Saturday, 2 November 2019

Network Upgrade at the cottage complete

Following the earlier plans, yesterday at the cottage the Broadband internet connectivity was migrated from the old ADSL method (Plusnet) to the the faster FTTC internet connectivity. This is the service type named as "Superfast" by the underlying provider BT Openreach. I hadn't been aware of the exact timing of the changeover, but was alerted by an email just before noon to my smartphone. The message was that the Ubiquiti access point in the cottage had become disconnected.  Our UniFi cloud-based network monitoring tool keeps a constant eye on the network access point device, connected devices, and lets me know of any problems. I checked online to discover there's only been a couple of minutes of outage.

I took a trip to the cottage later to check what Internet bandwidth was actually being delivered. The raw figure is 78 mbps download and 18 mbps upload with a 24 msec ping time. This is a good result for future guests in our cottage. I've set the Guest Wifi (password protected and encrypted) band to 45/5 mbps. This should be more than adequate for a couple on holiday. I reserved some bandwidth for the network cable connected VOIP telephone provided in the cottage.  There is also an open unencrypted Visitor WiFi service which I've set to 6/0.2 mbps for casual visitors. The cloud network management allows me to remotely rebalance the WiFi at a moment's notice.

As part of the routine turn-around process for new guests at the cottage, I reset the access password for the Guest WiFi. We leave a note of the new password for incoming guests. This limits the number of people who can access the faster WiFi service. We could run a voucher system, built into the Ubiquiti system, to control access but it is an over complication. The access point is set so that guests and visitors devices cannot directly interact across the WiFi LAN.

The Broadband upgrade was a simple process. Plusnet sent me a new router via ParcelForce to our home. I took this unit to the cottage and plugged it in to the old ADSL service. It worked without problem. Plusnet requested BT OpenReach to switch to the FTTC service. That is what happened yesterday, unattended, with a down time of a couple of minutes.  When I visited the cottage I altered the settings on the PlusNet Router to turn off their standard WiFi delivery, choosing instead to delivering WiFi via my Ubiquiti Access Point. which is connected via Power over Ethernet (POE) network cable directly to the PlusNet router. The faster Internet service increases our costs by approximately £5 (GBP) per month, but the improved network performance for our guests is noticeable.

Last night I used the UniFi cloud based network management tool to remotely upgrade the resident software on the Ubiquiti Access Point in the cottage. It just takes a couple of mouse clicks from my desktop PC at home and only leads to a few seconds of service outage. Timing this process carefully avoids any disruption to our guests. 


Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Rubbish!

Last night I called by the cottage to put out the filled recycling bin for collection by the Local Authority. Our previous guests had neglected to do this, despite the guidance in the handbook. The recycling rubbish is collected only on alternate weeks so if you miss a collection, it is a further two week delay.

Unfortunately, this morning, I found the recycling bin not emptied and tagged by the Local Authority as not collected due to plastics being mixed with the  paper items section. 






Plastics, aluminium foil, plastic film all in the paper bin;

What more can we do? We give clear instructions in the cottage handbook for guests and each section of the recycling bin is clearly labelled as to what goes where, we also provide the Local Authority Guide on recycling but still the guests get it wrong. It is in effect pure laziness!  The outcome is that I'll have to bin-dive and sort the rubbish,  store it, then wait a further two weeks for this rubbish to be collected.

I don't blame the Local Authority for refusing to collect this time. I'd put the bin out in the dark the previous evening and not spotted the mixing. The Local Authority would have to pay extra to the recycling company for contaminated recycling if they'd taken this load.  Maybe I should talk with the Holiday Agency (Sykes) and devise a method of charging back the cost to the guests who do not follow the rules?

Carpet Cleaning

As I type I am sitting in the holiday cottage. All the doors and windows are open, even though it is only 3 deg C outside. It is time for the carpets to be professionally cleaned. Once or twice a year we employ a carpet cleaning specialist to steam and wash the all of the carpets in the cottage. He has a big noisy machine, lots of water and pipes around the house.  We deliberately chose polypropylene carpets to allow this routine cleaning. They have good stain rejection and dry quite quickly without any shrinkage. You can guarantee the water in his machine will be dark and muddy by the time he completes his work.

In addition to the charge from the cleaning company (£75), it raises an additional cost because we cannot accept guests during the week of the cleaning. This time we had to turn down someone wanting to rent the cottage for seven nights.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Managing the Network in Holiday Cottage

Our holiday cottage is in the middle of a short Victorian terrace row of houses. It is located in the town of Wirksworth, an old lead and limestone mining town. Originally it had two bedrooms, with no bathroom in the building. The toilet was in an outhouse and the occupants would bath in a tin bath in the kitchen. We've since converted one of the bedrooms into a bathroom.  

One other feature demanded by our guests in the cottage is a good Broadband Internet connection. It is generally one of the first questions we're asked when guests arrive: "What's the WiFi password?" Indeed we've had some guests who spend most of their stay on the settee in the cottage playing network computer games. We installed a business quality ADSL Broadband service with a WiFi service in the house delivered from the ISP Router. Usage is unlimited and the average top speed is 18 mbps download and 1mbps upload. The business service option costs more, but gives me a better service level in the event of faults.

One of the adjoining houses does not have their own internet connection and a limited income, so as a courtesy, a few months ago we allowed them to hook into our WiFi service free of charge. In general this does not generate any additional costs to us, but potentially reduces slightly the WiFi capacity available to our paying guests.

