The Fire Cemetery (January 2021 Edition)

Here lies a list of blogs now deceased, moved on to fairer lands…

On life support (>6 months since last post)

  • Big Blue Money – Formerly Big Blue Money, now renamed to Coffee Money, posting intermittently
  • Rockstar Finance – Was back under new management, but with a very barren site. Doesn’t seem to have added any posts for some time.
  • Frugal Student – Posting from August 2016 to March 2020, mainly about investing.
  • Left FI – Blogged from May to August 2019, with a bit of a hiatus before a further flurry back in May 2020.
  • The Canny Contractor – Started posting about their dividend growth portfolio in Q3 2016, with their most recent post in April 2020 covering Q4 2019.
  • The English Investor – Last post in July 2020 titled “The English Investor is back”
  • The Saving Journey – Starting in October 2017, with frequent monthly updates, their blogging peters out up to May 2020.
  • Want Less – Started blogging way back in June 2015, but blogging has slowed in the last two years, with the last post in July 2020.
  • Fire Fans – Posted seven times, five in Dec 2019, one in Jan 2020, and a final one in Feb 2020.
  • Financial Anvil – Also started in Dec 2019, lasted one month longer, March 2020.
  • Psyfitec – A potential competitor, blogging on psychology and finance. They started in Feb 2009, and have had a few short hiatuses along the way, so I suspect their March 2020 post won’t be the last.
  • Baldrick’s Early Retirement UK – First post 5th March 2020, last post 23rd April 2020.
  • Financing Freedom – First post 4th April 2020, last post 25th July 2020.
  • Money by choice – First post 17th April 2020, last post 10th July 2020.
  • Plan on Fire – Started posting 15th June 2020, last post 28th July 2020.
  • Prudent Programmer – Pages comes up with safety warnings, but is accessible. First post September 2019, last post August 2020.

In the morgue (dormant for >1 year)

  • Finance Your Fire – Marc participated in lots of the FIRE blogging scenes Thought Experiments etc, but last posted in August 2019
  • Fire in London – First post in Nov 2016, last in December 2018
  • Deliberate Living UK – First post 2017, last from Wephway was in January 2019
  • Sex Health Money Death – Jim first posted in August 2015, and the last post was August 2018. At that point he was close to retiring, so he may well have blogged his last.
  • Under The Money Tree – One of the original few, now dormant since December 2017
  • UK Girl on Fire – First post April 14th 2019, last on July 31st 2019. A fair amount of indeedably inspired work on their site.
  • The Finance Zombie – Last post in February 2019, infrequent prior but had been going since the 25th of September 2014.
  • Bangkok 2 Blighty – Another big name, they started posting in April 2018, last post in October 2019.
  • Your Freedom Pot – Started blogging in Feb 2018, with monthly updates to July 2018, then nada.
  • Girl vs Money – Another short blog, with a few personal finance posts from July to September 2018.

Dead and buried

  • Mr Squirrel – Another titan, sorely missed
  • The Fire Engine – About a month of posting
  • Some Things Don’t Change – Been gone some time sadly
  • Financially Free by 40 – the latest addition, Huw’s last post was in mid-2018. The domain is now up for grabs.
  • Grizgal on Fire – Last posted on the 8th of October 2019, their website is now dead.
  • Liberate Life – Last posted on 11th September 2019, before deleting their website
  • Chuffed 2 bits – Last posted in November 2019, the disappeared from this plane of existence. Now redirects to a completely unassociated blog.
  • Next Chapter FI – My records show they last posted on the 2nd of January 2020, before puffing into void.
  • MsZiYou – Feminist FIRE fan, who at one point was podcasting as well as blogging. Close to FIRE and changes in life circumstances led her to close her blog.
  • Mess and Marigolds – Last posted on October the 15th 2019, their blog (mainly about cleaning with a bit of saving) started in September 2016. Domain now dead.
  • Ready Steady Retire – Posted for about two months, from November 7th 2019 to December 21st 2019. Another dead domain.
  • FIDdom – Bec started posting way back in November 2017, with her last post on the 17th of November 2019. 18 months to two years seems to be about average for survival time.
  • Fretful Finance – Blogged from December 2nd 2018, with the most recent update on January 25th 2020. Also now deceased.
  • Formerly Skint – Weekly money diaries started in January 2018 and dried up in January 2019. Now ‘parked’.
  • Make Save Invest Money – Leon was posting from December 2017 to January 2019, and then appears to run out of steam. Now another dead link.
  • Money Doesn’t Talk – Wasn’t blogging long, maybe six months?
  • Liberate Life – Blogging for about a year, now dropped off my radar and with a dead site. Last post September 2019

Crossed the finishing line:

These bloggers finished their FIRE journey or completed goals, and signed off with distinction:

  • Young FI Guy – One of my favourites, a titan, gone but not forgotten
  • Fire the 9 to 5 – A fairly big poster, first post February 28th 2018. They had retired early, and posted a sign off blog entry in November 2020. Hope they’re enjoying their time.
  • Pursue Fire – Dan started in July 2018, last post in January 2020 winding up the blog.

The Lazarus circuit

These are bloggers who have returned from the edge, touched the void, etc:

  • Sparklebee – After a six month hiatus returned to posting with the news they quit their job and were truly on countdown to FIRE!
  • Early Retirement Guy – Now redirects to MatchedBettingGuy, where he continues to blog.
  • Little Miss Fire – LMF changed sites in 2019 and blogging was patchy after the swap. First post sometime in 2018 I think. As of October to December 2020 is back posting regularly.
  • 3652 Days – Fairly infrequently updated, but going since December 2015, so often dips into the three-six month warning zone.
  • Middle Class Hustlers – Holy smokes! Blogged for about a month in 2018/9, then back with three posts in two days in January 2021.

If you can think of any more please leave a comment below, and I’ll periodically return to update.

I am indebted to /u/reckless-saving over on /r/FIREUK, who makes this post so much easier by producing a similar weekly curated post.

The FIRE Cemetery (July 2020 Edition)

Here lies a list of blogs now deceased, moved on to fairer lands…

On life support (>6 months since last post)

  • Early Retirement Guy – First post 2014, most recent was the 18th of January 2020, with an annual net worth update from Guy after an eventful year
  • Big Blue Money – Formerly Big Blue Money, now renamed to Coffee Money, posting intermittently
  • Finance Your Fire – Marc participated in lots of the FIRE blogging scenes Thought Experiments etc, but last posted in August 2019
  • Mess and Marigolds – Last posted on October the 15th 2019, their blog (mainly about cleaning with a bit of saving) started in September 2016.
  • Ready Steady Retire – Posted for about two months, from November 7th 2019 to December 21st 2019.
  • Little Miss Fire – We’ve been here before, and sad to see. LMF changed sites last year, and the new one appears to have been left while their spirits company takes the focus. First post sometime in 2018 I think? Last post 17th December 2019.
  • FIDdom – Bec started posting way back in November 2017, with her last post on the 17th of November 2019.
  • Bangkok 2 Blighty – Another big name, they started posting in April 2018, last post in October 2019.
  • Fretful Finance – Blogged from December 2nd 2018, with the most recent update on January 25th 2020.
  • 3652 Days – Fairly infrequently updated, but going since December 2015, so I suspect their post from January the 19th 2020 won’t be their last.

 

In the morgue (dormant for >1 year)

  • Fire in London – First post in Nov 2016, last in December 2018
  • Deliberate Living UK – First post 2017, last from Wephway was in January 2019
  • Sex Health Money Death – Jim first posted in August 2015, and the last post was August 2018. At that point he was close to retiring, so he may well have blogged his last.
  • Under The Money Tree – One of the original few, now dormant since December 2017
  • UK Girl on Fire – First post April 14th 2019, last on July 31st 2019. A fair amount of indeedably inspired work on their site.
  • Fire the 9 to 5 – A fairly big poster, last wrote on July 22nd 2019, first post February 28th 2018. They had retired early, so hopefully they’re off doing better things.
  • Formerly Skint – Weekly money diaries started in January 2018 and dried up in January 2019
  • Make Save Invest Money – Leon was posting from December 2017 to January 2019, and then appears to run out of steam
  • The Finance Zombie – Last post in February 2019, infrequent prior but had been going since the 25th of September 2014.

 

Dead and buried

  • Young FI Guy – One of my favourites, a titan, gone but not forgotten
  • Mr Squirrel – Another titan, sorely missed
  • The Fire Engine – About a month of posting
  • Middle Class Hustlers – Lasted about two months
  • Some Things Don’t Change – Been gone some time sadly
  • Financially Free by 40 – the latest addition, Huw’s last post was in mid-2018. The domain is now up for grabs.
  • Grizgal on Fire – Last posted on the 8th of October 2019, their website is now dead.
  • Pursue Fire – Dan started in July 2018, last post in January 2020 winding up the blog.
  • Liberate Life – Last posted on 11th September 2019, before deleting their website
  • Chuffed 2 bits – Last posted in November 2019, the disappeared from this plane of existence
  • Next Chapter FI – My records show they last posted on the 2nd of January 2020, before puffing into void.
  • MsZiYou – Feminist FIRE fan, who at one point was podcasting as well as blogging. Close to FIRE and changes in life circumstances led her to close her blog.

