Category Archives: Home & Garden

How to Improve the Speed of your Slow Broadband Connection

Over time broadband connections can slow down, typically this is caused by fragments of data stuck on the line. Over the last couple of weeks our connection slowed down to a crawl and was suffering periods of not working all together. After a call to BT I spoke to a very helpful chap in Lancashire who ran a series of checks, confirmed there was no issue on the line and seemingly sped up the connection by doing some resets.

Below is what a BT engineer told me to do that can help clear these data fragments and speed up your connection.

  1. Disconnect your router (ethernet cable) from the BT master socket and wait 60 seconds
  2. Unplug the power lead from the back of your router and wait 60 seconds
  3. Plug the router back into the BT master socket and wait 60 seconds
  4. Reconnect your routers power lead

He told me this is likely to speed up the connection for a few weeks, possibly months depending on usage. When speaking to him he performed a series of line checks that did a similar thing.

He also mentioned that the reset button on the back of our home hub can be used as a last resort to do an even deeper reset back to the exchange. However he warned that doing this regularly can result in the exchange throttling the speed on your line so not to do this more than 2 or 3 times a year.

Aqualisa Quartz Shower Not Working – How to Fix It

One of the most common reasons for a Aqualisa Quartz shower unit to suddenly stop working is an air lock in the system. If you’ve experienced a power cut or have had to drain your hot/cold water tanks recently then an air lock is likely to be the cause.

The main symptom of an air lock is that when you turn the shower on no water comes out of the shower head. After trying a few times (turning the shower on and off )you may find that all of a sudden no lights appear on the control dial altogether.

Aqualisa Quartz Shower Fix

How to Fix An Air Lock In Your Electric Shower System

The good news is an air lock is relatively straightforward to fix. It should only take you a few minutes and won’t need any tools or plumbing skills.

The control unit may have to be reset if none of the lights are on and no water is coming from the shower head.  This is simply a case of locating the control unit (usually in the loft or the airing cupboard) and switching the power off for 30 seconds, then back on again.

Here’s a picture of the pump/control unit which in our case is located in the airing cupboard near the bathroom.

Aqualisa Pump/Control Unit

Before turning the shower unit back on remove the shower head from the hose and let the hose dangle to the floor. This will reduce the pressure required to get water back through the system to the absolute minimum.

Next simply turn the dial to the coldest setting then turn the shower on. Let it run for a few seconds and hopefully you’ll get some spluttering of water out of the hose. If not, turn the shower off, wait a few seconds and try again.

When you turn the shower on and assuming some water is coming out, try leaving it on for a few seconds longer each time before switching it off. You should notice the spluttering decrease and more water come out of the hose each time.

Once water is running constantly from the hose slowly turn the temperature up a little at a time. Hopefully now there will be enough pressure in the pipes to ‘pull’ the hot water through the system.

If the above doesn’t work simply try turning the dial to the hottest setting instead and work backwards to the cooler temperatures.


Radiator Lock Shield Valves – How to

Radiator lock shield valves are the small valves on the other side of the radiator from the TRV valves (the ones with the 1-5 dial on). The can be used to ‘switch off’ the radiator effectively taking it out of the heating loop such that no hot water is pumped through that particular valve.

Here’s which direction to turn the valves:

  • Turn anti clockwise to open
  • Clockwise to close

The best tool to use is a small set of mole grips. Be careful not to over tighten these valves, you don’t need much pressure at all to close them.

Building a Pallet Wood Store

One of the best things about the house we moved in to about 5 years ago is the fact thjat it has a wood burner in the living room. We’ve been amazed how much please a fire in the living room can provide.

Of course owning a woodburner means that you need to have a constant supply of seasoned (dry) wood. For the last few years the only practical place to store our wood was down at the bottom of the garden which involved barrowing all delivered wood 50 yards and then carrying it back up to the house as and when it was needed – not ideal in the bowels of winter!

So, I finally decided to sacrifice a heavily shaded flower bed on the drive next to the garage and make a wood store from old pallets in a more sensible position!

The construction was pretty simple really after I’d managed to scavenge 3 pallets from a local garden center. The only thing I had to buy was the roofing felt used on the roof.

