It may be an apocryphal tale, but in the days of the Empire it is said that many passengers embarking for the tropics were persuaded to buy small packages labelled "Insect Destroyer", and further labelled with the instructions "do not open until required". When the packages were finally opened, it was discovered that they contained only two small blocks of wood and the instructions "Place the insect on one block and strike sharply with the other".

In these days of Consumer Protection and Trading Standards it might be hoped that this type of con is very much a thing of the past, but according to a report from the Electrical Safety Council, it is still very much with us. The latest manifestation is a range of "plug-in energy savers", normally sold over the internet pr at car boot sales.

These devices claim to save money on electricity bills by doing some kind of "conditioning" to the supply which makes appliances run more efficiently. This is nonsense. The Electrical Safety Council tested four different models, all of which actually increased power consumption rather than reducing it.

More worryingly, all the devices tested failed to meet basic product standards. In all cases the pin dimensions were not correct. This means that the device would be a loose fit in the socket-outlet, which would cause arcing and overheating. All the devices tested were also of poor internal construction, making them a fire hazard. Several of them were CE marked, but the poor quality of construction would suggest that these marks were almost certainly forgeries. 

There have been reports that these devices are also being sold over the phone. Many elderly people have been targeted by telephone sales calls purporting to originate with one of more of the energy suppliers. Often the caller has the persons' name and address, and on some occasions even part of their credit card number. These calls are bogus and originate overseas, many from a holding company in the USA.

If you should be offered one of these devices, Action Fraud (www.actionfraud.police.uk) would like to know. You can also contact them on 0300 123 2040.

- Mark Jenkins

When installing a new towel rail/radiator, the first thing to consider is whether this new item will give the same heat output as the one being removed. To gauge the output of your existing radiator you will need to measure the width and height, as well as taking note of the radiator type. For example is it just the panel only? Single or double, without connector fins attached at the back of the panel(s)? These run top to bottom on the back of the radiator, and look similar to the corrugated sections.

With this information on hand you would be able to find out from a plumbers' merchant, or alternatively go online and check radiator sizing to get the output - which will be measured in watts/Btus. Once you have this reading, you can then either find a towel rail/radiator to give equal output as a replacement or decide it will be an additional feature to the bathroom, because those cute little towel rails/radiators don't usually give the required heat output to keep the room warm enough. If you're replacing the radiator completely, then make sure you have the appropriate wall space for the new item.

Once you have made your choice you will need to look at what type of heating system you will attach it to. You may have a combination boiler (a sealed heating system), filled by either a metal braded hose detachable from the valves it's connected to, or a knob/lever valve built into the boiler and usually found underneath. This is what you will use to refill your boiler and heating system after the new rail/radiator has been fitted, but first you must get a few fittings to be able to reconnect the new item.

These can be done by soldered or compression fittings. Once you have these fittings you can drain the heating system of the water/chemicals that should be in there, and connect a hose pipe to a drain-off valve found at the lowest points of the pipe work going to the radiators. There could be more than one of these, depending on the design of the pipework. Put the other end of the hose in a foul drain gulley only (due to the chemicals in the water from the system), and turn the electric supply off at the power point the boiler is connected to. Take the fuse out to make sure no one accidently turns the boiler back on while you're draining the water out of the heating system, then you can start by opening the draining valve the hose is connected to until the initial pressure that was in the system has come out.

You can now start to bleed the individual radiators by opening the air bleed valve sited at one top end or the backside of the panel with a radiator air bleed key. Start with the top radiators first, and when they have stopped draining do the lower ones. With the system drained you can lift the flooring under the existing radiator to expose the pipework. If you don't feel competent enough to solder the pipework and fittings, you can use compression fittings to alter and connect the new item.

