Thursday 26 November 2020

Issues with a Square Card Reader

 Most of our holiday cottage business is via Sykes Cottages, but occasions arise when we need to take payment directly from our guests. We generally eschew the use of cash, as there is no automatic paper trail. So we use a card reader obtained from  This usually works well and connected to our account via our Smartphone. It also ties in with our accounting system.

However a couple of weeks ago the Square Reader suddenly became incompatible with our smartphone which is a HuaWei P20 Lite device. The App software and the operating system is fully up to date. It was working one day and not the following day.  We contacted Square support after trying all the suggested remedies, we even purchased a replacement card reader for £19, to no avail.  Square support have admitted they've had quite a few reports in respect of the Huawei P20 Lite and have gone away to investigate.  Meanwhile the Square card reader still works fine via our Samsung smartphone.

The bottom line is that the Smart Card Reader, at present, is no longer compatible with the P20 Lite.

Edit: 9th December 2020

The P20 Lite now recognises the Square Card Reader. No update from Square support.

Saturday 21 November 2020

Cooker hood broken.

When we purchased the cottage seven years ago the kitchen had fitted kitchen furnishings already installed. This included a cooker fume extraction hood above the cooker position. We found the the last guest had managed to break the controls for the extract fan and hob light. Of course, she neglected to tell us of the damage, we discovered it during cleaning the cottage after her stay. 

Sadly the rather ancient hood is obsolete and we cannot find spare parts. It will require the purchase and fitting of a new hood. By the time the work is complete, probably £150 plus some more redecoration costs.

Unsurprisingly the guest had left negative comments about trivia in her subsequent online review, but no direct comments to us. All the more reason to increase our prices to cover the cost of damage by careless guests. 

Friday 20 November 2020

Am I too damp in the Cottage?

 In the previous post I told some of the story of fitting an environment sensor in the Cottage to remotely monitor the temperature to help compliance with insurance requirements during Winter periods of non-occupancy. 

An unexpected side effect was that I discovered that the humidity levels in the cottage are a bit too high with a reading of 67% relative humidity. The is probably because we keep the windows closed while the place is not occupied during lockdown, but there is a certain amount of damp in the Victorian solid brick walls at the front of the house.

Humidity in our holiday cottage

So to address this issue, I've rented an electric dehumidifier machine. Within the space of the first 12 hours, this relatively small box has brought the humidity down to 55% in the cottage. It extracted a 600 ml of water from the air. At present I've set the machine a target parameter to switch off when humidity around the machine is below 50%. It is located in one corner of the cottage, so it will take some time to evenly spread the humidity across the building. If the project shows good results I'll purchase a dehumidifier.

The machine is rated at 500 Watts, though when it is running it initially has an average power running cost of about 2p per hour (£16 month). However, the energy used in dehumidifying will offset the heating demand on the gas central heating. At the moment it is removing about 1 litre of water per day from the air, walls and contents of this one bedroom cottage. It will be interesting to see whether those figures reduce as the cottage "dries out".
Pro Breeze 20L Dehumidifier

The recommendation is that humidity in the room should be between 40% - 60%; if you read the adverts/articles from air conditioning suppliers, they suggest 40%, but I rather suspect a vested interest there. If you make the atmosphere too dry it can cause discomfort for guests.

Update 22nd Nov. 

Yesterday, I reset the target humidity on the machine to 45% Relative Humidity, rather than 50%. At this setting it created 2 litres of condensate water, in 24 hours, while slightly increasing power usage. As the capacity of the condensate tank is just 5.5 litres, I'd need to visit the cottage once every two to three  days to empty the tank. So I've just ordered a condensate syphon tank. I'll make arrangements to have a continuous condensate drain via the syphon into the kitchen sink. The syphon tank releases the condensate in batch amounts, rather than a steady trickle. This is much better on very cold winter days as it reduces the risk of the external drain pipe of the kitchen sink from freezing.

The dehumidifier we're using is rated at a maximum 20 litres extraction per day, but that is with an ambient room temperature of 30C. The extraction rate is reduced at lower temperatures.

The air volume inside the building can carry about 1.5 litres of water.  Hopefully this will reduce in a few days, but in theory it could amount to 40 litres in a month.

Holiday home humidity 22nd Nov 20

Despite the higher extraction rate the Relative Humidity around the monitoring sensor remains around 54% (at 15.7C) which suggests there is some way to go before we reach stability.

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Am I freezing in the cottage?

 The time has come for the annual renewal of insurance for our holiday home. One of the conditions raised by the insurer is that when the property is not occupied, we should maintain a minimum temperature of 15 degrees celsius. Presumably the logic behind this is to  prevent water pipes freezing in the winter and causing water damage when it thaws.

As a matter of course, we leave the gas central heating running on a low setting when there are low temperatures around. We've also insulated the condensate pipe from the gas central heating boiler and installed an electric thermostatic heating wire under the length of the external condensate pipe. This heater is triggered if the temperature drops below 5 celsius, preventing a build up of ice in the condensate pipe.  If the pipe becomes blocked with ice at the drain outlet, water can back up the pipe causing the central heating boiler to turn itself off.

