Embarrassed by the state of your slate patio?

Slate patio after being fully refurbed

A new slate patio can look absolutely amazing in the beginning giving your garden that wow factor and makes a great platform to build an outdoor room around. The downside occurs when dirt and debris start to become ingrained into the slate and begins making that lovely deep slate colour look very dirty and discoloured. A good session with the trusty jet wash does make a bit of a difference but still doesn’t regain that gorgeous initial lustre that the slate had when it was first laid.

Have no fear though as re-invigorating the slate back to it’s original condition is not as an impossible task as you may think. There are products available on the market today that make the job of cleaning the patio a successful one albeit requiring a lot of time and effort being invested in order to reclaim the desired finish.

Slate patio before refurbishment
Slate patio before refurbishment

There are different cleaning agent manufacturers some provide multiple product systems which facilitate cleaning, stripping and then finally conditioning and sealing the tiles.

Below is a picture of the patio slabs before they have been refurbed and after they had a good jet wash. You can see that the patina of the tile is very dull and shows a mixture of ingrained dirt and the residue of previous conditioning products.

Slate Ppatio tile after initial jetwash
Slate patio tile after initial jetwash

The first products we applied using an every day sponge floor mop cleaned up the surface of the tile removing any loose dirt. The cleaning agent was jet washed off – the slates need to be completely dry before the next stage.  We then applied a stripping agent in the same way using the floor mop which had to be left on for an hour and kept wet by reapplying the agent while it penetrated the old coating. The stripping agent was agitated with a stiff bristle broom and then washed off with the jet wash and again let to fully dry.

The next and very important stage was to apply a neutralising agent in the same way as the other cleaners, this is important because if any chemicals remain on the slates, you will not get the desired effect from the sealant which would be very disappointing considering the effort put in up to this point.

Once the patio was completely dry, we then applied three coats of the conditioning and sealing agent using a paint pad, each coat was left for 10 minutes and then the excess sealant removed with micro clothes and then left for another 20-30 minutes before applying the next coat.  Once all three coats have been applied and left the required times, an electric machine polisher/buffer with a wool bonnet attachment was used all over to bring out the slate’s natural colour as shown in the image below. This brings out the really deep lustre of the slate and shows the full colour and patination.  The coating also provides a waterproof coating so water sits on top of the slates, if this effect is not achieved, another coat of sealant should be applied as this waterproofing will prolong the protection of your slates patio.

Simple drain inspection camera

Drainage pipe junction

Ever needed to look down the inside of a drain? Well we had just such a requirement when we were planning the details of a recent landscaping project that required us to know how SuDS (Sustainable drainage systems) would affect the direction of the project. We needed to know where the existing roof water runoff was being directed so we could meet the SuDS requirements and also make sure we were making adequate provision for any extra runoff we were creating in order that it would be handled in a safe, manageable and sustainable manor.

The rainwater runoff from the roof was being discharged into a drain gully that was situated underneath the downpipe being fed from the guttering running along the entire length of the ground floor front elevation. The drain gully was positioned in the middle of the property between the house and the garage.  This drain gully also took the runoff from the impermeable tarmac driveway that covered roughly fifty percent of the garden.

Part of the landscaping project was to cobblestone the entire driveway so we needed to know where the pipe from the drain gully was being discharged. We suspected it maybe connected to a soakaway located in the front garden of the property.

In order to discover where the drain gully discharged we made up a camera by taping a waterproof USB camera with a fifteen metre lead to a 30 metre fish or draw tape. The camera has an illuminated body containing 6 LED lights with a diameter of 12 millimetres. You can also tape a small LED waterproof torch to the draw tape as well in order to increase the light in the pipe.

Draw tape and low cost USB camera
Making low cost drain inspection camera USB camera and draw tape

We used VLC (VideoLan Client) as the video viewer for the USB camera. We had to play about with the settings to get the optimum image and although it wasn’t always a super clear picture it was good enough to enable us to see the progress of the camera down the pipe.

In VLC use “Media” > “Open capture device” > Select USB Camera from drop down in “Video device name” > “Advanced options” tick “Device properties” > “Play” > “Camera Control” > “Low light compensation” if available. Other parameters in “Camera Control” can be adjusted to try and improve the picture.

USB camera
USB camera

In our case we concluded that the pipe discharged into the EWT (Effluent Water Treatment) as there was no end in sight after 15 metres. 

Drainage pipe image at 12 metres from the drain gully
Drainage pipe image at 15 metres from the drain gully

Don’t throw away your old kitchen, give it a facelift.

Cabinets finished and assembled

Over time kitchen cabinets can become dented and marked and the colour that was originally chosen when they were fitted may have been in Vogue then but may not be the height of fashion now. Have no fear with a little prep and the application of some of the latest cabinet paints, your cupboards will be looking bang up to date and just like new.

