Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Q.  My cottage is very draughty. Are there any cheap ways of fixing this?

A. Draughts can account for a significant heat loss element in any house, even a well insulated house.  This explains why on a frosty still day a house may seem warmer than on a milder windy day.  Plenty of insulation can be rendered near useless by draughts.

Here are some simple solutions: 

At the front door either replace any perished rubber seals or screw on new external draught strips on the sides and top of the door frame.   Also internally screw on a brush draught excluder.

At the edges where windows meet brick or plasterwork renew seals on all sides.

Replace or apply draught proofing seals to openable windows.

Avoid large temperature differences between rooms.  For example, a cold hall can create an internal draught in a heated sitting room.

Replace internal covers of wall vents with humidity-controlled vents (e.g. ).

Provide draught stripping to attic trapdoor. 

Fireplaces sometimes are problematic but if you use a chimney balloon ensure that there is a wall vent or else condensation might be your new problem.  Some companies (eg. or provide neater solutions for closing off flues which can otherwise account for significant heat losses, as well as draughts.

Finally, some older houses with suspended timber floors downstairs have draughts between the square-edged boards so, if the floor boards are up for rewiring or re plumbing, I would strongly recommend that rigid insulation be inserted and secured between the timber joists underneath before the floor boards are re-laid.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Q. What should I look for in buying a house?

Assuming the house is in the right location for you should ideally employ a competent independent person to inspect and report, this would be an Architect, Engineer or Building Surveyor. While the Help My House service is designed to respond to specific concerns the Architects are competent and experienced in carrying out fuller inspections and you should expect to pay around €300 to €500 + VAT for this type of service, which includes a full written report.  However before you get too interested you could have a preliminary look under the 12 headings listed below. The list is in rough order of priority:
1) The Structure should be sound  and if any walls have a noticeable lean on careful and definitely get advice. All things are fixable but here is where costs can escalate. Cracking pattern will also tell about settlement issues (i.e soft ground). 

2) The bathroom and toilet provision is probably substandard if the house is old. Broken and smelly drains cannot be ignored and any new bathrooms, toilets or shower rooms need to be carefully and efficiently planned so that daylight is not stolen form bedrooms and living areas. 
3) Insulation levels need examination. Any property over 30 years old would probably have poor insulation unless upgrade works were done. Better building insulation simply means more comfort and less bills. Draughty doors and windows might also need repair or replacement.
4) Central heating system will need examination. Older systems might work but are inefficient and upgrade works normally pays off soon. Replacement of pipework can be disruptive but if other works are being done also it'll be worth it. 
5) Sound insulation should be considered, especially in semi-detached or terraced houses. Maybe you are a light sleeper and the teenage kid next door likes death metal at high volume. Upgrade works can of course be carried out and there are acoustic plasterboards for such cases. 
6) General workmanship needs examination. While we expect and get high levels of craftsmanship from Victorian and Edwardian times modern buildings can suffer from shoddy workmanship. Bearing in mind that much of the structure is unseen poor standards of finish suggest an equal carelessness in concealed areas like cavity wall insulations.
7) Fire safety is important and upstairs bedroom windows should be large enough to escape from. Also if an attic room is provided to a two storey house then the matter becomes even more urgent. Install a mains powered smoke alarm if you do nothing else. 
8) Ground conditions and moisture penetration need examination. Ensure the enthusiastic gardener has not heaped up soil too high against the house and as a result bridged damp to the wall. Some houses are set into hills and suffer when the weather is very wet. This can be alleviated by careful installation of damp proof courses and french drains etc. 
9) The ventilation of the living and bedrooms needs examination. Humidity controlled wall vents are a great recent invention as they allow a room to "breath" while closing over automatically when necessary. Steamy areas like the bathroom and the cooker hood need steam extraction, otherwise condensation can occur in a cold poorly ventilated corner of a room. 
10) The plumbing might be checked out. Gone are the days when the family of 12 queued up on a Saturday night for the bath (in the same water!). Now we want power showers for our frequent usage. This puts more pressure on hot and cold water supplies. Perhaps when the water charges come we'll be back to the Saturday night event. 
11) The stairs should be sound and even. In some Victorian artisan houses the bottom of the stairs rots because the timbers are in contact with damp ground  and finally 
12) Consider access for those with disabilities. Your elderly mother in  wheelchair may want to come for the sunday roast and so level access should ideally be provided. Remember also that what's good for a wheelchair is good for a child's buggy too.
 When you have examined the above items you should be able to complete a very intelligent and helpful check list for your professional.  AB

