28 Nov Preparing your home for winter: maintenance tips for cold weather
What should you be looking out for?
Cracks in walls
Expanding water isn’t just a problem for pipes…water in hairline cracks in brickwork can freeze in winter. The associated expansion exacerbates the cracking and can lead to crumbling of the bricks. In severe cases this can lead to loss of bricks and unstable walls.
Debris left in gutters blocks water so it doesn’t move freely and instead leaks over the side. What’s more, any water blocked in the gutter and not drained can freeze and take longer to thaw and drain. The weight of ice also causes gutters to pull away from the house. Water in gutters can lead to water damage, rotting wood, and roof damage. Leaking gutters can also contribute to penetration damp, as water spills out down exterior walls.
The water in pipes can freeze if it gets too cold. If this happens, the water expands and can burst the pipes. At best, this will cause leaks; at worst it could flood the house. Rooms can be out of action for weeks while remedial works are carried out. Even worse, your water and heating will be off until a plumber can repair the system – not ideal in the winter months!
Keep an eye on boiler discharge pipes that run outside too. If these freeze, the boiler won’t be able to get rid of waste water and will shut down. If this happens, you will probably need to find a boiler engineer to come and reset it.
Cracks in windows and walls let in draughts and let out heat, wasting energy. Having open cracks also leaves your house vulnerable to penetration damp, as water leaks through cracks in the walls causing blistering paint, rotting timber and mould growth.
If your home is cold, moisture in the air can condense on surfaces like windows and walls. The excess moisture can promote the growth of mould and rot, which as well as being unpleasant to look at, can harm health by causing or exacerbating respiratory problems.
Winter checklist: how to make sure you’re prepared for cold weather
Carry out your own (mini) survey
Give your brickwork a once over at the start of the winter season, checking for any cracks or crumbling. If you find that the walls are in a state of disrepair, get a builder in to rectify the defects. These minor fixes are well worth it to prevent more serious – and expensive – problems down the line.
Check gutters for breaks and blockages. Carry out necessary repairs and remove any leaves and other debris so that rainwater and melting snow and ice can move freely.
Check that your boiler and central heating is working, and bleed your radiators to make sure you’re receiving all their heat.
Turn on your heating
Leave your heating on low, even if you are going away, to prevent the core house temperature getting too cold and leading to burst pipes, condensation, and growth of mould and rot.
When it’s vacant, aim for a minimum house temperature of 13–15 degrees to stop pipes from freezing and keep condensation at bay. When occupied, a minimum temperature of 15 degrees is recommended for your home (but that will still feel rather chilly!).
Insulate insulate insulate
Prevent frozen pipes by carefully insulating them. Any pipes that are in cold spots, such as lofts, cellars or outdoors, should be insulated with lagging. Lagging material can be bought at most DIY shops and should cover the pipes – check carefully for gaps, especially where pipes bend or have valves or other fittings.
Add loft insulation to save energy and stop heat from escaping from your house. It is recommended that you insulate your loft with rolls of foam insulation 270mm thick.
You should also consider insulating your windows using double- or even triple-glazing to prevent draughts and keep heat in. Doing things like closing curtains and blocking the chimney can also make your heating work more effectively.
Seal the cracks
Use caulking or sealant to seal joints and cracks. Use adhesive foam around windows and doors and expanding foam for cracks and pipes. Also use weathering strips around windows and doors. Cracks or missing tiles in roofs can also let in water so replace or fix them.