Is your home winter ready?

By Joe Arnold

With the waft of mince pies and mulled wine just around the corner and each morning more bitter than the one before, as ever, we are being warned to brace ourselves for the worst winter in decades.  

During this time, buildings are subject to extremes of cold and wet from the outside and the warm moist effects of roasts, warm baths, and turkey filled bodies on the inside.

Whether or not we get the opportunity to revel in a winter wonderland this year, there is no doubt the weather will take its toll on the health of our homes and our pockets will undoubtedly feel the chill from hefty heating bills and costly maintenance during this time.

Many of these issues can be kept in check by pro-actively managing the situation.  So to help give you peace of mind and protect your home, we have put together a rundown of some handy hints to get your property winter-ready:

Inside

Your home in winter

Heating

Perhaps obvious, but often taken for granted, your heating system should be the very first item on your list that you check. By the time you finally give in to the numbing of your extremities and tip-toe your way through the permafrost to heat your home for the first time this year, to find with horror that the flick of the thermostat switch does not lead to the familiar warming pop and squeak of the system coming to life, it is already too late.  

Don’t put it off!  Depending on the type of system you have, book in a test and boiler service from a qualified contractor in good time and nip any maintenance issues in the bud.

Gas fired boilers
  • The Gas Safe Register recommends a gas safety check should be undertaken annually as a minimum, alongside regular servicing. 

    • Remember that if you are a landlord, this is the law.  

  • Any safety checks and services should be undertaken by a Gas Safe Registered engineer.

  • In between professional assessments, regularly check the boiler to make sure it lights well and invest in a carbon monoxide alarm to place near to your boiler, and any other room with a gas appliance in it. 

    • Remember that if you are a landlord, governmental guidance “expects” and “encourages” you to ensure working carbon monoxide alarms are installed in all rooms with a gas appliance.  

  • If you have a condensing boiler, it is advisable to insulate external condensate channels and adhere to minimum pipe dimensions to avoid freezing on any such external pipework.

  • Consider installing trace heating which essentially forms a heated strip following the line of any susceptible pipes or other vessels, keeping them to a minimum temperature and preventing damage through freezing.

Radiators

Two teddy bears sitting on a radiator

  • Once you have set your boiler and thermostat, check:

    • Your radiators turn on and off and respond to settings if you have thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) fitted.

    • The radiators are giving off heat effectively.

  • If there are problems, including inadequate heat, cold spots, or a lack of reaction to TRV settings and your heating system otherwise appears to be performing properly, you may need to bleed your radiators.

    • For information on how to bleed your radiators, please see advice here from uSwitch:  

      • Please take care not to burn yourself on hot radiators or the water inside!

      • Ensure a bucket and cloth or towel are used to prevent damage to decoration and furnishings.
         

Insulation and ventilation

Coffee and books by a window

Now that you have your heating running safely, efficiently and pumping out enough warmth to keep you snug until spring, number two on your list is to make sure all that heat doesn’t escape!

While the focus here is on keeping heat in, it is extremely important to note that damage can be caused due to the buildup of moisture within a building which has been well insulated, in the form of condensation dampness and mould.  As such, alongside the recommendations below, ensure your property is regularly and adequately ventilated through use of extractor fans in bathrooms and kitchens and the occasional opening of vents, windows and doors throughout.

Windows & Doors:

The escape of warm air and leak in of cold air around draughty doors and windows can make a considerable difference when it comes to keeping your home warm and your heating bill minimal.

  • Ensure the edgings and frames of all windows and doors are in good repair.

    • Not only will poorly maintained openings reduce insulation, but the wet and cold weather of winter can cause damage to timber and metal frames if moisture is allowed in.

  • Help to keep heat in and draughts at bay by fitting basic weatherstripping, sealant, or flexible foam / rubber tape, around the edges of problem doors and windows.

  • The RICS suggests double glazing can help to cut heat loss through windows by up to 50% compared with traditional single glazed units.

    • Figures from The Energy Saving Trust suggest savings for a typical gas-heated home that switches from single glazing to double glazing could be between £30-£110 per year depending on property size and type of installation.

  • However, either due to planning constraints or affordability, installing double glazing is not always possible or practical.  In these instances it would be prudent to consider more cost effective, less permanent substitutes, such as secondary glazing, or even cheaper options such as polycarbonate sheeting, or polymer film barriers.  It must be kept in mind that such alternatives are unlikely to prove as effective as those more expensive and permanent options. 

  • As simple as it may seem, the installation of curtains and blinds can be of enormous benefit.  Modern thermally insulated curtains and blinds use a combination of hollow designs, multiple layers of thermally efficient material, and sealed frames to help keep heat in around external windows and doors.

  • Help prevent draughts through letterboxes and keyholes by fitting covers.