As a general upgrade I've recently signed up to a Plusnet partial fibre "SuperFast" broadband service (FTTC / VDSL). This has become available over the past couple of years. At our location this should give an Internet speed of 75 mbps download and a much faster upload (20 mbps) to our guests. However it does give rise to another potential issue. I don't want our neighbours to gain access to the faster service. To control this external access I've turned off the ISP WiFi on their router and installed a Ubiquiti UAP-AC-Lite  network access point to provide WiFi in the cottage. It is powered by Power Over Ethernet (POE) so needs only a single network cable from the ISP Router to the Ubiquiti access point unit on the wall. This POE method simplifies the cabling for the new unit.



The Ubiquiti device allows you to have up to four WiFi services simultaneously. You can also monitor them remotely and changing the settings on-the-fly without disturbing the holiday cottage guests. 
  • I've setup one owner's WiFi band which is password protected and gives unrestricted capacity. 
  • A second high speed WiFi band is dedicated for paying guests, and this is protected by a different password. 
  • Finally there is a third guest band of WiFi which is open, not protected by password, available for visitors and neighbours. 
This third band is set with usage limits so that paying guests on the main band are not impacted by external usage.  Passwords can be changed remotely (UniFi Cloud service) by me at the start of each new rental via an Internet web page. This is the same type of WiFi system as the ones used in Premier Inn Hotels, except we don't charge our guests extra for the fast service.

The access point comes pre-configured from the supplier. It really is just a plug in and go device. If you want to monitor or alter the configuration it can be done from any web browser. It does help to have some knowledge of network technology if you are planning to tinker. The Ubiquiti devices are good at "mesh" networking if you need to deploy multiple access points, without running network cables, to ensure coverage of your property, but in most cases one unit will service a whole house.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Hooray, good guests!

We had some great guests staying in the cottage this week, we'd love to see them stay again. They were polite, and left the cottage in a clean and tidy state. They didn't complain when the gas supply to the cottage was cut off for 24 hours, leaving them with no cooker, central heating or hot showers.

In fact the gas was cut off to most of the houses in Wirksworth. Some for  as long as four days. A water main burst and injected a lot of water into the gas main. Cadent, the gas network company, has had squads of engineers in town turning off the gas in  the houses while they drain the water out of the gas main. Once a section is clear of water they re-visit the houses to turn on the gas and check appliances are safe.

In the case of the holiday cottage, our guests kindly managed the interaction with Cadent.

Sadly we had to turn down a last minute guest booking from Sykes, because we were not sure whether the cottage would have gas or not. It turned out afterwards that Cadent had been able to restore the gas supply on the eve of the proposed booking. So that cost us a week's rental.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Blocked shower drain

When we refurbished the cottage for use as a holiday cottage we had a new bathroom built. Part of that is a shower cubicle. The house is relatively small and not much room for drainage pipes underfloor for the shower. To reduce the amount of cutting into floor joists our plumber, unbeknown to us, had used small diameter plastic pipes. So the shower drains okay under normal usage, but it is easily blocked by foreign objects.  Our guests tend not to tell us if they've (partially) blocked the drains and leave it for the next guests to find.

Now, whenever we "turn around" the cottage after a rental period we try to check everything is working properly. We have a couple of hours to clean and check the whole house from top to bottom. One of those checks is to check the shower drain is working okay. In fact we always bring a plumbers plunger with us as part of our cottage cleaning kit. If there's the slightest hint of a slow draining on the shower, it is time to get the plunger out and give the shower drain a good work over with the plunger. This time around we found the plastic cover for a razor blade lodged in the drain causing a blockage.


They'd also managed to use spare pre-paid waste sacks at £2.40 a go, by just partially filling the sack we'd provided. The previous set of guests managed to break a drinking glass, for which they'd provided a reasonable replacement, but we found fragments of glass on the kitchen floor. The guests before those were terrible, breaking a pane of glass in the front door, breaking the kitchen waste bin, staining towels and bedding, leaving unwashed dishes. Not long before those guests, a set of guests had showered their dog in the bathroom shower, leaving fur clogging the drains.

Our guests rarely follow the local council rules for putting out rubbish.

What are these people like in their own homes?

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Test fitting - replacement pane for front door

I took a trip over to the cottage today to do a test fitting of the replacement pane on the front door and the supporting wooden bead. It went well and everything seems to fit well. Tomorrow, after some clean up work, I'll be setting a putty bed on the door window opening and installing the pane then locking it in place with the wooden beads (and one dozen stainless steel brad nails).

It was a relief, because the four sections of wooden beading had been cut off-site, and it is easy to get that stage wrong. Given the unique pattern of the wooden bead there are 60 ways to get it wrong and only one correct way. The beads are machine cut which pretty much guarantees an accurate 45 degrees mitre joint. If they were cut by hand, you'd have to be sure the angle are correct in eight locations. There's three ways to insert the glass pane wrongly in the door and only one correct one. Thankfully the glazing company has clearly marked the correct orientation.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Is it worth it?

I've just run the annual accounts for 2018 - 2019 for the cottage. Not including our manpower costs in cleaning the cottage and other running around, the profit margins are slim, representing a return of 1.2% on the capital investment. If we took the same capital investment and put it shares we'd see an average return of 4% without having to lift a finger.