When the new item has been both hung and piped up, you will need to go around closing all the air bleeds on the other radiators and shut the drain-off valve before filling the system. You'll require someone else at the new radiator so they can tell you if there is a problem before you put too much water in when filling the system. Pressure the system to 1.5 bar on the boiler gauge, shut off the filling point and check your new pipework and fittings. Leave things at that pressure for about 10-15 minutes to see if it is holding, and if it is after that period then it is safe to start bleeding the radiators until the pressure has gone. Go back to the boiler to re-pressurise to 1.5 bar and shut off the valve again, repeating this filling and bleeding until you have to radiators left to fill and bleed. With only two left only pressure them to 1 bar before bleeding, and again to 1 bar after the radiators have been bled. Replace the fuse in the fused spur, turn the electric on and put the controls for the boiler onto constant, allowing you to check your new installation is heating up okay. When the system is up to full temperature and there are no problems the flooring can be replaced.

However if you have an open vented system, you should find a small header tank in your loft connected to the heating pipework in the airing cupboard. There will be a stop valve on the pipework feeding that tank - you should shut this off (turning off your boiler's electric first), and then drain down the same way as previously mentioned. This time when you turn the valve back on, you will have to keep an eye on the new pipework and item for leaks. If you hear air leaking out of your new work as it is filling, stop and fix before continuing. If no air is leaking keep filling until the tank is full. When it stops you can then bleed the radiators, starting downstairs and working up. Turn the power back on to the boiler and put the controls on constant like previously mentioned, allowing it to heat up and then replacing the flooring once full heat has been achieved.

- Mark Lewis

 

If after reading this you still feel like you might need a little bit of extra practice before taking on such a DIY task, have you considered one of Access Training's intensive plumbing courses? Not only to we offer them at a variety of difficulty levels suited to whatever renovation plans you may have, but also professional qualifications should you choose to take things further and become a fully trained plumber. For more information on our courses and to discuss your needs call us on 0800 345 7492

An artist's impression of the new project

 

Plans for a new 800-home waterfront community in Cardiff Bay were given the go-ahead earlier this year, with the construction work set to begin later this year.

While the city has seen many large scale development projects over the last several years, including the International Sports Village in the Bay and the St David's 2 shopping centre in the city centre, this £250 million project - named Cardiff Pointe, will be one of the biggest developments to the city in recent years.

The project, considered to be "the missing piece in the International Sports Village (ISV) jigsaw", is made up of four linked applications to build a total of 798 homes on vacant land off of Ferry Road, Watkiss Way and Empire Way. The building work will be done in six phases, with the earliest construction focusing on town houses and maisonettes.

The largest scheme is for 561 homes, including 392 apartments and 169 houses, on the peninsular of land between Cardiff Bay Yacht Club and the International Swimming Pool. Later phases will include 18 five-badroom waterside "executive" houses and two landmark towers which will cantilever over the water. At the foot of the towers will be shops and community facilities, with the local health board already indicating that it would interested in opening a "satellite surgery".

The second site, which is currently used as a temporary car park for the swimming pool, will see 79 homes built - including 43 apartments and 36 houses. The third application is for 63 apartments on land behind the Morrisons supermarket on Ferry Road, while the fourth is for 95 apartments on land off of Watkiss Way. These will be a mixture of private and social housing.

Committee chairman councillor Michael Michael said: "Overall I welcome this scheme - hopefully it's a sign that the city is moving forward."

(Full Story and picture source)

Last week saw George Osborne announce his fourth annual Budget to the British public, and it didn't look good for green energy policy. The Chancellor's shunning of renewable energy methods in favour of "low cost energy sources" such as shale gas has sparked outrage from a number of environment-friendly movements, particularly the Green Party and Greenpeace.

Speaking on Twitter, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas noted that "not a single word" was made concerning renewable energy in the Budget. In a longer statement made for the party's website, she went on further to say:

"With the UK's green economy now worth over £120bn - 9% of GDP - providing nearly a million jobs and generating a third of our most recent economic growth according to the CBI, it is completely inexplicable that George Osborne keeps pretending it doesn't exist."

In contrast to this, the Chancellor said that "creating a low-carbon economy should be done in a way that creates jobs - not costs them", yet didn't specify exactly how this should be achieved. Instead he continued to encourage the development of shale gas in the UK, stating that the government would set up a tax allowance for fracking companies developing gas fields. Shale gas is already notably controversial due to its extraction method - it involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into deep wells at high pressure, creating fissures in shale rock releasing the trapped gas.