 

The Lazarus circuit

These are bloggers who have returned from the edge, touched the void, etc:

  • Sparklebee – After a six month hiatus returned to posting with the news they quit their job and were truly on countdown to FIRE!
  • Rockstar Finance – Is now back under new management, but with a very barren site.

 

If you can think of any more please leave a comment below, and I’ll periodically return to update.

I am indebted to /u/reckless-saving over on /r/FIREUK, who makes this post so much easier.

The COVID Thought Experiment – Simple pleasures

This is a post in response to the Saving Ninja’s latest thought experiment (1). Indeedably lays it out (2):

Unprecedented events create new experiences. What fun, misadventure, or positive discoveries have you encountered while locked down?

Life in the FS household hasn’t actually changed that much with lockdown. Both MrsFireShrink and I are key workers, we’re still full time (me slightly more) in work, we commute, we have our weekly veg deliveries and top up shops. The big hole has been in socialising. Not going to the pub or out for dinner. No weekends away with friends. No casual pints/ coffees after work.

Adaptable

We have changed our behaviour patterns. When I clocked the first viral reports and read the data we started to prepare, advised family to put things aside, ready themselves. We anticipated the wave, along with many in the medical line. Still, it was hard to imagine.

Come March, the spread to Italy and Europe, the world clocked onto what this could be. Media hysteria reached unprecedented levels. Social channels fuelled disinformation and speculation. A world that was used to it’s pattern and routine suddenly changed.

We had that speech (3):

“Johnson: many more people will lose loved ones to coronavirus”

There was an air of apocalypse, the four horses were riding, plague stalked the land and soon the last few survivors would be wandering a wasteland, trading loo-rolls for daughters. How would life go on?

Doctors Didn't Actually Wear Beaked Masks During the Black Plague ...

Image credit: Wikipedia

Life has always gone on.

The analogies between humans and cockroaches are not just because of our spread. We’re adaptable. We survive and endure.

Countless wars, famines, natural disasters and, yes, plagues, have come and gone. We have short memories and biases.

The world is not going to end. We will all still love, eat, shit and sleep. It’s just different.

Change

We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easily we’ve shifted gear. MrsShrink and I share many interests, and have always been able to spend days in each others company; reading, playing games, or watching shit TV.

Some things have gone and probably won’t return. My council gym membership. Many work face-to-face meetings.

Some of the things we used to do have altered. Zoom yoga and classes.

Some new things have been added. Video-call D&D with friends.

Most of all there’s time to do things I enjoyed but rarely had enough time for. Gardening (4). Working on my cars. DIY. Finishing those books. Writing on here.

Simpler joys.

The world got a bit slower and that’s no bad thing.

The Shrink

Other entries:

Reference:

  1. https://thesavingninja.com/lockdown-discoveries/
  2. https://indeedably.com/misadventure/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/12/uk-moves-to-delay-phase-of-coronavirus-plan
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/apr/18/new-to-gardening-heres-where-to-start
  5. https://pathtolife2.com/2020/04/14/discoveries-in-lockdown-lessons-to-take-away/
  6. https://totalbalance.blog/while-we-wait/
  7. https://www.moneyforthemoderngirl.org/thought-experiment-covid-19-edition/
  8. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2020/04/21/thought-experiment-10-covid-19-edition/

The NHS Pension

One of the reasons I started learning about personal finance was to try and make sense of the NHS Pension Scheme. Many of my colleagues pay in and assume they’ll be sorted in the end. That sort of goodwill makes you an easy target for cheeky governments. So if you’re an NHS employee or just interested, here’s a one-pager on basics of the NHS Pension Scheme. The headline:

The NHS Pension is an unfunded defined benefit career-average revalued earnings (CARE) pension.

Wading through that finance-speak.

  • Defined benefit

When you come to take the pension you receive a set amount yearly/monthly, a defined benefit (DB).

Defined benefit pensions come in many forms, from the old style final salary (where you continue to receive your final salary yearly as your retirement income), to the CARE schemes as explained below. Most public sector jobs retain defined benefit schemes (civil service, teachers pension etc) and some corporations hold it for their top brass.

Private companies have largely moved to defined contribution (DC) pension schemes. Here the amount you pay in is set, and what you receive depends on how much you have saved at the end. These used to managed in investment funds by selected providers, but since the pension freedoms legal changes people have lots more options (SIPPs etc). DB schemes are unlikely to allow you to make such changes without transferring your money out (1).

  • Unfunded

Most pension schemes are ‘Funded’. This means the scheme holds assets from contributions against future liabilities (future pension payments). On an individual level, this would mean an individuals’ (and their employers’) contributions are invested so to pay out the future pension of that person. DB pension scheme liabilities are valued on an actuarial basis. That is, some very smart math geeks add up lots of numbers on life expectancy to value the cost of paying future pensions.

In an Unfunded scheme, the contributions are used to pay current pensioners. There is no ‘float’. In the case of the NHS Pension Scheme, the Treasury guarantees the scheme liabilities. There is no pot of assets lying about. They effectively work on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. Cynics argued that the 2015 scheme came about because they realised the old scheme was too expensive with people living longer.

  • Career-Average Revalued Earnings (CARE)

CARE schemes are the modern DB scheme set-up, argued to be fairer (cheaper). You receive a pension based upon a fraction of your pensionable earnings, revalued yearly for inflation. For each year you pay into your NHS pension, you add 1/54th of your earnings for that year to the pot. To account for inflation each your pot is ‘revalued’ and increased by inflation (Treasury Order, currently 1.7% as the CPI) plus 1.5% (2).

Caveat; this only covers the 2015 scheme. The 1995 and 2008 sections are final salary with different calculations. Frustrating for those of us migrated over.

So that’s the description, what about the nuts and bolts?

You pay

The pension contribution line on your payslip should have a little percentage next to it. That percentage is defined by your earnings, rising if you earn more because we live in a fair and equitable society. This amount has no impact on the amount in your pot – better to think of it as a ‘membership fee’. The percentage of your salary you pay as a ‘membership fee’ is defined by the table below (2):

Annual salary Contribution rate
£0-£15,431.99 5.0%
£15,432-£21,477 5.6%
£21,478-£26,823 7.1%
£26,824-£47,845 9.3%
£47,846-£70,630 12.5%
£70,631-£111,376 13.5%
£111,377+ 14.5%

Your local NHS employer also pays in 20.68%. This, while seeming generous, also has no benefit on what you receive other than being their contribution to your ‘membership fee’.

Your benefits

You receive your pension at state retirement age (although this does vary for a minority, check your own eligibility). You receive 1/54th of the earnings of each year you contributed, revalued yearly by inflation +1.5% up until the point you retire. You receive this like a continued salary or annuity. Remember those? Currently out of fashion, but previously annuity schemes you bought at retirement were where you paid a lump sum to receive a yearly amount back in the future. The NHS pension does similar.

Because it’s a guaranteed yearly amount from retirement (practically age 68 for most), and it’s revalued for inflation it’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s possible to build up pensions which would be worth millions if you were buying them as an annuity or DC equivalent. Hence the issues with the Tapered Annual Allowance.

In almost all circumstances joining and remaining a member of the NHS Pension Scheme is a good idea. Even if you’re joining close to retirement (3).

Actually working out how much you will receive is a bit of a nightmare – hence further issues with the Tapered Annual Allowance. This is because you don’t know your contributions until the end of the tax year, you don’t know your current revaluation, and you have to guesstimate future revaluation.

You can formally request an estimate here (4). Expect in 3-6 working months.

Or a quicker and easier route is to go to the NHS Business Services website and log into your Total Reward Statement (a faff) (5). This will provide various figures, plus an annuity equivalence estimate. You can plug these figures into a variety of calculators such as these provided by the Scottish Public Pension Agency or the HSC Pension Scheme Services (Northern Irish I think). (5, 6)

It’s also worth noting that on your death a nominated partner can receive a lump sum, adult dependent’s can receive a pension, and children under 23 can also receive a pension.

Downsides

  • You can’t transfer out

Since April 2015 members of unfunded public sector pension schemes cannot transfer out to Defined Contribution schemes (1). It’s unfunded; there’s no pot of money to take your contributions from. In effect, this means many are ‘trapped’ in the NHS Pension Scheme.

  • It’s inflexible

It’s an opt-in or opt-out deal. You can’t change providers if they don’t offer what you want, you can’t select a different DC pension. You can’t move your pension around the stock market. You pays your money, many thanks for your blood, sweat and tears, here’s your reward guv.

  • The Tapered Annual Allowance

To HMRC your pension pot is 20x your annual defined benefit at the end. Unlike with a private Defined Contribution scheme, you can’t cut contributions if you think they’ll breach the Annual Allowance. Those contributions and revaluations which rely on some fiendish calculations and professional intuition (guesswork). This is leading to effective tax rates of 100+%, and tax bills running into six figures (1). Likewise, there is little to no ability to negotiate alternative compensation arrangements in lieu of employer pension contributions if it looks like they will breach the Tapered Annual Allowance. I’ve ranted about it before (7). The changes announced in the recent (March 2020) Budget upped the threshold to £200k, which should solve this problem for the majority (8).

