need to consider accessibility. And think about storage, too; a messy bathroom is not a relaxing haven.

Making your space work

Unless you’re in the privileged position of having designed your own home, you probably don’t have a bathroom that’s exactly the right size. If your bathroom isn’t big enough for your needs, it may be worth enlarging it by taking some space from an adjoining room. Designer Ross Lovegrove also recommends thinking about what shapes will best enhance the space you have. ‘Wall-hung or curved lines will help to add a feeling of volume to small bathrooms,’ he says. Corner basins, toilets and showers are now available and fl oormounted taps give greater flexibility. Changing the layout is expensive but the extra cost is worthwhile, especially if you end up with a more effective room. Think about how you move around the room, too.

Wet, wet, wet

Wet rooms (essentially a walk-in shower room) are popular alternatives to a traditional bathroom. But installing a wet room is a big job that requires a professional. The room has to be fully waterproofed and the floor needs a suitable slope to ensure adequate drainage. The waterproof membrane can be heavy, so check your floor can take the weight. Unless the room is at least 3x3m, you’ll find that water sprays around the room and it can be difficult to dry off. Use a non-slip surface for the floor and include storage to keep toiletries and towels dry. For many people, a semi-wet room is a better option. This involves installing a walk-in shower rather than waterproofing the entire room. The latest shower trays are very slim, which means if you lift the floorboards you can set the tray into the floor, giving a wet-room effect and contemporary aesthetic.

Let there be light

Lighting in bathrooms plays a dual role; at a practical level you need illumination for tasks such as putting on make-up or shaving, and on an emotional level it needs to relax, calm and stimulate. ‘We often begin and end our days in the bathroom, so the right light ensures a good start and close to the day,’ says Duravit designer Andreas Struppler. Also be aware of UK safety regulations. Lights must be operated by a pull-cord, or an outside switch, and light fittings within 600mm of a bath must have an Ingress Protection rating of 65.

Source: http://www.theselfbuilder.com/renovate/construction-systems-/164-construction-system

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10 steps to your dream home

Self building could open the door to your bespoke home. We reveal the key steps to a custom build.



  1. Find a building plot

Tracking down the right site for your project can seem like a headache, but don’t panic – over 13,000 people manage it every year! There are plenty of online resources to help, such as Plotsearch, but often word of mouth is the most powerful tool – so let local residents know that you’re looking to join their community.

  1. Arrange finance

One of the first things you need to have in place on a self build project is funding – and having the finance available right from the start could be crucial in sealing the deal on a plot.

Dedicated self build mortgage products are now widely available through brokers. These work on a stage payment basis, so funds are released at key points throughout your project – either in advance or in arrears, depending on the product you choose.

  1. Set a realistic budget

Despite what you might think from watching shows such as Grand Designs, most custom home projects don’t end up turning into money pits. That’s because the majority of self builders take a sensible approach to budgeting, setting a firm and realistic figure for the project before the design stages begin.

You should always include a contingency – at least 10% of your overall budget is prudent. This money should only be used for unexpected costs during the project, such as additional foundation requirements or unavoidable delays. If you still have the contingency at the end of the build, you can consider upgrading interior finishes or landscaping schemes.

  1. Find a designer

Whether you choose a package supplier (who will literally design and build your home for you), an architect or another house designer, be sure to choose someone who understands your requirements is able to produce thoughtful responses that fit with your budget.

5. Get in touch with the planners

Early contact with the planners is the best way to figure out whether your project is viable. Most local authority planning departments offer ‘pre-application advice’ (some will charge for this service).

This can help you get a strong idea of what your planning officer will and won’t accept in terms of general style, size and any materials stipulations. It’s a great way to make sure you stand the best chance of getting planning permission when you come to submit your application.

  1. Choose a building route

Many first-time self builders choose to use a package company to guide them through the design and build process. These companies usually offer customisable standard houses as well as a bespoke design option.

Other self builders prefer to use an architect and main contractor or professional project manager. Many like to project manage the build themselves, with a view to saving money by keeping a close eye on labour and materials.

Often, your architect or package supplier will favour a particular construction system, such as brick and block or timber frame. But don’t be afraid to take the lead if you have strong views on using a particular build method.