Taking account of running costs and assuming a very optimistic 75% occupancy, we have to see a fee of £103 in a week before we've covered operational costs. Bear in mind that the agency takes 25% of the booking (plus an admin fee) of the money paid by our guests. The agency deducts VAT at 20% from the balance it pays us as "income"; so the guest has to pay in the region of £160/week before we see a penny profit. Our multi-room cottage is about half the price of a room at the local Premier Inn.


To cap it all we have to pay income tax on any profit.  So when we have a guest saying we're too expensive or the furnishings need upgrading (hint; they are all less than three years old), we don't take them too seriously.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Protective glazing panel on front door

I've installed a Perspex (Acrylic) panel on the interior of the front door of the cottage. Its purpose is to protect the existing door glazing from the rare, but careless/negligent, actions of guests. A couple of weeks ago, a guest managed to put his fist through one of  the panes and scattered glass across the road outside the house. This is despite there being an inner door to protect the outer door. It's an old door with nine original, but obsolete privacy patterned annealed glass panes covering the upper half.
The acrylic plastic is colourless clear cast and is 6mm thick. It is almost impossible break without tools. I've milled out a solid oak frame, with mitre joints at the corners to hold the acrylic panel in place. The panel covers all of the interior side of the glass. I robustly mounted the panel on Friday morning in time for the arrival of the latest guests in the afternoon. 
Unfortunately, the replacement pane of toughened and patterned glass for the front door is not yet available. It is on special order via a specialist glazier and their supplier has encountered some production problems. So sadly, I've had to tell our new guests, while the front door is now secure there is still an unsightly temporary plastic sheet covering the missing pane. I've had some wooden beading bespoke manufactured to the correct (imperial) dimensions by a local company. The beading will be used to secure the pane when it arrives. The beading is a good match for the old beading which has received some damage. Despite many phone calls, I've not been able to track down a supplier who retails this obsolete wood moulding off the shelf.

I'll be holding discussions as to who pays for remediation of the damage!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

A bad guest

Last weekend I was working in my orchard when I received a phone call from the agency who let our holiday cottage. Could I deal with an incident that day where the current guest had cut his hand on a broken door window. Apparently he'd broken the door window while attempting to close the door, unlike 100's of previous guests who had closed the door without damage. Now the gentleman was worried about leave the house unsecured. I put away my arborist tools, drove home to pick up some plywood and tools for shuttering.



On arrival, about 40 minutes later, I found the broken window of the front door, with glass facing out and shards scattered across the footpath and across the street outside the house. The pane was broken in it's centre and had clearly been struck with considerable force. I knocked on the door to check if the guest was in, and after some delay he appeared. I checked what injuries he received. There were some cuts to his hand but covered with small plasters and chose not to seek medical attention. We keep a first aid kit in the house.  I took the tools and plywood to the rear of the house and set to work. There was no blood to clear up and very little glass inside the house. After removing the remaining glass from the door, I cut and installed a temporary 11mm plywood shutter inside the door to make it secure. The guest was in the lounge playing a computer game on the TV, obviously not too distressed. I then cleaned up the broken glass from the footpath and the road.

As it was a Bank Holiday weekend I couldn't order the replacement glass until the following tuesday. It is a specialist pattern on the glass and it has to be tempered safety glass. Installing it will require quite a lot of work as the door wood is quite old. New beading will have to be milled. The door had been painted a couple of months ago with specialist marine gloss, undercoat and primer. That will have to be repeated. Yet more expense.

So, yesterday we attended the cottage to clean it after the guest's departure ready for the new booking. It had been left in a dirty state. The toilet had been left unflushed after use. Bathroom towels had been left on the floor in the lounge. They left a fat encrusted dirty saucepan on the cooker, the kitchen work surfaces had not been cleaned, recycling rubbish needing sorting. There was damp washing left in the washing machine. Food had been left in the fridge. The kitchen rubbish pedal bin had had the lid broken off and will need to be replaced (£25). The large bath towel left in the lounge was stained so badly that, even after washing, will need to be replaced (£30). They also managed to break the supporting arms on a bedside lampshade.




In short, they were guests we would not want to see again. The cost of fixing the place far exceed the rental paid to us by the agency.


Update (1st Sept 2019)

The replacement glass is a now rare pattern called Flemish and after some searching I found a glazier who can order that pattern in toughened glass. Each pane is specially individually heat treated for the toughening process and is cut to shape before toughening. Cost £25 + travel costs.

The wooden beading used to support the glass in place, against a bed of putty, is a moulding type which is no longer commercially available. It is called Quadrant Double Ovolo. None of the glaziers I contacted had supplies. The beading for the door is an old imperial size and has to be made to order. A local joinery company have agreed to mill the wood to size, if I pay for the router cutter bit. There are two UK companies providing these, the cheapest is £25. Cost of wood (Yellow Pine) and labour is extra. I tried a sample of the now standard beading wood, but it looks quite different from the rest of the door beading, not good in a Local Authority Conservation Area.

I'll have to chip out the old hard putty from the door before I can fit the new pane. It's slow work as I need to avoid damaging the pane frame. Fortunately I have some glazing putty available and don't have to buy any more to install the pane.

I've ordered some stainless steel 25mm brad nails for my air powered nail gun (£22 for 1000 pack). The previous steel nails in the old beading wood had rusted and stained the earlier paintwork. When I install the replacement pane, I don't want to be using a manual hammer, on copper pins, close to the new glass which can break easily! It does mean I have to haul an air compressor over to the cottage. The stainless is about 3 times the price of mild steel pins, but for the door repair a few pins is a minor cost provided the brads arrive before I commence work. There is a deadline as we are expecting new guests soon.

