Ten DIY jobs to improve your home over the long winter nights

The presenters of Home Rescue – The Big Fix suggest simple improvements for DIY fans

TV show Home Rescue, on RTÉ, has been such a hit with viewers that this season it’s been extended from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s the accessibility of the ideas shown that has really won over the viewing public. That and the fact architect Róisín Murphy isn’t afraid to speak plain English and builder Peter Finn knows exactly what will and won’t work. They deliver no-nonsense and executable ideas for real homes.

And the public is taking to DIY in their droves. Part of this rise in popularity is due to pandemic lockdowns but Murphy also cites Gaff goddess Laura de Barra as turning women onto the skills required. Murphy believes we can all turn our hand to some jobs within the home, starting with a simple task like shelving.

The fact that tools have also improved helps, she says.

“They’ve become very lightweight. So what had been a game of brawn has become a game of skill, creating a more level playing pitch for women who want to do it for themselves and not be beholden to anyone else.”

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It’s important especially since the genus handymanus seems to be on the verge of extinction. Try getting anyone to do small jobs around the house and you’ll realise that you will be faster upskilling than waiting for any such person to arrive on your doorstep.

Father-of-three Finn also believes in educating all on becoming handy people. He gets his three daughters to help him out.

“These are life skills everyone should know. The sense of satisfaction, achieving a goal is immense. It will give you a nice little adrenalin rush.”

Shelving

Putting up a shelf is a very satisfying thing to do, says Murphy. A builder’s plank, the kind used in scaffolding is thick and robust and can be used as open shelving with galvanised brackets below or as a simple mantle. There are loads of tutorials online. The main consideration is the wall type that you’re going to drill into and that you’re not touching off electric wires or water pipes.

Painting

This is a job most people can do, says Finn. You just need to prep the surfaces properly, filling in any cracks and sanding down the areas to get a better finish. You’ll need covers for furniture and flooring and good even strokes to minimise marks. Invest in mid-range brushes and rollers to minimise shedding from brushes.

Panelling

That swish panelling you see in period homes is really easy to replicate. Lats affixed to a wall using a glue like No More Nails create the illusion of panelling. In homes with just standard 2.4m high ceilings, panel only two-thirds of the way up the walls to maintain a sense of space. You can also change the colour seasonally.

Make a hatch or remove a wall

In a small mid-terrace house that has a front room and a back room and a scullery kitchen you can create a better sense of connectivity between the rooms to the rear by knocking a hole in the partition wall and installing a hatch, an idea that used to be in every such home. Just don’t be mean about it, she says. Make it a decent size, say 120cm wide. It allows you to set a breakfast bar of sorts between the two spaces and generates a sense of open plan without having to get into using steel beams. The Tallaght house above has had a wall removed in the kitchen.

Divide to conquer bedroom clutter

Built-in wardrobes in a small bedroom can overwhelm the space. Sometimes it’s easier to create a dividing wall and install lots of deep drawers to chest level with clever hanging space above instead of installing the costly and space-invading built-in kind. By not using doors you gain floor and circulation space, Murphy explains. You can bring in a sense of texture to the panel that divides the sleeping area from the storage area. It also means that when you’re in bed you don’t see any of your hanging garments.

Frame a bed with a simple headboard

A tall and flat headboard will create the illusion of space in a small bedroom. Arches are big, Murphy says. A simple way to make a headboard is to cut out panels of MDF and paint in a striking colour – seen here is Colortrend Honky Tonk Blue. These can be glued to the wall using No More Nails.

A window to other functions

In a small room a window sill can do double duty as a shelf but the reality is that most are too narrow to really perform this function. By extending the sill out about 10cm and fitting it with a new timber top you get a dressing space cum shelf. By lining the window frame and sill in mirrored panels, bevelled and cut to measure on all sides you also bounce light back into a dark room.

Move a radiator

Moving a radiator gives you more wall space for furniture, says Murphy. In this Tallaght home she raised it to sit above bench seating so that it also provides back warmth. Also consider upgrading rads to more efficient models. This is easier to do in a home with timber floors than one with concrete flooring. You will need to enlist the help of a plumber for this.

Lay a new floor

Start with a bedroom. Strip back to the original floor. If it’s a concrete base use a floor-levelling compound to even it out. On a timber floor use plywood sheets. Invest in underlay to make it feel more solid underfoot. Take the skirting off to achieve a more polished look – you may need new skirting to fit with the new floor. If the room is deeper than it is wide then run the planks parallel to its outside walls. In a hall run the length of the space. Most laminates have a depth similar to a carpet but if you find the door now jams then unhinge it and plane some millimetres off the bottom.

Gimme shelter

If there’s a return to restrictions, a sheltered space in the garden can be a lifesaver, Finn says. It can become a home gym as well as a place to meet friends and family, all safely and out of the rain. All you need are four inch by four inch structural base joisting and some corrugated sheeting. It’s a fairly simple construction as it’s lightweight but watch a few tutorials online before you get started.

Home Rescue – The Big Fix is on RTÉ 2, Thursdays, at 9.30pm