  • To prevent frost and ice damage, check all windows to ensure there is no gathering of water on sills, and make sure there is no evidence of it making its way through into the fabric of the building.

Lofts and attic spaces

Wooden model house wrapped up in a scarf
  • Check loft insulation covers the entire loft floor and is in good condition and of adequate thickness. 

    • The Energy Saving Trust suggest roof insulation should be at least 270mm thick to meet modern standards. 

    • Their figures also suggest an average 25% of all home heat loss is through uninsulated roof spaces and that by installing loft insulation where there was previously none could lead to savings for a typical gas-heated home of between £100-£395 per year depending on property size and type of installation. Read more

  • However, be careful not to over-insulate as while this may leave your house warm, the attic space will become colder.  As such, avoid installing insulation beneath tanks and pipes in the loft which can freeze if they are not exposed to heat rising from the home.  If this is a concern, consider opening the loft hatch at various intervals to help circulate heat.

  • Remember: if you are insulating roof spaces, any work undertaken may need to comply with relevant building regulations 

  • If present, make sure lids are on any cold-water tanks and consider insulating hot water tanks and other pipework.

Floors, ceilings and walls

undefined

  • For suspended ground floors, insulate gaps between uncovered floor boards and skirting boards.

    • Remember that the underneath of your floors needs to be able to breathe to help prevent damp and rot, so be careful not to “seal” them and ensure they are ventilated adequately from the outside.

  • If the above is not possible, or impractical, all floors can benefit from a rug or mat in the winter to cut draughts up from beneath suspended floors, or to add an extra layer of insulation to solid floors.

    • Figures from The Energy Saving Trust suggest savings for a typical gas-heated home that insulates and draught proofs floors of between £25-£65 per year depending on property size and type of installation. 

  • For upper floors, rooms can benefit from rising heat from the floor below, so insulation may in fact counter keeping your home consistently warm throughout.

    • However, this will only apply to those upper floor rooms which are above heated rooms below. If your room is above a garage, or other unheated utility space, then be sure to insulate and block draughts!

  • Ensure central heating pipework in the ventilated floor voids is insulated (70% of the heat input may be lost if uninsulated).

    • Remember: if you are insulating floors, any work undertaken may need to comply with relevant building regulations.

  • For radiators on external walls, perhaps consider installing an insulation foil behind the radiator to help prevent heat escaping and reflect it back into the building.

Plumbing

  • Ensure pipes, especially in lofts, under ground floors, and on external walls, are insulated to prevent the contents freezing.

  • Check that stopcocks are working so the water supply can be turned off if required.

Chimneys & Fireplaces

Having spent the spring, summer and autumn gathering dust and being spruced with faux flowers, an arty lump of driftwood and the pillar candle you can never quite bring yourself to light, the chill of winter brings a whole new practicality to a fireplace.

Whether or not you can, or intend to use the fireplace, there are a few things to consider.

For any wood and coal burning appliances and chimneys in use:

  • Clean and clear all fireplaces and stoves to ready them for lighting, remembering to remove as much dust and dirt as possible and moving away any furniture or ornaments which have crept closer during the warmer months.

  • Ensure the flues are swept and checked by a HETAS Approved Chimney Sweep .  

    • HETAS recommend this is undertaken at least annually, or more frequently depending on usage.

For any fireplaces, stoves and chimneys not in use:

  • Close dampers if present.

  • For those without dampers, consider installing a chimney balloon, or draught excluder (being sure to leave enough room for Father Christmas to squeeze through of course!).


Outside

undefined

As unappealing as it may be, it’s time to pop on under vests, over vests, jumpers, coats, gloves, hats, scarves and multiple pairs of socks as we venture outside.

Winter inevitably brings an increase in precipitation in some form or another and this brings with it a greater chance for inward leaks of water and outward leaks of heat.

Buildings

Roof
  • Inspect the roof from a safe vantage point for any cracked or missing tiles.

  • Also inspect the flashings and mortar joints around any chimneys, extensions, or other projections where possible and check for breaks, gaps, or lifted materials.

  • If chimney pots are present, but not in use, consider installing a chimney cap or cowl if there is not one already in place.

Gutters and drains
  • Autumn and winter bring with them leaf fall and shedding from plants and trees which can block drains and gutters.  Overflowing gutters and pooling drains can cause water damage to the outside and inside of homes.

    • Inspect gutters from a safe vantage point and any run off drains where possible to ensure they are clear of leaves and other debris.

    • Where it is impossible or impractical to look into gutters or drains yourself, or you suspect there may be a blockage, instruct an experienced or recommended gutter clearing or drainage contractor who can use specialist equipment and cameras to assess the health of your drains and clear them if necessary.

Walls
  • Figures from the Energy Saving Trust suggest approximately a third of heat in a family home is lost through uninsulated walls.