After the new pane is installed I'll need six clear days of good weather (and no guests) to complete the repainting process. I dread to think how much it would cost if I employed a painter to apply the five coats of paint for that tiny area. Fortunately I have the exterior paints to hand, but might have to find some colour matched acrylic paint for the interior paintwork

To protect the glass door from future idiots, I'm going to install a 6mm clear cast acrylic (perspex) sheet on the interior of the front door covering all of the glazing. It will be held in place by a White Oak frame constructed by the joinery company (cost awaited as some tailoring will be needed).  I've ordered the acrylic from Simply Plastics at a cost of £52 including carriage. The front door is currently protected by an inner door, but it seems the determined can find their way past that protection.

Edit 6th Sept 2019

When we performed the cottage turn round, after the last guest, we noticed a hand towel was missing. Today, I was double checking the cottage before the next guests arrived and I found the "missing" hand towel. Now, if you are the parents of a teenage boy you'll understand the next bit! The towel was under the bed head, heavily crumpled and the fabric was stiff. Ugh, I didn't bother checking for stains! It is now in the rubbish bin, no way would we let that be reused by other guests..


Hand towel found under the bed.









Monday, 8 July 2019

Do you have a reception Desk?

Our holiday cottage appeared on Google Maps, complete with reviews by guests.  Today I had a phone call from a Google Maps clerk: "Does your business have a 24 hour reception desk?" 
My response was: "No, we meet and greet the guests, but are then available on 24 hour call if there are any problems."  End of call.

Being naturally suspicious, about 30 minutes later I checked on Google Maps. Our holiday cottage business is no longer shown and the reviews have been wiped out. The national tax authority, HMRC, treat us as a business. The local council charge us business rates, and Google is happy to accept money from us for advertisements promoting the holiday home business.

Result? We've cancelled all advertising with Google with immediate effect for this cottage and our other businesses. The other major search engines do not have this problem. We'll also move our archival data storage from Google to Amazon AWS.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

It's not rocket science

There was an amusing circumstance on the purchase of wood hardener resin for the kitchen window frame in the cottage.  Apparently I have agreed as part of the purchase to not use the product in rocket systems, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. If I do, then I'm supposed to tell the retailer.

Here's the wording I found on the invoice document from the decorators supply store:


Friday, 31 May 2019

Not recycling

This year I've noticed that guests staying in the cottage have not been putting rubbish bags and recycling material bins out for collection by the Council. I've had to resort to visiting the cottage early in the morning of the day of collection to ensure the refuse is put out in the right place. In some cases I've had to empty the bin during the "turn-round" between guest stays.  I found this puzzling, because on previous years the guests have been diligent at putting out the rubbish at the right time.  We have a copy of the council schedule for collections added into the Cottage Manual and we renew it every year.

I finally twigged to the cause of this apparent lack of helpfulness during a discussion with one of our cottage neighbours this week. It turns out that one of the guests has lost this year's copy of the schedule for collections, leaving just last year's in place in the Cottage Manual. I'd left both there at the turn of the year, but not spotted one had gone missing. So there was no way people could have working through the collection schedule, which takes place on alternate weeks and different bins on different days.

It was easy to print another copy of the schedule, modified for Trade Waste collection, and place it back in the cottage manual. It solved the mystery.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Rotten window repair

The kitchen window at the rear of the cottage is a single pane below a top opening casement window. The glass pane is held in place by a nailed wooden bead rather than putty glazing compound. The problem with this installation is that it is not water resistant. Over the past few years, rain has penetrated behind the wooden bead and has caused wet rot at the foot of the window. It needs the window replacing or the rot removed and repaired.
  
I've tried to interest local window companies in quoting for replacement wood frame window, but none seem interested in this relatively small job.  I could build a new window in my workshop and install it. However, I've never done this type of work before and as a "new window" it would need certification under building regulations because I'm not a registered FENSA installer. As the cottage is located in a Conservation Area, we don't want to have to tangle local planners by trying to install modern windows.

So I've decided to undertake a repair. I'll dig out the rotten wood, treat the remainder with wood treatment, then use Toupret wood hardener resin to provide a firm base. I'll then apply filler material to restore the shape and strength of the frame. I'll mix my own filler compound from epoxy resin, glass microbead filler powder and various fibres to use to fill the hole. Epoxy resin based filler has some flexibility similar to the original wood. It is also low odour, so it will not inconvenience our guests as it cures. Stainless steel wood screws in the interior of the hole will act as a key to help retain the filler in the hole. Once the filler is smooth and hard, I'll sand it down, and replace the wooden bead around the glazing with proper linseed oil putty. Then it will be time to repaint the whole window frame,

I've just ordered some fresh Gurit SP106 epoxy resin, which is now in transit to me. It's not cheap, but it will give a long lasting repair. I've used this technique on boats before to good effect.

Edit: 16th July 2019

I've finally had the time and weather to work on this project. I've dug out the dead wood from the window frame.

The damage was less extensive than I'd feared. I sprayed the bare wood with copper sulfate solution to kill off rot fungi and once that had dried I treated the soft wood with the Toupret Wood Hardener. This particular hardener is water based and serves to strengthen the wood fibre and also lock in the copper sulfate.  If the copper solution is not bonded to the wood it fairly quickly leaches away if the wood get wet. It leaves a greenish tinge to the wood.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Mold Alert

We've run the Warmbrook Cottage as a holiday home for the past six years. It's open 365 days a year. Never before have we had people complain about damp and mold. We've not noticed it when we're cleaning the place between rentals, and my wife who had a career as a District Nurse has a nose like a bloodhound. She hadn't spotted any problem.  
So we were surprised when we received an evening call from the rental agency telling us our guests were complaining about severe damp and mold in the kitchen cabinet beneath the sink. They'd decided to leave before even staying the first night and wanted their money refunding. Not wishing to cause people to stay against their will in the cottage, we agreed the holiday company could release the booking. 