Generally the insurers insist the property is inspected once a week during periods of low occupancy. One of the companies was looking to have daily inspections, which in our case is not feasible. There's a risk that a fault develops in the central heating leading to a loss of heating while the building is not attended. This would lead to the temperature dropping below the 15 degree threshold. 

We decided we needed to find a solution to this risk. After some research we found a temperature monitor/sensor which can provide alerts via the cottage broadband internet. The result is fairly low cost and we can check the health of our premises via a web browser or on a smartphone App. It also  can raise automatic SMS/Email alerts if a threshold is crossed.

The details shown in the graphic are: 
  • Temperature (Celsius.  Fahrenheit is possible), 
  • humidity (percentage), 
  • Light level (lux), 
  • supply battery voltage, 
  • WiFi signal strength. 

The sensor we are using can also monitor vibration affecting the device, so it can detect people causing vibration. These readings are monitored every 15 minutes (variable) and we can produce analyses over a time period. This data is held in a central database and can be interrogated via a web browser or smartphone app. If necessary we can prove to the insurance company that remote checks are performed.

We can also advise guests on the actual temperature/humidity during their stay at our cottage.

We now offer this as a rental service, to ourselves and others, at a modest cost of £10/month. It is a fraction of the cost of a single visit from our home to the holiday cottage. Alternatively people can buy the sensors, and register/sign on to the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor their properties. There are more expensive versions which can report via GSM service. If you to buy one here's a link to an Amazon page, we have no financial interest in this link.

Edit 14th Nov 20

After a couple of days trial, the results are looking good. No cabling is necessary to install as it can be battery powered and connects via WiFi. It was just a matter of downloading a phone App and setting up the WiFi Router password on the sensor. The following images give a snapshot of some of the data available remotely via a web browser.

The monitor is sensitive to fractions of a degree. In this case I can spot when a door adjacent to the sensor is opened letting in cooler air from an unheated room.

In this example you see the relative humidity around the sensor. On the web browser you can move the crosshair cursor to check information at any time.

The sensor contains a light meter (Lux) and you can detect the amount of light falling on it at any time. I was able to detect when people come into the room at night and switch on the lights. I also ran a test to automatically send an SMS text message to my cell phone (mobile) when a light level threshold had been crossed.

It is possible to see the strength of the WiFi signal in the room. In our case we get occasional interference from vehicle mounted WiFi servers on the nearby roadside (A6 main road), which cause momentary dips in signal. Studying other monitors I can see it is the sensor losing contact momentarily with the network access point, not a genuine dip in available WiFi.  They look worse on the graph than reality because of the plotting method.

It is also possible to share a "view" of the device with other people. So one person can operate as an administrator, perhaps settings up and maintaining such devices whilst others (clients) can freely check the temperature, etc. of installed devices. The clients have the capability to set their own alert thresholds and create warning messages via email (free) or SMS texts ($0.18 in UK). Clients cannot configure the device parameters settings from their account.

Edit 16th Nov 2020
Today I decided to end the bench testing and to deploy the sensor out in the field for testing. I had to do a little work to have it recognise the WiFi  at our holiday cottage. I re-read the instruction leaflet, but had it operational within less than 10 minutes. I noticed that the cottage was a bit cold and discovered that despite us leaving the central heating running, the previous guests had turned off the radiators at the thermostatic valves. Visiting each radiator soon had them warm and toasty.  I also turned on the boiler condensate pipe heater. Someone had unplugged the trace heater..

This configuration certainly gives me an increased level of comfort that I'll be able to spot any heating problems remotely when the property is unoccupied, particularly during winter weather.  A spin-off is I'll also get a feel for how the guests use the heating in the cottage.

I also discovered today that the sensor monitor can be powered by a main USB power source while the internal batteries are also in place. If the main power goes out, the sensor will continue to record, using the internal batteries, and then when the power and Internet is restored, it will be able to automatically upload the backlog readings to the central database in the "Cloud".  Incidentally, the monitor device (set at 15 minute sample reporting intervals) seems to transmit about 2 Mbytes/day of sensor readings to the central database. The "free" allowance for data is 1 Gb/month per monitor.


Wednesday 4 November 2020

Unrealistic expectations

 In these days of Covid-19 lock-downs, and the extended cleaning protocol between guest stays, we heavily subsidise each guest who stays in our cottage. Hopefully this is temporary and some equilibrium will return to the self-catering market.  This year the armchair warriors leave sniping complaints on the review websites, when in previous years the same property and services has received praise. These moaning guests don't have the courtesy to raise any issue with us during their stay and the rental agency Sykes are unconcerned as long as they get their 20% + VAT + booking fee. At times they even give discounted prices, reducing our take, without asking us first.

The latest moan was the "property seems pricey." Let's be clear about this. We are lower cost than the price of a single room at the local Premier Inn, and for that you get a whole house. In fact our pricing is similar to a private room in a youth hostel. 

We allow pets to stay, the Premier Inn doesn't. We don't charge extra for pets (at the moment),and that alone saves a minimum of £105 per week in pet boarding fees. We don't charge for our labour in cleaning/maintaining the cottage (£40/week). We don't charge any notional interest on the capital tied up in the cottage (£45/week). The extra cost of Covid-19 cleaning is around £25/rental.