Pallet Log StorePallet Log Store-2Pallet Log Store-3Pallet Log Store-4Pallet Log Store-5

I’m pretty pleased with the result. I can fit roughly 1.25m3  of logs in the store which is enough to keep us going for a couple of months in winter. I’ve got a similar sized store at the other end of the house too so hopefully I’ve got enough storage next to the house for a winters worth of logs. Now I just need to find a good source of free logs…

Organic Fire Lighters

I’m increasingly keen on using what nature has to offer to replace man made and shop bought alternatives. This probably explains the ever increasing amount of fruit and veg plants in the garden.

Last summer while out walking we collected a load of fallen pine cones with some vague ideas about making Christmas decorations with them. Instead after drying out over the summer they ended up being used as fire lighters/kindling in our wood burner.

Pine cones make remarkably good kindling and I’ve found with just a sheet or two of newspaper and a few pine cones i can get the wood burner lit in just a minute or two.

So on Sunday while out walking we found a plentiful in a local wood and managed to re-stock our supply to get us through the winter!

natural firelighters-2

natural firelighters


Oh and while we talking about recycling there’s no need to buy nasty chemicals to clean the glass on your wood burner. Instead here’s how i clean it with the ash inside the burner.

Sloe Gin Recipe

While out for a walk on Sunday, spotting several Blackthorn bushes laden with sloes reminded me of last years failed attempt to make some sloe gin. We left the picking far too late and by the time we finally headed out to pick some sloes those that the birds hadn’t eaten were all well past their best. Despite it only just being September many of the bushes near us (SE England) have lots of ripe sloes on so determined to avoid another missed opportunity we started picking straight away.

What is Sloe Gin?

If you’re keen to start dabbling in a bit of foraging or like the idea of making some home brew then sloe gin is a great introduction to both. Sloes are one of the most common hedgerow berries in the UK and are a distant relative of the plum. They are small blue/grey fruits that grow on the blackthorn bush which is common amongst hedgerows throughout much of England.

To make sloe gin you simply infuse regular gin with sloes, adding some sugar which helps extract the juice from the berries as well as sweeten the final drink. After allowing the juice to infuse with the gin and sugar for a few months you simply strain and end up with a ruby red gin with a great flavour.

sloe gin recipe

How to Make Sloe Gin

Depending on the weather the best time for picking is September and October. The fruits are naturally hard and bitter so don’t expect to be feasting when picking sloes. When they’re ripe sloes should not be rock hard but have a little give.

In late summer/early autumn keep an eye out in the hedge rows and you should spot the purple/blue berries appearing. If you can try not to pick them too early as unripe sloes won’t produce too much flavour for your gin.

Once you’ve picked your sloes, the only other ingredients you need is some granulated sugar and some medium quality gin.

Sloe Gin Ingredients

  • 800 grams of sloes
  • 70cl of gin
  • 200 grams of sugar


1. First of all wash your sloes and ensure you’ve removed all of the leaves, twigs and bugs.  You don’t have to be too fussy as you’ll be filtering all of the impurities out after 12 weeks anyway.

2. Next you need to pierce the skin of the sloes to help them leach their juices into the gin. The slow method is to prick each one a couple of times with a fork or pin. The quick method is to freeze the sloes over night then take them out of the freezer for a couple of hours and as they defrost the skin bursts, saving you the hard work.

This freezing method has the added benefit that some people believe that you shouldn’t pick the sloes until just after the first frost – it is thought that this freezing activates the sugars in the sloes which in turn enhances the flavour of the final liqueur.

What Is Sloe Gin?

3. Next you need to sterilize your bottles/jars. The easiest way to do this is the pop them into an oven for 10 minutes at about 170 degrees. For the lids, which often have plastic/rubber seals or the rubber seals from kilner jars simply pop them into a pan of water and bring it to the boil.

4. Place the gin into your bottle/kilner jar then simple add the sloes to almost fill up the bottle. Next add in the sugar and seal tightly before giving it a good shake.There’s no need to worry about dissolving all of the sugar as this will happen over the next few days. Try to fill the bottle/jar as much as possible, the more air that is in there the greater the chance of bad bacteria spoiling the flavour of your final liqueur.

5. Store the bottle/jar in a cool dark place and for the first couple of weeks give it a little shake/turn every day to help dissolve the sugar and get the flavors mixing. After this first week or two turning the bottle once a week should suffice.