It must be that some people are hypersensitive to mold, when the majority of the public wouldn't notice it. I've seen one report that this might affect 5% of people.

Here's an extract from a research website


Mold allergy causes the same signs and symptoms that occur in other types of upper respiratory allergies. Signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis caused by mold allergy can include:
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • Watery eyes
... Generally, however, mold doesn't cause systemic infections except for people with impaired immune systems, such as those who have HIV/AIDS or who are taking immunosuppressant medication.

When we visited the cottage to check on the same evening, we found no damp in the cupboard, the wall was dry. There were some dark stains on the wall (inside the cupboard), which might have been historical mold occuring before we took on the cottage. We couldn't smell any mustiness, which had also been complained about. We even invited neighbours in to see if they could detect any out of place smells, but they spotted nothing anyway unusual.  Our cottage is "Non-smoking" and we know the husband at least was a smoker, perhaps the cottage kitchen smelt different from a smoker's house. We don't know if the wife actually suffered any allergic reaction, or was just concerned.

We are at a loss to establish what triggered the reaction by the wife. Unfortunately they didn't raise the issue with us directly so it is difficult to know. If they had perhaps there was something we could have done to mitigate the issue. Consequently, this couple have ruined their week's holiday and we're left short of a Bank Holiday week rental, with no redress.

We're going to have the kitchen wall tested for dampness, though it feels dry and warm to touch. We'll also undertake some precautionary antifungal treatment on the old marks on the wall even though there's no evidence of recent activity.

Edit 25/05/19:
We had a tech visit the cottage to test the area in the kitchen which had been reported as damp. He took a series of reading on the way under the kitchen sink. The wall had an average humidity reading of 5.5% with a peak of 6.7%. That is quite a dry wall, and active mold is unlikely. He reported some construction dust on the wall where the back of the cabinet had been removed for plumbing operations. He gave the surface of the area a precautionary wash down with antifungal solution, but did not think we had a problem.

Bright Orange door

It was good to be greeted by the newly painted front door at the cottage. A cheerful bright orange in the sunlight, not exactly fluorescent orange but quite bright. I'd intended something closer to post office red (RAL 3028), but I chose the colour of the paint at night guided by the display on my PC. A happy accident you might say.

We were there for a typical end of week/new guest 10:00 am turnround cleaning session. The usual problems:
  • Rubbish bins had not been put out for collection and were full;
  • Stains on the furniture covers, and not advised to us;
  • Kitchen utensils grubby
  • Broken kitchen glassware, not advised to us;
  • Builder's rubble on our garden from the adjoining property;
  • Gate latch broken by the builder.


All dealt with, and the usual smile on our faces, before the next guests arrive at 2:00 pm.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Would they do this in their own home?

Today we performed a turnaround session to ready the holiday home for our next set of guests. As usual all the linen and towels were changed, windows cleaned, the whole house vacuumed and dusted clean, and the kitchen/bathroom cleaned. My wife noticed the shower drain was running slowly. Unfortunately I didn't have the appropriate equipment with me to clean the drain. So it required a second 16 mile round trip to the cottage with the right tools; some caustic soda and a bath drain plunger.
I've become used to the routine clearance process. Trip some caustic soda down the drain and top up with half a cup of water. It heats the drain trap water to boiling and also dissolves and grease or soap. I then leave it for half an hour to work its magic. After giving the chemical time to work, I then attack the drain with the bath plunger and some running water. After a few pumps of the plunger handle the blockage is usually cleared and flushes away. In this case I noticed a strange black substance emerging from the drain hole. Reaching down I discovered it was a large clog of wiry black dog hair. I pulled the clog free and the drain rapidly began to clear itself.

The dog hair blob

One of the recent guests must have showered their dog in the bathroom shower cubicle. Uggh! They must have known the dog hair had clogged the drain because it had been obviously draining really slowly. However, they didn't have the courtesy to let us know the drain was blocked. It is a good job that we try to check everything on a turnaround. This is sometimes difficult if new guests are arriving the same day as the previous ones left and time is short.

Decoration in progress

We've had a few days of good dry weather and a gap in bookings at the same time, so I was able to start some exterior paint works. The first job I've tackled is repainting the front door. I'd notices that the paint on the door glazing bars was beginning to flake, exposing the underlying wood to the elements. This could lead to wood rot and also didn't look too good. The previous paint was just two years old, but didn't seem able to resist the harsh conditions in the street. I decided to up my game and invest in some genuine yacht paints. 

After a lot of Internet research, I chose Rawlins Teamac Marine Gloss (Colour RAL2002) and Teamac Marine Undercoat (White). This is an oil based paint, rather than the more modern water based paint. After the usual hours of work to sand down the door, removing damaged paint on the glazing bars, I was pleased to find the undercoat paint applied like a dream. It was smooth, with a run free surface. Being oil based it needs at least 12 hours between coats. The top coat was equally good and dried with a nice gloss, requiring just one coat to provide coverage. I'd run out of time between holiday bookings so I'll apply a couple more top coats during the next gap, but the door is now weather proof.