At current rates we've not achieved break-even over seven years. So we are going to increase prices by at least £150/ week. We've had enough of guests who expect Ritz services at Poundshop prices. If that scares away guests, we'll just move the property to private rental which would give the same or better return but a lot less work. We see no reason to continue subsidising guests.

p.s. The latest moaning guest failed to comply with Covd-19 regulations, despite them being clearly documented in the welcome pack. The cooker hood controls in the cottage were found damaged after her departure, but not reported to us. She also complained in the review that the paintwork was dirty, I don't suppose she'd have realised we had completely redecorated the interior of the cottage a couple of months previously.

Saturday 26 September 2020

Ultraviolet lamp in operation, cleaning self-catering cottage

 In these times of Covid-19, we now use the ultraviolet-c lamp in the process of  cleaning. We first suit-up in full body PPE equipment, including a respirator, prior to entering the cottage. As part of the procedure we assume the departing guests could have been infected asymptomatically with the virus. We then progress around the rooms in the cottage giving a timed exposure to each room from the Ultraviolet-C light to help sterilize the environment.

UV-C Lamp sterilizing kitchen

Here you can see the lamp in operation in the kitchen during a recent cleaning session. We move it around during exposure process to avoid shadows and ensure even coverage. During the operation of the lamp we normally keep out of the room and control the lamp using a remote power switch. Usually before entering the room we switch off the lamp. When there is a need to be in the room with the lamp on, we wear full body protection and also a full face visor tested to be safe against UV-C light. We also limit time in front of the lamp. The lamp in the picture is 72 watts/230 VAC. Close up to the lamp, at 30 cm, you'd receive the maximum permitted dose in less than 30 seconds. We also carry dosimeter badges which are checked before and after exposure. 

We have a specialist UV-C meter which allows us to accurately measure the dosage given around the room, and also the impact of UV-C reflection from surfaces. We use the meter to "calibrate" the room and thus verify an appropriate exposure time for sterilization in each room. Typically in our case this is about 20 minutes total exposure time per room to achieve 40 millijoules per sq cm dosage.

Using UV-C light avoids the general usage of persistent biocide chemicals as a film on all surfaces and in the air. This may occur with biocide/hypochlorous fogging disinfection techniques. We don't wish to expose our guests or cleaning staff to these chemicals.  However we do supplement the UV-C by wipedown with a disinfectant on high touch areas and work surfaces. Surfaces of electrical equipment, buttons and switches are sterilized using non-conducting 100% isopropyl alcohol.

The Philips TUV discharge tubes in the lamp have a surface treatment which suppresses the light wavelength which generates ozone from oxygen in the air. However in operational use, there is a tiny amount of ozone produced. You can smell it as a faint odour. While ozone is a very powerful disinfectant, it is not good to breath in. So we ventilate the rooms with plenty of fresh air during and after the process. We also make sure that guests are not allowed in to the cottage until at least an hour after the UV process to allow any residual ozone to revert to oxygen.

Friday 18 September 2020

Using video processing for the Self Catering Holiday Cottage.

 We been using digital video cameras for some time in our other businesses in the production of training videos. To aid that process we use Cyberlink's video editing software called PowerDirector. We then host the video on This allows advert free content which can be reliably streamed to multiple devices across the Internet.

In the new Covid-19 cleaning regime for our holiday cottage, we now produce a complete video of the cottage interior after every turnaround cleaning session between guests. We use a GoPro Hero 5 for quick and fuss free filming. When we get home it only takes 20 minutes to produce the video and upload it to  This video output has proved extremely helpful and cost effective in resolving any post visit guest queries. We've found recently that Covid-19 staycation guests' expectations can exceed the norm, and they look to reduce costs by threatening to post unrealistic visit comments. This change of guest behaviour often feature in comments in the cottage owners Facebook group.

One of the features of the Cyberlink PowerDirector is the ability to easily apply preset Colour Lookup Tables (LUTs) to individual  video clips. These can significantly improve the quality of the output to get a more lifelike rendering on the video. The contemporaneous video  of the cottage also supplements the inventory list of the cottage contents.

Saturday 12 September 2020

Newly painted cottage, paintwork damaged after just two lettings

12th Sept 2020

When we cleaned the cottage at the last changeover, my wife noticed that the wall surface in the bedroom had been scuffed leaving dark marks on the newly painted wall. Presumably this had been caused by a carelessly handled luggage scraping against the wall.

This damage was quite annoying as we'd only just finished decorating the interior of the whole cottage a couple of weeks previously. I think perhaps there'd been a total of 7 guest nights since the redecoration.

I also noticed some damage to the lock of the linen cabinet located on the first floor landing. Again, these doors had been recently painted as part of the redecoration, so the damage was very recent. Yet more repairs to do when there's a gap in the bookings.

Damaged linen cupboard in Holiday cottage

The cleaning work involved vacuuming the bedroom carpets. My wife was using the cottage's brand new vacuum cleaner. We'd had to purchase a new one because, shortly before the lockdown, we'd found the older one had been broken and was no longer working properly. The older vacuum was less than 18 months old.