First of all decide what colour scheme you are aiming for to paint the walls and ceilings to tie in with the kitchen cabinets. Fortunately there is now a good range of manufacturers who produce specialist paint for kitchen cupboards in a wide range of colours and shades to suit every taste and meet the needs of the current trends.

Walls painted ready for newly painted cabinets
Walls painted ready for newly painted cabinets

Once you have chosen your colours it’s time to get down to the prep for the ceilings and walls. Remove any cabinets, fixtures and fittings that you can from the walls and sheet up areas that need to be protected .e.g. worktops, flooring.

Tip: tape screws to hinges and fix a label on them, I used masking tape folded over, to say where the hinge came. Do yourself a diagram and number the hinges if it’s easier.

Fill in any superfluous holes and sand down to a smooth finish.

Old cabinets waiting to be dismantled and restored
Old cabinets waiting to be dismantled and restored

Brush off surface dust then wipe the surfaces down with sugar soap and then decide if you are going to mask up or cut-in plain changes between walls and ceilings. You are now ready to start painting. For a really smooth finish use a roller and then a fine brush for the hard to get to places and cutting in straight lines.

Cabinet carcass curing after paint
Cabinet carcass curing after paint

Once the walls and ceilings have their new coat of paint it’s time to turn your attention to the kitchen cabinets. Follow the instructions given by the kitchen cupboard paint manufacturer for any preparation that needs to be done to the cupboard surfaces but as a general rule it’s about filling and smoothing any dents or scratches in the surfaces and then giving them a good clean with sugar soap to get rid of any surface grime and dirt.

Cabinet carcasses with first coat of paint
Cabinet carcasses with first coat of paint

Remove the cabinets that you are able to from the walls but only the amount you can accommodate on surfaces where you can prep and paint and then leave to dry for the recommended period of time. Some of the paints cure to a hard finish over a number of days so if you can leave them to dry somewhere safe out of the way where they won’t get knocked or dusty, then all the better. It is a bit of a juggling act with all the doors, cupboards and shelves that you have to get prepped, painted and allow them to cure. On our project we decided not to paint the inside of the cupboards, preferring to leave the wood effect showing as we were using a darker colour and wanted to keep the inside bright. We removed handles and hinges as much easier than trying to paint around. We have a number of kitchen doors and cabinets so decided to do them in sections rather than tackling them all at one.

Cabinet carcass side masked up and rollered with first coat of paint
Cabinet carcass side masked up and rollered with first coat of paint
Newly painted doors curing on trestle table
Newly painted doors curing on trestle table

We chose to use a small medium hair gloss roller with a half inch brush for hard to reach areas. The first coat on our shiny laminate cupboards dried blotchy but after leaving to dry thoroughly, the second coat went on smooth with total coverage.

Doors and draw fronts freshly painted and re-installed
Doors and draw fronts freshly painted and re-installed
Newly painted high and low level cabinets
Newly painted high and low level cabinets
Built-ins re-installed into newly painted carcasses
Built-ins re-installed into newly painted carcasses
Newly painted display cabinets back on decorated walls

Convert your shady bare slope into a beautiful rockery

Finished Alpine Rockery

Do you have a bare slope on your property that is hidden by trees and partly in the shade. If so then you probably find its difficult to get plants to grow especially if you have trees growing on the slope.

Trees tend to drink a lot of water so any plants that are growing in and around them have to fight for the nutrients and the light that they need. The ground tends to become very hard and compact and the only things that seem to thrive in this environment are the weeds.

It can be really frustrating trying to maintain such a piece of ground so that it looks good all year round and doesn’t need constant attention.

We had a project to landscape just this sort of area and decided that a rockery was the ideal solution. We could infill the stones with alpine plants that would add all year-round interest to the space but wouldn’t need a huge amount of tender loving care in order to thrive.

The first stage of the project was to calculate how much material was required and place an order with the suppliers. The slope in question is approximately 25 square metres. Using an online aggregate estimation tool and adding a reasonable amount on for good measure I calculated that we would need around 3 tonnes of 40 millimetre slate chippings to cover the entire area. The supplier we used delivered the chipping in 3 formats, loose, palletised in one giant bag or in small 20 kilogramme bags also on a pallet. From personal experience it’s much easier humping aggregate when it’s delivered in small bags and can be easily lifted and wheel barrowed to its required destination. Shovelling loose slate from a pile into a barrow is back breaking work. In this instance we ordered 3 tonne of the large bulk bag as this was a bit cheaper than the multibag option.

Chippings shovelled into trugs
Chippings shovelled into trugs

No rockery would be complete without the large rockery stones themselves. The supplier that I was using for the slate chippings also did a 1 tonne caged pallet of large grey slate rockery stones. The order was placed and delivery set for 2 days from the date of the order.

