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Winter is now officially upon us. Who knows what the weather might hold for us? It’s a bit late to be getting ready for winter, but on the basis of ‘better late than never’ here are a few tips that might help you keep warm & dry. Let’s start with the fabric of your home. Here are some simple ideas to help:

1. Keep the Damp Out

Damp buildings are cold buildings and can also potentially bring other problems too so here’s a few simple things that help keep out the damp:

a. Check gutters and drains – leaves and debris can build up and prevent water draining away. If water overflows from a blocked gutter it will soak through walls and damage interior decorations. This is a simple task, but take very good care when working at heights.

b. Paving, decking and general garden clutter – the base of the walls of your home should be kept clear of anything that could bridge the damp course or block air bricks (which are needed to ventilate suspended timber floors and help avoid moisture build up which can trigger rot and insect attack). If a patio or deck has been built incorrectly then this may be a job that needs a bit more planning and possibly a local builder or landscaper. Simple DIY tasks can include: clearing back soil in flower beds that have got too deep, removing clutter that could allow water to get into the wall and again removing leaves.

c. Roofs and chimneys – if you can see slipped or cracked tiles or slates from ground level or worse, from inside the roof space, best to get them repaired/replaced by a roofing contractor. If there is cracked or broken mortar at the verge (edge of the roof) consider repairing this at the same time. Water can get in through the tiniest of cracks and if you are paying for scaffolding or a cherry picker to access the roof safely, it is worth doing as much as possible. Also, the flashing at the base of the chimney pot or, in houses with different roof levels, at the junction with a neighbouring wall may also need attention. Finally, don’t forget about valley gutters (often hidden between two gabled roofs and quite common in houses from the Georgian and Victorian period) and parapet walls. It is amazing how much rubbish can build up and allow water to get under the tiles or slates. In bad cases, this has lead to water running down internal walls and damaging ceilings.

Bigger/longer term projects might include:

d. Walls – if the pointing is defective and cracking, do consider re-pointing the wall. Frost adds to the damage and water can get in between the bricks. If you have an older stone built building it might be worth checking that the pointing is appropriate for the stone. There are many properties near us where the soft stone has taken the brunt of the winter frosts because of bad pointing.

e. Relaying paths and decks – to ensure water is kept away from the home and air-bricks are not blocked up

2. Keep the Warmth In

a. The first rule of keeping the warmth in is ‘insulate, insulate, insulate’, and if you have unfilled cavity walls, then this is certainly worth considering, but use a professional.

b. Keep out draughts – refitting old windows isn’t a quick fix but in the short term other things can be done. Secondary glazing can help eliminate draughts, sealant can be put around frames and thick curtains can make a real difference. If you have an open fire place (that you don’t use) then a chimney balloon is easily installed and can make a real difference to a room. Letter boxes can be improved by fitting a cover and you could consider blocking up the cat flap (but ask the cat first!!) In older houses with wooden floors, then you might find that the simple addition of a rug or carpet will keep the draughts from whistling up between the floor boards.

c. Insulation – loft insulation can be a DIY job (materials are readily available at DIY stores) and if your loft is not insulated to the recommended minimum (c.300mm) this is worth doing. There are issues to consider when laying loft insulation (your health and safety, dealing with electricity cables and downlights etc.) but there is good advice readily available from the manufacturers or DIY stores.

Insulating your hot water cylinder (if you have one) is one of the easiest ways to save energy and, money. The jacket around your tank should be at least 75mm thick. According to the Energy Savings Trust, fitting a British Standard jacket around your cylinder could save you approximately £20-£35 a year.

Insulating exposed hot water pipes will help keep hot water hotter for longer. This is an easy DIY job if the pipes are accessible; if your pipes are harder to reach, you may need professional help.

And also remember cold water pipes. If there is a big freeze this winter, exposed cold water pipes could freeze up. As well as the inconvenience there is also the risk of burst pipes which can do a huge amount of damage. This applies to both internal and external pipes if they are exposed to the air.

3. Run Your Heating System Efficiently

a. Service your boiler – as with a car, a serviced boiler will be more efficient and the heating engineer can check features like the external condensate pipe won’t freeze up. Also, ensure the thermostat is in a sensible place in order to control the boiler (no point having it in the coldest place in the house!).

b. Put reflective foil behind any radiators positioned on outside walls.

c. Bleed the radiators – as well as preventing knocking this will help maintain the life of the pump.

d. If possible, don’t run the boiler all day – set the timer and the room thermostat.

Finally, don’t forget to ventilate – we create a lot of moisture in our homes and if we don’t get rid of it the problems can be as bad as moisture getting in – put lids on pans when cooking and don’t dry clothes over radiators. Extractor fans can be fitted fairly easily.

Keep warm and dry this winter.

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