I also discovered the lower bracket on the stair bannister rail had become slightly loosened. Whilst the overall rail is safe, I'll need to take off the lower bracket from the rail, and remove it from the wall. I'll then need to repack the screw holes in the wall and then remount the rail bracket. Unfortunately I only discovered the issue late in the cleaning cycle and didn't have sufficient time to go collect the correct tools and supplies to effect a repair in time for the next guests. The rail was not loose during redecoration process.

Edit 25th Sept 2020
Our last set of guests were excellent, but it was a disappointment for them to find that the electric toaster was not operational. Thankfully our guests left us a note to let us know. There was no fault report of this by the penultimate guests, which was annoying because if we'd known we would immediately replaced the toaster. The toaster unit had been PAT safety  tested by an electrician in July before we re-opened for business after Covid-19 lockdown. I guess we'd best test and document, every electric appliance in the cottage between guest stays.

We already have a note in the cottage handbook asking people to report faults to us when they find them so that we have the opportunity to remediate without delay. However it seems some guests subsequently abuse the post-stay comments process to pick fault in their subsidised  holiday accommodation even though damage occurred during their stay. So far we've not charged for damages, but we've decided it is time to introduce a "good housekeeping bond" for bookings.


Saturday 5 September 2020

Cottage Cleaning in a Covid-19 era

 We've just finished cleaning the cottage after our first guests after we re-opened the cottage to rental in the Covid-19 era. A one bedroom cottage, the two guests stayed for three nights. Cleaning time was three hours, including steam and Ultraviolet-C sterilisation. On top of this was an additional 30 minutes documentation time.  It created a mound of items for transport to/from the cottage. 

Here's an example of the additional documentation we produce: 📋 It is available online for our guests to reference.

We note that the guests neglected to fill in the Track and Trace forms, we'd left for them, giving their contact details. Whilst we can follow up via the Sykes Agency, it adds delay and complexity to the tracking process.  There's no way they could have missed the forms because we'd placed the WiFi password at the top of the contact forms.

Edit 26th Sept 2020: For each cleaning session, we now produce checklists and video the results. This information can be accessed here: 💭

Thursday 3 September 2020

Rotating Guest Consumables in our holiday cottage - Covid-19

 As part of the guest supplies for our holiday cottage we provide items such as hand soap, paper kitchen towels, washing up liquid, cooking foil, tissues, clingfilm (saran wrap), disinfectant, washing machine powder, ground pepper, salt. With the exception of hand soap, most of that is only partially used in a typical week long stay. We retain these supplies for the next guest, and normally replace them when the consumable has been fully used up or expired. It keeps down costs to the guest, but also saves them from the need to bring such items or to purchase for the duration of their holiday.

However in these times of Covid-19 Virus we cannot follow those practices. We have to remove any items which may have been touched by an infected guest but are not possible to safely disinfect. This could include paper goods or other items with a sensitive wrapping. The virus can remain live on the surface of some items for up to a week.  While we could use Ultraviolet-C light it would require careful manipulation of the item to ensure a full disinfection exposure. 

We have chosen to rotate items from the cottage during the cleaning process. They'll be replaced by identical items that have been stored for at least 10 days during which time an surface virus should have degraded.  So we're marking each item with a Rota Label; Rota A, Rota B, Rota C. During each cleaning process we'll replace the previous Rota with the next in the series. We've been busy making up cleaning boxes containing all the necessary items. Each item os labelled according to its rota. It does mean we've had to purchase several times the usual amount of consumables, but it will increase the safety for our guests.

Saturday 29 August 2020

Another guest surprise.

 We have just left the cottage after cleaning ready for the next guest. We happened to move the folding dining table in the kitchen. One of the leg gates fell off when we moved the table. It had been broken and not reported by previous guests. Fortunately we have a couple of days to effect a repair to the table and I possess the appropriate tools, materials, and skills, but the situation would have been worse if we'd left  the cleaning process until just before the arrival of the next guests.

This is quite a robust table, but the breakage had been deliberately hidden. It would have required quite a lot of force to break the joints and cause the damage we discovered. These guests had the front to say in a review that our cottage  on-line photo's needed to be updated.

One further reason to increase rental prices to cover the cost of repairs. 

Repairing kitchen table in cottage
The repair in progress.

The repair entailed drilling out broken wooden dowels, to an accuracy of better than 0.5 mm, and replacing them. One of the wooden stretchers was badly cracked and needed gluing and clamping. We took the opportunity to disassemble the gate leg of the table, and reglue the entire assembly. We clamped it with a jury-rigged tape Spanish windlass.

Table upside down on kitchen floor, glued and clamped.

Edit: 01/09/2020
After repairing the kitchen table yesterday, we noticed that one of the kitchen chairs was also damaged. It was pulling apart at the top and bottom of the chair frame. We couldn't get back to the cottage until today with the tools to fix it, so I went back to the cottage again this morning with some tools and glue for a swift repair. The next guests are due at 3pm today.