For the retaining edging I decided to do it in treated 19 x 150 timber. A breathable and permeable membrane would be laid to help prevent weeds from growing. Because the slope is quite severe in places, I decided that in order to prevent the large rockery stones from rolling down the slope after they were placed in position that I would drill a hole in some stones and insert steel round bar which would be driven into the ground and hold the stone in place. The round bar I sourced as a 6 millimetre chromed threaded bar at a reasonable price from a well know trade counter along with a diamond tipped drill to put the holes in the stones. I also placed some of the 18 x 150 timber strategically along the slope to give the stones some support in particularly steep areas. 

The first job was to clear any existing weeds from the slope and then roughly place some of the large stones to get an idea of how they would look and make sure that the 1 tonne of stone was evenly distributed.

Roughly laying out rocks
Roughly laying out rocks

The next job was to cut and lay the membrane. Use a few stones to hold the membrane down or some long pins that can be purchased online.

Cutting membrane to fit slope
Cutting membrane to fit slope

Then it was time to start placing the large stones permanently. Any that were in a precarious position on the slope I drilled a hole in the bottom and inserted the round bar.

Diamond tipped drill being used to put hole in rock
Diamond tipped drill being used to put hole in rock

The round bar was then driven into the ground to support the stone and stop it running way down the slope. Other stones were then placed around the supported one to create a clump of stones.  

Round bar inserted into rock
Round bar inserted into rock
Rock placed with stabilising round bar driven into the ground
Rock placed with stabilising round bar driven into the ground

Once all the large stones were in place it was time to start spreading the chippings around. I started from the bottom up so that the chippings were supporting each other as they were applied further up the slope.

Chippings piled onto boards and shovelled onto final destination
Chippings piled onto boards and shovelled onto final destination

We also had some chippings that we had collected from clearing another project but these chippings had been laid for quite some time and were covered in earth, mulch and roots from other plants so we used an electric sieve to wash them down in order to prepare them for putting on the rockery. I

Sieve used to wash chippings
Sieve used to wash chippings

Once all the chippings had been spread over the slope we washed them down to get rid of the slurry that is made during manufacture.

The final stage was to insert some alpine plants into the crevices of the stones, we chose alpines that flowered at different times to give year round appeal with a mixture of different coloured flowers and bright green foliage to add contrast and made sure they were ideal for shady or partly shaded locations.

Rockery after stones have been washed
Rockery after stones have been washed

Give your walls a touch of luxury with a board and batten panelling style makeover.

The addition of some structural relief to a feature wall can give a room the illusion of greater depth and height while also enhancing the richness of the room. One of the ways to achieve this is by adding a board and batten style cladding to the face of the wall, the amount of wall coverage is entirely a personal decision, you can cover the whole wall, halfway or as we have done, two thirds giving space to hang pictures etc. The ledge at the top (details of this will be described below) is just wide enough to stand a couple of picture frames on rather than affixing to the wall and from a viewpoint perspective, also gives a definite finish line to the cladding. The secret here is that we are only applying battens to the wall and not any boarding behind thereby giving the illusion of boards and battens while not actually applying any of the boarding. This makes the job simpler and easier to perform and also reduces the cost.

Before the battens can be applied to the wall the first job is to measure the area to work out the space of the battens across the wall, this is also the point where you decide the look of the finished effect. There are basically two choices for the orientation of the battens, i.e, vertically space the battens on their own giving a tall rectangular look or equally spaced vertical and horizontal battens to make squares. If you are opting for the square pattern then it’s important to make sure the width and height of a square is fairly consistent ie the width of each square is close to the height of each square. In our case the was a 2cm difference but this is small enough not to show. You can also make the top, bottom and side battens wider than the inside battens for a slightly different look but this does add to the complexity of cutting the battens.

We plumped for a square pattern with equal width battens all round so here is how we worked out the spacing. The width of each alcove we are battening is 145.5cm and 146.0cm respectively. This means we can have roughly the same number and size of squares on each side. The walls vary slightly in width vertically as they go up so there is always a tolerance. The internal size of the square is calculated by placing battens at each end of the area to be battened and then measuring the distance between them. We purchased a pack of ready cut battens manufactured from MDF from a big box retailer which makes things even easier. Don’t forget to wear a mask whenever you’re cutting up MDF.

Here is how to calculate the vertical and horizontal spacing. Our battens were 10cm wide so the internal distance between the two side battens at either end of the first alcove is 125.5. Work out the number of inside battens required which for us is 2 and subtract the total of their combined width being 20cm which gives 105.5cm. Now divide this by the number squares across which in our case is 3 gives a spacing of 35.1. For the horizontal spacing do the same calculation but this time the internal distance is measured between the top and bottom battens. If you are proposing to do horizonal battens then you will have to make a judgment call as to whether the square(ish) pattern that you end up with looks ok. If not then you may want to go with just the vertical battens on their own.

Next job is to make sure the wall you are putting the battens on has a nice flat surface. Fill any holes and sand down. Wear a mask when sanding. I also use a sanding attachment that goes on the end of a hoover for this job which helps keep the level of dust down.

