Q. We have just bought an old terraced cottage with just one toilet in the upstairs bathroom. We would really like a second toilet downstairs but there is not really any space. Have you any ideas?
A. The Saniflo small bore macerator pumping system is ideal for installing toilets away from the main sewerage system and takes up very little space. The system itself costs around £300 and then you would need to pay for installation unless you have a plumber in the family. You do not say if you have a basement – but possibly even if you had you wouldn’t anymore want to dash down steep stairs to the toilet anymore than you want to dash upstairs. I have known several people fit a small bore toilet under the stairs, which is really convenient. I have also seen a larder converted into a toilet where the existing wall to the kitchen was walled up (so giving more wall space for units) and a door made in the other wall which in that case was into a hallway. I have also seen use made of a utility room and the washer and dryer moved to the back of the garage. Given the versatility of the small bore systems there are many ingenious ways they can be used. You might want to get advice from a surveyor or builder if you can’t see any space – they might have some ideas for adapting your ground floor space in some way.
Q: We wanted to lay a hardwood floor in the living room of our old cottage, but when we took up the old carpet we found that there was an uneven concrete floor. What is the best way to sort this?
A. If you are going to lay anything over a concrete floor you need to be sure that it is not damp which will rise up into your new floor. If the moisture level is too high then you will need to fit a moisture barrier if you are inexperienced you may want to take advice on how to do this. It is not difficult to cure an uneven floor by using s self-levelling compound. These are cement material modified with polymers that you purchase in powder form. Most contain plasticisers so that when mixed into a runny paste with water the compound will flow smoothly and not shrink or crack. If you have big holes to fill it is better to use ordinary sand and cement – you can get a small ready mix bag at the hardware shop or DIY store. With new cement you are better to use a primer before you use the self-levelling compound as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Start at the point furthest away from the door and work backwards towards the door. Leave the floor the recommended time to dry before trying to lay the flooring on top.
Q. We are renovating an old cottage and are interested in fitting a Wood Burning Stove as we have heard they are a green energy option and they really go with the age of the cottage. We also like how warm and welcoming they will look in a living room.
A. You can fit a Wood Burning stove either just to heat your living room (as you seem to be suggesting) or fit it with a back boiler to heat your water as well. This second option is likely to be cheaper than traditional fossil fuels if you use wood, wood chip or wood pellets in your stove, though you will need to have your wood burning stove alight much of the time when you need hot water. A room heating option is easier to manage.
There are two areas you will need to consider, firstly, you will need your chimney checking and it will probably need a liner fitting which will not be cheap – and if you don’t have a chimney you will still need a flue.
Your fuel will only be green and reasonably priced if you can buy in bulk – by the lorryload-locally. You will need somewhere dry to stack and store the wood which takes up quite a space. It is also possible to make bricks out of newspaper – soaked in water to a pulp, formed into a brick and then dried which is an excellent way of recycling but make the most of summer to dry them!
Q: We have bought an old house and the windows are all single glazed and need upgrading. PVC frames would look wrong. What are my options?
A: It your old house is a listed building or in a conservation area you may find your options limited. Check with your planning department first to see if there will be any restrictions. English Heritage are not happy for any alteration that replaces the original windows with modern replacements and in that case you may have to fit secondary glazing inside the existing window pane which usually have large air gap and allow opening for opening the original window or to allow cleaning. Though secondary glazing will give you the energy efficiency you want, the system also does take up quite a space on your window sill and is not particularly convenient to open or clean. You will also need to make sure that any gaps in the old window frames are stopped as if cold and damp can permeate into the secondary glazed space; this will make it less efficient.
Even if there are no restrictions you will want to fit windows to match the age of your house. Nowadays there are double glazed units available to match earlier periods including sash windows and mock Georgian. These can be made from hardwood, so matching more nearly the style of the originals. The best thing to do, as this is not only a considerable investment – but also makes so much difference to the appearance and value of your house is to take advice on the variety of options open to you from experts such as SEHBAC.
Q: Our old terraced cottage has a small back yard (about 10ft by 20ft at its longest and widest points) which faces south and gets lots of sun. I would like to grow at least some of my own vegetables as well as have room for a chair to sit out and enjoy watching the plants grow. What do you suggest?
A: Growing vegetables in small gardens and yards is becoming more and more popular and there are. all kinds of containers and bags available for growing vegetables. You will find all kinds of wood or plastic raised beds (they don’t tend to have a base so you will need to sit them on heavy duty weed control fabric in your yard, or go for large planters with plenty of small stones for drainage). Even if your yard faces south there will be areas that don’t have the sun for long before it moves past, so check where the sunniest patches are, and leave a space for your deckchair. My advice is to start with a few things and build on your success.
1) Use a raised bed for salad vegetables such as lettuces or tasty cooking treats such as xx which are really easy to grow.
2) You can use growbags for potatoes though you only need 4-5 tubers per bag it’s a bit wasteful unless you can buy a small quantity or share with a neighbour. Or use them for tomatoes (start these off indoors) or strawberries.
3) A long thin raised bed (or build one against a wall with bricks) is good for planting things that can grow against the wall – you can espalier small fruit trees or train a boysenberry against a trellis.