One of the reasons why the paint had cracked on the front door was a failure of the filler material used to fill cracks in the woodwork. When selecting paints (for the door frame) I came across some specialist wood filler (TouPret). It seems to work really well, with a 20 minute pot life and can be painted over after just three hours:



I also decided to tackle the awful red tile paint which had been applied to the roadside brickwork by a previous owner. It is flaking badly and needs stripping off. After some experimentation and a lot of research I'd chosen an eco-friendly paint stripper which wouldn't damage the underlying brickwork and mortar. The stripper is designed to remove graffiti from walls. This stripping is going to be a long time process of several weeks, with many visits, as the paint stripper is quite slow in its actions. At least it doesn't cause the paint to sink into the brickwork.
When I tried a few sample areas, I discovered the mortar filling the gap between the front door frame and the brickwork was crumbly and rotten. It was right next to the front door I was in the process of repainting. By the time I'd hacked out the failed mortar there was a deep finger-width gap the height of the door frame. This had to be fixed and reinstated before the new guests arrive at the end of the week. 
So it was time to jump in the car and head off to Screwfix for a mortar gun and a pail of mortar mix. Yet more expenditure!  In the evening, more Internet research at home, as I learned how to make the mortar suitable for injecting from a mortar gun. It was not sufficient to just mix it in a bucket, I had to add plasticiser and then use a paint "whisk" to aerate the mortar before loading it in the gun. The following day, it took some experimentation to get the mix the right consistency; fluid enough to flow from the gun, but sufficiently solid to stay in the vertical gap in the brickwork. I was please to have a set of specialist brickwork trowels left over from the winter's plastering session. These implements made life a lot easier.
Sorting out the mortar around the doorframe, stole 48 hours from this week's decorating schedule, but in the process I spotted some other high level gaps in the mortar of the wall brickwork which will need some attention before the autumn rains.

I then had to paint the door frame to cover the paint gaps wood work arising from the new mortar. As I was running short of time, I chose Zinsser All Coat Exterior white paint which is water based, covers well, has a tough finish, and is touch dry in 30 minutes and allows a second coat in one hour. The manufacturers claim up to 15 years lifetime for the paint.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Lock replacement

I've finally got around to the task of replacing the door locks at the holiday cottage. Our guests have occasionally complained the door locks were awkward to use, culminating in me having to do a rush visit to the cottage on Easter Sunday to rescue a guest who couldn't lock the doors and wanted to go out.
I've invested in good quality english made security  lever locks for both the front and back doors. I specified "keyed alike" locks so the same key will open both the front and back door.  These locks were purchased from https://www.locksonline.co.uk/, who gave a good service level.
As I was replacing relatively modern security locks of the same size and style, you'd think it would be a relatively straightforward swap out. No, of course not, there were some variations which meant I ended up doing three return trips from Belper to the cottage to fetch extra tools. Years of maintenance on the cheap in prior years had its pay-back in terms of complexity in the tasks of removing the old locks and getting the new locks to fit in the right place.
Now all is sweet  and the new locks operate well. All the keys have been replaced and labelled. The guests will find the new keys much more simple to use.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Washing Load

Our guests rarely see is the amount of work involved in preparing for each guest holiday. Here's a photo of a laundry collection after a couple of guests have left after a week's stay. It represents 2-3 loads in our large washing machine.


Part of that load are cushion covers for the settee in the lounge. One of them became heavily stained by one of the guests. This occurred a few days after we'd installed freshly laundered cushion covers on the settee.  It's a grease stain which required us to use solvents to remove the mark.


At least twice a month we take bedding to a local laundry service to have bed linen professionally ironed. The costs of this facility mount up, but it improves the quality offered to our guests. Typically we spend around £12 per booking visit for this service, this excludes the  costs of first running the load through our washing machine and dryer. Here's a copy of one of the bills.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Stiff Locks on Easter Sunday

We had a call from our latest guest on Easter Sunday afternoon. She just arrived, obtained the key from the keysafe, but thought she'd jammed the back door lock at the cottage in Wirksworth.  We'd had our handyman install new 5-lever locks when we took on the cottage six years ago, but they always been a bit cranky and needed a bit of key jiggling to unlock/lock the doors. Possibly quality issue on low cost locks from a builders merchant? I offered my apologies to our friends who'd come for lunch, grabbed some tools and jumped into the car to drive over to Wirksworth.

On the way as I drove over, she called and said she'd been able to get into the cottage, but the lock was still difficult to use.  Ten minutes later I'd arrived at the cottage and started to diagnose the problem. Of course when I used my own copy of the key, the lock worked okay. I tried the cottage key and the lock worked okay, so I asked our guest to show me her using  the key on the door and the problems returned, even when I tried using the key. I checked the key, using vernier calipers to make sure it was correctly cut and it was okay.  I then tried my key again, but the lock was very stiff.

Our guest left to take her dog for a walk, leaving me to resolve the problems. I decided to lubricate the lock with Graphite dust.  This involved removing the sash lock mechanism from the door. When I inspected the lock I realised the anti-pick shield in the key way prevented easy lubrication. It was time to open the lock body to lubricate the internal key levers. I did think about purchasing a new lock, but as it was late Easter Sunday afternoon there was no chance at finding a locksmith shop open.

As I released the three retaining screws of the lock case and opened it there was a ping noise as a spring under tension dislodged an internal part of the lock. Ooops!