  • It’s low hanging fruit for HM hungry Treasury

“Rich doctors are already compensated way more than us in the private sector” etc…

The unfunded nature makes it an expensive ongoing concern. Weighing that liability against pissing off NHS employees is a mighty headache.

Just Desserts

The NHS Pension scheme remains a significant carrot for workers in the NHS who spend a working lifetime being beaten with sticks. It’s clunky, inflexible and beats most DC schemes in terms of return – it’s guaranteed!

There’s still plenty of caveats. If you’re struggling MedFi has a five-part series with worked examples (9). They also cover factors to consider if you want to retire early (10), how to top up and buy out for early retirement (11), and what happens if you’re on extended leave or you’ve buggered off elsewhere (12). I’ve avoided all of this for sake of brevity and sanity. I’d also recommend Junior Doctor Finance for an explanatory page, plus a quick calculator (13).

The NHS Pension Scheme turns out to be like the NHS itself… monolithic, byzantine, effective. Hope this was useful, would welcome any comments below,

The Shrink

N.B. I am indebted to the Young FI Guy for some of his original post text relating to the NHS Pension and the Tapered Annual Allowance. 

References

  1. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/transferring-out-of-a-defined-benefit-pension-scheme
  2. https://www.which.co.uk/money/pensions-and-retirement/company-pensions/public-sector-pensions-explained/nhs-pension-schemes-explained-azydt0q5t434
  3. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/pensions/article-7447269/Should-join-NHS-pension-scheme.html
  4. https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/member-hub/getting-estimate-your-pension
  5. https://pensions.gov.scot/nhs/your-membership/calculators/nhs-pension-calculator
  6. http://www.hscpensions.hscni.net/quick-links/calculators/
  7. https://thefireshrink.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/the-full-english-accompaniment-doctors-are-rubbish-at-pensions/
  8. https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/03/budget-2020–threshold-for-pension-tax-relief-raised-to-p200-000/
  9. https://medfiblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/10/the-nhs-pension-i-the-basics/
  10. https://medfiblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/23/the-nhs-pension-iii-retiring-early/
  11. https://medfiblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/30/the-nhs-pension-iv-more-pension/
  12. https://medfiblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/05/the-nhs-pension-v-other-circumstances/
  13. https://www.juniordoctorfinance.co.uk/nhs-pension/

 

Property Renovation Lessons III

A return to the Property Renovation series, picking up from where I left off in part II considering internal fabric and structure. Here I’ll look at room specific construction, layout and furnishings.

Dry Rooms

I am using this as a catch-all for lounge/ living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, offices, corridors… basically any room that doesn’t involve plumbing beyond central heating radiators.

The vast majority of fittings and furnishings in these rooms will be cheap to fix and replace. I’ve covered the walls and floors themselves in part II, but what about the added features. There’s a brief ‘Bluffers Guide’ to period features available here, which I’ll expand on in part (1).

Architrave

Is the wood panelling surrounding doors, windows and cupboards, which covers where plaster would crack over time through repeated movement. Fancier houses have fancier architrave. Cheap modern renovations or late 20th century houses often have very simplistic architrave. There’s actually very few styles and most have been around since the Victorian era, so it’s easy enough to replace and match. At worst, you can have a specialist company make a pattern and mill you some to match.

Image Credit: Pinterest

Ceiling Roses

Generally seen in older properties, ceiling roses first started appearing in the 1600s in affluent plastered homes as a ceiling decoration for chandeliers (2). They spread through the 18th and 19th centuries, gradually evolving in design such that you can use design elements to date a room if you’re a proper nerd. By the 1850s developments in plaster meant that a ceiling rose did not have to be sculpted by hand, but could be cast in a workshop and sold in large volumes. These days you can get them in polystyrene (why?), plaster or metal (even more why?) in various styles off the shelf. Ceiling roses only really suit a room (IMO) with a 12-foot plus ceiling, but can be a good way to add period features back in quickly.

Image Credit: Victorian Cornice Company

Corbels

In a similar vein, corbels were originally simple projections from walls which held up structures above. The Victorians took inspiration from medieval builders in designing patterned corbels, which became more decorative (3). They reached a point of being entirely decorative, often non-weightbearing and made of plaster. They can also be found on fireplaces and shelving.

Image Credit: Pinterest

 

Cornicing and Coving (and Friezes)

Cornicing is the decorative moulding found at the junction of wall and ceiling. Technically cornicing is actually any form of horizontal decorative element that tops a building feature, the word cornice coming from the italian for ledge, and so external decorative moulding is also cornicing (4). We use cornicing interchangeably due to classical description of internal cornice over a frieze, with an architrave below. Cornicing tends to therefore refer to more intricately patterned mouldings, whilst coving is simpler. Cornicing and coving both come in plaster, polystyrene (and GRP/ other plastics) and wooden forms. Repairing damaged plaster cornicing can be pretty difficult, so always worth checking the state of all rooms. In really smart houses, echoing their classical roots, you may find plaster friezes below the cornicing and above the picture rail. Again from the 1850s onwards these could be cast in complete lengths and then fitted on site. Many of these skills have now been lost, and heavy successive coats of paint can hide detail, so finding such features in good condition is a treat.

 

Image credit: The Victorian Emporium

Dado rails and picture rails

A dado rail sits at around 90cm from the floor, and was originally used in the Georgian period to protect the wall from chair backs during formal dances (5, 6). They fell out of fashion but then returned as a separator for friezes or anaglyptas.

Picture rails have been around since the 15th century, but again we have the Victorians to thank for their widespread use as the lowly proletariat added them to their parlours as a fashionable way of hanging pictures (7). That is still what they’re for. If you have picture rails, please use them, don’t then stick a nail in the bloody wall. As ceilings got lower so did picture rails. As such, there is no correct height, picture rails can be placed anywhere between coving to architrave, but are generally placed 30 to 50cm (12 to 20in) below the ceiling. Picture rails are a great feature for a period home, and painting above in a lighter colour can add to the feeling of height as well as lightening up otherwise imposing rooms (8).

Image Credit: VintagePropertyRestoration.co.uk

Skirting

Serves the same function as architrave, masking the gaps between edges of plaster and floorboards which are likely to move. Skirting began to be used in the Georgian period, but again became popular in the Victorian era (9). The more grand or ornate the house, the taller and more intricate the skirting, before gradually becoming smaller again up to the 1980s. Much like architrave, skirting now comes in plastic, softwood or metal forms, and can be made to order to match previous designs. It’s worth pointing out the difference with wood panelling, traditionally in the UK called wainscot, a much older technique pre-dating plaster. This dates from when buildings were stone, and wood panels were added to reduce draughts and keep the room warmer. Later they became decorative. Out of fashion currently, and you’ll need a carpenter to repair (10).

Image Credit: Pinterest

All of the above furnishings and fittings can be added back in with care and attention to detail (8, 11). The ’70s has a lot to answer for in terms of removal of features, but equally the current pre-occupation with Victorian features may well go out of fashion. We’ve viewed our position as custodians, and tried not to remove features of our property as we’ve renovated, even if we don’t like them.

Fireplaces and chimneys

For as long as there have been dwellings, humans (great apes) have had fireplaces. These developed from central cooking fires, to hearths, to the inglenook. These were enclosed hearth areas off a main room, which incorporated a cooking area, a main fire, and sometimes bread ovens etc (12).

Image Credit: Wikimedia

These enclosed hearths were gradually incorporated into the room while retaining the grate or back. Cast iron firebacks were used to retain and radiate heat. Decorative surrounding were added in the Louix XIV, XV and XVI periods, extending into the Georgian period with more classical plaques or motifs (13). In the Victorian period developments in mass metalworking allowed for cast iron insets for fireplaces (14). These, and stylistic developments are most commonly seen today. Due to the gradual development of styles over time it’s possible to date most fireplaces to a rough decade, like the Victorian one below (13, 14). Reclamation yards usually have a good selection of styles, and reproductions are available. 

Image Credit: FireplaceAntiques.co.uk

From the Edwardian era through the Art Deco period fireplaces were more commonly concrete and tile, and these can be harder to repair though replacements are available (15). The first electric fireplace came along in 1995 (just an overgrown electric radiation to me), and modern fireplaces are usually more about home interior design than serving as a traditional focal point. Make sure to match your new fireplace to the correct era. 

Image Credit: c20fireplaces.co.uk

A significant caveat and kicker when looking at properties to purchase or for renovations is around chimney breasts. These are the (usually) brick structures surrounding the fire and flue up to the chimney. They support the weight of the chimney above, and are often integral to the structural design of the property (16). Where fireplaces and chimney breasts have been removed for design or space purposes always check this has been done to regulations and by someone who knows what they’re doing. Because of the weight carried above it would be usual to take the whole chimney out, not just a ground floor section. If this is the case then permanent support for the chimney above will need to be inserted, usually designed by a structural engineer (17). Beware the cowboy!

