Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Create our own study or Home Office

With so many people working from home these days, a home office has become an essential space in many homes. The guest room may be replaced by a work-at-home spot, and it's important that all the elements contribute to a productive time.

Not everyone has a big budget for outfitting a home office and few people can pay to have a professional space planner come into their home to design an efficient home office space.

There are lots of ways to create a good space for working at home without spending a fortune. We'll give you some ideas, and you can go from there. You may end up feeling a great sense of accomplishment after turning some wasted space into an efficient stay-at-home office.

    * Define Your Space

      If you're lucky enough to have a separate room for your home office, the task won't be so hard. The key to a good home office is to make use of whatever space you have, whether it's a stair landing, a small closet, a spare room, or an unused corner of the living room. For greatest efficiency, find a space that can be dedicated to a home office area. You'll be able to work more professionally if you don't have to move papers off your desk to change diapers!

    * Create a Plan

      It might be tempting to just move the pieces around until the space works. But if you spend some time actually measuring your space, creating a floor plan (small as it might be), measuring your furniture, and thinking it through, the final result will be much more satisfactory. You might find it helpful to use a decorating worksheet such as this one from HGTV's program, Room by Room.

    * What Can You Do Yourself?

      Whatever work you can do yourself will save you money! Your home office space is probably not going to be too big, so consider painting the walls yourself. Adding a fresh, lively color or a sedate, calming color will set the tone for your work space. And if you're not a pro at painting, never fear. Most of the space will be covered up with furniture anyway. If you're feeling really creative, stencil a border around the desk. Or wallpaper one wall to define the space.

    * What Do You Already Have?

      Can you move furniture or accessories from one part of the house to your new home office? If you don't have to buy some pieces, you'll save a lot! Is there a comfortable chair in the guest room? Do you have some pictures tucked away in a closet that would be inspiring and decorative on the walls of your work space? Look around to see what you can use in your new home office.

    * Build a Desk

      Did I lose you here? My office is on a large landing between my first and second floors. I placed filing cabinets on each side of the space and put a board across them. VoilĂ ! Instant desk. Of course, I spent some time staining the board, put molding on the edge, and painted the file cabinets a color close to the stained board. But the space if filled and holds everything I need it to.

    * What Else Can You Make?

      Think of other ways you can use inexpensive materials to create shelves, filing systems, in-and-out boxes. Use a decorative flower pot to hold pencils and scissors. Buy several multi-level shoe shelves to put on top of the desk to hold a printer, some paper, or books.

As you plan you home office space, think of all the ways you can save money. There will be plenty of ways to spend it!

    * Shop Around for Bargains

      You'd be amazed what you can find at garage sales, flea markets, consignment shops, and thrift stores. It seems that people are always getting rid of book shelves and desks, and you might find just what you need. Clean off the pieces, sand them down, and paint all the items the same color. It will look as though you bought them to match. If you don't want any hand-me-downs, keep your eye open for furniture sales or check web sources.

    * Be Willing to Take Used Furniture

      Visit professional offices to see if they are renovating. Quality hotels redecorate guest rooms every 4 or 5 years. Maybe you could buy a used desk or chair there. Does your own company have any extra furniture that's not being used, since people are working at home? Ask neighbors to let you know if they're getting rid of things.

      Look for a used furniture store or a furniture rental store. They often have pieces they're willing to sell. Be ready to do some fixing when you take the pieces home. Check to see if your community has a store that sells used office furniture exclusively. When you go shopping for furniture, be sure to take your measurements with you. It would be a shame to get a great price on a great desk, only to find that it doesn't fit in your space.

    * Buy New at Bargain Prices

      Discount stores, home centers, furniture outlets, lighting showrooms, and home decorating centers offer an amazing assortment of items at deeply-discounted prices. You might be surprised to find a beautiful desk next to factory second towels. And everything is at prices you'll love!

    * Swap With Friends

      Consider trading pieces of furniture with a friend. If you have a dining table that doesn't fit in your home, how about trading it for a desk that you need? Or do you have children's furniture that a neighbor can use in exchange for book shelves? Consider swapping services for furniture, too. Offer your decorating skills in exchange for a chair. Or make some curtains for a neighbor who could build you a desk. Everyone has something of value that they can offer.

    * Get Ideas Online

      Find other ideas for do-it-yourself office makeovers, such as those offered on HGTV.com. See our sources for Home Office ideas or Office Furniture.