Whoever caused the damage they've been abusive to the furniture. The chair have served well for six years without previous damage. I inspected all of the chairs and only one was showing damage.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Finally boxing in the Central Heating.

Two winters ago, the gas central heating failed suddenly during a guest stay. We were able to provide temporary electric heaters for the two remaining nights of their stay. We found a plumber who'd fit a replacement boiler at short notice, but unfortunately he had to rip away the plywood box covering it during the re-install process.  This left ugly pipework exposed. Our plumber had arranged for a carpenter to visit and re-build the boxing. He even had the OSB board ready for the carpenter's arrival.  Unfortunately on the due day it snowed heavily and the carpenter couldn't make it to the cottage. Subsequently we have a series of bookings and the carpenter was not able to arrange a fitting. In the end we told the plumber not to bother, as I decided to fabricate the box work myself.

I'd designed and carefully manufactured replacement box work. It was designed to easy removal from the interior if the plumber need to gain access, unlike the old box work which had been a permanent fixture.  Unfortunately during the planned spell of maintenance work, our own house was flooded by the River Derwent destroying my tools and also the replacement box work. So the pipes had been left bare to greet our guests. Then Covid-19 kept us locked down unable to visit the cottage. 

Ugly pipework at the boiler
Ugly pipework before boxing

Finally last month I was able to visit the cottage to restart maintenance work. I totally redesigned the boxing, allowing it to be demountable in sections and commenced rebuilding. The walls in that part of the cottage are not even and square, so the construction process took many visits to the cottage to test fit and measure items. Each time is a 16 mile round trip.

Plywood boxing under construction in my cellar workshop

Boxing mounted on the wall covering pipework

The work is now almost complete. We need to do some plaster work and painting, but soon it should be ready for our guests.

Edit 24/08/20:
We had a visit from our gas engineer to service the boiler and to provide a gas safety certificate. The demountable boxing worked well. He was particularly impressed that I'd provided an allen key to fit the box retention sleeve nuts. The key is attached by magnet to the central heating boiler.


Friday 31 July 2020

The cost of smokers in the holiday cottage

Our holiday cottage has been closed to guests since March 2020 as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. It's a gap of four months during which there's been no heating running and no other electric machinery or lights. The latest power bill has arrived showing no reduction in cost.

Back at the end of 2019 and through January 2020 we had a pair of guests stay who were heavy smokers who largely ignored the "no smoking" rule inside the cottage. The costs of remediating this are described elsewhere, but during their stay we had three occasions to visit the home during the stay. On each occasion we noticed the heating was on full blast but the windows and the back door was also wide open, even though it was the middle of winter. Their efforts to attempt to hide their smoking inside the cottage have cost us dearly in terms of additional power usage, in effect the equivalent to four month's worth of additional usage. Using the average cost per week of power (£14.77) this amounts to a figure in the region of £250.

Saturday 25 July 2020

Using a UV Lamp for Covid-19 Sterilisation in Self-Catering Holiday Home

We've just placed an order for some Ultraviolet (UV-C) dosimeter labels. It took a lot of research to find the best labels for the job. These labels progressively and consistently change colour according to the amount of Ultraviolet light  (UV-C) exposure. After some dosage calibration using our UV-C meter and lamp we'll be able to easily assess whether the correct dose of ultraviolet light has been given to kill off the Covid-19 virus in the rooms of our holiday cottage.

We'll take a photo of the exposed label after room treatment to record that a suitable dose of UV-C light has been given during the cleaning process. This photo will be incorporated in the formal documentation of the cleaning process. Whilst this label adds slightly to the cost of the process, it will add comfort to guests' concerns about cleaning and will give evidence of good processes in the unlikely event of a dispute.

In our case, testing shows that in terms of effective destruction of virus and bacteria, an exposed light green label (centre of third row in the picture) is a reasonable indicator of 99.99% inactivation/destruction (40 mJ/Sq Cm). Some types of coronavirus take far less exposure to UV-C. Do remember that some computer displays render colours differently. For our purposes we print comparison samples on colour printers using a CMYK colour scheme.

There is also a Health and Safety aspect of limiting the exposure which we discuss here. Using the dosimeter labels can help avoid excessive doses, but good procedures, correct PPE and supporting usage of a UV-C meter is more reliable. Any member of our team not equipped with full PPE will be provided with a UV-C dosimeter badge to wear when the UV-lamp is in operation. In terms of the above labels picture, we regard the second label in the second row as a maximum permitted dose, though in practice we avoid any direct exposure to UV-C.

We can also offer help and advice to other owners of cottages in the locality.

Edit 4th Aug 2020:

Yesterday we found a flyer pushed through the front door of the cottage from a company offering cleaning of premises to give a safe environment. It is the same company who advocate using agricultural biocides for fogging the interior of premises. These chemicals are designated for fumigating barns and cattle sheds.  We don't think we'll be using their services.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Cleaning the Washing Machine in the Self-Catering Cottage

Yet more on preparing to clean our holiday cottage in this era of Covid-19. If you've read our earlier articles you'll see that we've obtained a high pressure steam cleaner and a Ultraviolet (UV-C) lamp, on rental, as required. As part of a a comprehensive cleaning programme between guest stays we'll use a mix of steam, UV-C light and biocide to make our cottage safer for guests. 

