Sunday 2 December 2012

O'Keeffe's Working Hand Cream

A manly pot of hand cream
Most plumbers like to talk, in fact I suspect some enjoy it more than plumbing. Yet, within in that broad, eclectic, lexicon of learned conversations, I have never come across a single one that dwelt on the wonders of moisturising cream!

Now some may say that that’s no real surprise, after all plumbing is still a male dominated industry and men are not renowned for their fascination for hand cream. However, plumbing, building and most of the other trades can create havoc with hands and most tradesmen seem to have some level of dermatitis, usually in the form of cracks in the skin at the end of their fingers. At best this is uncomfortable; at worse it’s downright painful.

So it was with relief and some surprise that I discovered O’Keeffe’s Working Hand cream propping up the counter at our local Travis Perkins.

“What the bloody hell are you doing selling moisturiser?” Was my first, and I thought fairly obvious, question.

“I don’t know” was the reply, “We got some in from God-knows-where and they’ve been racing off the shelf every since. It’s very good I hear!”

So, being a sucker for the hard sell I bought a jar... and it is very good.

As you might imagine from the name it’s not designed for wishy-washy-girlie types, so there’s no essence of Ylang-ylang - whatever the hell that is. It’s just a plain old fashioned white cream with no scent and the consistency of lard. But it does work really well and after only a few days my finger tips are markedly better.

But that’s not actually the reason I bought it. No, being a modern, trendy, plumber I turn up to a fire or boiler service these days with a PC tablet loaded with most of the world’s boiler and gas fire manuals. This is supremely handy but has one drawback; these new touch screens rely on your fingers actually having a bit of moisture in them and after a hard weeks plumbing mine often don’t.

There are few things more annoying than not being able to load a service manual because the bloody screen refuses to accept that you are actually prodding it with a genuine finger. Fortunately those frustrations are now behind me as, after applying this cream to my hands every evening, I can pick and flick through boiler manuals with ease.

Alas, it hasn’t helped with my Angry Birds score but I guess there’s only so much you can expect from a cream.

PS: I have just discovered that my wife has been nicking this cream from me and applying it to her eczema with apparently marvellous results.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Tradesman morality

Money, what a drag..

Last week David Gauke pronounced that it was immoral to pay tradesmen in cash.

I confess to being a little peeved at this statement. Not because he doesn’t have a point but because a lesson on morality from a politician is like being lectured to by a sewer rat on the virtues of good hygiene. What makes it even harder to take is when that self same politician attempted to avoid stamp duty and fees on the purchase of his second home by claiming them back off the taxpayer to the tune of £10,248.32. That he saw nothing immoral in his own actions but sees immorality everywhere else speaks volumes about the man.

That said I guess he does have a point in that some of that cash probably won’t go through the ‘books’  and as a result HMRC might be down by as much as a few quid. And that is why it was such a pointless statement to make; the sums involved are so utterly trivial when compared to the large corporate tax ‘avoidance’ schemes that plague this country.

If tradesmen had their wits about them they would be scoffing at such minor sleight of hand. Instead they’d be spending everyday at hard graft within their local communities and then declaring to the tax man that all that money was actually earnt by the missus, who is currently sunning herself on a beach in Monaco and is therefore exempt from UK tax.

If the lady of the house is allergic to sun, sea and sand they could always opt for the corporate classic of running most of your business through the UK but then insisting that, despite an enormous head office that’s sited in what looks suspiciously like London, your actual base of operations is a small, bijou, maisonette in downtown Luxembourg. Where by happy chance you pay a heavily discounted level of corporation tax.

If this all sounds too complicated why not just claim that the cash was actually a loan that, for some wholly unexplained reason, doesn’t have to be paid back!

Of course tradesmen don’t get involved in such shenanigans, partly because they don’t make enough money to warrant such deviousness but mainly because they tend to have a much firmer grasp of morality than those people running this country.

Of course there are exceptions. There are people who set themselves up on the sly, don’t register their business with the tax man and hide all of their earnings under the mattress. However, to describe these fly-by-night operators as tradesmen is like describing a politician as honest. In fact these are the people that ruin the reputation of the trades and under-cut honest businesses with their cheap, shoddy work. 

As such I’m more than happy for the chaps down at HMRC to track these people down and throw the book at them... with one caveat; when you do so could you please stop saying that you’ve caught a “plumber” or an “Electrician”. You haven’t! You’ve caught a fraudster who’s been masquerading as a tradesman.

Monday 16 July 2012

Magnaclean problems

I like Adey, they always seem keen to help and their products are invariably great. Sadly though, things seem to be on the wane.

When you install a new boiler the manufacturers like to see the CH system thoroughly cleaned out, a task that can often take as long as the boiler installation itself. So to streamline the process we recently bought a Adey Magnacleanse, which is a much quicker way of cleaning the gunk out of an old CH system.

The Magnacleanse has been working brilliantly and we have absolutely no problems with it at all. However, the easiest way of using the Magnacleanse is to first fit a Magnaclean unit to the CH system, and sadly the Magnaclean has been letting us down left, right and centre.