Wet Rooms

Bathrooms

For some, the place to brush your teeth and shit, hopefully not at the same time. For others, a place of tranquil relaxation. Interior design styles with bathrooms seems to change yearly, so I’ll only briefly touch on things here. The Victorians, they obsessed with cleanliness, again kicked us off in the modern understanding of bathrooms once they mastered hot water, cast iron baths, plumbing and Mr Crapper added his flourish. Although I must admit, if I get the resources I’d go full caldarium/ frigidarium.

Image Credit: Hevac-Heritage.org

These spread after WW1, though your lowly commoner only really got indoor toilets and bathrooms post-WW2. Early versions had a water heater (often gas) next to the bath. During this period most fixtures were cast iron or ceramic, and decoration was often in the form of tiling. The claw foot freestanding bathtub began to disappear due to space constraints, and because they’re a pain to clean around (18). Matching sets became fashionable, and with the uptake of coloured plastics we reached the avocado bath era (see part 1). Finally, in the 90s and 00s everything went sanitary white, for that sterilised clinical slab look.

Badekar og varmtvannsbereder

Image Credit: Norsk Folke Museum

Lightweight plastics and modern manufacturing methods mean there’s a smorgasbord of choice. Modern style appears to be going more slimline – low rise freestanding showers and built in toilets. Not my personal taste as they can be a pain to DIY repair. Lots of classical designs are also being re-used or updated (19). Even the bloody avocado bath (20). So don’t rip it out just yet, the design world is your oyster.

Kitchens

Tied in with the hearth and central room for most of history, the spread of kitchens to the masses also came with the Victorians. This time as they cleared people from shared living slums to their own private homes. This coincided with wood or coal-fired stoves, which were much more efficient and quicker than open fires (21). These were developed to run on gas (1826) and electric (1912). Victorian kitchens were utilitarian workspaces, often with a Belfast or butler sink in a separate scullery (for wet cleaning work) and foodstuff stored in a pantry. The late C19th and early C20th saw these spaces opened up and incorporated (you can’t fit a scullery in a miner’s terrace). They’ve gradually become cleaner, sleeker and with more accoutrements as time has gone on. From a renovation point of view kitchens can soak up money, and you largely get what you pay for. A quick repaint and re-tile may be a few hundred, a second hand or cheap kitchen may cost you £1-3k, decent high end kitchens run to tens of thousands. Buyers choice.

Image Credit: John Desmond/ Veterans United

Renovation potential

How many thousands of articles are there on assessing renovation potential? Everyone wants the short cuts. So now you’ve read my rough guide to features here’s some tips:

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Most people (I think) will at some point want to make a stamp on the property they own. A lot of these stamps are highly personal taste. What you think is renovation, updating or beautifying may not be what a buyer or renter wants to see. Know your target: is this your forever home, a five-year stepping stone, or a BTL. 

  • Know the local ceiling price

Leading on from the above, there’s no point buying a three-bed terrace and then throwing in a £30k kitchen, extension, basement and loft conversions if after all that it’s only worth £100k. (Caveat: does not apply if you consider it your forever home). Go on Zoopla or Rightmove and look at the sold house prices for a feel for maximum value (22). For BTLs there’s a good calculator at South St made by one of the r/UKPersonalFinance people (23)

  • The ugly work can add the most, but might add nothing

Before thinking about painting, that new bathroom, the six-burner rangemaster, do the shitwork. Make the house warm, dry, secure and free of damp. Structural defects may be hidden and can cost huge amounts to correct with no direct gain to property value. Central heating, rewiring and re-plastering are messy jobs, but will almost always add value. The jobs which need special skills and are the most difficult are often the ones that add the profit (22, 24, 25).

  • Know your limits

If you’ve never held a paintbrush then raising the roofline for extra head space in that loft conversion is probably a bit too much. Be prepared to leave stuff to professionals (26). One man with the right tools could do something in two days that would take you two weeks. Brickwork, structural work, roofing, plumbing, and electrics all require specialist skills and kit. Plastering, carpentry and painting are all better with experience. 

  • Get it certificated 

Linked to the above, tradesmen will be insured and appropriately qualified. Many property changes require certification. The sob pages of the tabloids are filled with stories about eejits wasting money (27, 28). Get multiple quotes. Get planning permission. Get it signed off and keep the certificate somewhere safe (29).

Final Points

Here’s three take homes if you can’t be bothered remembering all that:

  1. Know your worth – that overtime at your day job may be a better return on investment than DIY
  2. Know the value – of the local property, and how long you’re willing to hold it for to calculate cost/ benefit/ return on investment
  3. Get multiple quotes, use reputable traders, get the certificates

Hope that was useful!

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://www.houzz.co.uk/magazine/a-bluffers-guide-to-identifying-period-features-stsetivw-vs~79477800
  2. https://www.prickettandellis.com/period-features-a-rose-by-any-other-name/
  3. https://www.patterncut.com/history-of-corbels-medieval-modern-architecture.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornice
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dado_rail
  6. https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/advice/plaster-mouldings-and-dado-rails
  7. https://www.1900s.org.uk/1900s-parlour.htm
  8. https://www.vintagepropertyrestoration.co.uk/blog/55-picture-rail
  9. http://allenpartnership.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-skirting-boards/
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panelling#Wainscot_panelling
  11. https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/advice/plaster-mouldings-and-dado-rails
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inglenook
  13. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-choose-a-fireplace-and-identifying-historical-design/
  14. https://www.fireplaceantiques.co.uk/history-of-antique-fireplaces
  15. http://www.c20fireplaces.co.uk/rfpi
  16. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimney_breast
  17. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-remove-a-chimney-breast/
  18. https://www.brownstoner.com/architecture/victorian-bathroom-history-plumbing-brooklyn-architecture-interiors/
  19. https://www.realhomes.com/design/traditional-bathroom-ideas
  20. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/interiors/avocado-bathroom-suite-now-back-fashion/
  21. https://www.johndesmond.com/blog/design/a-brief-history-of-the-kitchen/
  22. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/how-to-renovate-for-profit/
  23. https://south.st/test/
  24. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/20-sure-ways-to-add-value-to-your-home/
  25. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/renovation-assessing-the-potential/
  26. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/diy-what-to-leave-to-the-professionals/
  27. https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/months-work-thousands-spent-added-13191459
  28. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6303067/Woman-forced-tear-dream-home-spent-150-000-renovating.html
  29. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2018/08/the-five-home-improvements-most-likely-to-blow-your-budget/
  30.  
 
 

Thought Experiment – Your best or worst decade?

Following on from the reasons to be cheerful or fearful post rather than offer one solution, I’m going to offer four five thought experiments; ways in which world events might hit your finances. How would you feel if each played out, and how confident are you that it will or won’t?

Scenario 1: Deep Doom

Driven by cultural nostalgia for the 1920s, the world markets continue their growth into a new ‘roaring twenties’. After three further years fuelled by tech stocks and IPOs, consumer purchasing falters. The West stops buying new IPhones or leasing cars, as people attempt to control their debt. As global consumerism falls off, global economic output follows. Falls in Chinese production lead to an internal banking crisis, as companies are unable to service their debt and require huge bailots. Simultaneously, consecutive quarters of poor returns to the FAANG stocks leads their share price to collapse by 50%. Companies pull investment as they attempt to balance books, which leads to a spiral of decreased corporate spending, job losses, and decreased consumer spending. Over a period of a year global markets lose half their value. Central interest rates, already low, cannot provide stimulus. Reposessions lead to global property price falls. Bond prices collapse as once top-rated companies go under. Government tax receipts cannot cover half of spending, and radical steps are taken. In the UK, the pension is means-tested. The NHS is means-tested. Unemployment benefit is replaced by a ration system. Unemployment rises to 30%, homelessness to 10%. Shanty towns spring up across the country, and crime rates rise dramatically. The world experiences a new Great Depression.

Scenario 2: Local gloom

The UK population enjoys a period of honeymoon euphoria after Brexit occurs. The pound and FTSE100 rise to levels not seen since the mid-00s. People spend the cash they’ve hoarded. The government invests in building swathes on houses on the greenbelt and big infrastructure projects. The honeymoon cannot last, and the economic stimulus leads to inflation and increased government debt. Growth is not stimulated, and the Bank of England is forced to increase interest rates to reduce inflation. People, used to cheap loans and credit, struggle to pay their bills. Repossessions rise, and companies which were just about managing with their debt burden, go under. Tax receipts to the treasury fall, leading to swingeing cuts to the NHS, police and social services. The pension age rises to 70. Income tax goes up 5% across the board. The housing market is flooded with repossessed homes, leading to a 25% drop in prices and negative equity. Globally, markets experience a 20% correction, before continuing their march onwards fuelled by growth in tech and green technologies. The UK is unable to capitalise on this growth, and increasingly sidelined, only sees a return to stability by the end of the decade.

Scenario 3: Wiggle room

The UK population enjoys a period of honeymoon euphoria after Brexit occurs. The pound and FTSE100 rise to levels not seen since the mid-00s. This financial rebound coincides with a global slowdown, prompting the UK to become a counter-cyclical anomaly. Global companies, seeing it’s growth and position as a stepping stone to the EU without tight regulatory control, invest into the UK. UK companies on the back of a stronger pound, stretch abroad. Wages rise, whilst interest rates remain low, leading property to become more affordable. UK domestic stocks show strong growth over the decade – >10% a year, while global stocks hobble along <5%. UK bonds and property remain flat. Increased tax receipts enable the government to focus on reducing national debt.