  • Ensure that any downpipes, drainpipes, or overflow pipes are not expelling water directly onto external walls where it can freeze and damage brickwork.  

    • If this is a concern, make sure any such water can run off and away from any buildings.  This may require repair to damaged brickwork or mortar joints to prevent further water ingress. Water trapped behind or within brickwork can freeze during colder weather and “blow” brick faces causing fracturing and flaking.

Gardens & Drives

Pile of autumn leaves raked in a garden

As the cold and frost comes in, plant growth and general life in your garden will appear to slow to a standstill.  However, unlike the idyllic suspended animation of a snow globe, gardens are unlikely to be as self-sufficient and it is important to ensure that all things natural and manufactured in your outdoor areas are winter readied.

  • Cut back bushes, mow lawns and prune trees while the weather allows.

  • Consider planting trees and shrubs now. The Royal Horticultural Society suggests winter, or between October and April, as the preferable time of year to plant, allowing greenery to establish itself whilst remaining easy to manage

  • Rake and collect fallen leaves and vegetation. This will prevent it from blocking drains and help stop grass on your lawn from dying.

  • Put away all unused tables, chairs, barbecues, chimineas, parasols, mowers, gardening equipment and any other bits and pieces which will be at risk of damage or lifting by the elements.

    • Any large equipment or furniture that cannot be tucked away should be moved to a sheltered area, or adequately covered to avoid damage.

 
External paving and decking
  • As much as skating at this time of year can be enjoyable, slips on icy paving and decking is a nasty hazard, especially when family and friends come to visit. 

  • Ensure paving is well drained and decking kept clear in order to avoid water pooling, freezing and causing casualties.

    • A handy shovel and bag of gritting salt to spread over a drive or patio the night before a big freeze can help to prevent morning mishaps!

  • For decking, ensure the structure, or any objects on it have not blocked air bricks and gullies on any permanent buildings.

    • Perhaps consider giving it a new coat of paint, oil, or sealant to help protect it from the elements and make it primed for use during better weather.

Outside taps

  • Attempt to empty as much water as possible from external sections of pipework and taps which will not be used.  

    • This can be achieved by switching off your internal stopcock and running the tap dry, before switching your stopcock back on.

Outside Lighting

  • The faithful glow of an automatic light can be taken for granted, but as the nights draw in ever closer, be sure to check all external lights to ensure they are ready to illuminate your surroundings when you need them most.


Now that you have covered all you can, it's time to pop the kettle on, stick the slippers on, and settle down to a festive classic on the television in your protected, warm and winter ready home.

 

Are you a landlord?  

Remember to get your rental property winter ready and ensure you continue to fulfill your obligations to provide quality and legally compliant accommodation to your tenants.  

Despite doing everything in your power, it can be difficult to keep on top of things when you are not actually present.  Why not equip your tenants with the knowledge they need to keep your property and their home in tip top shape over the winter period.  A letter or email explaining how the boiler and thermostat work, some tips on how and when to heat the building, the location of the stopcock, and advising regular ventilation, etc. can significantly reduce the prospect of costly damage.

**Many of the points detailed here may be carried out safely without professional help and some are just checks which will require no further action.  However, if in doubt, or unable to safely inspect, assess, or implement any of the recommendations yourself, particularly for the larger jobs, alway seek advice from reputable, adequately certified and experienced professionals.

Share this article

About the author

Joe Arnold avatar

Joe Arnold

Joe is the guiding force behind Arnold & Baldwin and has overall responsibility for all commercial and residential surveys and valuations. Passionate about delivering the highest quality products at the fairest prices possible, he has been consistently searching for new and innovative client-focused services since founding the company with Jobie in 2007

Read more about Joe Arnold

Recommended Articles

Dream home video

The importance of a home survey

Date:

A property valuation is not a survey. Getting a home survey, and not just a bank valuation, is essential when buying a property. Read more

Qualify for lease extension

Do I qualify for a lease extension?

Date:

If you’ve owned your property for more than two years. If the original lease was for more than 21 years and the Freeholder is not a Charitable Housing Trust, the National Trust or The Crown then yes, congratulations, you qualify for a lease extension. Read more

Oops, image not found

What is the Lease Extension Process?

Date:

Everything you need to know about lease extensions and how the process works. Arnold and Baldwins building experts divulge all. Read more

Oops, image not found

Structure movement

Date:

Many owners are unaware of a problem until their house goes through the selling process Read more

Dream Home or Worst Nightmare?

Buying your new home can quickly become your worst nightmare. A home survey will help you realise your dream and help you buy with confidence. Find out more about the importance of a home survey here

The Importance of a Home Survey

Watch the Video

Sign up for monthly Property Insights

Follow Us