Presenter of Channel 4's The Home Show and Restoration Man, George is also an architect, so can solve your design queries and provide professional know-how.
Keeping to a budget
Q do you have any advice on staying within a set budget during a project?
A Sticking to your budget is one of the most essential aspects of any project; if you run out of money, at best the project is compromised; at worst it stops completely. This just leads to disappointment and a lot of stress. Quite often I find that, for many, the budget is based on what money is available in the bank rather than accurate accounts of what the project needs, so preparation and being realistic is everything. Make sure you have a clear set of drawings and a schedule of works plus a specification of what all of the finishes and products are going to be. If you make as many of your decisions as early as possible and avoid changing your mind then you should be in good financial shape throughout. By employing a quantity surveyor or obtaining a competitive fixed price from a builder you trust, you'll establish the project costs before work starts. To make sure you stay within those costs, keep control of the project. Make regular site visits to ensure you stay on schedule and have cost meetings to keep accounts up to date and track any unexpected works that might increase your costs. And stick to the plan. Changing your mind on major items will often delay the project and cost you more in the long run.
Flat roof conversion
Q We would like to convert the flat roof of our house into a roof terrace (several other properties in the road have already done this). What considerations and restrictions are there?
A The fact that other flat roofs in your street have already been converted into terraces sets a good precedent, so you shouldn't have any problems gaining planning permission – but always check to be sure. Before spending money on architects' and planning fees, call in for a chat with the duty planning officer at your local council offices. And take current photographs of your own property and those already converted into the meeting. You should also get a structural engineer to visit the site to check the construction of the flat roof. Many flat roofs are built to withstand only small loads, so you'll need to check that it's able to withstand the additional weight of people, decking and the new balustrade; you may need to strengthen the roof by adding additional timbers or even steel beams.
Best eco updates
Q We want to make our home greener. What eco improvements would you recommend for a victorian property?
A I love Victorian houses, but they're often cold and ecologically inefficient. Thankfully, just a few simple and affordable changes will not only make your home more energy efficient and comfortable to live in, but reduce your energy bills, too. The main thing your Victorian home needs is insulation. Put as much insulation into your loft as possible and, if you're carrying out a substantial refurbishment, consider dry lining the internal face of all your external walls with new insulation and plasterboard. Replace your existing single-glazed windows with new double glazing; if there are planning issues here, for example if you live in a conservation area, there are high-performance glazing systems that are very efficient, but so thin they look like single glass – try Slimlite Double Glazing (0800 316 6031; slimliteglass.co.uk).
Install draught excluders everywhere to keep the cold out and heat in and replace your old boiler with a new energy-efficient one. If any of your appliances need replacing, make sure you choose new ones that are triple A-rated, which will reduce your running costs, and don't forget to replace all of your light fittings with new energy- efficient bulbs. Only once you've made these few simple changes should you look at installing the more trendy (and expensive) stuff such as a ground-source heat pump, photovoltaic and solar thermal panels or small wind turbines. There's little point generating your own energy and heat if it's all being wasted by inefficient appliances and leaking out through poorly insulated doors and windows.