By Peter Taylor-Whiffen

Essential home maintenance for winter

With winter approaching, we take a look at the maintenance you should think about doing to prevent seasonal damage to your home.

With summer a distant memory, you now have a job to do – preparing your home for winter.

While snow and sleet are still (hopefully) a little way off, it’s far easier to spot and solve a potential problem on a mild autumn day than in a freezing December gale.

“Winter can bring all sorts of challenges for the homeowner,” says Mike Edwards, co-founder of home improvement advice website diydoctor.org.uk. “But so many of these can be avoided with a little advance planning.”

So what can you do in advance to avoid a winter of discontent? Follow this eight-step programme.

1. Check and clear gutters

This is an obvious and usually easy maintenance check but often one that doesn’t get addressed until there’s a problem. Gutters fill easily with leaves, moss and other vegetation – but because you can’t see it, the first sign they’re blocked is when they overflow or leak. As well as breaking the gutter itself, water continually overflowing and pouring down walls can penetrate brickwork, leading to damp spots on indoor walls.

Top tip: “The best time to examine downpipes and joints is in heavy rain,” advises Edwards. “You’ll immediately see where any cracks or faults are.” When it’s a dry day, seek out an assistant to hold your ladder while you check and clear the gutters.

2. Check vents

Similarly, anything with a vent – flues, chimneys, extractor fans – can get blocked over time and what begins as a small issue can escalate into a large and expensive one. “It’s important to allow air flow in the winter months or damp patches may start to appear, particularly in humid areas such as kitchens or bathrooms,” advises Kat Black, landlord and executive at online consultancy Landlord Vision.

Top tip: If you have a chimney, get it swept now to ensure there are no birds’ nests or other blockages when you come to light a fire.

3. Maintain the garden

Make sure any grounds are safe and secure ahead of the stormy season. “Are any tree branches vulnerable and likely to fall in high winds?” asks Black. “Look around and check if any plants, trees or fences are unstable. Ask yourself what might happen in a storm and act to minimise the damage. Also, ensure drains are clear and drain covers are in good order to prevent leaves blocking them.”

Top tip: Drain hosepipes and put them away in a shed for the winter to avoid them freezing and cracking. Bring stone ornaments inside to safeguard them against frost erosion.

4. Repair/treat windows and doors

Replace any obviously broken/rotten frames or damaged panes, tighten any loose fittings such as hinges or handles, and make sure they all work properly. Check your windows are sealed and that external timber sills and doors are sufficiently primed and coated with weather-resistant, micro-porous paint or stain to prevent water getting in. Inside, if necessary, fit draught excluders on doors.

Top tip: An often forgotten cold spot is the letterbox. A simple small brush draught excluder can help prevent cold air coming in.

5. Inspect the roof and loft

Around a quarter of a home’s heat loss occurs through the roof. Edwards advises: “Stand outside and look for broken, loose or missing tiles that could potentially let water in – and replace them accordingly. Inside, check the loft space and ensure it is sufficiently insulated. In particular, flat, bitumen roofs should be checked regularly for cracks or leaks.”

Top tip: If your loft insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, it’s wise to add more. Make sure it’s evenly distributed and check for disturbance/destruction by mice or birds that may have found their way in.

6. Service the heating system

“Make sure the boiler is serviced regularly by a Gas Safe engineer,” advises Black. “If this isn’t done, it could lead to other problems. Lag external pipes (where there is a risk of freezing,) and, inside, bleed the radiators to get rid of trapped air that can prevent them heating up properly.”

Even if it’s a warm day, turn the heating on to check it works properly. As the weather gets colder, put the heating on for a little while every day to prevent condensation, mould and damp. Indeed, many boilers have an anti-frost setting that turns the boiler on if the outside air temperature falls below a certain level. Check if yours does and if it’s activated. From a financial point of view, it’s also worth checking you’re on the best energy deal – and if not, whether you can change it. If you have oil-fired heating, ensure your tank is full now to avoid paying for oil in the more expensive winter months.

Top tip: Your boiler pressure should be about one bar – which you can usually check by removing a panel on the front and looking at the gauge. If it’s too high or too low, get your Gas Safe engineer to check it.

7. Know what to do in an emergency

If the worst happens and you get a burst pipe, do you know where your stopcock is to turn off the water supply? If not, locate it – and make sure it works. Similarly, in case there’s a power outage, ensure you know where the fuse box is and how to turn that on and off.

Top tip: Keep a stock of torches or candles and matches somewhere you can easily locate them in the dark.

8. Check your security

“The longer hours of darkness might provide thieves with the opportunity to strike,” warns Edwards. “Check all your door and window locks work and that any outbuildings are secure. Install a burglar alarm if you don’t already have one – and if you do, make sure it works. You could also install time-switch exterior lights.”

Top tip: Locks on garage and cellar doors, particularly in older properties, tend to be less secure than the main house. Put a good solid lock on your garage and cellar and keep any doors connecting them to the main property locked as a matter of course.