Scenario 4: Global boom

Driven by cultural nostalgia for the 1920s, the world markets continue their growth into a new ‘roaring twenties’. Tech growth continues, and as new companies rise on the back of radical inventions, older established companies pivot their business models to capitalise on new areas of growth. Tobacco, oil, gas and pharmaceutical companies invest into clean energy and renewables. Mining companies see boosted returns as once-waste metals become sought after for manufacturing. The BRICS nations embrace the new green revolution, and increase their growth by spreading manufacturing into developing nations. Periodic <20% corrections do not dampen stock growth, with 10%+ yearly returns average, and some years seeing 20%. Interest rates gradually creep up, with global bonds achieving 5-10%. Strong wage growth also leads to increasing property prices, at least 5% a year. The world settles into a new normal, with a globally integrated industrial stream and international co-operation.

Late addition – Scenario 5: Wuhan Pandemic

The novel 2019 Coronavirus (one word people) continues it’s inexorable march across the globe. Following the Wuhan pattern, there is approximately a one month lag in each location before the true extent of spread is known, made up of incubation period and asymptomatic spread. By May 2020 the Wuhan virus has spread across the globe, and the numbers of infected in western counties is growing at an exponential rate. In June the number infected has crossed 100 million. The most severely affected are the old, weak and frail. 2% of those infected die. In the UK this numbers over half a million, mainly 1% of the UK population over 65 (18% of the general population). Nobody is spared. Everybody loses someone they know. The global economy staggers but continues, given that working aged people are predominantly spared. In the UK there is a glut of property put on the market, as empty homes are sold by bereaved relatives. Money concentrates into the hands of those left, reducing debt burden and leading to a surplus of cash. The government receives a windfall of inheritance tax receipts and reduced pension/ social care expenses. Society continues onwards, but never quite forgets the potential of a pandemic.

The FIRE Cemetery (January 2020 Edition)

Here lies a list of blogs now deceased, moved on to fairer lands…

On life support (>3 months since last post)

  • The Finance Zombie – Last post in February 2019, infrequent prior
  • Early Retirement Guy – First post 2014, most recent June 2019, and that was a six month update – Guy posted an update the day this went out. He’s had a very eventful year, so I recommend a read.
  • Make Save Invest Money – Leon was posting from December 2017 to January 2019, and then appears to run out of steam
  • Formerly Skint – Weekly money diaries started in January 2018 and dried up in January 2019
  • Frugal Student – Lewys started in August 2016, last post in April 2019
  • Big Blue Money – Last post by Russell was in Jun 2019
  • Disease Called Debt – Seems to have started around 2013, with last post about July 2019. Ad-tastic
  • FIREthe9to5 – Genuinely sad to see this up here, last post in July 2019, by which time they had retired early.
  • UK girl on fire – Posted from April to July of 2019 (with a lot of apparent inspiration from indeedably)
  • Finance Your Fire – Marc participated in lots of the FIRE blogging scenes Thought Experiments etc, but last posted in August 2019
  • Left FI – Blogged from May to August of 2019
  • The English Investor – Last post at the end of August 2019
  • Pursue Fire – Dan started in July 2018, last post September 2019 – Dan also posted an update just after this blogpost came out.

 

In the morgue (dormant for >1 year)

  • Fire in London – First post in Nov 2016, last in December 2018
  • Deliberate Living UK – First post 2017, last from Wephway was in January 2019
  • Sex Health Money Death – Jim first posted in August 2015, and the last post was August 2018. At that point he was close to retiring, so he may well have blogged his last.
  • Under The Money Tree – One of the original few, now dormant since December 2017

 

Dead and buried

 

The Lazarus circuit

These are bloggers who have returned from the edge, touched the void, etc:

  • Sparklebee – After a six month hiatus returned to posting with the news they quit their job and were truly on countdown to FIRE!
  • 3652 Days – Fairly infrequently updated.
  • Rockstar Finance – Is now back under new management.

 

If you can think of any more please leave a comment below, and I’ll periodically return to update.

I am indebted to /u/reckless-saving over on /r/FIREUK, who makes this post so much easier.

Our wedding price tag

Around this time last year MrsShrink and I tied the knot. In honour of this, I felt I should do the romantic thing and work out how much it cost. The first thing to say is, like our friends Mr and Mrs YFG, we looked at the costs of the average wedding aghast (1). It was actually at one of these £30k+ weddings that MrYFG and I realised we had known each other in real life long before we began commenting on each others blogs. The average wedding in the UK now costs ~£32k, and it’s rising (2). I suspect this is a positively skewed mean, as averages reported elsewhere range from £17.5-30k (3, 4, 5). Either way, no small potatoes. We weren’t willing to hoik ourselves to the eyeballs with credit card debt.

The wants list

Although I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart, MrsShrink and I could never be called religious. MrsShrink would describe herself as a devout atheist. As such a church wedding was off the cards as to her it would be dishonest. So we sat down and tried to decide:

  • What is the point of a wedding?
  • What makes a good wedding?
  • What makes a wedding memorable and what leaves a sour memory?

The point

We reasoned that the point of a wedding was to celebrate our relationship and commitment to each other. How do you celebrate something in most cultures around the world? Throw a F-off party. The ceremony has symbolic importance to family members and friends, so we planned to include those we love in events as much as we could without being too ceremonial. If we were going to celebrate it was going to be with those we wanted to celebrate with, our closest friends. We both come from large extended families which introduced massive stress and financial implications in deciding who came. How do we tell Uncle S we’re not inviting him because we saw Aunty T more recently? Where do you draw the line? We said brothers, sisters, parents and that was it. No cousin B, who you only see semi-annually when someone who shares partial DNA cops it.

What makes a good wedding? The same ingredients as a good party; good food, free-flowing booze, good music, good people. What leaves a sour memory? An absence of any of the above, and interpersonal grief. Supply the first. Only invite good friends and avoid familial beef for the latter.

What did we do and what did it cost?

We planned a three day long party with our closest family in friends in a remote pile in the country. Free-flowing booze, ample food and pumping basslines. Sandwiched in the middle was a wedding ceremony. We kept a running budget as we went along, and a rough target figure, so now the dust has settled down here’s the numbers it came out at.

Wedding Venue

The average venue hire is apparently £4-5k, with another £500 for a church on top (2, 5) . We set some criteria for what we wanted which reduced our range. Due to our background we have friends all over the country, and if we were inviting them down we figured most would need to stay; therefore onsite or nearby accommodation. A church was off the cards and we wanted something good for all weathers; a stately home or castle set-up. We’ve been to weddings where members of the public are traipsing about gawping; sole use of the venue. None of that comes cheap. Most established venues have set ‘menus’ of wedding options, or slick brochures advertising the ‘packages’ and offers. We wanted to do our own thing; slick wedding packages aren’t particularly individual (to our mind), and you’re paying for the convenience of not planning or thinking. After spending hours of googling the SEO optimised wedding material I had a brainwave. Venues have to be licensed for a wedding…

Check the licensing list.

I pulled up all of the local counties’ government websites and downloaded their lists of registered wedding venues. Among them I found a gem. Minimal online presence, set up to run corporate away-day events in a country house in the middle of nowhere, they had a wedding license and accommodated a few weddings a year. Entire run of the stately home, like a giant self-catering hotel. Sauna, pool, games rooms, en-suite bedrooms for 40+ people. Total cost: £6600 for four days. Blew the budget a bit, but got to love Wales as I think elsewhere in the UK it would have been double that.

Food & Booze

So we’ve got a smallish number of people (~50) for a chilled out, non-stuffy wedding. We opted for a local company using local ingredients, served in an unfussy buffet way. We deliberately over-catered so there would be leftovers. The caterers cost us £1,600, plus a further £250 for waiting staff for the whole day. Significantly less that the £4.5k average (2). We called in favours as chef friends cooked breakfasts and big communal meals on the non-wedding days (2, 6). A family friend made a spectacular cake. Another family friend who runs a brewery supplied beer at cost. We went to Majestic and made the most of their free glass hire and wine delivery service. Alcohol was ultimately paid for by a family member, at a total of around £1000, less than the £1500 average.

Entertainment

The average cost of a four piece band is £1000-1500 for a wedding, plus another £200-800 for a DJ (5). We could have tapped up friends who play in a wedding band, but felt then they couldn’t enjoy the event. We hired a musician to play during the ‘reception’ for a couple of hours for £250, and then a commercial PA/ light system for the evening for £200. I spent a few days putting a Spotify playlist together (14 hour runtime), then cross-fading and mixing transitions. Significant saving, and the music didn’t stop until 4am.

Rings

I had put aside £2,500 for an engagement ring (slightly less than the UK average) (2). There was never an intention to buy new, and MrsShrink likes art deco. After a year spent looking for the right ring, I bought an antique stopgap for 1/10th of the price. She fell in love with it. It’s personal, perfect to her taste, and she doesn’t worry about getting mugged for a massive stone. The wedding rings themselves came from a local jeweller and cost £1100.