6. After three months it’s time to decant the gin, removing the solids so it can mature further and be stored for a long time (if required). I use a small kitchen funnel and tea strainer to help separate out the sloes from the gin. Once you’ve strained it you should end up with a clear dark red liquid.

7. Now i simply re-bottle the gin into freshly sterilized bottle and store. You can start drinking it straight away but it will keep for many years and it definitely improves with age.

Homemade Sloe Gin

While I’ve described the basic recipe above some people recommend putting a small amount of almond or vanilla essence. I’ve also heard cinnamon complements the flavour of the sloes well but i haven’t tried it yet, maybe i’ll try that next year.


Ascaso Dream User Review & Tips

The Ascaso Dream is one of the best looking home espresso machines out there. With it’s retro styling and solid build it is a good blend of style and functionality. In this post I’ll write about my experiences with the Ascaso, sharing a few tips and provide as honest review of the device as possible.

Feel free to ask any questions or leave your own tips at the bottom of this post.

Using the Ascaso Dream

The manual I got with my espresso machine was not really that clear – the translation from Spanish (where the machine is produced) is a bit hit and miss. After some research online and some experimentation here are the procedures I follow to pull a shot of espresso:

1. Switch on the machine (ideally 30 minutes prior to pulling the shot)

2. Run a little water through the empty filter to warm the pipes

3. Load the filter with coffee

4. Turn on the coffee switch for 25 seconds exactly

It is generally excepted that 25 seconds is the perfect time to brew an espresso, which is generally accepted as being 1 fluid oz (30 ml) in volume. As a general rule you’ll need about 8-10grams of coffee for a single shot.

Of course all machines (even of the same model) are different so you’ll have to experiment with different beans, grinds and amounts until you find what works with your particular setup.

Ascaso Dream Review

The first thing you’ll notice about the Ascaso is it’s great build quality. The aluminum casing feel solid and strong compared to many other consumer level espresso machines that are often cased in plastic.

The styling hasn’t been neglected in favour of build quality and alongside the Francis Francis this if probably the most stylish espresso machine out there with it’s retro look and curved lines. I particularly like the metal switches…

Ascaso Dream Review

Ascaso Dream Review

image by maybe missions

The machine is easy to use and comes with just the core features (no pointless bells and whistles) required to pull good quality espresso and make good cappuccinos.

After switching on the Dream is ready to go after about 1.5 minutes, though it’s best t give it 15 minutes to warm up if possible. The pump provides 16 bar of pressure, more than adequate to pull a good espresso with every grind you can throw at it.

The steam wand works very well and after a little practice i was able to produce good micro foam. I’m not yet able to do latte art but now i have a tool that will enable me to try…

Here’s a great video review I found from Seattle Coffee Gear which is worth a look:

Priming the Ascaso Dream

This is the process of filling the boiler . Heating up an empty boiler can seriously damage your machine so it is an important procedure to do. Ideally you should prime your espresso machine….

  • After using the machines steam function
  • If the machine has not been used for some time
  • If you’ve just refilled the water reservoir

Here is the procedure I use to prime my Ascaso Dream espresso machine:

1. Turn on the machine
2. Turn the steam tap on
3. Turn on the coffee switch
4. Allow water to run from steam wand for 5 seconds)
5. Turn off the coffee switch
6. Turn the steam tap off

Ascaso Dream Tips

  • If possible always switch the machine on 30 minutes before use in order to warm not just the boiler but parts like the portafilter
  • After pulling a shot of espresso run a little water through in order to clean the pipe from the boiler to filter
  • If possible use mineral or filtered water at all times. This will reduce the build up up of minerals, reducing the need to descale as regularly
  • Always descale the machine a minimum of quarterly, more regularly if you use it multiple times per day

Ascaso Dream Espresso Machine

Ascaso Dream Espresso Machine

image by zikje

Getting Hotter Espresso from the Dream Machine

Sometimes I’ve noticed that the espresso produced by the Ascaso is not as hot as I’d like. After doing a bit of research it seems this can be a fairly common problem with the Dream machine.

The main reason is that the boilers cycle operates between a set range. This means it heats the water to a pre-determined temperature then shuts down and the water is allowed to cool until it reaches a lower limit before it kicks in again. If you’re pulling a shot in between you’ll probably get a slightly cooler shot than the machine is capable of.