  1. Get the essentials sorted

Before you progress with a project, it’s crucial to make certain you have the appropriate consents to build, including planning permission, building control approval and any special permissions (such as conservation area consent).

You should also safeguard your investment by getting the right contracts, warranties and insurance in place. Even if your contractor(s) already hold insurance policies, you’ll still need to take out specialist self build insurance from providers such as Self-Build Zone or BuildStore.

  1. Prepare your plot

The first step in physically getting your project underway is to prepare the site for the building work. That means sorting the groundworks – from clearing vegetation to levelling the plot (if required) and accurately setting out the trenches. Your main contractor or a dedicated groundworking company can deal with this stage as well as drainage and the foundation pour.

  1. Get building

Starting work on the structural shell of your home is an exciting time. Most self builders choose between two construction methods for their project, both of which are pretty much on a par for cost-effectiveness. Brick and block is the traditional and familiar favourite, while timber frame is great for quick, predictable construction schedules. Many other systems are available, includingstructural insulated panels and insulating concrete formwork, and it’s worth researching whether these might better suit your project.

Loosely speaking, your home building project will fall into five stages: foundation work; getting the house wind and weather tight (roof on, windows and doors in); first fix (the initial services, structural carpentry and plastering work); second fix (work carried out after plastering); and the final decoration.

  1. Enjoy your new home!

With building work complete and the interiors finished, you’ll be ready (and probably raring) to move in to your dream home. There are a few practicalities to consider – such as obtaining the Completion certificate from building control, ensuring any small issues are dealt with as part of the ‘snagging’ process and making that all-important VAT reclaim. But now you’ve reached the end of your self-build journey, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labours.

Source: http://www.self-build.co.uk/10-steps-your-dream-home

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Handmade Bricks

Discover a cladding that offers a luxurious, individual finish for your project.



There’s something innately appealing about good old British brick. With its solidity, durability and familiarity – not to mention its startling regional colour variations – there’s plenty to attract self builders and renovators alike.

When it comes to cladding a heritage-style home – whether new build or conservation project – nothing beats handmade brick. It offers a depth of colour and texture that’s extremely difficult to replicate with modern manufacturing techniques.

Around 1.5 million of these beautiful masonry units are made each year. Many go straight to homeowners looking for that extra touch of authenticity for their project.

Hand crafting

A traditional handmade brick is made by ‘throwing’ refined clay into a sanded timber mould. It’s essential to use top clay (which, as its name suggests, is from nearer the surface of the quarry), as it’s much easier to shape than material from lower strata.

When used in its refined state, the clay will develop its natural colour when fired into a finished brick – which can be significantly different to the hue of the raw material. A range of alternative colours can be achieved by adding sand to the mix.
The resulting brick is entirely individual, showing subtle variations in texture and even shape. Combine these unique bricks with a well-selected blend and attractive laying pattern, and you’ll be well on the way to creating a characterful home – whether you’re self building, extending or renovating.

Mix & match

When it comes to projects involving historic homes, listed buildings or properties in conservation areas, handmade bricks are a fantastic choice.

They can be carefully crafted to match the colour and texture of the rest of your home’s facade – provided the company uses a suitable clay for your region (hence why it can be a good idea to use a local supplier). What’s more, most companies can work in both metric (common in the south of Britain) and imperial sizes (more prevalent in the north), so you can be sure of a perfect fit.

A matching service typically involves sending photos of your existing brickwork to the company. Sample panels will be produced and sent to you for comparison to the originals. In some cases, for example where complicated shapes or unusual colours and textures are required, a site visit might be arranged.

What will it cost?

Unsurprisingly, the amount of specialist labour involved in producing these distinctive bricks by hand will add a significant chunk to your costs. You can expect to pay between £600-£1,000 per 1,000 handmade bricks; as opposed to £250-£400 for machine-produced versions.

Of course, investing in a luxury finish is likely to add value to your completed, highly individual home. What’s more, sensitive use of genuine handmade products when renovating an historic building will protect its character and value. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case if you choose to rely on modern, mass-produced alternatives.