I spayed some silicone lubricant and graphite dust on the levers and other moving parts of the lock and attempted to reassemble the lock. After the first attempt I replaced the case retaining screws and tested the lock. It didn't work! When I reopened the case I found one of the lock levers had become displaced.  It took an extra hour's worth of fiddling to reassemble the lock in a working condition and replace it in the door.  I SMS messaged our guests with the good news and left the cottage in a locked up state. Since then, no further complaints. It seems some lubricant has improved matters.

The following morning I was on the Internet to order two replacement security locks and spare keys. This time I've purchased high quality, British manufactured, security locks. They are supplied as "keyed alike", so the same key will be able to open both the back and front doors. This arrangement will simplify locking up for the guests and reduce the number of keys required in the cottage.The new locks will replace the existing cottage door locks. I'll retain the old locks as spares as spares. 

We keep plenty of spare keys. The 5-lever lock keys need to be cut by a good locksmith, not just by a cheap shoe repair shop key copying. The cheap keys often don't work well in security locks. We had one unidentified guest who'd lost one of the cottage keys and had had a low cost copy made in a shoe repair booth. It gave endless problems and took us a while to work out the cause. Since then we have instituted a policy of charging for lost keys.


Saturday, 20 April 2019

PhD in rubbish

One point which always puzzles me is why local authorities make the process of rubbish disposal and recycling so complex for the average householder. The schemes seem to differ between adjoining boroughs. It is even worse for us, because  in our self catering holiday cottage we have different guests every week and getting them to dispose of the rubbish within the rules on the right day is a bit of a nightmare.

In our case the council treat our cottage as a business premises. We can either contract with a private waste disposal firm or pre-buy specially marked green trade waste bags. These bags cost about 60 pence each. They are collected twice weekly early in the morning from the street close to the front of the cottage. There's no published schedule of collections for the trade waste bags, so we can't leave it in our Cottage Visitor's Manual. We have to remember to tell our guests in advance, and get them to put the bags out the night before, otherwise they'll miss the collection. If they miss the collection it is another two weeks before a general trade waste collection takes place.

The council do collect a food waste bin, for composting, once a week on a Tuesday excepting Bank Holiday weeks when it is a different day. There's a special small bin for that purpose, but the food waste must be in special biodegradable bags. Our guests usually forget to put this bin out, and when they do it frequently "goes walkies" from the street during the day.

The council also collect recycling, every other week, even from those places classed as businesses. The recycling bin has a detachable inner bin. This inner bin is used to hold paper and card, but not shredded paper, the paper must not be bagged or taped. The main bin is for metal cans, plastics and glass, but not sheet/film plastic, nor expanded foam plastic. Broken glass or window glass should not be put into the recycling bin.Scrap household appliances should not be put into recycling, but separate disposal arranged. Batteries should not be put into general waste nor the recycling bin. No rubble, sand or decorators material should be in general waste or recycling.

Separate arrangements exist for garden waste collection and also any medical waste.

The rules are different in adjoining boroughs and the bin colours are different for the various types of waste.


Now all we have to do is get strangers, who just want to be on holiday to follow those rules!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Waiting to decorate the place

Our holiday cottage is due some renovation to the exterior paint work, and the interior could do with some freshening as well. I'd planned to undertake the work over the winter, but my NHS Lottery ticket came up in the shape of a cataract operation to restore my failing eyesight. The advice was to rest totally for the first month after the operation then nothing too strenuous over the next six months. So I had to put the decorating work on hold over winter. We also need to have a dry spell, not too cold overnight, so that the paint is given time to cure, but not too long, so that the layer of paint chemically bond.
  
I'd set some time aside to do this painting work a few weeks back, but just as I was gathering the equipment I had a text message from some unexpected guests telling me they arrive in 30 minutes. More on this story here. The last few weeks have been too cold for the paint to work properly, but finally we have a warm spell with no rain for a few days. Ironically we have some Easter guests in the cottage, so I don't want to disturb their peace. It is not a task that can be split over separate weeks.

Previously the external paint works had been done by our helpful handyman (not me), but he's not a decorator. The results were good, but the external stuff hasn't lasted well. When he went with my wife to choose the paints they chose external quality acrylic paint for the woodwork. It is easy to apply, but it just doesn't seem to last as well as solvent/oil based paints. I'm a traditionalist, and I've maintained sea water dinghies for a sea scout troop. I've found that marine yacht paint seems to last a lot longer than other paints. It is a bit more difficult to apply and get good results, but it does resist bad weather better without so much cracking and peeling. 

For the woodwork, I've purchased: 

The lower wall on the street side of the building are a different matter. A couple of years ago on the advice of the adjoining building owner I repainted the brickwork with a cheap tile paint from Wilco's. The reasoning was it would match his place and colour scheme in the Conservation area. The paint has not weathered well and is flaking quite badly. It also suffers from roadsplash and salt from the winter road de-icing. The walls are also quite porous and allow the rain/damp through to the detriment of the plaster inside the lounge.  For the outer wall, I decided to invest in some good quality exterior wall renovation paint. I'll use a chemical stripper to clean off the masonry first, then several coats to properly protect the surface.

For the wall, I've purchased:

I'm just hoping I've got the colours of the paint right.  It looked good on my PC screen when I ordered the paints late at night, but they do look a bit garish in the can.  I've since purchased a proper paint colour swatch book for the colour schemes used by these paint suppliers. If the local authority moans I can always apply another coat of paint to tone down the colours.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Using the orchard

We have an orchard where guests staying in the Wirksworth Warmbrook cottage can visit and relax. The river Ecclesbourne is at one end of the orchard. In the summer there's shady spots to lounge and enjoy the countryside. There is also a charcoal BBQ, it is kept chained, so you'll need to contact us first.