If you're working full-time at home, be sure to include adequate lighting, music, and comfortable seating. Bring in plants and inspiring artwork. After all, you might be spending a lot of time in this new home office. It should be a comfortable space that you enjoy spending time in.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

DIY - Is your home ready for the winter?

September is a good time to start preparing your home for the cold months ahead. Here is a list of projects you should consider in order to be ready for the winter...

  1. Draught proofing
  2. Door weather seals
  3. Draught excluder
  4. Loft foam insulation
  5. Powerflush central heating
  6. Central heating servicing
  7. Energy saving lightbulbs
  8. Fire door seal
  9. Rubber window seals
  10. Boiler repair service

You should arrange to have your chimney cleaned if you have one. This will make sure it's safe to use in the coming winter months, after all you don't want the house to be full of smoke the first time you light the fire.

Prepare for the worst. The country seems to get caught out each year but you don't need to. If there's snow or ice around you want to make sure you can at least get out of the house. Have you got salt and sand at the ready? What about a good shovel? Now's the time to find out.

Fill any holes around cables or pipes that come directly through the walls and into your home. It's not just draughts that you need to worry about, mice may be able to fit though those small openings too.

Check for bare patches of wood on your walls or anywhere where the paint has become damaged and peeled during the summer.

Check the outside of your house and see if there is anything that needs to be done. Look for any cracks or tiles that have come loose. If you have wooden window frames it's a good idea to take a look at them now in case the wood is bare or untreated.

If you have a garage then you should be cleaning it. It's easy to let a garage turn into a storage room if you park on the street most of the time. In order to protect your car from the frost, wind and rain it would be much better off under cover.

Is your home properly insulated? If not then you could well find yourself shivering through the cold months. In order to make your home snug there are certain rules you should follow:

* Fit a curtain across the front door. A heavy, well-fitted curtain will provide insulation and reduce draughts.
* Properly insulate your home and loft to reduce heat loss.
* Lag your hot water cylinder and pipes.
* Make your windows draught-proof by sealing the gaps around the window frame and between the frames.
* Fix draught-proofing around the sides of the doors and draught excluders to the bottoms of doors.
* Have heating systems serviced annually. Some gas or electricity suppliers offer free safety checks.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Avoid cowboy builders

Most people tend to expect others to be honest with them, they want to 'believe' what other person say. Unfortunately, there are some people who can lie very well and promise the earth without any intention or the ability to deliver.

These guidelines are aimed at making you think before you choose a builder so that you will minimise the risk of hiring a cowboy or someone without the required skills. Most of these guidelines can also be applied to other tradesman or organisation you are thinking of hiring for any work.

Trade cowboys
Most cowboys in any line of trade, present an image of confidence and friendliness, this can make it very hard to question their abilities and promises - but remember, it is your money that they intend to live on, so stand up for your rights - they are not doing you a personal favour if you are paying them to do the work.

Reputable tradesman 
Any reputable tradesman will recognise the relationship with the employer and be willing to provide evidence that they can do the work to the desired standard.

   1. Produce a 'works specification'. This need be no more than some notes you have written down just listing what you need to have done, if it is a big job you may already have the plans, so the 'work specification' will already be defined. Make sure you specify who is going to be responsible for removing any rubbish and 'making good' after the work.

   2. If you are using the services of an architect, the architect may be able to recommend a builder, but you do not need to use his recommendation. In fact it is sometimes better to arrange your own builder so that there is no possible conflict of interest between you, the architect and the builder.

      You may wish to leave the entire job in the hands of your architect; in which case, you can apply the following to your dealings with your architect.

   3. Ask people you trust (family, friends, neighbours etc.) if they can recommend a builder. If they have had work done by the builder, make sure it is of a similar type to what you need (someone who can lay a good garden path, may not be the right person to build a double storey extension). Do not stop with the first recommendation, try to get 2 or 3 names.

   4. Ask for a number of quotations (preferable 3 - most mortgage companies require 3 quotations if they are funding the work). Give each builder a copy of your 'works specification' and make sure that each one visits the site.

   5. Ask each builder for 2 or 3 recent references (i.e. similar types of work they have carried out). Follow up the references, try and visit the work without the builder and discuss how the work went with the owners - be careful when drawing your conclusions as it is not unknown for references to actually be friends or family of the builders !

      If a builder was recommended by a friend or family, ask them how they think the job went and how happy they were with the actual conduct of the builders and the finished product.

   6. Having met each builder and received the quotes, you may be able make a first assessment.

      You may feel uncomfortable with the manner of a builder - it does not mean that they are not good builders but will you be able to work with them? And just because another builder is friendly, does not mean they will do a good job. Try to keep personal feelings out of the decision.