Wedding Dress/ Outfit

MrsShrink frankly hated the idea of spending £1,000 on a dress to wear once (2). Many national charities run specialist bridal stores where they collect together donated dresses. MrsShrink won’t tell me what she spent, but she ultimately bought two dresses (she couldn’t decide) for (I think) 1/4 of the average above. I decided that my own suit and that of the groomsmen should be something we could wear again. Why spend £100 each hiring a morning-suit when you can buy something decent from M&S for £150? I spent £400 buying suits, ties and accessories for the chaps, and £550 on a tailor-made suit for myself. One of my groomsmen uses his suit for work. I’ve since worn my suit as best for several events and to interviews, and it fits like a glove.

Photography, flowers and decorations

We spent £1000 on this. The average is apparently £1100-1400 (2, 5). We opted out of engagement/ honeymoon shoots. We were happy with some of the photos but not all, and I do wonder if we shouldn’t have scrimped here. Ultimately we have enough lovely photos for an album, and how many do you need/ how often do you look at them? MrsShrink initially made the save the dates, but when we number-crunched it turned out to be just as cost effective to have the actual invites printed (~£100). Standard wedding flowers apparently start at £250 (5). MrsShrink has an aversion to cut flowers – ‘Why would you think something that’s dying is pretty?’ – instead we ordered dried seasonal flowers. Not only did this come in at £220 for bouquets, corsages, button holes and table decorations, but one year on they’re still looking just as pretty on our mantelpiece. Bunting was sown by family members and dried petal confetti was collected by friends.

The final bill

All told we came in around £14,000, of which £3,000 came from family as gifts. Roughly half the ‘average’. If I’m honest MrsShrink was the main source of budgeting success. I struggle to control my spending in the name of a party. The biggest frugal tips we have:

  • Make a list of what will make your day special to you
  • Use the council wedding licence list to find hidden venues
  • Truly think about who you want there. Does it need to be every cousin and their step-mother-in-law?
  • Posh, class and tradition does not have to mean stuffy or expensive
  • Call on friends talents
  • Second hand items and charity shops are your friend
  • Dried flowers are cheaper and last longer than fresh
  • You’re getting married to the most important person in your life. Who are you trying to impress?

I’m sure we could have been more frugal, but we had a great time, so did our mates, and it’s remembered by everyone as a proper knees-up.

Cheers for reading,

The Shrink

 

References:

  1. https://youngfiguy.com/our-unconventional-and-cheap-wedding/
  2. https://www.hitched.co.uk/wedding-planning/organising-and-planning/the-average-wedding-cost-in-the-uk-revealed/
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/wedding-cost-uk-average-how-much-marriage-ceremony-bridebook-a8460451.html
  4. https://www.hellomagazine.com/brides/2019021969949/how-much-does-wedding-cost-uk-2019/
  5. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/how-much-does-an-average-wedding-cost
  6. https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/family/cheaper-weddings/

Thought Experiment #5 – The grid? What grid?

I’ve not participated in the Saving Ninja’s ‘Thought Experiment’ series to date, so this is #1 for me. The premise is a stream of consciousness amble through your response to a hypothetical question. For this one:

Life is good. You finally did it! You pulled the plug on your day job after reaching financial independence. You never have to work for money ever again. But, you’re bored. You need something to do… You need a project! You grab a piece of paper and a pen and start thinking. Now that you’re financially free, what projects do you want to complete? However ambitious, however small, you now have the time to pursue anything that you like, what will you accomplish?

The Expanse

Not the epic sci-fi show now on Amazon Prime. I’m talking about the sudden expanse of time available to me for long awaited projects. Like many other FIRE bloggers, a lot of the things I want to do, the projects, are already started or integral to my current path. I’m not actually sure I’d even retire. I wear many hats in my day job, and some of them I enjoy sufficiently that they don’t feel like work. Even if I didn’t have to work for money I’d probably try and continue a few days a week out of intellectual curiosity.

Beyond the sphere of my work, I have a list of semi-started projects which bring me happiness or satisfaction that I could dedicate more time to. I would:

  • Learn how to and then practise welding and sheet metal working. To spend some of my time buying rotten classic cars and restoring them from the ground up. Maybe racing them, maybe selling for a profit, maybe just to drive. Do some sculpture work in metal.
  • Continue learning languages. But be able to dedicate more time to it, maybe evening classes.
  • Build a suitable vehicle and then go overlanding. Probably some sort of Kamaz or Bedford 6×6. Spend some time, as long as it took, driving the Silk Road, the Panamerican Highway. Maybe Aus and trans-Africa. Detours on the Trans-Siberian Railway and travelling the US and Canada by rail. No rush, no goals, just the road to see. Sate my wanderlust.
  • Return to the UK and complete some more property renovation projects. Working through phases and styles. Maybe convert some industrial buildings. Build an eco house working with a friends company; off mains electric and water, incorporating space for family and guests.
  • Grow, cook, bake and brew. More time on each, growing more food, keeping more animals, experimenting brewing, funding a friends micro-brewery (which doesn’t really need funding as it’s going from strength to strength).

Kids would change the approach but not the direction of travel. There’s other targets in my goals list which don’t feature here, perhaps they’d feature too, there would be no rush. Living for joy and contentment would be my project. Soppy bugger.

Others thoughts:

  1. Indeedably
  2. Cashflow Cop
  3. The Caveman
  4. A Way To Less – a new blog to me
  5. Dr Fire
  6. Marc at Finance your fire
  7. GFF
  8. Sam at A Simple Life – also new to me
  9. Merely curious

References:

  1. https://thesavingninja.com/what-will-i-do-when-i-retire/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overlanding
  3. https://indeedably.com/whats-next/
  4. https://cashflowcop.com/beyond-financial-independence-tracing-my-roots/
  5. https://ditchthecave.com/when-i-grow-up/
  6. https://awaytoless.com/thought-experiment-5/
  7. https://drfire.co.uk/what-will-you-do-when-you-retire/
  8. https://financeyourfire.com/2019/04/15/thought-experiment-fire-now-what/
  9. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/03/15/saving-ninja-thought-experient5-from-gff/
  10. https://asimplelifewithsam.com/2019/04/15/ninja-thought-experiment-5/
  11. https://merelycurious.me/post/thought-experiment-projects-when-fire

Property Renovation Lessons II

Continuing where we left off, we’ll walk in the front door when viewing a potential house purchase. In part two I’ll cover what I’ve learnt to look for in general interior room condition.
Shut the front door

Before shutting it, take a look at it. It seems a bit odd, but much like shoes tell the story of a person, I reckon a front door tells the story of a house. There’s lots of different styles:

front doors

Look at the construction; is the door PVC/ composite/ wood/ metal? Is the style of the door in-keeping with the age of the property? White PVC doors are very common, because cheap, and if a prior owner has opted for a cheap door they may have opted for other cheap options in the house. Has the owner put a modern door on an old house, perhaps hinting at a major modern refurb. In an older property does it retain it’s original wooden door? If so, look at the state of the paint. Such doors can last hundreds of years with maintenance, but need periodic sanding and repainting to maintain integrity. Again you can learn a lot about the owners attitude to preventative maintenance.

Look at the locks and door furniture. As mentioned in Part I, many insurance companies offer preferential rates for BS 5-lever locks. Most PVC doors are safer as they will have a multi-point locking system. Don’t forget to change the locks when you move in. Look at the door furniture; it can hint at chintz inside. Front doors have changed dramatically over the years, they tell the history of a property, and are an easy way to improve kerb appeal (1, 2, 3).


Flooring

You’re in the front door so look down. Victorian and Edwardian builders knew the importance of first impressions. Older properties will hopefully retain the beautiful parquet or tiled flooring. This can be replaced but it’s expensive and I don’t think it ever looks the same (although we have looked at reclaimed parquet in the past).

Worn parquet can be sanded back and re-varnished, as can original floorboards. This can be a DIY job if you fancy a go, budget at least £150 for a sander for a weekend and varnish. There’s lots of guides and Youtube tutorials which can take you through the process (4). Cover everything in dust sheets. We’re still finding dust three years later.

When viewing houses we would find try to find a neglected corner of carpet, or a piece where it had already come up, and peek at the condition of the floorboards. We were lucky with our first property that the floorboards had been hidden behind 100 years of layers of carpet and were pristine. We also discovered a hidden terrazzo floor in a property we lost out on.

Terrazzo is a polished solid flooring, produced by pouring a mixture of resin/concrete and marble/ stone chips (5). It has similarities with polished concrete and resin floors, which are both very fashionable currently (6, 7).

Laminate and carpet

Both of these I could write entire articles about. Laminate can be beautiful when done well. It also offers a cheap DIY way to update and upgrade a tired space, with ‘click-clack’ self-connecting forms available from most retailers. On the cons, it’s loud underheel, and is used by slum landlords to hide substandard flooring surfaces. Engineered hardwood flooring is the step up from laminate where a layer of real wood is added to a ply backing. This can really make a difference to a space but is understandably more expensive (8).