The first one we fitted couldn’t be isolated! No matter what we did with the isolation valves we couldn’t get them both to close. This is an essential requirement if you want to use the Magnacleanse or add inhibitor to the system. We were rather keen to do both and so were doubly frustrated. So that unit went back and was replaced.

A few weeks later and we pressurise the CH only to discover a fine spray of water gushing from the Maganaclean. This time the problem was caused by a split in one of the copper fittings that comes with the unit and so we had to drain the system, remove the fitting and replace it.

This week’s problem was minor in comparison but seems to speak volumes about the direction in which the Magnaclean is heading – I opened the little plastic bag in which the valves arrive only to discover that washers had only been supplied for one of the valves. So I had to drive back to the merchants and get them to open up a new Magnaclean so I could nick a washer.

Of course we could be just having a spate of very poor luck but I think not. I suspect that in an endeavour to keep the price of the Magnaclean down in the face of growing competition corners have been cut. 

Adey don’t strike me as the sort of company that would let this continue for any length of time so, hopefully we’ll see some improvements over the coming months – I certainly hope so.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Stelrad Radical Radiators

Radical Rads!
One of the biggest annoyances with fitting radiators on a new build is positioning the pipework. First off you have to do this very early on in the project, leaving umpteen tradesmen – usually plasterers – to kick, nudge and trip over the pipework for weeks. By the time you return to hang the radiator the pipework is usually miles out of alignment.

To get around this many plumbers use plastic pipe and just bring both pipes out of the wall, roughly in the middle of the intended radiator position. It now doesn’t matter if the pipework is moved and hanging the radiator is simply a matter of dropping the plastic in a loop down to the valve positions.  I can see why it’s done but I personally I hate this approach as it just looks like a DIY Bodge job.

Well, now there is an alternative that combines ease of fitting in a new build with superb energy efficiency – the Stelrad ‘radical’ radiator.

First off the valves for this range are at the bottom in the middle of the radiator. So now the plumber just has to bring two pipes out of the wall with the same gap between the pipes regardless of the radiator size to be fitted. Ideally Stelrad would also supply a little plastic template that could be fitted over the pipes and screwed into the wall, thus ensuring that the pipes stay in the right position throughout the build process. I don’t know if they do supply such a thing but it would be a great move if they did. To make the installation process even easier the radiators come with preset flow limiters i.e. they are self-balancing radiators!

So we have an easy fit radiator, which is great news all by itself, but this is only the start. In a fit of innovation they have also added umpteen design features to ensure that the radiator reaches optimum temperature much faster than traditional radiators and that this heat is directed out of the front of the radiator without the need for that horrible foil stuff people often stuff behind their old rads. To improve things still further Radical radiators generate 50% of their heat as radiant energy. This allows you to turn your room thermostat down without any noticeable loss in comfort.

Add all these features up and they reckon you should be able to knock 10.5% off your heating bill, which is always a pleasant thing to do.

So do they cost a fortune? Well apparently not, they are a little more expensive but when you consider that they come with the valves already supplied the cost works out roughly the same as Stelrad’s compact range of radiators.

Is there a downside? Well, if you’re replacing an old radiator with these then you are going to have to alter the pipework on every occasion, which would make them far more expensive to fit. However, we are definitely going to be advising these the next time we have a new build to do.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Ecobuild 2012

Every year Ecobuild gets that little bit bigger. The days of being able to house the entire event in one hall of Earls court are but a distant memory, in fact this year you could walk for about 3 miles through the exhibition hall and see nothing but companies selling photovoltaic cells.

It’s amazing what a little government incentive can do to a technology - which makes it even more of a shame that the Renewable Heat Incentive seems to be progressing with all the pace of an elderly snail, with asthma, angina and a bad limp. 
Sadly, as a plumber I’m not really into photovoltaic cells, although there were some neat innovations – a solar cell set into a film of plastic that could be fitted to clothing was one of the best. It’d be neat to be able to re charge your photo batteries as you wander the countryside.

One of the best of the plumbing innovations was Stelrad’s new “Radical” radiator range – which I’ll be mentioning in later blogs. In short, we haven’t fitted any yet but we will definitely be opting for these for our next new build.

Another innovative area was internal and external wall insulation - The “Green Deal”, which starts in Aug 2012, will apparently cover this area, although no one seemed quite sure. This is especially handy for older properties (Pre 1920) where external walls are solid brick. In this instance the idea is that you stick foam insulation over the wall then cover this with a weather proof finish. If you don’t fancy changing the outside of your house you can fit internal insulation against your external walls, which can be as simple as putting up thermal wall paper.

To be honest the only real problem with Ecobuild was the fact that it was so huge. I was absolutely knackered by the time I left. As I collapsed onto the Docklands light railway I reflected on the irony; here’s a venue crammed full of energy saving experts and not a single bloody one of them has figured out an energy efficient way of getting about the place!