The first thing to do to get a hotter shot is to listen to the boiler. When you switch on the machine, or if you’ve left it on for a while (aim for 30 minutes) you should hear the boiler click on. Listen carefully and after a short time you’ll hear the boiler click off when the temperature reaches the thermostat’s higher limit. Try pulling a shot straight away and you should get improved results.

I saw another great tip on the excellent website coffee geek to try and get the boiler a bit hotter. Again wait for the boiler to switch off (when the water is at it’s hottest) then flick on the steam switch for a few seconds. This will add quite a bit of extra heat to the boiler which will enable the Ascaso to produce a much hotter shot. You may need to play around with the amount of time you put the steam switch on for as you may find the water is too hot.

How to Descale an Espresso Machine

Descaling an espresso machine is essential in order to keep it in great shape. I use Dezcal, a detergent free, citric acid based descaler, commonly available over the internet. If your machine has light use aim to do this at least every 3 months, more if you use your machine regularly or live in an area with soft water.

When descaling your machine always start with a cold machine. In total allow about 90 minutes to thoroughly descale the machine. Here are the exact steps i follow:

1. Fill the water reservoir 3/4 full of warm water  (this helps dissolve the descaler faster)

2. Empty the descaler into  the water reservoir and stir until fully dissolved

3. Switch on the machine

4. Turn on the coffee switch and run about 1/4 of a cup of water through the filter

5. Open up the steam knob, allowing 1/4 of a cup of water to run through the steam wand too

6. Turn off the coffee switch then switch off the machine and close the steam knob

7. You have now replaced the water in the boiler and pipes with the descaler water

8. Allow to sit for 20 minutes

9. Repeat the above process twice more until the water reservoir is almost empty.

10. Remove the water reservoir, rinse out and fill with clean water

11. Proceed to run the whole reservoir through both the filter and steam wand as before to clean the tank.

12. Refill the reservoir with water and repeat to ensure all of the descaler is removed from the boiler and pipes.

As you run water through the filter and steam wand while cleaning it is normal to see a bit of sludge and deposits come through into the cup. This is normal and shows the descaler is working well. Assuming you descale regularly you shouldn’t see any big deposits get flushed out.

If the machine has not been descaled regularly descaling might dislodge larger bits of scale which can occasionally block pipes when flushing through. If this does happen you may need to take the machine apart to try and find the blockage or take it to a repair center. In the [unlikely] scenario that this does happen don’t keep running the machine if it appears blocked as this can damage the pump.

Ascaso Dream Summary


  • Great consistent crema
  • Ease of Use
  • Retro design
  • Full metal casing
  • Basic temperature gauge


  • Not always hot espresso (see above workaround)
  • Temperature gauge is not very accurate/appropriately scaled
  • Supplied instructions are poorly translated to English!
  • Cost – it’s not the cheapest on the market!

All in all I am very pleased with the Ascaso Dream. It looks great in the kitchen (so the wife likes it!) and produces consistently good espresso. As with all espresso machines it takes a while to ‘learn’ your machine and perfect the results you get out. If you not interested in this element then you’re probably best off buying an automatic machine like a Nespresso.

If however you are interesting in becoming a home barista and learning to pull good espresso then I’d definitely recommend the Ascaso Dream.

How To Clean Wood Burner Glass

If you want to clean the glass on your wood burner don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to go out and buy some specific purpose made cleaning agent from your wood burner supplier. All you need is a bowl of water, a few sheets of newspaper, 5 minutes and a small amount of ash from inside the burner.

Obviously wait until the burner and ash inside has completely cooled before starting the clean.

1. Scrunch up a sheet of newspaper and dip in the bowl of water to moisten then dip in the ashes.

2. Rub the ash/paper on the inside of the burner door in small circular motions. You should soon start to see the soot come away from the glass, leaving a milky residue.

3. Once you have cleaned a small area use a clean piece of newspaper to rub away the residue.

4. Repeat over all of the glass door and you should be left with a nice clean burner door.



What Causes Soot on Wood Burner Glass?

  • Not burning wood at a high enough temperature
  • Burning wet or unseasoned wood
  • Not having enough draft or airflow when burning (open the vents slightly to resolve)

Opening a Swimming Pool

When it to opening your pool up for the summer it can be a daunting task when you remove the winter cover and reveal a horrible looking green liquid. Don’t fear opening your pool is a relatively simple task. Just follow the steps below:

Remove winter cover and install the summer one. If required net out as many leaves and debris as your can. Top up the water levels if required so that the level is halfway up the skimmer entrance..

