1a Haversham Square
Newcastle, UK



Howser on Holiday

September 3, 2016

Those who’ve had the misfortune of working with me, know that I like to crack the whip.

I’m known round the sites as a man who likes to work hard and play harder.

Now, don’t think that I’m espousing the stereotype that all brickies are hard drinking, smokers with an eye for a top-shelf mag and a Snickers.

I may have dabbled in a fair bit of confectionery as a younger man, but I’m in my mid-thirties now. I drink a green smoothie for breakfast every morning, I quit smoking 8 years ago and only drink on the weekends – when I have to spend time with the wife and kids!

I don’t like to take traditional holidays. Time is money, or so they say, and I like to make money. But every year, around half way through the Summer Holidays, I cave and book time off.

green smoothieYou see around this time, my wife develops strange symptoms of exhaustion. Dawn’s fantastic with the kids on a day-to-day basis, but I can always tell when she’s spending too much time with them. Her hair starts fraying at the edges, her dinners start to get startlingly similar and she falls asleep on the sofa at around 7:30 every night.

Just when I can tell she’s reaching breaking point, I rent a camper van, book some activities and surprise the family by sneaking down to the kitchen on a Monday morning and cooking a fry-up. That’s how they know we’re going on holiday.

exhausted-momThis year we went to North Wales. A gorgeous part of the world, you can find moors, mountains and forests. There are tonnes of things for the kids to do and decent options for hungry/exhausted parents. So, if your wife is looking a little worse for wear, why not look here for some ideas on what to do in North Wales – and take a leaf from my book!

However, there’s no reasons why you can’t get a little research done whilst you’re on the road with the family. There are some great examples of Sustainable Building projects in Wales – even though some may seem a little too modern for your firm, you should never be afraid of reaching for the lofty heights of Sustainability.

Here are three of the places I made sure to stop off at, luckily they also doubled as great places to take the sprogs!

The Great Glasshouse

You may well see your kids’ eyes start to glaze over when you tell them your driving to the National Botanical Garden of Wales, but they’ll soon forget their misgivings when they see Foster and Partners’ Great Glass House. Once the largest in the world, its still quite the sight to behold. A 99x55m toroidal roof, the glasshouse is the centrepiece of the 230-hectare garden in Carmarthenshire.

Let the kids run riot round the huge grounds, get a nice lunch with the wife at the cafe and then sneak off to find a member of staff. Speak nicely to the right person and you can get a sneaky tour of the Energy Centre that powers the entire place. Timber trimmings are thrown into the furnace to provide a surprisingly clean source of energy which provides the entire park with the power that needs.

Hafod Eryri-Snowdon Summit Building

No trip to North Wales is complete without a trip to Mount Snowdon. The variety of paths to the summit provide an easy route for any intrepid hiker. The kids will have no trouble in racing to the top, but you can take it easy if you want to and make the Hafod Eryi-Snowdon Summit Building your meeting point. There’s a cafe and an awesome floor-to-ceiling glass window for looking at the great view.

Opened in  2009, the building cost millions to make and was the subject of some criticism upon its opening. It may not have the Victorian charm of its predecessor, but its locally sourced materials can give you some great ideas for similar design work on extensions.

Ruthin Craft Centre

Everyone loves a craft centre, especially when the kids are at just the right age to obsess and compete over their creations. Sit them down with the tools provided and watch them lose themselves in potentially hours of craft work. You might leave with more paper/cardboard tat than you plan on, but at least you’ll get a chance to rest.


Whilst the kids get down to some serious Blue Peter work, you can take a look at the building itself. A zig-zag zinc roofline makes this building easily recognisable – not something most customers would go for, but still a great sustainable option material-wise. Similarly, the cast stone (coloured terracotta) that lines the walls are a great way of reducing your build’s carbon footprint.…

Overcoming Stereotypes

September 1, 2016

The image of the typical building contractor is something that has changed a great deal over the last decade.

However, there are still a whole spate of contractors who do nothing to help our public perception.

Ask most people what they think of when you tell them to imagine a builder and here are the things they’ll mention:

Grubby White Transit Van

dirty van

Catcalling Women On The Street


Messy Sites

untidy buildsite

Smoking Cigarettes


Not Working

lazy builders

  • It is up to every single one of us to nip these bad habits in the bud. They are not the product of individuals, but rather a group dynamic based on lazy practices and low standards.
  • Each and every outfit has a professional and personal interest in keeping their site standards high. By working efficiently and cleanly, we do our companies proud and are essentially promoting ourselves as a good work force.
  • By smoking offsite, and out of our gear, we help to reduce the stigma attached to builders as lazy.
  • Most importantly, by cracking down on sexism we can improve the moral attitudes of our younger workers and help create a work environment that is truly inclusive.

Lets all help to change the public perception of contractors and take pride in the work that we do!