In addition to UV-C irradiation of each room we'll be taking some extra precautions in the kitchen. We won't use biocide spray on food preparation surfaces, as we don't want to leave a chemical residue. However for the washing machine we'll sterilise most surfaces and seals with superheated steam. The electrical parts will be cleaned using isopropyl alcohol spray and wipe down. A difficult component to clean in the washing machine is the soap/conditioner dispensing drawer and its housing. Even in non-Covid times these are difficult to clean and often gain a bacterial black mould in difficult to reach areas. 

This is where the high pressure steam cleaner will come into play. Our cleaner steam lance produces a 6 bar blast of steam at 160 C. In our cleaning rehearsals we've discovered the steam cleaner lance is excellent, if somewhat messy, in quickly cleaning out the soap drawer of our cottage washing machine. The heat of the steam kills off any fungal/bacterial residue on treated surfaces. Once all the mould is cleared out, we'll give the interior of washing machine soap dispenser a spray of biocide solution between guest stays. If the black bacterial film returns, we will revisit the machine with the steam cleaner.

Sunday 12 July 2020

The costs of cleaning self catering holiday home for Covid-19

We're discussing with our rental agency (Sykes) what the impact of additional cleaning costs will be when we turnaround our small one bedroom holiday cottage between guest stays. Providing a safe place will inevitably increase the rental charged to guests, when Covid is no longer a concern we can consider removing the extra charges. On the basis of current estimates it is an additional £65 per turnaround.

We've carefully considered the Sykes recommendations for cleaning, ignoring those which are contradicted by the World Health Organisation, to ensure effective but safe procedures for our cleaners. We have decided against the use of fogging devices which leave a residual fine layer of biocide chemicals throughout the premises after application by mist/spray/fog.

To prevent infection passing between sets of guests, and our cleaning staff, we need to undertake extensive and thorough cleaning both inside and outside our cottage. We need to disinfect surfaces that may have become infected. We also need to provide additional disposable protective equipment (PPE) for our cleaning staff.

We already have extensive cleaning procedures in place for our cottage as part of normal rental. These existing procedures have to be completed within a four hour gap between the departure of one set of guests and the arrival of new guests. To complete the additional work for Covid-19 precautions we'll need to extend the turnaround gap by two hours to a six hour period to allow for the additional work. To keep capital costs under control, during the indeterminate period of Covid-19 risk, we have chosen to rent the necessary equipment, for steam cleaning and ultraviolet light sterilisation, on a daily rental rate. The costs of the additional treatment and labour, extra to existing cleaning, is estimated at £43.17 per turnaround.

The cost of additional disposable items, arising from Covid cleaning and safe disposal is estimated at £14.96 for each turnround.

We also need to purchase additional stocks of bedding, linen, towels,  pillows, cushions etc to enable potentially infected materials to be left for a week in sealed bags, allowing any virus to degrade. Our cost estimate for this additional stock is £407.  Spread across the expected lifetime of these goods, that is around £6.98 per week or turnaround.

I've a detailed spreadsheet of all of the cost items. I won't publish here, but it is available for those who might want more information.

Thursday 9 July 2020

Improved cleaning in the holiday cottage

We're planning to reopen the self-catering holiday cottage in September 2020 if the Covid-19 situation permits. We'll need to be able to quickly clean the cottage during turnround between guests. We've already purchased an ultraviolet lamp for general room sterilization, but we also need to have a method to clean surfaces as an integral part of the safety processes.

Those involved in the cleaning work will need to wear protective personal equipment, such as disposable gloves, mask and disposable apron when undertaking the cleaning. So the process we've decided to follow is to first irradiate a room with Ultraviolet-C light for 15 minutes. This will destroy any airborne or surface laying virus particles. We'll then move the UV-C lamp to another room, while  using high pressure superheated steam to clean high touch hard surfaces and soft furnishings in the first room. This sequence will be followed through each room in the cottage.
Dupray steam cleaner
Dupray Steam cleaner

We'll be using a Dupray steam cleaning kit to undertake the superheated steam cleaning, thus avoiding the use of biocide chemicals for sterilization. Our guests will not have to be exposed to residual chemicals during their stay. It also means that staff engaged in the cleaning process are not exposed to breathing in biocide mists from fogging machines or hand sprays. Whilst the biocides are believed to be harmless at proper dilution, the concentrates are harmful and potentially toxic. The World Health Organisation advises against fogging machines in domestic environments owing to the associated health risks from the chemicals.

The superheated steam cleaning method is also effective at cleaning greasy kitchen areas. The Dupray unit produces "dry" steam at a pressure of 4.5 Bar (65 psi) heated to 160 deg C (320 F).  This is additional expensive equipment for cleaning, there is also an increase in the amount of labour needed to undertake the cleaning work. To recover the capital costs and increased labour, it will necessitate increased rental prices (approximately £60 per guest turnaround to meet Sykes requirements) for our guests, but better to be safe than sorry.