1. Get the pump running and leave running 24 hours per day for the first week or so while carrying out the procedure below. Once the pump is running backwash your filter a couple of times.

2. Chemicals. At the heart of every well maintained swimming pool is a good chemical balance. Throughout the year you’ll need to add different chemicals to the pool in order to keep the balance right. One of the best free resources out there for calculating how much of each type of chemical you need to add to your pool is The Pool Calculator.

3. Cyanuric Acid

First of all Test Your Cyanuric Acid (CYA) levels. CYA is often referred to as Stabalizer or Conditioner. An ideal level to maintain is between 40-80. 100 is manageable however when you get up to 180ppm the effectiveness of any chlorine you add to your pool is taken away. If it is that high the only solution may be to drain a large % of the water from your pool and refill.

4. Adjust your pH level

Once your CYA level is in an acceptable range, adjust your pH so it is in the 7.4-7.6 range. If you pH is not at the correct level it can mean that any chlorine you add is not as effective as it would be, which may cause you problems as well as costing you to add more chlorine than necessary.

5. Shock the Pool

Next add a large shock of liquid chlorine and allow to circulate for 48 hours. After shocking the pool with liquid chlorine it is common for the water to a slightly milky colour. This is caused by the dead algae being suspended in the water. Don’t worry, with your pump on 24/7 you filter should clear up the water after a couple of days.

6. Kill the Algae

If the pool is still green add 2 x large bottles of algecide and allow circulate for 3-4 days.

Opening your Swimming Pool

Opening your Swimming Pool

image by titlap

7. Brush it down. Once the pool water is reasonably clear thoroughly clean the water by brushing the walls and floor then vacuuming thoroughly.

8. Adjust the water level. Top up the level of the water to be covering the skimmer hole sufficiently.

9. Check Regularly. Test the water and adjust the chlorine and pH levels to properly balance the chemistry of your pool.


Tips to Opening a Green Pool

If you follow the above procedure opening your pool should be pretty straightforward. However if your swimming pool was green to start with the process may not be so straightforward.

If the pool water is green it means there is a lot more algae in the water than when it is clear. As stated above after shocking the green pool with chlorine it will most likely go a milky/green colour. This tells you that the algae has been killed. If there is lots of dead algae suspended in your water your swimming pool filter may not be able to remove it all.

If the pool isn’t clearing after 36 hours try switching the pump off and allow the water to settle for a few hours. Then carefully vacuum any debris that settles on the bottom of the pool straight to waste (not through the filter). By doing this you should remove the majority of debris in the water enabling your filter to deal with the remainder. You may need to repeat this vacuum to waste procedure a few times.

Another thing to try at this stage is to add a water clarifier or flocculant to the water. Most pool chemical shops sell different versions of these. They work by sticking the very small debris particles together, enabling the pools filter to catch them more easily.

How to Close a Swimming Pool for Winter

Below are the basic steps you need to follow to winterize or close down your swimming pool. The process is very straightforward and shouldn’t require any specialist knowledge.

Winterize Your Swimming Pool

Winterize Your Swimming Pool

image by mknobil

1. Firstly ensure the chemical balance of your pool is correct. The two main things to worry about and adjust if required are the chlorine levels and the pH.

2. Ensure your pool is thoroughly cleaned. Take your time to clean it thouroughly brushing down the bottom and walls prior to vacuuming to ensure any algae build up is removed from the water. Complete the clean by backwashing the filter and cleaning all of the filter cages.
3. Add some winterizing chemicals to the pool. I like to use ‘Winterclear’, adding 1 litre of chemical for every 7,500 litres of pool water. After adding run the pump for 48 hours to fully circulate the chemicals.

4. Drain some water out of the pool so that the level drops 10cm below the bottom of the skimmer opening. The water level will naturally rise (via rainfall) over the winter.

5. Drain the skimmer pipe. To prevent any issues with ice add a sealed plastic bottle (with a few stones in it) into the skimmer.

6. Remove the summer cover and install the winter cover.

That’s it, your pool should now be ready to hibernate over the winter and should be in the best possible condition for when it is time to open your swimming pool in the Spring.