UK ministers resist calls to reduce VAT on green home improvements

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MPs and builders want tax cut included in government strategy to cut emissions from home heating

Ministers are resisting calls to reduce VAT on green home improvements, despite pleas from MPs and builders, as they prepare to set out a national strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from home heating.

Heating Britain’s homes accounts for about 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that number has barely budged in the past decade. This year, ministers scrapped the green homes grant, a scheme to subsidise insulation and low-carbon heating systems, after only six months. This left the UK with no plan to bring homes into line with the government’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

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A clean sheet: small changes around the house can make a big difference in lockdown

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With so many Australians still disrupted by the pandemic, home improvement projects can restore a sense of control

I have grown tired of my one-bedroom apartment. It started last year, when we were first plunged into lockdown. As it turns out, a bedroom, bathroom and living area is a very small space to share with a partner 24/7.

The build-up to claustrophobia was gradual – at first, spending chunks of time at home surrounded by my things felt novel, comforting even. Then the familiar became overly familiar. So we bought new cushions, swapped our coffee table and organised the linen closet. Those stopgaps worked.

Related: Intimate, emotional and midweek: how Covid redefined weddings – possibly for good

Related: In the early days of Covid-19, we stopped consuming and rather loved it. But it didn't stick | Sarah Wilson

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It’s shortsighted to spend too much time indoors, so step outside for your eyes’ sake | Rachel Cooke

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As I stumble around in glasses, a new book reminds me that a dose of daylight can work wonders on your eyesight

For weeks, I’ve been struggling to get hold of new contact lenses. Whether because of Brexit, the pandemic or some other unknown factor, my prescription is always unavailable. This has never happened before and I’ve worn soft lenses since I was 18, when I begged my mother to buy them for me before I went to university, the better that I might espy all the boys I hoped to get off with at a distance.

These days, I don’t mind how I look in my Coke bottles as much as I once did. But even so, I can’t say that I’m happy. My sunglasses are a no-go, ditto my reading glasses. Worst of all, behind my spectacles’ swotty thickness, I feel (ironically) slow-witted and lumbering, as if I’m moving around in thick fog.

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We’ve moved house, but every purchase feels fraught with indecision | Coco Khan

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This ‘new chapter’ seems to mostly involve arguing about what to buy. What’s wrong with trial and error?

When my boyfriend and I moved into our own flat, we were congratulated on our “new chapter”. I didn’t get it: we’d already been living together for several years in a shared place, so the move seemed more like a minor upgrade. It turns out that everyone was being vague about what this chapter actually is. Which is understandable: “Congratulations on opening your new chapter of arguing about what mundane crap you need to buy” is far too long for a card.

Rug underlay, a jigsaw, a storage thing to put another thing in – products with dozens of versions available and thus requiring research to make the “right” choice. I had no idea starting a new chapter with my great love would feel quite so much like a public-sector organisation tendering for a water cooler.

Related: Staying up late, that extra eclair – sometimes there is virtue in a vice | Coco Khan

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Home working drives demand for ‘shoffice’ space in UK gardens

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Change to working practices during Covid pandemic has led to booming sales of high-end sheds

  • Work is where your laptop is: meet the globetrotting digital nomads

Cropping up at the bottom of gardens up and down the UK is the latest trend among the country’s home workers – the “shoffice”, an office in a shed.

After more than a year working from kitchen tables, sofas or spare bedrooms, many Britons are looking to carve out a quiet workspace in the loft or in their garden.

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B&Q owner’s profits soar as Covid creates ‘generation of DIYers’

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Pandemic supercharges Kingfisher’s digital business, attracting 10m new online customers over past year

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Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q and Screwfix, has reported a surge in sales and profits for 2020 as a locked-down nation turned to home improvements.

Thierry Garnier, the chief executive of Kingfisher, said the company had seen “extraordinary demand” in the past year as people adapted and updated their homes and gardens to cope with new demands prompted by restrictions on travel, socialising, schools and leisure.

Related: B&Q aims to tempt Instagram generation after UK falls back in love with DIY

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Green homes: how to shut out the winter cold and save cash

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Some households could be wasting £330 a year because of poor heating and insulation

With storms and snow sweeping much of the country this week, many people’s thoughts will have turned to how to make their home warmer and more energy efficient.

According to research from Nationwide building society, shared with Guardian Money, some households could be wasting as much as £27.50 a month, or £330 a year, because of inefficient heating and poor insulation.

Nationwide's data said homeowners in Llandrindod Wells would save the most by making the suggested improvements

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Crammed with my wife and adult kids into a tiny one-bed flat, I realised I loved my home

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In March, our house was a cold, rubble-strewn building site. As supply chains broke down, it became clear we wouldn’t be moving back any time soon


My wife is a goal-oriented person. When she learns, it is deliberate. For her, lockdown presented an opportunity, so she began learning Danish. I didn’t. I am deeply lazy: as I sit here writing, I am staring at an empty packet of Wotsits that has been sitting by my laptop for three hours; the bin is 6ft away. The notion of actively learning something seemed a bit needless. Why waste all that time when I could be doing nothing?

