Saturday 8 April 2023

The Saturday List #402 - My top ten home improvements

 I was amused to read a comment a few years ago from a rather snotty commentator who stated that "Only a complete saddo is over 40, lives in the home they were born in, married the girl around the corner and sends their kids to the same school they went to". This was the moment I realised I am a complete saddo. Yesterday, I celebrated my 28th Wedding Anniversary. I bought my parents house in 1987, my missus was raised around the corner in Newcombe Park. My kids went to St Vincents, where I went. My son also followed my route to FCHS, although he did rather better. 

So having lived in the same house since 1962 and having owned it since 1987, I have made a few changes around the place. I thought I'd go through these and explain the benefits.

1. 2002 - Loft Conversion. This was a massive improvement. Our house had four bedrooms, we have three children. One of the bedrooms was tiny. Our house being built in 1908, it was designated as the maids room, although we never had a maid! The house still has a bell system, so the maid can be summoned, but in truth the space was not great. We looked at the options and decided to get a loft conversion. This gave us a decent sized room with en suite shower and toilet. It gave all of the children decent sized rooms. It cost £30,000 and was money very well spent. We used a company called Sunlight lofts, who were very good and we've recommended to several friends. 

2. 2016 -  Paving the main back garden. I always said I'd never do this, but our two dogs had torn up the lawn and kept walking mud through the house. After a particularly wet spell, I gave up. We had a very nice Romanian chap next door and he offered to do the paving for £600 if we got the materials. We also had a permanent gazebo installed. The whole garden is now useable throughout the year, we no longer have mud continuallly walked around the house and during lockdown it was  Godsend. The paved area takes approx 50% of the garden, the rest is wilded, with two wildlife ponds, home to amphibians, sticklebacks and all manner of other critters. We also planted five trees to provide habitats for birds. The M1 provides a wildlife corridor on its edges and providing watering holes is a good thing to do

3. Double glazing. One of the first things we did when we bought the house was to install double glazing. When we growing up, the house was always cold and draughty. In 1977, Dad installed gas central which was a massive improvement, but the house was still draughty and as soon as the heating went off, it got cold again. Double glazing made a big difference and reduced our energy bills. We did various bits as we could afford it. Personally, I think the govt should give grants to do this for every home in the UK, but that's another matter.

4. A new kitchen. We've actually had two kitchens. The one my parents had was one they bought cheap from an old council supplier. It is the same units as in the kitchen of the flat in Withnail and I, manufactured in Mill Hill at Lyn Products. We got a pine kitchen in about 1991. It was nice, but by 1994 looked dated, so we did it again, using our friends company, Kitchens with Elegance. Not only did we put new units in, we knocked down a wall between the kitchen and living room, to make it more open plan and light. This was a massive improvement. I'd urge anyone planning such things to think a bit out of the box and work out if your general space layout can be improved. 

5. New bathrooms. Back in about 1995, we decided we wanted nice bathrooms. We engaged Dolphin Bathrooms, as we thought they'd do a spiffing job. We wanted to replace the downstairs bath with a shower. The salesman persuaded us to have a a spa corner bath upstairs. It all looked very nice when it was done, but within a few years, all of the components fall to bits. We  had to have them all completely redone. This time we got a local builder we know, who used top quality items. It was a salutory lesson. Big companies do not necessarily mean best quality.

6. Parquet flooring in the hall. A big bugbear of mine was that when we had carpet in the hall, it always ot dirty when people walked in with dirty shoes. When we took the carpet up, I noticed that there was an attractive Parquet flooring underneath, that was in very poor repair. So we got it sanded and repaired. Unlike carpet, it is easy to clean and looks great. We've now got rid of all of the carpet, except for the stairs and landing. Wood floors are far less hassle.

7. Underfloor heating in the kitchen. When we had the kitchen redone, we had underfloor heating installed. When it is cold, this is wonderful.

8. Window shuttering. One of our dogs decided that his favourite hobby was barking at people walking past the house. It was extremely irritating. We decided that something needed doing. A friend had installed shutter blinds. This seemed a good solution. What I didn't appreciate was that in winter, this makes massive difference to the amount of cold which comes through the double glazing. Although double glazing makes a difference, the shutters keep the cold out completely. In summer, they also help keep the room cool.

9. Solar panels. In 2017, we had some spare cash. I thought about it and I decided that rather than invest in stocks and shares, I'd invest in the house and get solar panels. Our house does not have a great roof configuration for panels, but the payback was still better than a building society. The projection was a payback in 7-8 years. After a couple of years, this looked wildly optimistic, but events recently have transformed this and it was now definitely worth doing. We are now on target to hit this.

10. And finally. As I mentioned, we've planted various trees in the garden. We have two pear trees, a bay tree, a plum tree, a greenage tree and a cherry tree. In the autumn, we have plentiful supply of fresh fruit. For some reason, apple trees have not thrived, but I will try again. We also grow potatoes, cabbage, herbs and various other crops, which our friend Pat, who is a keen gardener tends for us. I'd recommend putting the space to good use if you can. 

I'd always suggest that if you have spare cash and you own your own property, you invest in improving it. Not only do you increase the value, you make your quality of life better. I believe that primarily you should view your home as a place to be happy, not an investment, but it is the biggest investment most of us will ever make. Our house is a far better place to live in than it was when I bought it. My parents also made many improvements, as I mentioned the central heating. They also added an extension and bathroom renovations. I am lucky that I bought a house in Mill Hill in 1987 when I was 25. The job market was buoyant and I saved a deposit and got a mortgage for three times my salary, that covered it. I despair that London seems to be driving young people out with its ridiculous costs. 

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