Carpet again comes in all shapes, sizes and styles. Look out for damage to carpet, lifting, or the carpet moth that will munch it’s way through natural fibre (i.e. wool) carpet in darker spaces. Bare patches in corners with discarded casings and potentially larvae will point towards the moth. We stripped the carpet from our whole house and switched to synthetic fibre to try and eradicate our infestation (9).


Wall and ceiling coverings

Lets talk plaster, paint and wallpaper. We’ll start with that perennial favourite, woodchip. Used in the 60s and 70s to hide poor plaster and imperfections, it’s wallpaper will added chips of wood to provide texture. It’s one of the main things to put potential viewers off a house. It’s a bugger to remove, as those woodchips soak up attempts to chisel it off. It’s super messy, takes ages, but is cheap to do DIY (main cost being a £30 wallpaper steamer from Screwfix etc). There’s plenty of guides on the internet into how to tackle removal (10).

The texture and endurance of woodchip means it can hide a myriad of problems behind it. To an extent any textured wallpaper can do the same, and should be treated as such. Anyone can wallpaper a room, and it’s a quick way to refresh a room or hide problems. Don’t be fooled by Victorian anaglypta’s either, which can look stunning but hide issues.

Another covering you may come across is Artex. This is a further 70s product designed to hide poor plastering finishes behind a textured fascade. To make things even better, pre-1980s Artex was made with our old friend white asbestos (11). Undisturbed behind paint this is fine, but sanding or removal risks hazardous dust. The asbestos can be identified and the Artex removed by a specialist company, using steam or preparatory products (12). Some people tackle it themselves, which I would not recommend unless you are willing to risk Mesothelioma. The other alternative is to plaster over the top to produce a new flat surface.

People also deployed Asbestos (the wonder substance) in tile form on ceilings or where drop ceilings have been installed. This is mainly found in commercial buildings, but we clocked some hiding in a renovation project (a right dogs-dinner of a property) and ran. Again it really needs a specialist company to identify. Some people choose to remove it themselves with commercial-grade PPE, but I would not advise due to the health and legal risks (do as I say not as I do) (13). Asbestos has to be disposed of safely, and rules vary depending on your locality on whether your local tip will take it.

The only real mention I’ll make of paint is lead-based paints. If your house was built before the ’70s it probably contains some lead-based paint. This is only really an issue if the paint is damaged, crumbling, and you go around licking it or sticking it in your mouth. Kids do. It tastes slightly sweet (Darwin at work). Lead accumulation isn’t something to mess about with, so keep on top of it and don’t let your kids peel it off and chow down (14).

Plaster

With the exception of paint, all of the coverings above can mask potential plaster issues. This is one of the reasons in recent property searches I’ve tended to prefer properties where I can see what I’m dealing with. Plaster problems fall into three main areas:

  • Dead Plaster

This is more an appearance than a problem itself. Traditional construction techniques were to use thin lathe battens nailed to the structural upright stud wall or brick. Movement of the wall, damp trapped in the plaster or superficial damage can all cause the plaster to lift away from the lathe. Attempts can be made to repair this by pinning the surround plaster and patching, but often it’s easier to hack off and redo with modern plasterboard and a fresh skim. On a ceiling this can suggest damp ‘falling’ from above, so a leak in a bathroom or roof (see below).

  • Cracked Plaster

Smaller cracks caused by structural movement in the property or just general wear and tear can be dealt with filler and a scraper tool. It’s important to make sure this is not the above, by lightly pressing on the plaster. If there’s a ‘give’ and movement then the plaster may well have peeled away from the underlying lathe, requiring more significant attention (15).

  • Damp

Damp. The blank chequebook to a cowboy builder. You’ll smell damp as soon as you walk into a house, that mouldy, fusty odour. It’s nothing to fear as long as you remember one rule. Damp has to come from somewhere.

Actually two rules. Rule two: rising damp is a sales tool. Don’t believe me? RICS agrees (16, 17). While osmosis happens, water won’t climb up a wall in a warm home because it has to. There’s such a thing as gravity. Damp proof courses are a waste of money. There I said it!

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but ground and construction conditions have to be really specific. Rising damp requires hygroscopic salts to be present in the minerals used in the walls construction and surrounding soil to create an environment where water molecules can move through osmosis. They’ll often leave crystals on the wall. ‘Rising damp’ as a ‘diagnosis’ got big in the ’60s and ’70s as a way to fix the problem of damp inside houses, right around the time lots of poor quality houses were being built and older houses being renovated by caking them in impermeable concrete (18). Same goes for cavity wall insulation. Older houses built of brick, stone and lime mortar were permeable. They would absorb moisture, they could ‘breathe’. If a wall was facing the predominantly inclement weather it could get damp, but it would dry out when the weather was dry again. The Victorians and Edwardians solved this by having an air-gap cavity wall. People in the C20th didn’t like the fact that walls would get damp, so they covered them in impermeable concrete render or membranes, plus plastic wall paints. They then added double glazing without air vents. This kept the rain and weather out, but also kept moisture produced by general day-to-day living in. If you breathe on a cold pane of glass it steams up. Multiply that throughout your home and you get condensation. This is the main cause of damp in homes. Other causes include:

  • Insulation – (I look forward to the class action lawsuits in 30 years as swathes of government-grant retrofitted old houses succumb to damp damage)
  • Heating on/off – must be constantly ON, but low temp = 15 degrees C – heating and then cooling creates an environment for condensation
  • Ground levels outside higher than inside
  • Broken guttering or missing downpipes
  • Vegetation growing near the wall
  • Trees creating shade and moist air near a wall
  • Lack of ventilation – double glazing, no vents
  • Blocked chimneys – fireplace blocked up, no vents
  • Furniture against walls creating cold, damp areas (18)

The answer is (as always) preventative maintenance and taking a nuanced approach based on the buildings construction. If you live in an older home you cannot expect it to achieve modern standards of insulation. Ensure you use permeable materials to allow movement of moisture in renovation work. Appreciate your higher utility bills as a trade-off for period features and room sizes. As a slight aside here, if buying a new property ensure that there are air vents in the glazing, air bricks in the walls and plenty of opportunities for air movement. Amongst high-end architectural design the move is towards Passivhaus standards, where moisture, dew points and ventilation are carefully controlled as part of holistic approach to construction (19).

How to tackle damp?

Unsightly mould around windows (like above) or on walls (below)? Check for vents in windows and doors. Check the type of paint or wall covering used. Often this is down to people not opening windows or allowing ventilation in an attempt to keep heat in. Crack the window or buy a dehumidifier (20, 21).

Peeling plaster, cracked and lifting paint? The is more likely to be penetrating damp, or a leaking roof or bathroom plumbing if it’s the ceiling. This is often enough to scare off most buyers, but look carefully. Penetrating damp or a leak has to come from somewhere (22). Is the external ground level higher than the internal wall? Are there boundary walls abutting the internal wall? It could be caused by a sill or beam bridging a wall cavity. Go back outside and look externally for cracks in render, damaged, eroded or poorly pointed brickwork, absent flashing or leaking gutters. This is why it’s often good to view a house in heavy rain. If it’s on the ceiling is there a bathroom above? If so run all the taps and check for drips. Is the roof in good condition, and can you view the loft in rain to check for water ingress? We had penetrating damp in a previous house caused by a) a wooden sill which was exposed to rain which soaked internally, and b) an external garden boundary wall abutting the damp wall, with next-door slightly higher than our ground level. Solved by rebuilding the external wall with damp proof tanking. I worked on another house where a ceiling would get wet when the wind blew from the North-East, as it then forced the rain up a pitch through the roof so it could drip down. Had to put a new roof on to solve that.


Electrics

Fuse board

Fuse boards, or more properly domestic consumer units, are a must check. They ensure electrical safety in your home, preventing you getting shocked (/dying) and the house burning down every time something short circuits. They’ve developed over time with progressive regulation changes. Up to 2001 most homes were fitted with fuse boards like the older Wylex one pictured, containing individual rewire-able fuses plus a main circuit breaker/ isolation switch. Since 2001 regs have mandated individual residual current devices (RCDs) protection for circuits, offering extra protection (23, 24). Any new electrical work being done to a property will require an RCD system to meet regs. Budget £300-400 for installation of this alone. My garage is currently (not working) on an old 1940s cast iron splitter unit like the last image piggybacked off the main RCD. I’m exploring ways to retain the unit as it’s bloody cool (25).

Certificates

Sort of an extension of the above, but it’s important to ensure any electrical work that has been completed to the property has been done so by an accredited person. All work should be certificated and ideally marked as tested. Any changes to circuits like adding new sockets, adding new outlets, changing lighting circuits etc technically needs this (26). Ensure you get these certificates when purchasing the property and when you have any work done. It’s often a requirement for property insurance, it can be in the fine print in the mortgages, and you’ll need it to rent the property out (27). Work without certificates opens up a legal minefield, and can knock serious cash off the property value. Copy and paste this to central heating, gas work and plumbing.

Wiring

One to check out as you look around. First, is wiring (and plumbing) fitted with surface trunking, or properly chased into the wall? Trunking fitted to existing wall is quicker, cheaper but looks less attractive (to me). Chasing into the wall is harder, slower and more expensive, but the flush finish looks smarter (28). This will give you an idea of the costs the owner has spent on this sort of work and the quality they’ve been happy with.