Now if like me you have purchased your battens from a big box retailer then you just need to cut the top and bottom battens to length to fit all the way across the alcove. I used a chop saw to get a nice square cut edge but don’t worry too much about this as we will be filling any gaps with filler anyway so a hand saw cut is perfectly acceptable (Don’t forget dust mask and eye protection!). Place the bottom batten in place and use masking tape to temporarily hold it in position. I was lucky in that I managed to use an entire batten straight out of the packet as the height of the inside vertical battens without having to cut it to size but your luck may vary.

Offer the vertical battens up against the wall spaced as per your calculation above and again temporarily mask them in place. It’s important to make sure the vertical battens are straight using a spirit level. Then place the top batten in place and mask it to the wall. Stand back and make sure you are happy with the effect and then use a pencil to make the positions of the vertical battens. I found it useful to make up a template that was the exact size of the internal square space which made cutting and placing all the battens that much easier.

When you are happy with the layout remove the top and vertical battens from the wall. Now we will permanently install the bottom batten. Dab some grab adhesive on the corners and centre of each batten. You don’t need to use much glue just enough to hold it in position, this makes it easier if you ever need to remove them. I used a nail gun to pop pins through the MDF into the drywall but you can use a hammer to drive them in. These will keep the battens in place while the glue sets. Be careful not to use pins that are too long so as not to interfere with any electrical that maybe buried in the wall.

Then permanently put the left hand side batten on the wall. If you have decided to have horizontal battens then now it’s time to cut to size using the template. Make up enough to fill the first column. Use the template to position the horizontal battens then glue and nail them in place. Double check their alignment with a spirit level although if they look right they probably are right. Then place the next vertical batten in place against the horizontal battens that you just applied making sure it’s roughly aligned with the marks you put on the wall. Don’t worry if you have a gap to the horizontal battens as this can be filled later.

When all the vertical and inside horizontal battens are in place apply the top battens. To finish off the look apply some scotia above the top batten. I used a 2.9cm by 2.1cm floor edging scotia to give a little shelf that could support some small picture frames. Now you can use some filler knifed into any gaps and then sanded down once dry.

Now its time to paint, we did two coats of undercoat on both the wall and boarding and then added individual colours.

A relatively simple and cost effective way to give a dramatic feature wall to any room.

Reupholstering your dining room chairs, daunting but doable…..

We had six faux leather dining room chairs used as pin cushions by three “adorable” cats, hence the need to replace – the obvious options to just to replace right, but what about trying your hand at reupholstering them?

After a little shopping online it was clearly cheaper to reupholster than replace but before buying anything, I took apart one of the chairs and used the existing pieces as templates to cut the pattern out of a spare piece of material – much to my surprise it actually looked ok so I went ahead and sourced the material, webbing, foam and new upholstery needles for my sewing machine – I was all set.

First job was to make an accurate pattern so I laid all the pieces from the original chair onto brown paper and cut accurately (make sure to note which is the right side as you will need to place this against the back of the fabric). Next the paper pieces were laid on the material and cut, my material had a definite weave so had to be careful to ensure all the pieces ran the same way as the cloth.

To prepare the chair, as you can see from the pictures ours have material all the way down the back and front so the chair had to be taken apart and completed in two section, once this was done we cut out the existing webbing and replaced, I say “we” because whereas one person can cut the pattern and sew it up, you definitely need two people to put on the webbing and staple everything in place to get the right tension (unless you splash out on the professional tools like the upholstery grippers etc).

The existing foam had definitely seen better days so new foam was bought and cut to size, to make the padding a bit thicker, the existing foam was left in place with new foam glued on top – obviously by using both bits of foam it means the sides and seat panel of the chair had to be lengthened to accommodate (love a challenge!). Any excess can be cut off once attached but there really is no easy solution if the material is too short!!


Once the framework of the chair is done, next step is to sew up the pieces. Done in two sections the sides are attached to the seat cover, making sure to ease the seat material around the corner of the side piece to ensure a neat corner. The back is done separately by sewing front and back pieces together and then sewing in the curved sides, best way I found was to pin them first, cutting small nicks into the straight sides to curve them around the side panels.


Now all the sewing is done, place the seat cover over the base and pull into position. Now it’s a two person job – pull front under and staple (or tack) into place. We used a nail gun (use with care!) and U shaped 22mm staples. Then ensuring fabric is straight and taught, staple back into place. The sides on our chairs were a little tricky as they are curved but everyone loves a challenge! Carefully tap in any raised staples as you go. The material around the chair legs was tucked under and glued in place and then lightly clamped to hold in place for about 20 mins to dry, don’t leave the clamps on too long or they could indent the material or foam.

Same principle for the back after sliding the cover on, staple front and back and then making sure the side panels are in the right place, staple the sides. Trim off any excess material, making sure any screw holes are not obstructed by the material (learnt this the hard when trying to put the first chair back together!). Tuck the material around legs to give an even finish.