Friday, June 29, 2012

Q. Does my house need rewiring?

If the wiring leaving your fuseboard to the sockets are the old black rubber butyl wiring then you need to rewire the house. Over time the rubber becomes brittle and can break down leading to short circuits and possible fire etc.. For the last 50 years PVC wiring has been used and this is much safer although if you have a lot of appliances and gadgets you might be overloading the system and again a rewiring would be recommended. If part of the house is being wired for an extension or alteration you should take the opportunity to fully rewire the entire house and bring it up to the modern regulations. As in all matters electrical get in a properly registered (RECI or ECSSA) and recommended Electrician. Domestic wiring should be checked every 3 years, this is the current recommendation. Bear in mind that new systems have a blue RCD trip switch for monthly checking. If your question extends to other building matters contact Help My House who to date have helped over 300 householders.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Q. How do I find a reliable builder?

Q. I am planning to build a very simple extension to my house. How do I find a reliable builder?

A. If you have plans and specifications ready it would be a good idea to have your Architect or Engineer recommend a builder. This dramatically increases the likelihood that they have professional references and they will be loyal to the Architect (or engineer) as well as yourself because the repeat business they cherish will come from them and not you. The entire building process is complex at the best of times and is only worsened if a good trustworthy relationship is not established with a competent builder at the outset. John Ruskin once said "There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man's lawful prey." This quote is particularly apt when it comes to construction. Before you put any builder on your tender list make sure he is insured with 3 types of insurance, (Public Liability Insurance to cover the brick falling on the passer-by's head, Employer's liability insurance to cover the chap falling off the roof and Contractors All Risk's Insurance to cover the works so you get more than just "sorry Maam" when the chap with the blow torch sets it on fire the day before handover). Avoid "cash" deals (i.e. 13.5%VAT avoidance) as they forfeit your legal protection and if your builder lies to the taxman maybe he lies to you too! A local builder in a country village will normally behave himself to preserve his reputation but in large cities like Dublin it is too easy for the rogue builders to flit around the place undetected. My strong advice would be to not allow anyone price who is not pre-approved as outlined above. Having said all this there are a number of very competent, experienced and fair builders who will work on tight and competitive, though not impossible, profit margins. Remember that "The Workman is worthy of his wage" and the last thing you want is a builder going into liquidation while on your project. As a rough rule of thumb I would advise that any works over €30,000 in value should have at least a partial service by an Architect and anything over €60,000 should have a full service where a standard RIAI contract is administered and interim payments are certified by the architect. Strangely enough most people find that, for a small proportion of the overall spend, the architect saved them a fortune in the entire process. As always we at Help My House are happy to advise on site for any specific project for the €150 fee.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Jan Van Dijk, Harry Bent, John Hodgins, Malcolm O'Beirn and Gareth O'Callaghan
Michael Tierney, Anthony Brabazon (standing), Jan Van Dijk, Harry Bent, John HOdgins, Malcolm O'Beirne and Gareth O'Callaghan
Malcolm O'Beirne, Gareth O'Callaghan, Sandy Williams, John Graby (RIAI Director), Michael Tierney and Anthony Brabazon
Jan Van Dijk, Harry Bent, John Hodgins, Malcolm O'Beirn, Gareth O'Callaghan, Sandy Williams, Martin Murray and Anthony Brabazon

