A guide to preparing your home for winter

If you’re putting on a hat, scarf and gloves to go outside, it must be winter again. But it’s not just you that needs preparing for the cold weather – you’ll need to make sure your home can handle the falling temperatures too.

Protecting water pipes
Frozen pipes are the biggest problem for homeowners in winter. It can lead to blockages and then built up pressure, which may lead to a burst pipe later on in time. If this happens, water will obviously escape and possibly cause extensive water damage.

The pipes most at risk are outdoors, in the garage and in the loft. These need to be covered with insulation or ‘lagging’, cut to length and wrapped round exposed areas (or buy pre-formed sleeves). Inside the house, place fibreglass insulation between pipes and walls.

If you get a frozen pipe, step one is to turn off the inside stop tap – often under the kitchen sink. Then you can begin to thaw the pipe slowly: use a hairdryer on low, towels soaked in warm water, or hot-water bottles. Never apply direct heat – this could damage the pipe. Also, turning on nearby cold taps while keeping the stop tap off will relieve any pressure.

Should a pipe burst, cut your mains supply immediately to stop any more water escaping via the rupture. For help with repairs, find a plumber at www.watersafe.org.uk. Damage to your home caused by burst pipes should be covered under your buildings insurance.

Heating your home
A central heating system comprises pipes, a boiler and radiators. It’s important it all works efficiently and that your home is properly insulated, so the heat produced is not lost. When was your boiler last serviced? It’s best done annually, to lower the risk of a breakdown.

Bleeding radiators every couple of months to remove trapped air will ensure they’re working at their best. Also, invest in radiator reflectors – sheets of foil stuck to the back, ensuring heat isn’t lost via the wall, but stays in the room.

For some rooms, central heating isn’t enough – you might want a plug-in portable heater, an open fire or log-burner. Keep any electric heater away from curtains and furniture, and always unplug it before going to bed. For fuel-burning appliances, use a fireguard and check your flues and chimneys aren’t blocked. Keep a carbon monoxide detector in the room, to warn you if gas levels caused by burning fuel become harmful.

Keeping hold of generated heat is the next challenge. Foam or brush-pile seals around doors and windows will close gaps, while simply closing curtains reflects heat back into a room. If you have wall cavities, check they’re insulated, while loft lagging will stop heat escaping through the roof.

Clearing snow and ice
Heavy snowfall makes it tricky getting your car off the drive. Worse, having it melt and refreeze could create hazardous sheet-ice. Keep a spade and wellies handy, so it’s easier to clear snow quickly in key areas – including the path to your front door.

Salting / gritting walkways before bad weather hits also makes it harder for snow to settle. Keep up to date with weather reports by following the Met Office on Facebook and Twitter, or download its app for the latest news on your smartphone.

Leaving your house unoccupied
Winter sees us visiting family and friends over Christmas and New Year, or possibly disappearing for a ski holiday. If you're leaving your home for extended periods, it’s wise to maintain a warm temperature by leaving your heating on, or even consider cutting your water supply and draining the system completely. This will help stop unused pipes from freezing. Do check if your insurer requires you to carry out any specific safety procedures whilst your property is unoccupied as well.

Secure garden furniture to prevent theft or storm damage and clear your guttering. Finally, ask friends or neighbours to keep an eye on your house. If you suffer a burst pipe, they can let you know right away. Make sure they know where the inside stop tap and mains tap are, in case this occurs.

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