The end is in sight – to attach the cover to the bottom of the chair, I got out my hot glue gun and cut and stuck the Velcro along each side, this not only kept the Velcro in place but also stuck the material flat to the wood.

Now the satisfying part, screw the chair back together and attach the bottom cover and hey presto one reupholstered dining room chair.

Although daunting to start with the result was surprisingly better than expected. Probably not the easiest chair for my first go at upholstery but has definitely given me the confidence to have a go again, its quite satisfying to know you have customised them to your specific choice and the end result of all the chairs around the table is a job well done!

Making over a tired bathroom without busting the bank.

moldy shower

A tired bathroom can bring down the whole tone of a property without even having to try too hard and yet by the same token just applying a little bit of elbow grease and some relatively inexpensive products and you can lift the ambience to another level. If you have old style patterns on your tiles then there are ways you can improve the look of them without having to got to all the trouble and expense of removing them.

Over time bathrooms take a bit of a battering. We take long hot showers and baths that submit the fabric of the room to heat and damp and invariably the amount of ventilation falls short of that which would be required to keep the walls mould free. Having the occurrence of mould is not ideal as at high enough concentrations it can be detrimental to health. Consider upgrading an existing extraction fan to a more powerful version if you are battling mould. There are number of different manufacturers who produce innovative designs which can help to remove steam from the room. Advances in technology mean that more power does not have to equal more noise as there are quiet versions available. Be careful to get the correct diameter aperture or be prepared to open up the existing hole in the ceiling to accept the new fan. Reducers can be used to connect the fan to the ducting if a step down in size is required. Also there are versions which can be set to activate when a certain level of humidity is detected or with PIR sensors to activate when someone enters the room.

Now we need to set about getting rid of the mould from the surface of the tiles and the grout. By it’s nature mould can be very difficult to get rid of. For tile grout try rubbing the grout vigorously with a neat solution of bleach. If the grout is very ingrained then try leaving the bleach on the surface over night before rubbing again the next day. Strip out any caulking using a sharp knife and clean the joints out with more bleach. For the surface of the tiles try a solution of white wine vinegar and lemon and rub them vigorously with a scouring pad.

Once the tiles are all cleaned up then rub them down with some 180 grit sand paper. You don’t have be too fastidious when doing this but just enough to make sure all the tiles have been sanded to some extent. Wash the tiles off with some sugar soap. Now the tiles are ready to be painted. Tile paints come in a variety of colours. Try to pick a manufacturer that produces a low VOC paint that does not give off high levels of toxic vapours while you are applying it. Keep as many windows open as possible while painting and wear a mask. Use a roller to apply the paint to give a smooth finish. You will probably need at least two coats maybe three depending on what sort of colour and patterns you are attempting to cover. Leave the paint to dry for at least 24 hours and then use a fine tipped grout pen to put the grout lines back. Apply 2 coats to the grout lines especially inside shower cubicles. You will probably use a multiple number of grout pens depending on tile size and area to be covered. Leave the grout lines to dry for 24 hours and then seal them in the wet areas with a clear grout sealer solution.

Make sure you get any mould off the ceiling by scrubbing well with an anti mould solution and allow to dry for a few hours. Then re-paint with an anti mould and a stain blocking paint. You will probably need to apply at least two coats and maybe three in problem areas.

Now you have your bright new painted tiles you want to make sure the rest pf the bathroom looks gleaming too. Shower screens in hard water areas usually become ingrained with mineral deposits like limescale that are really tough to get off. Try soaking the glass in a solution of white wine vinegar and lemon mixed with water. Be liberal with the white wine vinegar. Wear gloves and scrub well with a non scratch scouring sponge. This process will have to be repeated several times in order to achieve a gleaming finish. If the residue proves to be really tough then there are some chemical cleaners on the market that can tackle really bad limescale deposits but be careful when handling these and wear gloves, a mask and eye protection. If all else fails then you can sometimes source replacement parts for shower enclosures. Curved doors for quadrant shower enclosures can sometimes be interchanged but make sure the door height is correct and the side lengths match. Common heights are 1850mm, 1900mm, and 2000m with some common side depth sizes being 800mm, 900mm or 1000mm. You can also buy replacement shower door rollers. These usually become frozen up over time with limescale that stops the dolly wheels from turning. Some have needle roller bearings which seize up as well. You can replace a single wheel with a double wheel as long as the fixing holes that go through the glass are the right size and placement. Make sure the dolly wheel is the correct size for the track as well usually 20mm or 25mm diameter but other sizes are used as well. Normally the top set of wheels are fixed and the bottom set are spring loaded to allow the doors to be removed and replaced easily in the tracks.