This tax incentive also came under fire from Lucas, who considered it "outrageous that the Government is willing to gift more tax breaks to companies drilling for hard to reach shale". She continued by calling the whole thing a "costly gamble that risks keeping the UK addicted to polluting fossil fuels at precisely the time we should be leaving them in the ground". Greenpeace campaigner Lawrence Carter added: "Bungs to the gas industry make it harder for Britain to meet its climate targets and stifle the low-carbon sector, which provided one-third of all UK growth in 2011-12."

Despite all the evidence, it seems shocking that such a strong and fast-growing sector in Britain has been forgotten.

There are a few options open to you if you want a change of career, the good news being it's not as difficult as some people think. If you're looking for a more active job which involves a level of craftsmanship, have you considered one of our intensive carpentry courses? Of course, the first thing you need to decide though is which you would prefer to be - a carpenter or a joiner?

A joiner is the one that makes the time products that a carpenter then fixes on-site. For example, a joiner may be employed to make the doors, windows, stairs etc., "joining" the wood in a workshop. Meanwhile carpenters normally install these products made by the joiner. On-site carpenters will fit door frames, joists, roof trusses and more. Therefore as you can see carpentry and joinery are quite different trades. A joiner might make a beautiful circular window, but the carpenter may do a better job installing it. Similarly, a carpenter may hang a door to a high standard - something a joiner might not be able to do.

Once you've decided which trade you wish to pursue, there are a few options open. The college route will take the longest, possibly up to two years to achieve a CAA Level 2! Being an ex-college lecturer, I've also found that "mature" students mixed in with a class of 16-17 year olds can be a little challenging for an older person. The other route available is an intensive eight week course, which we run here at Access Training. This will give you the same qualification (CAA Level 2) but in an adult environment. It has the added advantage of changing your career in a very short time span and can then be further developed to obtain your NVQ Level 2, which requires some addition evidence being demonstrated at your workplace. Once you have your CAA if you only wish to work for yourself this will be an adequate qualification, however if you wish to go and work "on-site" or in a joiner's workshop then you would need to achieve the NVQ as well. This will give you the full CSCS card required to work in these places.

Once you have your qualification a good place to start (and build your confidence) is by doing jobs for friends, family or neighbours. One of the biggest factors in making a career change is having the confidence to go and try it - the help, training and expertise is out there. Having been training with people for over 16 years I can assure you that it is possible and achievable with some effort on your part

If you would like more information on Access Training's range of carpentry and joinery courses, including the professional qualifications you can achieve from them, give us a call on 0800 345 7492.

- Richard James

This is a question posed by many a householder, however of the reality is that it might not need to be changed. If the fuse board is damaged and there's a chance that people could touch "live" parts (risking an electric shock), then it does need to be changed.

The old fuse board will not meet the requirements of the BS7671 Wiring Regulations 17th Edition Ammendment 1 (2011). The fact that the installation does not meet the requirements doesn't mean it is illegal or indeed unsafe, however the new requirements are intended to make the installation "more" safe by reducing the chances of getting an electric shock.

In order for your domestic installation to meet the requirements of the "Regs" it must also meet the new RCD (Residual Current Device) requirements. RCDs cannot be fitted in older style fuse boards so if your installation needs to be brought up to date and made safer a new consumer unit will be needed.

There are numerous areas where RCDs are required, which should be rated at 30mA. These include;

  • Any cable buried in a wall or partition at a depth of less than 50mm from the surface requires protecting by an RCD unless it is protected by earthed metalwork such as conduit or trunking.
  • Any cable passing through a wall or partition that contains metal parts other than screws or nails.
  • Any cable that is installed outside the 'cable safe zones' needs protecting with both earthed metalwork and an RCD.
  • Every socket outlet rated 20A or less that is used by "ordinary persons" (i.e. home owners) intended for general use, require RCD protection.
  • Mobile equipment used outdoors rated up to 32A.
  • All circuits supplying power to a room that contains a bath or shower are required to be RCD protected.
If you ask an electrician to install a new socket and you do not have RCD protection, then this new work will need to meet the requirements. This could mean that your fuse board will need to be replaced so that the RCDs can be installed! This simple and relatively cheap job has now become much more expensive, but the end result is that your electrical installation is much safer.