It is located close to the Railway Inn (Cowers Lane) on the 6.1 bus route between Wirksworth and Belper. The distance by road is 5.2 miles, with a car journey time of 10 mins.

For more information, visit www.turnditch.org

Monday, 8 April 2019

Why do we do it?

Why do we provide a holiday cottage for rental? It is part of our investment for retirement. We didn't buy-to-let using a mortgage. We invested our own retirement savings to purchase the place and to then renovate it for rental. Ignoring the capital involved in the purchase the holiday home doesn't run at a profit yet. After five years the running and set up costs are still larger than the income received from the holiday letting company.

If we'd taken the same money that we spent on purchasing the building and renovating the cottage, and instead handed it to our financial advisor to invest in a fund over the same period, we'd be approximately £40,000 in profit.  However the problem with financial investments is the risk. Banks and share markets can do crazy things and that £40K profit could be wiped out overnight. That sad thing is that property is a more stable investment. It is called investment portfolio diversification.

If however I'd put the same money into Amazon shares at the start of the period we'd be showing a profit of £623,000.  It just goes to show you can't always get it right! You cannot predict the risk.

Our major costs are:

  • 25% of booking fee goes to the agency; and we pay VAT on the remainder passed to us.
  • Power, water utilities, Internet Broadband (business contract),insurance - we still have to pay those even when the place is empty;
  • Laundry costs;
  • Rates;
  • TV Licence;
  • Replacement of broken and stolen white goods;
  • Replacement central heating;
  • Decorating bills and maintenance;
  • Furniture repair and renewal;
  • Tax accounting service £20/month
  • Kitchen towels at £2.75 per week;
  • Laundry and cleaning costs.


So if someone tells us the place is too expensive, we agree but we are not thinking of the booking rates paid by the guests! I worked out that we in effect subsidise our guests to the tune of £30 for each booking night. Add the cost to that of 2-3 man hours work from us for each turnaround for a new guest.


The perils of letting a Holiday Home

Last year we had an unfortunate development linked to our holiday home. It shows some of the risks associated with letting out your property to other people. We had a regular customer, who'd frequently stay in our cottage. For the sake of this article I'll call him John. He always booked the cottage through our holiday let agency Sykes Cottages. On his first visit he arrived with his "wife" at the cottage and his pet dog, an older black labrador. We showed them around the facilities and then left them to get on with their holiday. At the end of the week they left the cottage in a clean and tidy state.

After the initial visit, John became a regular client booking several weeks at different times throughout the year. We never saw his "wife" after the initial visit, as she would be "waiting in the car with the dog." It got to the point where he'd just pick up the keys, without being shown around.  To be honest, we thought John had a mistress in town and was visiting when he could get away. 

Not long after one of John's stays at the cottage, we'd let the holiday cottage to another couple, a pair of elderly pensioners. They seemed to be comfortably settled in with no problems.

However, I received an anonymous phone call at our home from a very distressed and angry lady. I didn't know this person or had any previous contact with her. She was angily accusing me of being a dog trader and demanding I paid back the £1000 she'd paid for a "pedigree" dog, which turned out to have lots of problems.  She told me she'd bought the dog from "me" at the cottage. I said I didn't live at the cottage nor use it for any trading and that it was a holiday cottage where guests stayed, only booked through Sykes. She then wanted me to divulge the identity of the person (John), she even read over the phone to me, details of a presumably forged veterinarian document for the dog with the address of the holiday cottage and "John's" name. I told her to contact the letting company Sykes and see if they would help as I had no details of "John". This is true, in order to protect their client list, Sykes do not tell us the contact details, other than phone number, of the people staying at our cottage.

Shortly after her call, I had some threatening phone calls from another man, I discovered later it was her 22 year old son, demanding I paid up or he'd come and "sort me out". At that point I decided things had got out of hand, so I referred the whole matter to the police. This lady and her son had tried to obscure their identity by withholding their phone numbers. They'd also been abusive to the innocent elderly couple who were staying as guests. The elderly couple had given the lady our contact phone number.

The police subsequently agreed with me that the son would be given a formal warning rather than prosecution as the words were said in the heat of the moment. The police also implied they were investigating "John's" activities.  John had told me he was travelling from Manchester, but I was later able to prove he was travelling from Northern Ireland.

What lessons did we learn? It is very easy to suffer reputational damage. With the GDPR privacy regulations, the letting agency will not reveal details to the owners of the holiday cottage. The contract is between the guests and the letting company. The owners merely provide a facility/service to the letting company. With hindsight, we believe "John" rarely stayed in the cottage, but used it as a kennel for the dogs he was trading. He would use the cottage address to provide a respectable Front for his illicit business. He would use a lot of our towels, and often wash them, we presume he'd use them to dry the dogs after shampoo. We still, to this day, have a permanent rust stain on the tiled kitchen floor, we think this was from dog urine in a steel dog cage. After his visits he'd leave upstairs windows open, to reduce the smell of distressed dogs. After one of his earlier stays, we found dog poo on the bedroom carpet, presumably where a dog had been left unattended. We also suspect carpet damage and kitchen units were damaged by his dogs.
We subsequently told the letting company we'd no longer accept bookings from this gentleman