The other area of the shower that discolours over time is the plastic seals on the doors and side glass. This can be purchased separately. Make sure you get the right profile for the seal being replaced and enough length to replace all the seals. Re-do any mastic seal caulking that has been removed and replace with an anti-mould caulk. Sometimes it can be useful to mask either side of the caulk line and use a smoothing tool to get a good finish. Remove the masking tape before the caulk has set.

Some of the the last areas to address are missing cover caps on screw fixings and making sure all chrome surfaces are limescale free and gleaming. Now you have achieved a bright and fresh bathroom on a relatively small budget.

How to repair a small area and remove scratches and restore lustre to an engineered wood floor.

Having laid an expensive and gorgeous real wood engineered floor it doesn’t take long before the beautiful patina of the wood in small areas starts to get scratched and scuffed resulting from the ravages of everyday life. Dining chairs being dragged in and out, high heeled shoes dancing across the boards, toys being put through their paces and central heating systems all take their toll on the surface of the boards.

In order to remove the scratches and scuffs and restore the boards to their original condition a little bit of elbow grease and the application of some hard wax oil is all that should be required.

To remove scratches from from a small area of boards use a 300 grit sandpaper to remove the majority of the scratch and then go over the area with a 100 grit paper to smooth it down. Wear PPE for protection while sanding the boards. It is not necessary to completely remove the scratch as the application of the oil will fill and hide small indentations once they have been sanded.

Once the boards have been sanded hoover off the wood dust and then wipe them over with a mildly damp cloth to remove any remaining dust.

If the boards have never been oiled before then it maybe beneficial to give the whole floor a coat as this can both improve the look of the board and protect the surface and also help stop the boards from drying out. Preventing the boards from drying out will help keep their structural integrity and preserve the surface but as always make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions about preparation and application before applying any oil.

The oil can be applied with a lint free cloth or a brush using a thin coat. If repairing a small area then make sure to feather the edges around the sanded area to hide the transition from new oiled to surface to the old surface. Have plenty of ventilation while oiling the boards and leave them to dry as recommended by the manufacturer of the oil.

If you think blockchain is something police throw in the road to stop criminals then read on …

What is Blockchain all about? The term ‘blockchain’ has become synonymous with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but the phrase actually refers to the underlying infrastructure used to transport and store cryptocurrency transactions. When Bitcoin was developed, a secure method of storing currency and completing transactions was required, and so the blockchain process was created.

When Bitcoin was developed, they needed a method to transact and store the currency using a secure method, so they created the blockchain process.

In the bygone era of 70s and 80s computing technology, hardware was obviously much less powerful and hard disk processing much slower than it is today. To link records together we used chains of relative record numbers, or RRNs. These RRNs pointed to the previous and next records in a chain, for example adjacent rows of a file or table, or related records. Software programs could follow these chains in order to extract information. This structure of chaining records together was commonly used in back office systems like stock control, for example to allow the easy extraction of widgets, widget meaning anything that might be managed in a stock management system like items locations etc, being stored in a particular location. IBM developed an early Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP) called MAAPICS, which stands for Manufacturing and Accounting Production Inventory Control System, and which used RRNs. RRNs were a good way of allowing the association of things together without a complex database technology under the covers. If the chains, or RRNs, were corrupted then the integrity of the data was compromised. With more modern technology came faster and bigger hard drives and faster processors. The use of complex databases allowing logical indexes became commonplace, allowing lookup by key (or number, for example widget number), or store location code thus doing away with the need to chain records together.

The concept of chains linking data together is used in blockchain, providing integrity rather than speed. Individual records, or blocks, are linked together in a chain. If the previous hash of a particular transaction does not match the value of the previous transaction then that indicates that the chain has been tampered with. The advantage of blockchain is that records of transactions are duplicated across a network of computers, so finding out the correct value is straightforward. This is where the concept of consensus comes into play. If the majority of machines share the same previous and current transaction values, then you can be confident that those values are correct.

A phrase you hear quite a bit in relation to Blockchain is “Immutable Ledger”, which sounds to me like something you would use while fly fishing in Scotland. It’s just a fancy way of saying that transactions stored in a blockchain are very hard to amend once committed to the chain (although theoretically not impossible). In financial circles a ledger is a record of financial transactions. “Immutable” is defined as unchanging, or not able to change over time. So, an Immutable Ledger is simply a record that cannot be changed.

When a blockchain transaction is processed it is duplicated across a network to many computers, which are known as nodes, or peers. A blockchain network is a peer to peer, or P2P network. The fact that the data is mirrored across multiple computers is one reason (but not the only reason) it is difficult to retrospectively amend a transaction once it has been accepted into the ledger, because it would involve making changes to the transaction records on many computers.

Transactions are added to the chain by one node in the network and are then duplicated to all the other nodes. To win the privilege of adding transactions* to the blockchain, a node must first do battle with all of the other nodes on the network. In a Bitcoin blockchain the winner is rewarded in bitcoins, or part of a bitcoin. This act of battle is called “mining”.