Source: http://www.self-build.co.uk/handmade-brick

Looking for a brick, look here: http://www.vitruvianbricks.co.uk

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Do it yourself: could self-build affordable housing solve the crisis?

Teignbridge council will help residents to build their own homes using a Land Society blueprint for a three-bedroom property.

Man laying wooden flooring


Do it all yourself? Teignbridge council is piloting a scheme to help its residents build their own homes. Photograph: MBI/Alamy

As a nation, we have shown innovation in the face of adversity in almost every aspect of life and it’s now time to do that with our homes.

“An Englishman’s home is his castle” is now an outdated misnomer. Large-scale house builders rule the development game. Who can blame them when they have exploited the rules to become kings while the little people remain pawns?

A survey of opinions revealed that there are 2 million families in the UK who would like to have a new custom built, or self-build, home during the coming year. The reality is that less than 15,000 will succeed. Why?

At present it is very difficult to get a stake in the game and in the current climate it can be a tough ask to attract funding for a self-build project. My council is looking to promote a real alternative.

The government is also trying to do something about this. For the first time ever, the National Planning Policy Framework now requires councils to measure the demand for self-build and then make provision for those people. We want to go further; in our local plan we are demanding that any major new housing developments include a proportion of the site for self-build homes. At present we recommend this percentage is 5%.

We are also working with the Land Society to provide a really clever low-cost eco-home that anyone can build. A number of parish councils in our area are keen to trial this, as it’s a perfect answer to the housing crisis for people on low incomes but who live in popular, expensive rural villages. The home uses natural materials and is easy to construct. Better than that, the Land Society teach you how.

This initiative delivers a three bedroom home for around £100,000 including the cost of land – a fraction of what it would cost any other way. The first pilot house will be built shortly, and we expect to have about four or five developments underway in 2013, collectively delivering up to 30 new homes.

We believe this self-build model has huge potential to be rolled out nationwide, especially in rural areas which is a stronghold for our army of big developers.

There are many other ways councils can get involved in helping to make it easier for people to build their own homes. Housing departments and housing associations could also be proactive, bringing a group of would be self-builders together to construct a terrace of homes or a modest block of flats.

We have changed the rules of the game, and in our game pawns can become kings – king of their own castle.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/housing-network/2012/oct/10/self-build-housing-teignbridge-council?intcmp=239

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Building your own home is a tax effective way of making and saving money



In the UK new house construction and conversion costs are exempt from VAT, so keep a full set of records during the build in order to make a claim on completion.

If you are using VAT – registered subcontractors, labour-only subcontractors and builders don’t have to add VAT to their bills. Architects, planning advisors and other professional services aren’t exempt and you will have to pay VAT on hired tools, scaffolding and plant.

If you are purchasing materials you will be liable to pay VAT, which you can claim back using your receipts at the end of the project. Only one claim is allowed, so make sure you have all the paperwork you need before you send it off.

Items like carpets, white goods, gates, satellite dishes, doorbells and detached outbuildings are charged at the full rate of VAT at 20 per cent.

Capital Gains Tax

As long as you don’t use your Principle Private Residence for business purposes (except working from home) you are exempt from CGT. However, if you have a workshop or office in any part of your property that will be taxed. Additionally, any profit made on principle and private residence is free from Capital Gains Tax.

Council Tax

The rate of council tax you will have to pay relates to the value of the property as assessed by the council’s surveyor.

Source: http://www.theselfbuilder.com/self-build/finance/tax

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A very quick guide to SAP Calculations

What is SAP?
SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) is a government defined process which involves calculating a rating for the energy cost of the built structure of a home, its heating system, internal lighting and if applicable any renewable energy technologies.

Part L1A of the Building Regulations requires that new dwellings must demonstrate that their environmental impact or Buildings CO2 Emissions Rate (BER) is less than the Target Emissions Rate (TER).

Do I need one?
All domestic new build’s after April 2006 require a SAP calculation.

What is the process?

  • Stage 1 – Design Stage – Building Control will require a SAP rating before the project commences.
  • Stage 2 – As Built Stage – Once the project has been completed a final assessment is required to confirm compliance with Part L.
  • Stage 3 – Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – This certificate demonstrates the energy performance of the building.

