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Harmonious home

I was recently discussing interior design and decorating with a friend at work and she mentioned the Chinese practice of Feng Shui. Can you give me further information on how this works, and whether I could use this in my home?

J Robinson, London

Feng Shui in Chinese means the wind and the water. The ancient Chinese believed that certain locations are better than others for building homes. They put this down to the positive and negative energies (or Chi) generated by natural things such as metal, water, wood, fire and earth. For centuries the Chinese have used Feng Shui to improve harmony and the overall quality of life.

I understand that when studying your property, Feng Shui teachers will look at many areas. First, they study the surroundings and location of the building to capitalise on the positive energies. They then plan the colour, design and decorations so as to increase the fortunate Chi and decrease the evil Chi. Details of each member of the family, such as their date of birth and where they were born, are then taken into consideration to make sure that the rooms in the property are in harmony with the people who live there.

As you may realise, this subject is very complex. However, a number of books have recently been published which cover the art of Feng Shui in greater depth.

Don't wall us in

The fence between our garden and our neighbour's has needed replacing for some time. We recently returned from a weekend away to find that he had built a six-foot high wall where the fence had been. Although it does not block out any of the light, it is rather unsightly. Is there anything we can do?

Mr B Harris, Southampton

Normally, people are able to build walls up to two metres high without permission. However, if the wall touches a public pavement then it must be under one metre high. These regulations are called permitted development rights and are the general guidelines. Your local council has the power to vary these rights, so I would suggest you contact it. The council may send a planning inspector to see you, who will decide whether your neighbour's wall meets its planning regulations.

Fire alarm

Our neighbours' house was recently damaged by a small fire. This has made us more concerned about fire safety in our home, especially as we have a newborn baby. Can you advise us of an inexpensive way to protect our home ?

Mr M and Mrs L Richards, Liverpool

The most important item for fire protection in the home is a smoke alarm. It is relatively cheap and can save lives. It is particularly useful should a fire start during the night. Smoke alarms are easy to fit as most are battery operated. They should be installed on ceilings, stairways and passages, and also close to a bedroom so that they can be heard. There are a number of alarms and other devices on the market. Contact the fire service and ask to be put in touch with your local fire prevention officer, who will advise you on protection for your home.

q George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

q Send your queries on practical property issues to the following address: Home Truths, 'Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax: 0171 293 2043; e-mail: sundayproperty@independent.co.uk