Now that you've completed your patio course and it's time to lay the slabs, how do you decide which ones to use? Cost will usually have some effect on choosing the materials you use. Bear in mind whether you have a large or small budget, however the difference between a good looking patio and a rather dull looking one may be just a few pounds difference per metre, so is the cost saving any benefit?

Remember, a patio should last you years - to change it later could become costly. If possible the choice of slab should be in-keeping with the surrounding areas. Laying a patio that, when finished, does not look right in its surroundings will only cause disappointment and make you feel like it was a waste of time and money. You need to consider what the patio area will be primarily used for. Some patio slabs become very slippery when wet - riven slabs are less likely to become slippery but are slightly uneven, which may cause a few issues with your table and chairs (they may wobble).

During rainy periods, take into consideration that certain types of slabs require more to lay. Budget slabs are quicker to lay as each slab is the same size and thickness, while high priced slabs of natural sandstone etc. will require a longer time span, due to them being irregular in size and shape. A lot more skill is required when you lay this type of slab, but having said that they look amazing down and you will probably feel the cost was worth it. Remember if you are laying random sized slabs or mixed patio sizes extra time will also be needed. With this type of slab plan the layout (dry) before actually getting to work - if you don't know where the last slab is going don't lay the first one.

Again, this is a very brief explanation and no substitute for one of our dedicated patio-laying courses. If you would like more information on this or any other of our range of construction courses, contact Access Training Wales on 0800 345 7492.

Best of luck and fingers crossed for a good summer this year!

- Richard James

With the weather liking to change for the better over the next few days many of you are probably starting to look forward to what hopefully will be a proper summer this year. If you are in need of patio for your barbeque/sun loungers etc, here is a quick insight from Access Training on how to do it;

Step 1: Decide where you are going to pu the patio. Mark out its postition using pegs and a string line. Be sure to clear the area of any vegetation.

Step 2: Dig out the soil to a depth of about 150mm (6") below your intended finished patio level.

Step 3: You will need to lay a layer of hard-core of at at least 100mm (4") thick. Compact this layer using a place compacter (also known as a wacker plate).

Step 4: Using the line you created earlier start laying your slabs on a mortar bed approximately 50mm (2") thick. Tap each slab down with a rubber mallet and keep checking for level. Make sure there are even gaps between each slab. You can make a wooden spacer of around 10mm (½") to do this.

Step 5: Continue until all your slabs are laid, making sure you follow the fall as you go. If you need to cut any slabs use an angle grinder, making sure that you wear the appropriate personal protective equipment.

Step 6: When the patio is finished wait a few days for the mortar to set and fill the joints with a semi dry sand/cement mix. Wait a few days and then get the barbeque going and sit back and relax.

Obviously this is a very brief explanation and involves a little more knowledge on setting falls and levels. If you would like to learn more, here at Access Training we run dedicated courses on laying patios, which will give you a more in-depth look as well as practical training. For more information, contact us on 0800 345 7492.

In the second part tomorrow we shall look at deciding the best patio slabs to use for the job.

- Richard James

The question most electricians are asking in this day and age is which CPS (Competent Person Scheme) to join - there seems to be quite a choice out there. Does it matter which one we choose? We could go with the well known few or alternatively try one of the other scheme operators. What are we getting for our money?

Well let's be clear about one thing - they are all equal! Each scheme has to be approved by the Department for Communuties and Local Government (DCLG) and all have to meet the same criteria. No scheme can therefore be discriminated against and one scheme should not be a preference over another in any contractual specification. To do so would be against the law.

So in reality it doesn't matter which scheme you choose, it's down to personal choice. Some are better than others if you want to move into the renewables sector. Most are upfront and explain their charges clearly. Some will even give you stickers for your vehicle; others don't - you have to pay for them! Some offer a workmanship guarantee as part of your membership, with others you have to purchase this separately.

So in my humble opinion, shop around and go for the scheme that offers your company the best service for you. Every scheme has to assess you to ensure you are working to a competent level; that is the important factor in all this, not which sticker you put on your van.