The Problem with Pools

August 23, 2016

I blame Snoop Dogg.snoop

Him and his rapper pals in the early 90s, pushed their R’n’B and Hip Hop Music through the MTVs into impressionable minds. Pool-side parties and bikini-clad babes flooded our screens and jammed the air waves. Everyone knew if they were either a ‘blood’ or a ‘crip’. If they didn’t, then there were quizzes in magazines which could tell you who you should be drive-by shooting on the weekend.

What was the result? A demand for swimming pools. In Britain, where our average summer days reach the dizzying heights of 24 degrees Celsius…if we’re lucky, for one day.

At this time I was still getting by doing odd jobs for friends of friends, struggling to pay my rent each month. Luckily for me, one of these friends was kind enough to put my name forward to build a pool for a rich colleague.

Now, I had built walls and I had laid down concrete drives. So, in my infinite wisdom, I took the job. How hard could it really be? After all, a swimming pool is just a big concrete drive with bricks around it, right?

pool lovelyMy new client, an estate agent who came complete with a perfect smile and Porsche 911, wanted a 7ft deep, 20 x 40ft monster in his back garden…in Skegness. There was no persuading him to go smaller. Even though he knew that I was a one-man outfit, he felt that he needed the space to hold his Diddy-style raves and that I was the man for the job.

Unlike his pool dimensions, his budget was small. Hence the reason for hiring a one-man crew to build, what was to be, the largest private pool in the county. So I had quite the job ahead of me, with very little experience and no real clue where to begin.

Of course, if you wanted to attempt a pool build today you’d be able to consult the internet. You could find forums, blogs and videos explaining every step – from material sourcing to logistics to the build itself. However this was the 90s. I wasn’t to buy my first computer for another 15 years and no pool building company would dare share their precious processes with an upstart like myself.

waterfallSo I had to call further afield. Much further. Luckily, for me, I had contacts in America who were willing to discuss their methods. The build was scheduled to take one month. It took two. Two months of drowning in concrete, cutting my hands on tiles – I spent four days alone fitting a diving board and I had 50kg of materials left over. All I can say is, thank God I didn’t care about sustainability back then.

I know now that the carbon footprint for the production and delivery of concrete is massive. With the power of the internet, my knowledge base has expanded to include all sorts of techniques and methods for building green swimming pools.

Here in England, companies have developed swimming pools that are completely chemical-free, utilising clay and gravel in place of concrete. Natural filtration systems support the production of friendly bacteria (think Yakult for your swimming pool) and small fish get rid of any gnats or mosquito larvae.

cripsIf I’m commissioned to consult on a new pool, I’ll offer a sustainable option as standard. Some clients are a little worried about the prospect of spending thousands of pounds on, what is essentially, an oversized pond – but there are some ways to win them over.

What I’ll try and suggest is a combination of natural and artificial. It’s not hard to do win over liberal clients who are keen to save the planet, but for more stubborn individuals there’s always the cost-benefit analysis.

The expensive part of the pool is usually the main construction. Take away the concrete and suddenly the whole endeavour becomes a lot more affordable. This leaves room in the budget for a quality pool skimmer and filtration system to give the customer peace of mind that they won’t be swimming in a glorified marsh.

With a reliable team of helpers, I can get a hybrid-eco pool set up within 10 days. Once your moss lined, cress filled pool is complete you may not feel like a ‘blood’ or a ‘crip’ but you could still end up swimming with the fishes!…

5 Quick Ways To Garden Sustainably

August 22, 2016

[I’m super busy with many contracts this week, so I hope you folks don’t mind if I keep this one brief – BuzzFeed style! – Batesy]

My customers are always asking me about sustainable methods of gardening. They assume that just because I plumb sustainably, that I live my whole life sustainably.

Well…they’re right.

Once you start on the road to living green, it becomes a snowball effect of picking up more and more environmentally friendly habits.

Here are 5 Quick Ways to make your gardening habits more sustainable:

Grow Organic Foods

If you’re already growing your own fruit and veg, you may as well go the whole hog and go totally organic. Soil, seeds and even tools can be sustainably sourced – so there’s really no veg

Ditch The Concrete

Don’t let your gardening practices slip back into the realm of the 70s! Concrete is so last century, and has a carbon footprint bigger than you’d expect. Use wood-chips or locally sources shingle instead and save on hassle.


Up-cycle Your Furniture

Yes, I know plastics are easier to store, clean and move – but they’re also ugly and not good for the planet. Pick up some odds and ends from your local recycling plant and make something unique, beautiful and green instead!

baths outside

Turn Slabs Into Steps

If you really can’t live without some solid concrete under feet, I get it. Luckily there’s always people getting rid of them, with a bit of elbow grease you can clean and cut these specimens to create your own unique stepping stones.

recycle concrete slab

Save Your Waste

This may seem like an obvious shout to those of you who already do it, but for some its not. Any waste food you have will do wonders for your plant life – tip it in a compost heap or worm farm and just watch your scraps reap dividends.