John Graby (RIAI Director) with Michael Tierney
Michael Tierney, Anthony Brabazon (standing), Jan Van Dijk, Harry Bent and John Hodgins

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Area Architects gather at RIAI in Dublin for Nationwide (direct service) and Northern Ireland Launch. Pictured from left to right are: Martin Murray (Westmeath, Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Wicklow west), Sandy Williams (Kerry north), Gareth O'Callaghan (Cork east and north) , John Hodgins (Wicklow East), Anthony Brabazon (Dublin), Jan Van Dijk (Louth, Monaghan, Armagh, Down), Michael Tierney (Wexford, Carlow), Dermot McCabe (Mayo) and Harry Bent (Waterford, Kilkenny). These and 11 others offer all Ireland coverage for your house.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Help My House' service expanding to NI and UK

While it is a difficult time for architects it is equally a difficult time for homeowners who need expert,  impartial and affordable advice on house defects.  The Help My service is proving to be that elusive marriage made in heaven.

Approximately two years ago a former client from Sandymount asked architect Anthony Brabazon to look at a wet wall in her house.  She had called in a "builder" and, despite assurances that the problem was "fixed", she found that the wall was wetter than before!  Hot on the heels of this house visit he was approached by a local builder who described some incidences of unscrupulous roofers taking advantage of people in the Dublin 4 area.  The 'roofer' would approach the homeowner advising that a few slates were missing, climb his ladder, make a bigger hole in the roof and then quote a price to 'fix the problem'.  It sometimes happened that, while up on the roof, a few slates would be removed from the neighbour's roof ensuring that more work could be quoted for.

Having been involved in house design, repair and renovations for the previous twenty years, this wasn't totally new to Anthony but it was a tipping point.  A sense of outrage built and, following discussion with others in his office, 'Help My House' was born.  Anthony realised that all the experience of two decades could be put to good use in helping people avoid being ripped off.  It was time for architects to come down from the ivory tower!  People from all over Ireland could contact Anthony's office and be directed to a 'Help My House' architect in their area. 

After the success of the first two years Anthony feels it is time to expand the service into Northern Ireland and then into the UK.  Also, in Ireland, the area architects will now locally promote the service and homeowners will be able to directly contact their local architect with the information available on the site.

This Friday morning (10-February) at RIAI, 8 Merrion Square, Dublin 2,  there will be a gathering of up to 20 Architects for the first Annual Help My House Area Architects Conference.  The main focus of the gathering is the decentralization process to the counties outside Dublin as well as the expansion to Northern Ireland.  Having conducted over 170 Help My House visits Anthony Brabazon will be speaking on the ethos of the business as well as his experiences to date.  Also being discussed will be the expansion of the service into Northern Ireland.  

On the team there are nine conservation architects (2 Grade I, 2 Grade II and 5 Grade III).  There are also three award-winning firms and two 'passive house' architects.  Homeowners will now be able to directly contact their local 'Help My House' architect and for a fixed price of €150 (€200 in rural areas) have them visit, diagnose defects and recommend both a tailor-made solution and appropriate contractor(s) for the works.  The hidden secret is that the contractor, being loyal to the architect who is a source of repeat business, offers the client an exemplary service, something people could only dream of in the past as they witnessed another dodgy van driver disappear into the mist with their cash.

Over the past two years there have been approximately four hundred house visits made, two hundred of these in the Dublin area.  The service has saved people having to replace roofs, rescued people from scary planning enforcements, cleared out wasps' nests, solved damp mysteries, assisted the disabled and elderly, calmed fears over cracks and subsidence, made houses warmer, and remodelled house space where necessary.  On top of this, the clients have been connected with reputable builders and tradesmen thereby achieving the original goal of giving peace of mind and saving money.  So far we can agree with a certain well known character in saying, "Can we fix it? Yes, we can".
Visit on the web to make contact with your local Area Architect and arrange a visit to your home or ring 01-6683519
The Cost is €150 in the cities and €200 elsewhere (VAT included).