I did learn something, though. I learned that I love my home, which came as a surprise. I guess there is nothing quite like being trapped outside your house, as we were, to make you appreciate it rather more.

The builders had left a bottle of milk on a box containing my oldest vinyl, but hadn’t secured the lid

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B&Q aims to tempt Instagram generation after UK falls back in love with DIY

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Its owner Kingfisher hopes the tide has permanently turned after decade of decline

New fences, fresh floor coverings and plenty of paint: home improvement has become the national pastime during the coronavirus pandemic as the nation has spent more time at home – and rediscovered a passion for DIY renovations after a decade of decline.

The closure of pubs, restaurants and sporting venues, financial pressures and the need to adapt houses and flats to cope with changed circumstances and working from home, prompted a boom in DIY and gardening this year, particularly among 18-34-year-olds who previously shunned such activities.

Sales of pressure washers soared by 80% at B&Q

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Makeover craze threatens last surviving treasures hidden beneath the wallpaper

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The discovery of Renaissance paintings on a bedroom wall at a Herefordshire farm raises fears about art lost in renovations

A discovery of exceptional Renaissance wall paintings at a Herefordshire farmhouse has prompted a leading expert to warn that the chances of such treasures surviving in domestic settings in Britain are falling because owners are destroying them by modernising their homes.

Stephen Rickerby, who is a consultant to the Getty Conservation Institute and works closely with the Courtauld Institute and English Heritage, was taken aback by the “stunning and extremely high quality” of paintings dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries that have been uncovered at Church House Farm in Wellington.

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‘It looks great – and covers dodgy plasterwork!’ Readers' cheap, clever five-minute home improvements

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Lockdown could be a good time to address domestic annoyances. Who better to canvas for ingenious solutions – from a knife rack to mask hooks – than Guardian readers?

I framed and hung the art, photographs and posters I had collected over years of travelling, but had never bothered to display (or had been unable to because I was renting). Not only did it make my flat a lot more personal, but I was also able to cover some of the dodgy plasterwork – a win-win. For ages, I was put off by the price of the frames, which were often substantially more expensive than the picture inside. I would recommend shopping around online and having a look in charity shops to save money. Ultimately, though, it is worth it in order to be surrounded by images you love or that provoke happy memories. I am especially glad to have some photos of friends and family on the wall, as I haven’t been able to see many of them in real life lately. Emily, public sector worker, London

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Dual-flush toilets 'wasting more water than they save'

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Thames Water says design is more likely to leak as Waterwise warns 400m litres are being lost from UK toilets a day

Toilets specially designed to save water are wasting more than they conserve, the UK’s largest water firm has warned.

Campaigners have warned for years that dual-flush toilets, introduced as more efficient alternatives that were expected to use less than half the amount of water per flush, are more prone to leaks.

Related: England could run short of water within 25 years

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A plumber charged hundreds without a quote or invoice

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All that was needed was a ballcock replaced and it won’t even explain how it cost that much

On my first post-lockdown visit to my 78-year-old mother who lives alone in Salisbury, I found her visibly upset. It soon emerged that she had asked a plumbing company called Rightio to replace a ballcock in her toilet and it later charged her £329. It also appeared to have signed her up to some kind of care plan costing £9.50 a month.

Rightio is a national firm that appears to subcontract local plumbers. She says that prior to the plumber arriving, Rightio took her debit card details, including her CVC number.

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Shed quarters: how to set up an office in your garden

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With no letup from Covid in sight, we look at how you can get more work space at home

For millions of us, homeworking is here to stay for a while longer at least and some anticipate that they will never return to the office. However, many have struggled to find a satisfactory spot in their home where they can get on with their work undisturbed.

So it’s not surprising that lots of homeowners have been eyeing up their garden as a potential new working environment.

£45 Ikea’s Torkel swivel chair. This month, Expert Reviews called it the best budget office chair.

About £50 Life Carver’s mesh middle back office chair. Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

£120 Argos’s Home Orion swivel chair. It has a faux leather finish and a high back.

£179 Ikea’s Markus swivel chair. It comes with a 10-year guarantee.

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Making a home my own after endless moves is daunting … and thrilling

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After living in 20 rented units over 24 years, I was suddenly a homeowner – and I allowed my emotional detachment with where I live to finally fall away

I owned my first house when I was 10 years old.

My art teacher back then taught my class about different styles of houses, and let us design and make our own out of clay. Mine was a two-story Victorian with a steep roof and a fat gothic tower, with lacy white gingerbread trim that adorned the eaves.

Looking back on all those years of keeping myself to even want to get too comfortable in any of the places I’ve lived, I realize that I always viewed them more as 'shelter' than 'home'

These creaky stairs are my stairs, I thought, these big bright windows are my windows, these new curtains were chosen because they please us

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