Protect your home from costly winter crises

Updated on 09 November 2009 | 9 Comments

Winter is approaching fast! Our simple tips will keep your home snug and safe in the coldest months, and prevent costly problems.

Is it just me, or have the seasons changed? Winters start later, and end later. Almost every year now, it's positively summery until November - witness the current warm snap - and then freezing for five solid months until May.

The sad thing is that the cold weather seems to drag on longer than ever, well into what used to be spring. At the same time, extreme weather is more common, whether it's last year's snow that brought half the country to a halt, or the floods of 2007.

So now more than ever, it's important to prepare your house for the winter. Think of our 'house-warming' list here as the opposite of a spring clean: it's a late-autumn check for small things that could become big problems.

And with the weather still clement, there's no time like the present.

Get your boiler checked.

Summer is really the best time to get a boiler serviced, but if yours hasn't had its annual check yet, there's no time like the present - repair costs go up like a hot-air balloon in winter. Check the Gas Safe Register for legally registered, safe gas engineers.

As well as checking for costly problems, the engineer should make sure that your heating is working efficiently, saving you money in cold weather.

Know what to do if a pipe bursts.

Find your house's stopcock now and check everyone in the house knows how to turn it off, in order to minimize damage if a pipe does burst. If the worst does happen and a pipe bursts, turn off the stopcock, then flush the toilets and run all the taps to drain the water tank as quickly as possible.

Prevention is better than cure, though. If it's freezing outside, leave one tap in the house dripping slightly: this can prevent a burst pipe by lowering the water pressure.

Insulation, insulation, insulation.

We all know that making sure your house is properly insulated will cut heating bills. Top up your loft insulation, and install cavity wall insulation if possible. This is a big job, and a major investment: see our tips, and call your local Energy Saving Trust office on 0800 512 012 for advice.

But there are lots of smaller insulation jobs that will also help. Walk around the house and do a draught check, then seal gaps around windows and doors. Check if there are any holes where pipes leave the house, and fill them.

Lag your boiler and pipes - an easy  weekend DIY job. Line curtains for extra insulation. Put foil behind radiators to reflect heat back into the room. There are more useful tips (including details of how to check whether you're entitled to any heating grants) on how to slash your heating bills. It's also worth shopping around for the best energy tariff.

Life-saving checks.

Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are vital. There's never a bad time to change the batteries and test the alarms. With winter drawing in, and heaters and fires at full blast, it's even more important.

Sweep the chimney.

If you have an open fire, now is the time to get your chimney swept! Chimney-sweeping is generally cheapest in the spring - but birds can nest in chimneys during the summer, so autumn is the best time overall.

If you don't use the chimney, block it up to conserve heat - though only do it if there's no possibility of the fire being used, otherwise it's dangerous.

The roof over your head.

When was the last time you looked at your roof? Take a pair of binoculars and do a visual check for missing or cracked roof tiles. These can let damp through in the rain, and weak tiles are bad news in winter gales. On flat roofs, check for puddles.

Check your chimney pots, satellite dish and TV aerial are fixed securely, too. A quick fix now could save money later.

Stamp out damp.

Make sure gutters aren't blocked with leaves. Overflowing water can weaken brickwork and even foundations, especially in old houses. Buy gutter leaf guards and ensure pipes discharge well away from the house.

Make sure window-frames aren't damp, and seal any gaps with sealant or mortar. Wooden windowsills will benefit from a coat of wood preservative. Finally, check that drip grooves underneath windowsills aren't blocked with moss.

If you suspect you might have damp, you can get a free survey from companies like Kenwood Plc or Barker Goodwin.

Trees & garden.

Trim tree branches away from the house (high winds can slam branches into windows, and leaves can block gutters).

Prepare your garden for winter: get rid of weeds and clear away dead annuals. Store garden furniture so it doesn't blow away during gales, shut (and lock) tools and barbecues away to stop them rusting, and drain the lawnmower's motor - you won't be needing it again for a while.

Home insurance.

Check that your home insurance policy covers against damage from cold weather, floods, and frozen pipes, and any restrictions. Fences and gates may not be covered, for example.

It's possible to insure heating systems, too, though if you have a home insurance policy and a cheapish boiler, it may not be necessary. You can compare home insurance quotes at or read our tips on boiler and heating insurance.

Make a house first-aid kit.

Include a torch, batteries, candles and matches, insulation tape, fuses, radiator key, WD-40, screwdriver, and penknife. Also include important phone numbers, like your insurance company helpline and a 24-hour plumbers.

Get tips from the community

Finally, why not ask others in the for help on how to protect your home from winter?

First, adopt this goal: Slash your heating bills

Next, watch this video: How to save when you've got no money

And finally, why not have a wander over to Q&A and ask other members for hints and tips about what worked best for them?

Compare home insurance quotes at


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