Taken from: http://www.oakworthhomes.co.uk/sap_calculations.htm

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Removing Japanese Knotweed



What Is Japanese Knotweed?

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a strong, clump-forming perennial with bamboo-like stems of over 2m which regrow each year. It produces leaves of up to 14cm in length and 15cm-tassels of flowers in late summer and early autumn.

The plant was brought here from Japan for its ornamental qualities. ‘Since it was introduced into the UK in the mid-nineteenth century Japanese knotweed has spread across the UK, particularly along watercourses and transport routes such as railway lines,’ says Leigh Hunt, Principal Horticultural Advisor, RHS.

See a scary map of its progress on the CABI website(opens in a new window).

Why Is It A Problem?

Japanese knotweed is a nasty piece of work, and it’s not going away. Though it can be treated, the invasive plant is unlikely to disappear entirely from our shores. ‘We can’t get rid of it, we have to learn to live with it and control it,’ says Maxime Jay, MD of specialist knotweed consultancy and remediation companyMusketeers Group.

Spare a thought for the Olympic site in East London, where theRHS reports the cost of removing and disposing of Japanese knotweed to be estimated at £70 million.

Where Does It Appear?

  • Japanese knotweed reproduces from its rhizomes (creeping underground stems). Even the tiniest sliver can reproduce, and it grows and spreads fast, despite not forming seeds. In Japan it has natural enemies which help to keep it down but here there are none.
  • ‘It’s a myth that Japanese knotweed can grow through concrete, but it can flex its muscles, growing through weak points such as joints between concrete slabs,’ says Maxime Jay. ‘Knotweed can grow through tarmac, but so does grass and buddleia, though Japanese knotweed grows at a faster pace.’
  • The plant invades natural habitats and out-competes native plants that normally live there. ‘Rivers, hedges, roadsides and railways form important corridors for native plants and animals to migrate, and large infestations of non-native weeds can block these routes for wildlife,’ says Leigh Hunt.
  • It’s also a headache for developers, landowners and homeowners. DEFRA estimated the cost of a national eradication programme to be in the region of £1.56 billion, and has contributed funding to scientific research into its natural control. ‘That is not a one-off treatment but would have to be repeated for four to five years,’ says Maxime Jay.

How Can I Tackle It?

‘Japanese knotweed is known to be a very invasive and difficult-to-kill weed,’ says Leigh Hunt. ‘If you do see it in your garden, it is best to try to eradicate it before it begins to colonise the whole plot. Digging out can be tried, but is rarely successful and the remnants should be burnt on site. The most practical solution is to use a strong glyphosate-based weedkiller but, even with this, several treatments are usually necessary.’

Chemical Means

  • Spray with glyphosate weedkiller in May, when the plant is around 90cm high, then apply again in mid-summer and once again in September before it begins to die down in autumn. Keep the spray away from garden plants.
  • Any bushy regrowth needs to be re-treated.
  • You’ll need to work at this for several seasons to get results, though professional companies, using powerful weedkillers, can cut the time.

Dig It Out

  • Although taking a spade to knotweed is effective (removing as much of the root as possible), the results won’t last long as it usually regrows.
  • Repeated attempts will be needed for seasons to come.


  • Burn on site. If you choose to remove it, the plant is classed as ‘controlled waste’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and should be disposed of at a licenced landfill site. Never include it with normal household waste.

Any Chance Of A Better Solution?

Biological control could be our new weapon in the war against knotweed. In March 2010 a trial by the not-for-profit science organisation CABI (Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International) began at two control sites in England, releasing an insect from Japan that feeds on Japanese knotweed but is not harmful to our native plants or wildlife.

The tiny 2mm long, jumping bug, a psyllid called Aphalara itadori, feeds on the sap of knotweed reducing the plant’s ability to grow and spread. ‘Further releases of the psyllid have just been completed,’ says Dr Richard Shaw of CABI. ‘The sites will be closely monitored for five years. The interesting bit will come when we start to see the damage inflicted and learn whether this could be widely introduced as an effective control.’

Taken from: http://www.channel4.com/4homes/build-renovate/structural-problems/japanese-knotweed-identifying-and-removing

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