- Mark Jenkins & Neil Thomas

Part P Changes

In 2013, the Government made important changes to Part P of the Building Regulations. These are the regulations that ensure that all fixed electrical installations in domestic dwellings are suitably designed, installed, inspected and tested to provide reasonable protection against becoming a source or fire or a cause of injury to persons.

These changes to the Part P of the Building Regulations consisted of two principel modifications, the first of which reduces the range of electrical installation work that needs to be notified. Previously, electrical work undertaken in kitchens (such as adding a new socket) or gardens (installing security lights) were among the work you'd need to be Part P qualified to perform without having to notify an inspector. However now these tasks will no longer be notifiable unless a new circuit is required.

There are three main areas where electrical work will still be notifiable due to Part P of the Building Regulations, and these are:

  • Any work involving the installation of a new circuit
  • The replacement of any consumer unit
  • Any addition or alteration to existing circuits in a special location
In this instance, "special location" can mean two things, the first of which is any room containing a swimming pool or sauna heater. Secondly, it is any room containing a bath or shower, where the space surrounding a bath tap or shower head extends vertically from the finished floor level to a height of 2.25m, or 2.25m from where the shower head is attached. This can also apply horizontally, where the bathtub or shower tray has a distance of 0.6m. Alternatively, where there is no bath tub or shower tray from the centre point of the shower head where it is attached to the wall or ceiling to a distance of 1.2m.
 
The second part of these changes to the Part P of the building regulations relates to the use of a registered third party to certify notifiable work. Previously, any electrician undertaking work that fell under Part P not registered with a competent persons' scheme was required to notify their local authority's building control. They would then send out an independent inspector who would determine if the work was acceptable.
 
However, these changes mean that electricians not registered with a competent persons' scheme have to get their work signed off by a registered third party. For more information, visit the official Government Part P document.
 
Are you looking to become Part P qualified? Not only will this enable you to register with a competent persons' scheme and allow you to self-certify your own work (saving you hundreds of pounds), but could also potentially provide you with a whole new area of work when the third party approval system is finalised. Here at Access Training we offer a wide range of electricial courses, including specific Part P Training. If you would like to find out more, give us a call on 0800 345 7492.

The Government has sparked more frustration from industry members as it announced yet another delay to the start of the long-awaited Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The scheme, which was designed to encourage renewable heating systems to be installed in domestic properties and offer money towards those who have fitted renewable heating products, was meant to launch this Autumn but has now been pushed back until Spring 2014.

Greg Barker, the Energy and Climate Change Minister, said: "The RHI, which has been available for non-domestic investors for over a year, is a key part of our approach to cutting carbon and driving forward the move to more sustainable low carbon heating alternatives."

"We remain committed to introducing an incentive scheme for householders too, and have set out an updated timetable for its launch alongside new plans to extend our renewable heat voucher scheme in the meantime."

However this isn't enough for many leading industry members, who have vocally expressed their disappointment at the delay. Jim Moore, of leading heating and boiling manufacturers the Vaillant Group has said: "The Government now needs to deliver on its latest deadline to assist in stimulating increased uptake of renewables in the UK as has been demonstrated as effective in so many European markets."

Elsewhere, chief executive of the Micropower Council Dave Sowden has commented: "Taken with the delay in confirmed the next steps of the 'zero carbon homes' policy, the announcement is forcing the industry to question whether the Coalition is serious about promoting domestic renewable heat during this Parliament."

Coinciding with this announcement was also an action plan looking at the potential to cut emissions from heat across the whole of the UK economy. It focuses on a number of key actions in an attempt to spur on the move to low carbon heating alternatives and drive forward green growth. These include;

  • A £9 million package to help local authorities get heat network schemes up and running in towns and cities across the country, with a new Heat Networks Delivery Unit to sit within the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) providing expert advice.
  • £1 million for Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield and Nottingham to help them develop heat networks.
  • 100 green apprenticeships to be funded primarily for young people in small scale renewable technologies.
  • Up to £250,000 for a new first-come-first-served voucher scheme for heating installers to get money off the cost of renewable heating kit installation training, with up for £500 or 75% of the cost of the training per person.
  • Working with individual industrial sectors to design long-term pathways to cut carbon across UK industry.

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