   7. Make sure that all the quotes reflect the same work specification including site clearance, material supply etc. If one of the quotes is widely different (either higher or lower) from the other two, try to find out why. It may not reflect the standard of workmanship, a builder with little work may put in a low quote just to keep working while a busy builder who does not really need the work may put in a high quote.

   8. Ask for details of the required payments. For all but small jobs, the builder may ask for payments at specific stages of the work. The payments should reflect the amount of work already completed.

      If the builders require any money before they arrive on site, think very hard before handing it over - advance payments may be required where custom made materials need to be purchased.

   9. Some small reputable builders offer a 'labour only' service, this requires you to 'fund' the materials as the job progresses. The builders should be able to obtain trade prices for you and will be able to give you a separate quote for the materials so that you will be able to see the total cost at the outset.
      This method of trading can be legitimate in the UK as it enables the builders to keep their annual turnover below the VAT threshold so they do not need to register or charge for VAT.
      A potential drawback is that you have to fund the materials yourself as you go along (the builder normally arranges to buy them in your name); if there has been an underestimate in materials cost, you may find the cost escalating. On the other hand, you may save money if they find they have overestimated. You are unlikely to be left with any surplus material delivered.

  10. If the job is a big one, ask what guarantees are offered. If it is a new house, you will need NHBC (in UK) or similar warranty cover.
      Ask the builders about public liability insurance, they should have cover to protect you and the general public in the event of an accident.

  11. Do not be hurried into a decision, a reputable builder will always be willing to take time to discuss what you want.
      You may find yourself in a dilemma if a builder sets a deadline for an answer. Sometimes builders have a slack period between finishing one job and moving onto another in a couple of months time, they may legitimately offer to do yours now if you give the go ahead immediately. You may prefer to suggest moving your time-scales so that they can do their next job before coming back to you - but this may entail an increase to the quoted price because of expected inflation etc.

  12. So having met the builders, seen their work and received the quotes; how do you make the choice?

      The 3 main factors (probably in order of importance) are:

      a. Quality of workmanship.
      b. Cost and time-scales.
      c. The behaviour of the builders.

      You have to weigh each factor individually and relative to the other two. You may feel that a particular builder is automatically excluded because of your assessment of any factor. All other factors being equal, the final decision may be based on the cost or time-scale - remember that you do not always get a better job by paying more money.

      You may find that you are unhappy with all the builders you have asked to quote - remember that you do not need to use any of the builders you have asked to quote; you can start all over again by asking other builders for references and quotes.
  13. When you have decided on a builder, draw up a written agreement specifying:

      The work to be carried out.

          * When the work is to commence and be completed.
          * The cost of the work and when/how it is to be paid. If the job is being funded by a loan which will be released to you at fixed stages of the work, make sure that the builder understands this and the actual points at which funds will be released.
          * Try to include a 'retention'; part of the price which will be paid (say) 1 month after completion of the work subject to satisfaction. This will allow you to uncover small 'defects' in the work after the builders have left the site and gives the builder an incentive to fix them quickly.
          * Any 'local agreements' - such as use of washing/toilet facilities, disposal of waste etc.

  14. When the work has started, you will need to 'work' with the builder. Record the progress of the work, keep a note of all instructions you give the builder and payments you make. You should feel free to ask the builders what they are doing - any two people may interpret a work specification in different ways; so make sure that they are doing what you want.
  15. Any extension or other major job will cause tension and stress as it usually affects your home and it is unlikely to progress to plan.


    * Any building work around the house will cause a certain amount of inconvenience to the occupiers, you have to accept it.
    * Do not just ask the builders to do small addition items of work, you could find them on the final bill. If you need to change your work specification, make sure that it is agreed in writing along with any cost/time implication.
    * If you have a problem with a particular workman - his behaviour, workmanship or attitude - tread carefully! If you cannot suppress your feelings, try to have a quiet word with the site foreman or boss.
    * If you agreed stage payments, pay them on time (providing that the work has be done). If a dispute arises, talk to the builder and try to reach a compromise.
    * If you have problems with your loan provider, keep the builder informed.
    * Maintain an 'overall' view of the job, do not focus on one or two elements. If the builder is 'ahead' on parts of the job, this can compensate for an area which is running behind schedule.

* No matter how well planned a job may be, they can never take account of the unforeseen (illness, weather, uncovering a mine shaft etc.), so make allowances for any such factors which the builder encounters