Should you be planning to do this (or any other electrical task) yourself, have you considered taking one of Access Training's bespoke electrician courses? Whether you're looking to gain new DIY skills to help you around the home or professional qualifications in order to become an electrician, we can help you.

For more information contact us at 0800 345 7492.

- Mark Jenkins

Combining trades, such as taking both a plumbing and gas engineering course, has always been an ideal way of making sure you are never short work as a qualified professional. It's something we've always encouraged at Access Training, but it's also something that seems to be becoming more and more essential in today's working environment.

The AA training their patrol officers in plumbing emergencies, for example, is a sign of the recession and the need for employers to diversify their workers. With British Gas also now venturing into other areas such as blocked drains, electrics and white goods repairs, it is obvious that in today's climate you cannot rely on a single trade only for a living. I feel grateful that the time I had spent on the tools, only doing plumbing and heating installations for 25 years (single trade only) is now a thing of the past.

It is said there is a major shortage of qualified tradespeople to cover the demand of work that is out there. I suppose I was one of the few tradesman that was never out of work, mainly doing new build but also refurbishments, commercial and industrial installations. I thought I was diversifying at the time, but it would seem even that wouldn't be enough these days. In doing these lines of work I had gained the required qualifications and felt I had gained a vast knowledge of these areas. But I admit that I feel I could not know all there is to known in these fields, with products and techniques regularly changing along with different regulations you need to comply with.

So to think of these mechanics who have to do plumbing course, I don't think it's detrimental to those qualified tradespersons who are of high quality, conscientious and only charge a fair fee for their work. They should not be worried about losing work to companies like British Gas and the AA, but what would be a point of concern is to what level they will be taught to.

Are you a plumber or gas engineer looking to expand your resume in order to take on more work? At Access Training we train both people with no prior experience to become fully qualified in their chosen field and experienced tradesmen looking to train in a new area of work. Each course will give you a professionally recognised qualification, providing you with the skills and knowledge you'll need for any task. For more information, contact us at 0800 345 7492.

- Mark Lewis

While the best way to gain envious plastering and/or tiling skills would be to take one of our bespoke courses and become a qualified plasterer and tiler, Access Training also have a few handy tips to share to DIY enthusiasts looking to improve their work. More...

You don't have to take a plumbing course to know that there are a number of different things people can do to save water. Here are some of my suggestions for inside the home;

 

  • Getting smaller toilet cisterns which deliver 4 and 6 litre flushes
  • Water saving taps that aerate the water
  • Taking short showers rather than having a bath
  • Using a dishwasher that is full instead of washing a few items in a sink bowl
  • Using an A-rated washing machine, which not only saves water but also electricity
  • Brushing your teeth with a cup of water and not letting the tap run constantly
  • Having a fitting in your cold water pipe that enters the building to cut off the supply if there is a burst pipe or excessive loss of water (which would be considered abnormal usage)
  • Upgrading your open vented heating system to a sealed system
  • Changing the hot water open vented system (copper cylinder with stored water in the loft) to an unvented hot water system

Meanwhile here are some more tips for saving water outside;
  • Install a device that fits in the rainwater down pipe to divert the water to a barrel, where can collect the rainwater for garden use
  • Wash your vehicle with a bucket, not a hosepipe
  • Having a special water unit fitted underground to collect the rainwater. Here it can feed the toilets and washing machine as well as giving you the ability to water the garden from a dedicated hose (even in a hosepipe ban!). Also the water from the bath, showers and hand wash basins can be recycled with the rainwater.
Using some or all of these items will help conserve water. There is even a water purification unit that turns rainwater and "grey" water into drinking/bathing water again! Personally I think we should do whatever we can to not only save energy but also save on water usage. In the short terms this will help dramatically but in the long term will save you money, especially since suppliers have raised costs.

- Mark Lewis

If you are interested in learning more about plumbing and the range of water-saving alternatives out there, have you considered a career as a professionally qualified plumber? Access Training have a variety of plumbing courses available to those looking for industry qualifications and those looking to sharpen their DIY skills. For more information call 0800 345 7492 today.