The Dupray unit can be run using soft tap water, but to avoid calcium/magnesium deposits in the unit boiler we'll be using deionised water. There is a company called Spotless Water who've set up "filling stations" across the UK to supply window cleaning companies. Apart from your travel costs their water costs around 5p per litre.

We'll be asking guests to strip bedding at the end of their stay and to seal it in large plastic bin bags as part of the hygiene processes. The duvets (comforters) and pillows will be swapped out on a rotational basis at each turnround, allowing at least a week before reuse. During storage we'll treat the duvets with UV-C light irradiation. Mattresses and seat cushions will be treated with UV-C light or steam as appropriate. This process will have the side benefit of destroying any bed mites.

Paper or cardboard items which may have been handled by guests such as books, kitchen towels, will be disposed of, or swapped out as appropriate. Crockery, glassware and cutlery will be soaked in bleach water and rewashed before return to the newly steam sterilised kitchen cupboards/drawers. Saucepans will be heat sterilized. Bins will be emptied and steam sterilised, with any rubbish awaiting collection sealed in new bin bags.

Monday 6 July 2020

Using a UV-C meter during room sterilization

Using UV-C light to sterilize the rooms of the holiday cottage, as part of a cleaning programme between guest stays has its advantages. It doesn't leave a chemical residue and doesn't increase humidity.  The process is quite fast, depending on the power of the ultraviolet lamp deployed. However it is not without risk to the operators of the lamp. There are fairly strict EU and USA regulations relating to the health and safety exposure limits for ultraviolet lamps. During use you need to wear protective clothing and goggles/face shields to avoid exposure to the light. 

Here's one example: Artificial Optical Radiation Directive 2006/25/EC is 30 J/m² at 253.7nm for a daily 8 hour work shift.

At a distance of 5cm, the ultraviolet light intensity of the lamp we use is around 17 milliwatts per square centimetre. This would exceed the daily safe allowance within a minute if exposed directly to the UV-V light output from our lamp. The further you are away from the lamp the intensity starts to decrease quite rapidly. The shape of the lamp reflector affects how the intensity of UV-C is distributed. Reflection from surfaces can also increase the indirect exposure.  As part of the safety procedures the operator should not be in the room when the UV-C lamp is switched on, unless fully protected by UV-C PPE gear. UV-C can be stopped by fairly light protective gear, but you need to keep it away from bare skin and the eyes. The light kills virus/bacteria by damaging the DNA/RNA within the organism. You don't need your own DNA being damaged.

However it is likely that situations will arise when you need to measure the intensity of the UV-C light to make sure you do not exceed the safe limits of exposure. We purchased a specialist UV-C meter to perform these measurement and to also test the safety level of any PPE equipment that we wear. You cannot detect UV-C light by your normal senses. We test UV-C radiation levels before, during and at the end of a sterilisation session. We also document those levels. We also record our tests on PPE equipment. 

We purchased a laboratory quality meter. It is a General Instruments UV512C meter.  We purchased it via Cole Parmer in the UK. The following link will lead to the Philips Lighting  advice on using UV-C for disinfection.

These people  provide dosimeter dots/cards. We are currently checking price and availability.

Why do we not advertise on Google

At the moment, well for the past two years, we do not advertise our businesses on Google. The reason for this is that Google arbitrarily removed our holiday cottage from Google Maps even though it had been validly displayed as a business for three years before that time. This wasted hundreds of pounds of money we'd invested in online facilities. 

While Google are within their rights to choose which businesses are shown on Google Maps, we are also in our rights to withhold advertising income from them. So they miss out on income from advertising our international consultancy. The money we spend on Internet advertising goes to LinkedIn and Facebook.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Sykes Owners Facebook Page

We've belatedly signed up to Sykes Owners' Facebook page. To be honest it is a bit of an eye opener. Many of the owners are not happy with Sykes' performance on Covid-19 and refunds policy in the case of booking cancellations due to Covid-19. One poll shows 30% of owners have given notice to Sykes Cottages. Undoubtedly this poll is a bit self selecting, but it is an indication that all is not right.

Monday 22 June 2020

At last a genuine UV-C Lamp to disinfect the cottage

At long last, after previously buying a fake, I've found a UK based supplier to provide a UV-C lamp unit, 230V AC and 72 Watts power.  It uses Philips lamps, not some obscure Chinese make, so it should be possible to get spare light tubes when you break them. They are not LED, but mercury vapour discharge technology.

If found a few other suppliers, but they were either asking "Covid Prices" north of £500 or were awaiting stock, but no firm delivery date.

I've ordered a UV-C lamp and a tripod stand, which should arrive in a couple of days via DPD.  I took the trouble to research the company and also phone them to discuss my requirement. They can be found at . Remember if you use this type of light wear appropriate PPE to protect yourself and others from the UV-C light as it can damage your eyes and can cause long term damage to your skin by altering your DNA.