The battle that takes place in the mining process is actually a puzzle solving competition by all the nodes in the network to see who can solve the puzzle the quickest. This process is known as Proof of Work or PoW. To try and give themselves the best chance possible of being the first to solve the puzzle and win the mining fee the computers that do the “mining” are made to be as powerful as possible using specially made hardware. They consume quite a bit of power and some organisations have built server farms with many nodes in order to increase their chances of winning as many PoW contests as possible and therefore maximise their profit.

The process of actually adding transactions to the blockchain involves bunching individual transactions together in order to create a block. The block header contains the hash which was created in the Proof of Work process (by the winner of the mining process) and the hash from the previous block.

Because the hash of each block is built using the hash of the previous block this means that to amend transactions in any given block you would have to go back and amend all the hashes and previous hashes in every other block created before it and also on 51% of the nodes in the network to get consensus. This is what gives blockchain technology its “immutability”.

The hashes, previous and current, that we talk about that are stored in the block header are created by the PoW process as we previously discussed. A hash takes bits of information, concatenates them together and then applies an algorithm to return a fixed length string of characters that is used as a unique identifier for the block. The PoW concept comes about through adding complexity to the hash creation process by way of stipulating that the hash must begin with a certain number of zeroes. So when the hashing algorithm creates the return string if it does not begin with the required number of zeros then the process of hashing the concatenated information is retried until the number of leading noughts is realised.

The hash function is basically a mathematical equation that takes an input string of any number of characters and outputs a string of completely different characters with a fixed length. The result will always be the same for a given input string. The hash process is known as being deterministic ie the same input string will always produce the same output string but you cannot reverse engineer the output string to get back to the original input string. The hashing algorithm used in Bitcoin is SHA256. Hashing is used because it means passwords can be stored without exposing the actual password. To verify a password it is hashed and if the hash matches the stored hash then the password is correct.

Use the demo below to enter a sentence and press the “Press for Hash” button to view how the SHA256 algorithm turns your string into a fixed length set of numbers and letters.

In Bitcoin, which is stored using blockchain, the coins are transacted using “Wallet” functionality. To access the wallet private and public keys are created using what is known as Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) to create hashes utilising SHA256. The owner of the wallet must keep their private key secure as this is the method by which they access their wallet and perform bitcoin transactions. People that know your public address can send you bitcoins.

Enter string:

Hash:

One of the other elements that makes up the block header is a timestamp turned into a Unix Epoch time which is the time in seconds since the 1st of January 1970. Use the demo below to enter a date and time and then press the “Press for Epoch” to see your chosen date and time converted into seconds since the 1st of january 1970.

Enter date/time:

Epoch Time:

The block header is made up of the version number, previous hash, this hash, epoch time, difficulty and nonce. As mentioned previously the difficulty is thrown into the mix to make the block creation or mining process a competition to see who can find the answer first and win the privilege of creating the block and earning the mining fee. The difficulty part of the mining process stipulates how many zeros the hash must have at the beginning and is geared towards making a 10 minute gap between block creations. This is dependent on the power of the mining computers, how many of them there are and how many transactions are being processed in a period of time. A nonce is added to the end of the string being hashed to attempt to find the required number of zeros to be prefixed to the string, if the required zeros aren’t found on the hash computation then a new nonce is tried until the right amount of zeros are computed. The nonce is effectively a random number 4 characters long. To vary the complexity the number of zeros is upped or lowered accordingly. The diagram below explains the hash creation process highlighting the way the difficulty is used to build in complexity.

Hitting the button below brings up an interactive demo which models the blockchain mining process in real time.

Blockchain technology is being considered by the HM Land Registry for use with land registry transactions. In a blog HM Land Registry wrote in May of 2019 Could blockchain be the future of the property market? they outlined the steps they took to “build a prototype that would enable a digital transfer of a property that automatically updates the Land Register”. They bought together payment services firm Shieldpay, law firm Mishcon de Reya and conveyancing MyHomeMove, know your customer (KYC) and anti money laundering (AML) services provider Yoti and HM Revenue & Customs to build as they described an end-to-end proof of concept.

They used video to allow the participants to remotely interact allowing them to coordinate their various tasks. Each step was actioned and then the process was handed on to the next party in turn.

The aim of the simulated transaction was to demonstrate the speed, trust, security and transparency that the technology could bring to the property market.

In the article The Land Registry said they are continuing to work with industry to explore how new technologies like Blockhain can influence future transactions.

Smart contracts are being tested by the legal profession and by industry as a way of recording contractual agreements and storing them in a blockchain ledger. This could speed up transactional processes such as shipping contacts and documentation by allowing documents to be created , submitted and shared in a more secure and timely approach.

