Posts Tagged ‘diy’

Three tips for keeping cool in a hot summer

July 24th, 2014

Here at the SW fortress of solitude, we usually concern ourselves more with keeping warm in winter than cool in summer: our thermal imaging project, for example, is targeted at reducing heating costs more than anything else.

In theory, if you properly insulate your house, then you proof it against both extremes (and so should have a cooler home in summer); in practice, keeping cool in a heatwave is always harder than you’d expect for us British, isn’t it?

With that in mind, here (hopefully still with a few days of heatwave ahead of us) are three simple ways to keep your house cool, without having to invest in expensive and climate-harming technology like air conditioning.

1. Close your windows

It might seem counterintuitive, but in hot, still weather, you should close your windows. Only if the air is cooler than in your house, or is moving quite fast, will it actually cool you down to any extent. And it certainly won’t cool the building down unless it’s a lot colder than that: brick retains an awful lot of heat.

2. Put shutters up, or reflective material

Heat should be deflected from south-facing windows during the hottest parts of the day. If your house is unusually Tuscan in appearance, you might have shutters on those windows; if not, you can put up temporary internal shutters using a reflective material.

You can buy solar-reflecting film for windows, and have it installed permanently, although you might not want something in place all year round, especially in the depths of winter. A more DIY and temporary option – if you don’t need it outside July and August – is to put a reflective sheet up, outdoors if possible, but close to the panes indoors if necessary.

You can attach a tanning blanket or car windscreen sunshade to a couple of hooks in the window frame; or even more cheaply (and as a first experiment, to see if it makes a difference), strengthen sheets of tinfoil with a “frame” of double-sided silver gaffa tape, and stick it up with Blu-tac or similar. Shiny side out, and try not to worry about what the neighbours think.

(Curtains won’t work anywhere near as well: mirrored surfaces are best; and even if the curtain material is a pale colour, it still warms up considerably in the sun, and then re-transmits the heat into the room’s air as much it does as back through the window.)

3. If you do decide to open the windows, cool the draughts with water

Any draughts you do have, you can cool even further through the evaporation of water. You need to work out which way through the house the draughts are blowing first, and then turn your attention to the window(s) through which the draught enters.

If you’ve got net curtains or fabric blinds against these windows, mist them with a water spray. You can also hang towels or other damp cloths near the draught, although try to keep them out of the sun as that will just dry them on its own! When the water evaporates into the draught, it will take heat out of the air. So as the draughts blow through or over the wet fabrics, they will cool slightly. This is how zeer pot fridges work, or terracotta wine coolers.

Dampening the air does have the effect of spreading a little bit of dampness through your house; but then if you’ve persevered this far with this article, sweat pouring off your brow, thoughts turning sluggish in the sun, then damp is probably the least of your worries: for at least the next month or so!

Tomato cane support – from pallet wood again!

March 29th, 2014

Not content with building a raised bed out of pallet wood, we’ve been doing yet more pallet-based construction in the garden this year. This time, inspired by a review of the plant supports at RHS Harlow Carr conducted by quondam Oxford gardener Julieanne Porter, we built a decidedly functional one, ready for the tomatoes that we hope will eventually grow from what are currently very small seedlings.

» Read more: Tomato cane support – from pallet wood again!

Sunday crafting: decorating a plain cushion

March 9th, 2014

How do you upcycle a completely plain cushion into something a little more individual? As this project shows, personalising your soft furnishings doesn’t have to involve too much sewing.

Let’s assume you’re starting off with a perfectly serviceable, but boring, cushion and cover. (We’ll be blogging about creating cushion covers from scratch at a later date.) Sustainable Witney supporter (and ReFashion repairs expert) Joy Griffin started her project with some cushions that came free with her new sofa.

You will need:

  • Paper
  • A piece of fabric for the appliqué: this could be recycled from rags, as sometimes the more contrasting the pattern, the better!
  • A piece of iron-on interfacing
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Sewing needle and thread (preferably matching your design and/or your cushion)

Get your design down on paper

You can pick what you like as your image, though simple shapes work best. Flowers, stars, geometric shapes…whatever. Browse the internet for inspiration or look around your home to see if there’s a motif you want to repeat. Then you can either draw it by hand or perhaps print an image from the internet and blow it up on a photocopier. For her project, Joy chose a Scottie dog as you can see below!

Turning the design into a finished product

Place your printed design on top of the material you’ve chosen for the design, with a piece of iron-on interfacing in between. Pin them together, then iron them together. The interfacing should bond to the material but not to the paper. It will strengthen the design and make it easier to apply fabric glue later.

Now cut out your shape and remove the paper pattern. You should (hopefully) have your desired shape cut out in material and reinforced by the interfacing.
cushion with Scottie dog design

Attach your design to the cushion cover

If you chose non-fraying fabric, you’re in luck. You can use fabric glue to attach your design to the cushion and the whole project will involve zero sewing.

But if it’s a fraying fabric, you will need to hem around the edge of the design. If you choose to sew the design to the cushion cover rather than gluing it, remove the cushion from the cushion cover first, then pin the design where you want it to be and turn the cover inside out so you can work from the “wrong” side.

Finishing touches

You can add texture to the finished design with some extra touches such as ribbons, buttons or sequins. Joy decided to create a little “collar” for her dog with tiny heart-shaped buttons. Again, these can be either sewn on or glued on with fabric glue.


You should now have a cushion that’s completely unique to you. If you decide to give this project a try, please do send us your pictures – we’d love to feature them on the blog!

Turning a raised bed frame into a vegetable garden

March 17th, 2013

As you’re probably aware from previous posts, I’ve been building a raised bed from pallet wood, and last weekend Kate and I planted our first seeds in it. So to round off this short series of posts, I thought you might like to see how we went from a bare wooden frame to an actual vegetable garden.

» Read more: Turning a raised bed frame into a vegetable garden

How to build a raised bed from pallet wood

January 13th, 2013

A few weekends ago I dismantled a wooden pallet, yielding a surprising amount of wood. Last weekend I reassembled this wood into a raised bed.

As before, there are plenty of guides out there on how to put a raised bed together from pallets: here’s one way to do it although there are plenty of others within searching distance. Anyway, this was the method I broadly followed, with (as before) a few interesting observations which I mention below.

» Read more: How to build a raised bed from pallet wood

Dismantling a pallet into reusable wood planks

January 3rd, 2013

Wooden pallets are practically the original and most recognizable example of discarded and waste wood. Also, you usually expect to see them consigned to the flames: it almost isn’t a successful Guy Fawkes’ Night, until you’ve put at least one of them on the bonfire.

But they’re also a convenient source of second-best reclaimed wood, if you can get your hands on them well in advance of your DIY project. Taking apart a pallet is really satisfying – it’s feels a bit like magically conjuring usable wood – but there are a few tricks you’ll need. Here’s a video that shows one successful method:

In short, you start by lump-hammering the chocks – the cuboids of wood between the planks – at right angles to the nail direction. This gradually bends the joins apart and eventually frees the chocks entirely. Once you’ve got some chocks to prop up the upturned remainder of the pallet, you can lump-hammer individual planks away from others, and they drop down between the chocks. As you proceed, continually claw-hammer any nails back out, in the opposite direction from how they were hammered in.

» Read more: Dismantling a pallet into reusable wood planks