It takes about 15 minutes to treat a room, depending on the size of the room and the power of the lamp. The process is very much:

  1. Position the lamp
  2. Prevent unauthorised access during the treatment
  3. Leave the room, and make sure other leave too.
  4. Switch on the lamp
  5. Avoid the temptation to peek and switch off the power after the due time
  6. Return to the room 
The UV-C light is also effective in killing the eggs of fleas, mites and moths; but needs a longer exposure. This could be handy in treating an infestation if you allow pets in the cottage.

Edit: 26/06/2020

The new UV-C lamp has arrived. It is sturdy and well constructed. Including the purpose made tripod, shipping and VAT the bill was £266.  For safety purposes we use a UV-C meter to check exposure levels.

UV-C Lamp
Using a UV-C (Ultraviolet) Lamp to sterilize holiday cottage

Wednesday 17 June 2020

What do you do when you flush? Covid-19

Lid up or down?

When you flush the toilet in the bathroom the process creates a fine aerosol of droplets which spread and linger in the air around the toilet. Closing the lid of the toilet reduces the dispersion of this fine mist, it reduces the spray which may contain fecal matter. That fecal matter can transmit the Covid-19 virus (and other bugs such as e-coli) and transfer it to other surrounding surfaces.

In the case of our holiday cottage that contamination from the toilet could settle on the shower enclosure, the bathroom floor, the wash basin and taps (faucets).  It is why we always wipe down such surfaces during end of rental turnaround cleaning. We have to assume our guests are not biosecure in their daily habits. Typically we'll use Zoflora in water. (1:30 concentration) and leave the surface damp for at least 5 minutes to allow the biocide to work.

Here's what the active biocide in Zoflora does to rats during tests.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Using a Fogger to disinfect the cottage?

Having seen the advice from the rental agency Sykes to use fogging, or ULV machines, to disinfect the holiday cottage I thought some investigation is in order before exposing our guests to these substances.  Here's one substance a local business is recommending as a biocide suitable to destroy Covid-19. It is called Vanoquat, it is used in animal husbandry and the food processing industry.   

Used as 1:25 dilution with water it is loaded into a fogging machine and you need about 3 litres of the solution in 100 Cubic metres. Our one bedroom cottage is about 75 Cu M, so we'd need around 2.5 litres sprayed around, as part of a two stage cleaning programme, so wash down surfaces first with detergent and water.  The instructions are lacking information about how soft furnishings should be treated, but you don't often get soft furnishings in cattle barns.

According to the local contractor, you then leave the treated area for at least 90 minutes. Again, there's no advice is the distributors safety documentation about how long should be left before human occupation in the area.

The chemical can cause permanent eye damage, it should not come into contact with the skin and the mist should not be inhaled. So the recommended PPE is waterproof boots, full body covering with waterproof suiting, rubber gloves on hands, eye and face protection. The safety sheet says no respiratory protection is required, but elsewhere advised not to breathe the mist, so I'm guessing a suitable respirator may be appropriate. Certainly all the videos I've seen, the fogger operatives are wearing respirators to protect against the mist.

If I was a guest in the cottage, I wouldn't want to sleep in that environment. There are some less toxic cleaning fluids, but they make no mention of application by fogging. In a Premier Inn customer assurance video they show their staff using a single stage (combined detergent/biocide) from hand spray bottles but only hard surfaces are treated.  The Covid-19 virus remains viable for a few days on soft surfaces.

We've chosen to use Ultraviolet lamps and superheated steam (using de-ionised water) to supplement a cleaning programme.

Here's the advice from the World Health Organisation:

In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces by spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended for COVID19. One study has shown that spraying as a primary disinfection strategy is ineffective in removing contaminants outside of direct spray zones.

Moreover, spraying disinfectants can result in risks to the eyes, respiratory or skin
irritation and the resulting health effects.

Spraying or fogging of certain chemicals, such as formaldehyde, chlorine based agents or quaternary ammonium compounds, is not recommended due to adverse health effects on workers in facilities where these methods have been utilized.

Spraying environmental surfaces in both health-care and non-health care settings such as patient households with disinfectants may not be effective in removing organic material and may miss surfaces shielded by objects, folded fabrics or surfaces with intricate designs. If disinfectants are to be applied, this should be done with a cloth or wipe that has been soaked in disinfectant.

Other sources:

Edit: 26/06/2020

Some people are recommending the use of dilute Hypochlorous acid in foggers. A common way to manufacture this is by electrolysis of dilute salty water (Sodium Chloride) and indeed you can buy devices which make small quantities of dilute Hypochlorous acid.  The electrolysis produces Chlorine and Hydrogen; the Chlorine gas produced (in small quantities)  dissolves in water to form hypochlorous acid. Electrolysis of brine is the commercial process used to manufacture sodium hypochlorite bleach, i.e. the common household bleach.  It is known that breathing in bleach vapour damages the lungs. Common Bleach also contains sodium hydroxide, i.e. Caustic Soda arising from the electrolysis process.

The manufacturers of hypochlorous fogging machines that hypochlorous acid is produced naturally by the body as a defence against infection. No doubt it is, in minute quantities at a cellular level, but the body also produces quite a lot of hydrochloric acid in the stomach as part of the digestive process. In the wrong place in the body hydrochloric acid would do a lot of damage. Remember the burning pain of acid reflux in your throat?