Take a Sustainable Road Trip to Chester!

August 8, 2016

conservatory 2There was a time when your average conservatory project could take up to six weeks to complete. This wasn’t due to the poor planning or construction materials that the 90s had to offer, nope. It was because I used to run with a bad crew. Back then, during what was to be the first recession I would have to work through, jobs were scarce. We had to make our dough building conservatories and extensions for old people who had all of the cash and nowhere else to spend it.

Whenever we scored marks like these, we always made sure to spend a good amount of time in the planning and consultation phase. Whilst never a bad idea to ensure that you’re getting exactly what the client wants, in today’s fast paced world, a week or so is the limit for this kind of job. We would like to stretch it to at least a fortnight, with multiple sessions that we would charge extra for – again, I’m not proud of this, but it was never my call to make.

The 90s were a time when conservatories were flying up left, right and centre. Of course they were never that hard to build, but we liked to make it seem like hard work. We’d ‘um and ah’ over glass density and angles until the day was over and we’d only laid two lines of brick. All so that, at the end of a total of 8 weeks, an old biddy would have somewhere to sit where she could feel the sun on her face (but not be chilled by the wind).conservatory

These days – things are a little different. The orangery has taken the idea the conservatory had twenty years ago and ran with it. Instead of rather formal greenhouse style affairs, we now have grand spaces with more brick, but still including a fully windowed roof. Now, if I had been with my old gang in the tough 90s, we would be rubbing our hands with glee at the amount of ‘preparation’ that we would need to undertake in order to get the job ‘just right’. However, if I even attempted to utilise those old methods now – my company would be out of business within the quarter.

Your take home from this article? Take a trip up North and take a look at the Conservatories and Orangeries in Chester. These gorgeously styled extensions blend seamlessly with the rest of the house, are perfectly finished and go up in the amount of time it would take us to do our ‘planning’ in the 90s – a fortnight. They’re built with environmentally friendly materials and boast the kind of insulation that would put most window fitters to shame.

If you want to instil your outfit with an enthusiasm for sustainability that would rival my 90s crew’s aptitude for laziness, then take a road trip to Chester. The folks up there are lovely, and may even allow you to take a closer look at the fine handiwork of the crews up there. Have a pub lunch, go out on the town, and drive back down the next day. Your younger recruits will come away enthused about the possibilities of the jobs yet to be completed – and you’ll have had a night away from the wife. That’s what we in the building profession call: a win-win.…

Sustainable Pipes – Do They Matter?

August 1, 2016

landfillMy parents were never a fan of recycling. It’s a shame really, when you think about how many people are out today, dedicating large swathes of their lives to saving our planet – one Coke can at a time. My parents didn’t like Coke either, but that’s beside the point. They both came from the higher echelons of the upper classes, used to having servants deal with their refuse (and even the help would have objected to recycling). I guess it’s what you would call a generational thing. Growing up through the forties and fifties, my Mum and Dad were part of that awkward generation of adults who never quite figured out how to have a good time.

Their moral belief systems went beyond the limitations of black and white. Whole cultural activities were branded with the tarred brush of entire movements. Blues music was for civil rights sympathisers. Vegetarianism was for hippies. And recycling? Well, recycling was for communists. So, if I had wanted to start sorting through the rubbish like all the other ‘filthy reds’ on my street, I wouis-this-tomorrowld’ve had to have done it in secret.

I didn’t want to anyway. Like most kids, I believed my parents’ word was gospel: they never spoke a lie and what they said – I said. So for the first couple of decades of my life, I blindly followed. Throwing everything we didn’t want straight into the bin, where it would be unceremoniously dumped in to a landfill, we must have contributed to a good hundred square feet of rubbish over the years. I didn’t feel guilty about this until I left home for university. Upon arriving in London, I was awash with an intense feeling of remorse. I had spent years gleefully dumping all my life’s waste into the Earth and now, surprised by the support for recycling, I could not take it back.

When it came to starting my career as a plumber, acting in an environmentally professional manner did not come to me easy. The lessons that I had taken from my college and university courses had not taught me how to practically adapt my newfound obsession for recycling. So as such I invested in plastic pipes, l threw away offcuts and I burned a stupid amount of fuel in my horrifically inefficient Transit. I knew there were best practice guidelines out there, but I just didn’t know to access them!

Thank the Lord, for the internet. With the arriva of the World Wide Web, it was easier than ever to gain information. I started to collate data and methods on how to reduce my carbon footprint and I was soon putting together articles on the best way to build sustainably. So you’re probably wondering what the answer is to the question in the title of my essay: ‘Sustainable pipes – Do They Matter?’
You might feel a little cheated at my answer, but I believe there is no one single issue within our building trade that ‘matters’. To become a sustainable tradesman, within any field, you must embrace all aspects of the environmentally friendly ethos. Keep reading here at SBP and you might just be able to figure it out one day!