With the festive season approaching and many people decorating the exterior of their houses for Christmas with illuminated Father Christmases, flashing lights and prancing reindeer, what happens if this leads to a house burning down? Picture: Jason Boud

Cape Town - A warning to both clients and contractors: This is the time of the year when bogus “inspectors” appear out of the woodwork, trying to intimidate people into paying fines for whatever they can find.

These inspectors are not who they claim to be, just con artists trying their luck, because they know everybody is in a rush to finish by Christmas.

Beware also of bogus contractors turning up at your property, claiming to be there to measure for carpets and so on, when in fact they are casing the joint, knowing site security may be a little lax.

I was chatting about insurance last week. I must amend one aspect of what I wrote. I have been informed that in the event of a total loss – that is, your whole house including foundations is destroyed – then your insurance company should pay out the total amount for which you were insured and not apply the average.

On the same topic, my wife asked me an interesting question over dinner: With the festive season approaching and many people decorating the exterior of their houses for Christmas with illuminated Father Christmases, flashing lights and prancing reindeer, what happens if this leads to a house burning down? The answer appears to be that the householder would have a valid claim, as long as there was not gross negligence.

If you are going to decorate your house, please follow the usual rules applying to electricity and don’t plug 20 sets of lights into a multi-plug designed for four connections. Use your common sense and stick to what is considered normal and in the event of an accident, you should be covered by your insurance.

Questions and answers

Last week I was bemoaning the lack of questions. This week space does not allow me to answer them all.

Eden asks:

I have a wooden deck with wooden railings. The railings are beginning to rot and rather than trying to fix pieces up as they go, I would prefer to replace all the railings with a low/no maintenance alternative. Do you have any suggestions about what I could use?

Answer: Personally, I would not stray too far from using wood again, but without knowing the construction method used for the deck, or whether you are near the sea, it is difficult to make suggestions. What type of wood was used initially and was it properly maintained? If the right type of timber is used and well maintained the railings should last for years. Make sure you are using a hard wood, which requires little or no maintenance. A timber like Balau should last for years without having to treat it at all. Stainless steel could be an alternative, but the existing deck would need to be solid enough to take the necessary fixings.

An anonymous sms message suggested:

How about detailing what constitutes a properly registered and compliant contractor and how this protects the consumer?

Answer: A properly registered contractor is a contractor registered with the Building Industry Bargaining Council. This is a body recognised by the Department of Labour, where employers and the trade unions representing the employees meet and discuss and agree on various matters relevant to the industry, primarily rates of pay, but also other issues relating to pensions, sick fund, holiday pay and the like.

An agreement is reached once a year, and signed and published by the department and then written into law. Contractors who do not register are operating outside the law and are open to severe penalties, including huge fines. A registered contractor has to pay his employees an agreed rate of pay and supply the agreed benefits.

This does not protect the consumer per se, but using a registered contractor does mean you are not employing someone who is underpaying employees and abusing their rights. That a contractor is registered makes it likely that he/she also belongs to a body such as the Master Builders Association, where consumers do enjoy a degree of protection from bad practices.

Brian sent in a three-part question, but this week I will only deal with part one.

I recently bought an old home (c1902) in Darling. Over the years the different owners moved away from lime-wash and resorted to conventional paint for the outside walls. As I am fairly reluctant to scrape down and remove all the old paint layers (I am doing so on the front stoep and it’s an absolute grind), what paint do you suggest I use as an alternative to lime-wash for the outside of the house? Similarly, is there any particular paint you would recommend I use on internal walls?

Answer: In my opinion, there is no real and proven method of overcoating lime-wash – if you are working over a weak substrate whatever you put over the top is not going to hold forever and the more layers of paint you add, the heavier the load on the weak substrate is going to become, and the chances of it peeling off become greater and greater.

As I have stated before, I am no great fan of hard labour, but there are times when there are no real alternatives. First, you have to get the new paint off and then see what the surface looks like. Then, if the old lime-wash is relatively stable, overpaint with lime-wash again. You can still get it. Otherwise use a water-jet and stiff wire brush until you have removed all the old lime-wash and then paint with a conventional system for the exterior walls. - Weekend Argus

* Keep questions or comments coming to [email protected]