How to get your home ready for winter

It pays to get your home ready for winterIt pays to get your home ready for winter
It pays to get your home ready for winter
Tips to help stop burst pipes, collapsed gutters, damaged tiles, and other common problems

Autumn’s cold, wind and rain has begun to bite as we move swiftly towards meteorological winter (which begins on December 1) and the weather is already playing havoc with our homes.

Insurers have already had a rush of claims due to the recent heavy rainfall and they are bracing themselves for burst pipes, collapsed gutters and damaged roof tiles, which are among the most common causes of damage due to bad weather.

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Some may not pay out if they feel the cause is poor maintenance. Check your buildings insurance policy and read the small print to see what is and isn’t covered. Meanwhile, here are some tips on how to get your home ready for winter.

*Examine your roof and look for cracked or broken tiles. Do not undertake routine maintenance work at a high level unless you are accompanied and have suitable equipment. If in doubt seek help from a professional. Do your homework and find a reputable roofer/maintenance person as there are plenty of “cowboys” who profess to be experts.

*Check your gutters or get a professional to check them for you. This is the time of year when they get full of leaves, twigs, birds’ nests, roof moss and silt. Blocked gutters can lead to overflow, damp and damage to a building. The debris can also cause blockages in downpipes and to the underground drainage system. This is best done during heavy rain when you can see water coming from leaky joints, although in dry weather you should look for stained brick/stonework. You can also tap them and if they are blocked, you will hear a muffled sound.

If leaves are a problem then you can have the gutters covered with a mesh guard but make sure it is good quality and secured properly or it can collapse. Brushes can be a better option. The best known is the Hedgehog gutter brush. Each brush is four metres in length and brush quantities of 5, 10 or 20 are available. They come in different widths and prices start from £66.25 for five 100mm wide hedgehogs. They are easy to install but roofing experts advise that you tie them to the gutter with cable ties as strong winds can lift them out.Fit bird/leaf guards to the tops of soil pipes and rainwater outlets to prevent blockages.

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*Store outdoor furniture and other items, such as plant pots in your shed/garage. If you don’t have the former consider investing in a storage box. DIY stores and garden centres sell them and they cost from £50. Anything that can be blown about by strong winds could cause damage to your home or to a neighbouring property.

*Condensation is one of the worst issues in autumn and winter. Left unchecked, this can lead to the black mould on walls and other surfaces, which is bad for our health and for the fabric of our buildings. It can also cause wooden window frames to rot.

Humidity problems in the home are caused by excess moisture in the air, leaking pipes, rising damp, moisture in construction materials, faulty seals on door or window frames, inadequate ventilation, high rainfall, and everyday household activities such as cooking, running baths and drying washing on radiators.

Many of us live with too much humidity in the winter months as we turn heating on and close doors and windows, which reduces air circulation, causing moisture to become trapped indoors Optimum indoor humidity levels are between 40-60 per cent. Any higher can be damaging. Signs of high humidity are condensation, appearance of mould or mildew, rotting wood or peeling paint, musty odours, yellowish-brown water stains or fluffy white salt deposits on walls, ‘tide-lines’ along the bottom of basement or ground floor walls, allergic reactions, asthma attacks, respiratory problems or skin infections.

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To alleviate the problem, open windows and use vent fans every time you are cooking and after taking a shower or bath. Allowing the air to circulate is a quick way to release trapped humidity. If you are still struggling to control high humidity then a dehumidifier is very effective. The new versions are small and energy-efficient and start from about £100.

Have your boiler checked and serviced if you haven’t had it done in the past year. You should have it serviced annually. Ensure you bleed your radiators if they are colder at the top than the bottom to maximise their efficiency.

More house fires occur in December and January than in any other months of the year so make sure you install smoke alarms on each floor of the house and test the batteries regularly.

If you have an open fire or wood-burning/multi-fuel stove, you need to employ a professional to sweep the chimney or you risk a chimney fire. If you only use the fire/stove in the evenings and weekends then once a year should be enough. If you use it more than that, you should have it swept once before you start using it again after summer and then again half-way through the burning season.

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