 

At Access Training our bricklayer courses will train you up to the highest possible standard. However there have probably been instances where you've seen newly built houses or walls with high quality brickwork, only to see white patches unevenly spread over the structure. This is most probably "efflorescence" and this post aims to teach how you can help prevent it in your future work.

So what is efflorescence? It is the formation of (usually white) salt deposits on the surface of brickwork, which causes a change in appearance. Apart from the unsightly appearance and discolouration, efflorescence can sometimes indicate serious structural weakness.

While there is an agreement that it is caused by a multiple of factors being combined with materials, views differ as to which factor is the main cause of efflorescence. It is usually impossible to deduce the exact causes with absolute certainty.

To help prevent efflorescence, some factors to consider are;

Cement: The type/make of cement chosen can influence efflorescence in exceptional cases. Pigments in coloured cement and other admixtures added to the mortar may contribute to efflorescence through their salt content.

Aggregates: These can contribute to efflorescence if they contain soluble salts. Sand contaminated with salt is a major factor, therefore sands in close proximity to the sea are an obvious risk.

Salts: Soluble salt is present in the materials used to make bricks, therefore it is capable of being transported and deposited on the surface as efflorescence.

Water/Cement ratio: Generally a high water-cement ratio encourages the movement of water and salt through the brick, giving rise to efflorescence.

Mortar Constituents: The composition of mortar is of significance. Lime used should be hydrated and free from calcium sulphate. The use of unwashed sand or sand contaminated with salt, or pigments containing soluble salts can also contribute to efflorescence in brickwork.

The following practices may also cause efflorescence;

  • No protection from the rain, especially during construction.
  • Materials left uncovered on site.
  • Lack of drips on cills.
  • Poorly filled joints/bad workmanship.
Look forward to future articles which will cover other types of staining to brickwork - including lime staining, vanadium and peacocking.

If you are interested in learning more about bricklaying and would like to train professionally, Access Training have a variety of professional bricklaying courses available. Learn more by calling 0800 345 7492.

- Richard James

Full story: Support for Housebuilding should be chancellor's priority says CBI

It was roughly three years ago when the Government announced there was a considerable sum of money that was to be used for social housing building programmes. At the time of the announcement I was uplifted to think that the prospect could bring about an end to the recession. And being a country that isn't known for production, the only way we can produce a financial economy that breaks a recession is by a large scale house building programme.

With all the products used to build homes and all the new products that go into them, the wages earned by the construction workers goes back into the economy. Throughout my career on the tools, I was fortunate to go through two bad recessions - one in the late 80s and then another in the 90s, both of which I was constantly working within the M25 area doing new build work. I personally feel that, and the CBI agree, our most instant way to relieve this recession is to undertake a 50,000 new build affordable home project. If the Government had started their own social housing programme back then, things wouldn't have turned out the way they are today.

- Mark Lewis

Thinking of going self-employed? Need to join a Competent Person scheme? Well if you don't have the current entry requirements (an electrical installation qualification, 17th Edition Wiring Regulation qualification plus anything else your chosen scheme requires of you), you may well encounter problems if you haven't applied for membership by 6th April 2013.

As of this date entry requirements to a Competent Person scheme are changing. You will need a level 3 NVQ that includes installing electrical installations, Inspection and Testing of electrical installations and Ensuring Compliance of Electrical Installations with building regulations.

Sounds easy? A number of awarding bodies have produced relevant qualifications, but the problem will be the time it will take people to achieve the required level of competence and produce a portfolio as the proof that all the elements have been covered. I would suggest that you will be looking at 18+ months to put the portfolio together!

The knock-on effect of this will be that no one will be eligible to join a Competent Person scheme for some time, causing a void in so-called competent persons. Home owners may find it difficult to find existing electricians that are prepared to take on small jobs - such as installing extra sockets (these are the kind of jobs newly qualified persons use to gain experience), as the current competent electricians will be looking for bigger contracts.

Does this mean home owners will be more tempted to "have a go" themselves? Causing mistakes to be made that could result in dangerous situations occurring? Possibly!

- Mark Jenkins