Make your home your winter castle

We are barely into autumn, yet already we have experienced the wrath of the elements in the form of storms, floods and torrential rain.

Winter promises more of the same, so before it begins to bite we need to batten down the hatches and ensure our homes are protected from the extremes of the weather.

Here we offer some of our top tips to help make your home your winter castle…

1. Check your boiler

For most of us, keeping our homes toasty and protected from the winter chill is a top priority. But as the cold weather creeps in and we rush to switch on our heating, the surge in gas consumption can lead to an increase in boiler breakdowns.

Therefore, to avoid being forced to spend the night in sub-zero temperatures, make sure you get your boiler serviced ahead of the cold weather.

Not only will the boiler’s efficiency be checked but the engineer will also test how safe it is. Boiler leaks can lead to lethal carbon monoxide poisoning, so having it tested by a qualified expert is essential.

Another pre-winter check to make is to test the efficiency of your radiators. Switch your heating on to full and then systematically check each one for cold patches. This is an indication of trapped air and can simply be amended by bleeding the radiators.

For extra peace of mind, you might want to consider taking out boiler cover. There are different levels available, from policies that simply cover the boiler and its controls, right through to complete home emergency packages. For more information check our boiler cover channel.

It is important to have both buildings and contents cover if you own your own home (if you are renting, the landlord will take out the necessary buildings cover, so you just need the contents element). Check the small print of your contents cover to see if any boiler or home emergency cover is included.

Your policy may also provide access to a list of approved tradesmen if you have a problem, so keep the policy documents somewhere safe but readily accessible.

2. Winter-proof your pipes

As we head into the depths of winter, a particularly nasty hazard is burst pipes. This happens when water inside your pipes turns to ice, expands and causes cracks.

When it thaws, the water comes rushing out of any outlet it can find. Needless to say, the damage caused by the escaped water can be substantial.

There are steps you can take to prevent this. Pipe lagging can be bought from DIY stores and will ensure your pipes are kept ice-free and insulated during any but the coldest of cold snaps. Waterproof lagging is available for outdoor pipes.

Pipes in the attic are more prone to freezing in cold weather due to the lack of warm air in this part of the house. Consider keeping your loft hatch open for a few hours a day to allow heat from the rest of the property to circulate and reach cold areas.

Despite your best attempts, it may still be possible in very extreme weather for your pipes to freeze and burst. So plan ahead and make sure you know the location of the stop cock (often located under the sink) so you can act quickly and turn off the water supply.

3. Insulate your loft

If your home isn’t insulated you could be throwing away money in the form of escaped heat. The Energy Saving Trust states that homes without insulation lose a quarter of their heat through the roof and that insulating your home could knock up to £175 a year off your bills.

Previous years saw a big drive from the government on free loft and cavity wall insulation and some of the 'Big Six' energy firms still offer this.

However, this year’s deadline is fast approaching. For example, you would have to apply by the end of October to benefit from the EDF offer (available to everyone, not just customers) and the British Gas offer ends on November 30 (also available to non-customers).

4. Switch energy provider

It’s all very well taking preventative steps to keep costs down but with the energy price hikes announced in recent days, you’ll need to act now to protect your pocket.

Shop around on MoneySupermarket’s energy channel to find a fixed price deal that you can lock into. That way you’ll know exactly what rate you’ll be paying for your fuel and won’t have any nasty shocks.

Loyalty in these situations doesn’t pay – so let our comparison tool find you the best deal and see how much you could save on your bills. It won’t cost you a penny, but as the cold winter months approach it could save you a packet.

5. Make dodgy trees safe

Unassuming trees that are so pretty in summer can become lethal weapons in winter. In previous years extreme storms have caused trees to topple and crush whatever is in their path, be this people, property or cars.

Again, prevention is better than cure, so make sure you keep your trees trimmed and maintained all year around. If you are at all concerned about the safety of any of your trees, ask a specialist to come and give you their opinion.

6. Inspect your roof

Missing or askew tiles can cause your roof to leak and it would just take one torrential downpour to cause considerable damage not only to your property, but also to any contents underneath a leak.

Not maintaining your roof can have costly repercussions as insurers may not pay out if they suspect that the problem has been pre-existing. For a first-hand account of such an experience read Melanie Wright’s article ‘Give your home an MOT.'

It is also well worth checking your gutters while you are on the roof and removing any leaves and debris. This will ensure water flows freely to the drains and does not form into damage-causing pools that can find a way into the house.

7. Protect your home while you are away

Maybe you’re jetting off for the October half term or visiting family over the Christmas period. If this is the case, it’s important your home is prepared for any potential bad weather, as well as secure from potential break-ins.

In very cold weather, it is advisable to leave your heating on a low timed on-off setting while you are away. While it may seem pointless, it will help prevent your pipes from freezing and means that you won’t return to a nasty and expensive mess.

Ask a friend or neighbour to regularly check on the property and to remove any mail from behind the door. You may also want to consider investing in lighting timers and automatic timed curtains to give the impression that someone is in.

It’s important to be aware that if you are going to be away for more than 30 days your home insurance policy is unlikely to cover you. If this is the case, you may have to consider investing in a short term home insurance policy which offers the same level of cover as a traditional policy but allows your home to be unoccupied.

8. Minimise the damage of flooding

The Environment Agency states that one in six homes in England and Wales is at risk of flooding. September saw widespread, severe flooding - a timely reminder that it’s never too soon to be prepared.

The key to coping with flooding is to plan ahead. You can find out whether you are in a flood risk area by checking the Environment Agency’s website which also offers useful tips for flood-proofing your home. You can also sign up for Floodline Warnings Direct, which will alert you by phone, email or text.

Make sure that you have an emergency survival kit at the ready if you know a flood is on its way. It should contain drinking water, high energy food, a torch and important phone numbers. Make sure your mobile is fully charged and that all the family are clear on what actions to take.

So, while it’s not possible to control the elements, it is possible to limit the affect they have on our homes… and our pockets. Plan ahead and make sure you are organised and prepared for all that winter may throw at us.

Follow Clare on Twitter @Clare_Walsh

 Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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