If you can see exposed wiring (try next to the fuseboard or under-stairs cupboards) look at the colour of the wiring. Wiring since 2006 has followed European and Australian code; brown is live, blue is neutral, green/yellow is earth. Prior to that we ran red live, black neutral and green earth (29). Since the 1960s most UK wiring has been sheathed in PVC. You can age your wiring on what it’s sheathed in. Prior to PVC was vulcanised rubber (notable by being black), before that was lead (notable because it’s… lead), and before that it was all sorts of odd stuff including cloth and paper-wrapped wiring (30). The cloth, lead and rubber all degrade, so will all be due replacement.

300px-cable_colours_1179-5

We made a not untidy sum ripping out the rats nest of old wiring in a previous property. Once we’d turned everything off at the main breaker we found cloth-wrapped, lead-sheathed (£££) and 1960s wiring had all been run in parallel circuits under the floor. The joys of renovation!

Other things to look out for are old plug sockets like the one below, featuring the earlier circular three pin plug. There were lots of variants of plug prior to the adoption of the ubiquitous three-prong plug and socket in 1947 (31). This means you can reliably date your wiring and definitely decide it’s due a rewire. The UK’s socket design is the envy of the world (32), so embrace it! Brown bakelite junction boxes, on the other hand, are not something to run from. They’re still in production, still used and definitely serviceable (33). I really like bakelite as I think it’s retro, but then I’m a bit weird.

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Plumbing

Where’s the stop cock? Check if there’s one in the house as well as one by your meter (if you have one) where it enters the property. You and your neighbours will thank you when you’re not screaming “How do I turn off the bloody water?” at 3am.

Pipes

The water pipe for your property is your responsibility from where it tees off the mains (34). Track it’s path throughout the house if you can, check for leaks and quality. Lead has not been used for pipes since the 1960s but most old houses will retain it somewhere (as it’s a pain to replace for various reasons). Most internal pipes will be stainless steel, copper or plastic. Old pipes may be iron. They all degrade over time (at different rates), so need periodic maintenance (35, 36).

Pipes in the UK for central heating are generally copper or plastic (often white). They come in various sizes. Size of pipe is an important consideration when fitting central heating, as you need to calculate the total thermal load on the boiler (the radiators) and the efficiency and flow rates (based on pipe diameter and water temperature) to ensure that your boiler has enough oomph to actually heat all the radiators (36, 37). There’s online calculators that can help you work out your heating requirement to spec this, such as here: https://www.plumbnation.co.uk/heating-calculator/ (38). Frankly, I just get a plumber.
Heating

While we’re on boilers, check if the property has one. There’s essentially two types of heating; wet and dry.

Wet

  1. Does the property have a wet system (i.e. radiators and a water boiler)?
  2. Is it gas, oil, coal, calor gas, solid?
  3. How old is it?
  4. Does it have a hot water cylinder or on demand?
  5. Has it been serviced?

conventional-boiler-explained

This is a whole other set of posts. Essentially most houses are on gas boilers, of which the most common is combi-boilers which do heating and hot water. There’s system boilers, which have a hot water storage cylinder (so are better for households that have multiple bathrooms and need lots of hot water at once), but are generally less efficient. Then there’s conventional boilers which have a water tank and a hot water cylinder (39, 40). Newer boilers across the range are generally much more efficient. Google the brand and model number and check the reviews. Older boilers can be very reliable if well maintained, so check for service record stickers. Budget between £1-4k for a decent replacement, and remember you really get what you pay for with boilers (40, 41). Budget more for a new install on a property without central heating.

Oil-fired boilers and calor gas systems are generally used for the estimated 4 million households that are not on mains gas. Oil is a bit more fuel efficient than gas, but can cost more to buy as the cost fluctuates and you have to store it in tanks (generally bunded green things) (43, 44). You can also run out if you forget to order more, or the roads are shut. Same rules apply re: servicing and replacement.

Dry

In the UK this basically means electric heating systems in rooms. Other countries and some UK commercial and old buildings will use a central furnace and hot air vent system, but they’re inefficient for our construction practices. Electric heating costs more to run than gas, and should really be considered only where gas is unavailable, where heating is infrequently required or where wet system installation is impractical. We’ve gone through various stages of electric heaters too, with electric radiant heaters (i.e. old bar electric bar fires), electric fan heaters, through night storage, oil filled and panel heaters. Fan, radiant and oil column filled heaters are usually portable and can be used to heat up the room you’re in at the time (45).

Panel heaters can be very minimalist and are therefore currently the fashion choice. They’re generally touted as ‘eco’, but given all electric heating systems convert electricity to heat what that essentially means is they don’t use much electricity as they don’t give off much heat. Night storage heaters look more like a radiator and work by heating up a ceramic brick during the night (when electricity can be cheaper if you’re on Economy 7/10 or similar) and releasing it during the day (46, 47, 48). They work much more like a conventional wet system, and get a room toasty warm. Budget £500 per heater.

There’s also ground-source or air-source heat pumps, solar thermal, district heating, underfloor heating, biomass systems and all sorts of others which I can go into in detail if people are interested (i.e. leave a comment to motivate me to do it!). I may do an eco renovation post in the future.

Summary

In part two I’ve covered most of the general building fabric and utilities considerations. This should give you an idea of what to look for on property viewings and in your own home. In part three I cover room specific considerations (kitchen, bathroom etc), construction (chimneys etc) and layout.

The Shrink

References

  1. http://rockmystyle.co.uk/first-impressions/
  2. http://www.oldenglishdoors.co.uk/latest-news/doors-victorian-era/
  3. https://nonagon.style/the-easy-guide-to-exterior-front-door-styles-and-types/
  4. http://moderncountrystyle.blogspot.com/2016/02/how-to-sand-and-renovate-old.html
  5. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-repair-marble-floor-chips-and-cracks
  6. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/polished-concrete-getting-it-right/
  7. https://www.allthingsflooring.com/2017/07/polished-concrete-vs-resin-floors/
  8. https://www.ambiencehardwoodflooring.co.uk/wood-flooring-guide/real-wood-or-laminate-flooring/
  9. https://fivestarfurnishingcare.co.uk/carpet-cleaning/do-my-carpets-have-carpet-moth/
  10. http://lusheclectic.com/woodchip-wallpaper-take-it-off-or-leave-it/
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artex
  12. https://householdquotes.co.uk/removing-artex/
  13. http://www.asbestosguide.org/asbestos-ceiling-tiles/
  14. https://www.webmd.com/women/lead-paint#1
  15. https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/renovation-assessing-the-potential/
  16. https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/-rising-damp-is-a-myth-says-former-rics-chief/5204095.article
  17. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/the-fraud-of-rising-damp.html
  18. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/managing-damp-in-old-buildings.html
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_house
  20. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/damp/article/dealing-with-damp/what-kind-of-damp-is-affecting-my-home
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/mar/01/diy.homes8
  22. https://www.heritage-house.org/damp-and-condensation/types-of-damp-what-have-i-got/penetrating-damp.html
  23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_unit
  24. http://www.judgeelectrical.co.uk/domestic-electrical/explanations/about-fuse-boards.html
  25. https://www.flameport.com/electric_museum/old_equipment/revo_15_amp_splitter.cs4
  26. https://www.niceic.com/find-a-contractor/electrics-explained/what-are-the-different-types-of-electrical-certifi
  27. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-tougher-electrical-safety-standards-to-protect-private-tenants
  28. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Electrics,_Socket_Chasing_(Flush_with_wall)
  29. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Wiring_colour_codes
  30. https://www.electriciancourses4u.co.uk/useful-resources/history-of-wiring-colours-cable-sheathing-bs7671/
  31. https://www.plugsocketmuseum.nl/OldBritish3.html
  32. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032807/why-england-has-the-best-wall-sockets-on-earth
  33. https://www.cef.co.uk/catalogue/categories/junction-boxes-bakelite-junction-boxes
  34. https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/households/supply-and-standards/supply-pipes/
  35. https://www.homify.co.uk/ideabooks/564032/choosing-the-right-water-pipes-for-your-home
  36. http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php/Plumbing
  37. https://www.diydata.com/planning/ch_design/sizing_pipes.php
  38. https://www.plumbnation.co.uk/heating-calculator/
  39. https://www.uswitch.com/boilers/guides/boiler-guide/
  40. https://www.hometree.co.uk/energy-advice/boilers/types-of-boilers.html
  41. https://www.lovemoney.com/news/12664/how-i-saved-1200-on-my-new-boiler
  42. https://www.boilerguide.co.uk/articles/what-size-boiler-needed
  43. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/boilers/article/oil-boilers
  44. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/home-heating-systems/article/home-heating-systems/oil-central-heating
  45. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/electric-heaters/article/how-to-buy-the-best-electric-heater
  46. https://www.energywise.govt.nz/at-home/heating-and-cooling/types-of-heater/electric-heating/
  47. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/home-heating-systems/article/home-heating-systems/storage-heaters
  48. https://www.cse.org.uk/advice/advice-and-support/night-storage-heaters