With the long-range weather forecast predicting a cold November and possible snow, we’ve come up with a checklist of DOs and DON’Ts in preparation for the winter weather, including tips from some of our expert tradesmen.
DO review your fuel options
MyBuilder tradesman Tom Paterson, of Paterson Heating and Plumbing Services in the West Midlands, has started to heat his house with solid fuel (wood) due to the escalating cost of natural gas, although he still uses gas for cooking and hot water. He’s not the only one switching over from gas either, with many of his customers turning to solid fuel to keep their homes warm and costs down. We'd be interested to hear from other people who have done the same.
DON’T keep turning on the heating
Turning off the heating during the day is a commonly used tactic to save on the gas bill. The suprising bit is that it doesn't always work. When you let your home get cold during the day, your boiler has to work extremely hard to get it back up to a comfortable temperature, and may end up over compensating and using up the same amount of energy that you saved during the day. And don't underestimate the tendency of family members to get frustrated with the cold house and crank up the heating when it suits them. You might be better off keeping the thermostat at 17-19 degrees and maintaining a warm house throughout the whole day. To find out whether this works best for your home, it's easy to run a test and measure usage.
DO get your roof checked
To avoid winter leaks, get an expert to check for broken, missing or slipped tiles. According to Garry Connor, an experienced roofer based in Cheshire, one of the most common sources of winter leaks are ridge tiles that have come apart, allowing water to seep into the roof line. Another key place a specialist will look at is the flashing round the chimney stack, as it can lift up or tear and expose the joint to the elements.
DON’T go clambering on your roof
Roofers use specialist equipment including purpose-built ladders, scaffolding and cherry pickers. Given that you can’t do a proper roof inspection from the ground, it is more sensible and safer to let the experts (who are insured and trained) get up there and give you their informed opinion.
CHIMNEYS AND FIREPLACES
DO buy wood from a reputable seller
With gas prices on the rise and woodburners making a big comeback, there's plenty of opportunity for unscrupulous log sellers to try and offload poor quality fuel. Get a moisture meter (you should be able to pick one up for less than £20) and check the moisture content in your logs before you use them - if it’s over 20% you need to leave them to dry out. A bona fide log supplier will only sell properly seasoned wood.
DON’T burn unseasoned or damp wood
Chimney and fireplace specialist Courtney Gibbs warns that burning damp wood can create a tar that sticks to the flue, potentially causing a blockage and putting you at risk of a chimney fire. If the window on your wood burner turns black, the chances are that your wood is too wet or you have a problem with your flue.
DO clear your drains
Make sure there are no leaves or debris clogging up your drains, guttering and down-pipes advises Dean Webster of South East Timber and Damp. It’s important to get water away from your property because if it hangs around, you risk developing a problem with damp.
DON’T overlook your brickwork
Pointing should be checked for cracks where water could seep in. Keep an eye out for signs of spalling on your brickwork. Spalling occurs when moisture has got into the brick and the freezing and thawing process causes it to flake.
DO insulate exposed pipework and tanks in lofts
Berkshire-based plumber Kevin Parsons was brought up in Edmonton, Canada where temperatures can fall as low as minus 25 degrees. He knows the importance of insulating all pipework; back home in Canada electrically charged lagging is used to counteract freezing temperatures. It is now available in the UK but foam insulation lagging wrap is more generally used, and is highly effective as long as joints and corners are well covered.
DON’T ignore that dripping tap
Changes in temperature cause pipes to expand and contract, and joints can become loose. However, leaky pipes may not be immediately visible or accessible so keep an eye out for evidence of watermarks on walls and ceilings and act quickly if you spot anything. Something as simple as a dripping tap could be the sign of something more severe!