House Auctions: How technology is changing the industry

Most of us have a soft spot for the auction process – and with TV programmes such as “Homes Under the Hammer” beaming into our homes for years’ now, no wonder! The dusty hall, where you can eye your opponent as the auctioneer nears your top bid. The thrill of the chase and the ability to scope the competition. This is all part of the appeal.

Auction houses have a sense of excitement about them, and a lot have remained steadfastly traditional until just the last few years.

Technology has started to play a more important role in auction houses, providing the ability to bid on and buy property across the UK from wherever you are. While in the past you would need to attend an auction to secure your dream home or investment, these days you have a variety of tech-led options at every stage – from the original advertising of the auction right through to the payment for your new property.

Proptech is the way forward for buying (and selling) at auction.

Searching for the perfect property – from wherever you happen to be

Traditionally, the purchase of a property should almost always take place after the property has been viewed in the flesh. But auctions are a little different.

The advent of online searching methods means investors’ can narrow down their search quickly and view only those properties they deem as suitable. They can

grab valuable data points using online services such as:

Auction house in Wales – but you’re in Scotland?

Not only that, but easy access to information makes life easy for the pre-auction investor property buyer – especially if they live in a different country within the UK!

Nowadays you can send and receive email from your solicitor – you can even FaceTime them.

Plus, auction house apps and websites now provide the ability to download seller and legal packs, immediately.

Bidding online

Can’t get to an auction? No problem – welcome to electronic bidding and online auctions. A lot of auction houses will now offer an online option either instead of or alongside their live auctions.

The great advantage of an online auction is that much of the time, you may be able to bid in advance from the comfort of your armchair without having to travel to a live auction.

You may also be able to watch the sale on a live stream, and you often have the option of setting your bidding limit. That might take away some of the fun … but you will appreciate it.

REMINDER: As auction houses sometimes only release details about the properties coming up at auction a matter of weeks before the actual auction event, this gives the auction a very short shelf life. This means that all the due diligence from your side of things must be done quickly and efficiently.

The whole process is smoother and easier

From electronic payment methods, through to online solicitors, legal packs and even mortgage offers, there are now specific financial technology (fintech) products aimed at the property auction market – enabling a quicker and more targeted response to the auction buying process. Every part of the auction property buying process is faster and smoother due to technology.

You can use your auction app to register and bid, chat on a forum with other investors to get great tips, explore the property and the surrounding area with Google maps, find online images from websites like PropertyAuctionAction.co.uk and Rightmove and discover auctions near you with aggregate auction house sites.

Technology just makes things better, and auctions are no exception.

Tech and compliance

Speaking to Max Mason head of online-only property auction house 574.co.uk, he says the main uses for technology in the property auction space right now and for the foreseeable future will be around compliance (AML- anti-money laundering and KYC – know your customer) and using data.

In terms of compliance, he wants to see the HMRC issue more clear guidelines so the industry can respond and implement a standard code of practice.  This could then open the door for more fintech based AML uses such as geo location, and biometric checks which provide a greater level of security. 

For data, Mason says this will allow the company to use its predictive AI tool to better understand and predict the outcomes before an auction happens and how likely a lot is to sell ahead of time.  This is still in its early stages. But with more data, comes more learning for the tool, which will improve its accuracy.

Tech and data

Richard Adamson, Partner and Auctioneer at Allsop explains that they have recently revamped their website and web app to better use existing technology that might seem old hat in other industries:  “This has meant we have much more data on the types of people at auctions and where the interest is.  We have also widened this appeal and made legal packs and more detail property information available online and in the app.” 

He added: “We’ve seen a three-fold increase in the number of people requesting property info via the app versus requesting hard copy catalogues. So, we’ve got 6,000 people using the app compared to 2,000 requesting hard copy catalogues.

“For the property auction space, we are at the cutting edge of what can be done and what the market can tolerate. We don’t feel the space is ready to embrace blockchain or other technology for the sake of it. If it isn’t adding value to the proposition, then tech for tech sake is not something we will be investing in”.

Justin Beckwith Director of Pattinsons Auctioneers shares this view.  “We are seeing a huge uplift in online auctions and technology has allowed us to move more online. This has increased the number of auctions we can run, and also an increase in the number of bidders for each lot.”

Proptech evolving

It seems that while we see rapid development in technology across different parts of the property sector, auction houses have in recent years been playing catch-up.

From what we see in the property auction space, the technology used is helping more vendors attract more buyers, and those buyers take part in auctions using any of the four main ways (in person, post, telephone or online.)  Online is clearly the growing element, and auction houses have responded to that need.

There is still work that can be done, of course. For example, perhaps adding blockchain to the auction process to make the transaction process fully transparent and immutable.  This could mean that land registry and purchase records can be added to a blockchain process.

Blockchain could also, at some point, remove the middleman entirely from the process – we see this in other industries where technology takes the place of human governance.  We also see blockchain being further used on AML and KYC as a blockchain could allow cross-sharing and validation of clients, hence speeding up the process and reducing costs.