Property: Your cut out 'n' keep guide to home comfort

Doctor On The House: Don't go to DIY stores except for a laugh, if you've got woodworm rejoice, and avoid double-glazing, says Jeff Howell
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The Independent Online
Here, due to popular demand, is your very own Doctor on the House cut-out 'n' keep list of New Year's resolutions. Follow these simple steps to keep your home in good order, and save money too:

Clean the leaves and sludge out of your gutters, or pay someone else to do it. Make sure the gutters are not leaking at the joints, and that they are draining away into an unblocked down pipe. Most of the water threatening your home comes straight down out of the sky, so make friends with your gutters.

Keep the bathroom door closed at all times, and open the window or turn on the extractor fan when bathing or showering. Put a notice on the door instructing other users to do likewise; if they haven't got the message by February, evict them, or fit an automatic door closer and a humidistat- switched fan. This will solve condensation problems throughout the house.

Paint the outside joinery - doors, windows, fascias and barge boards - if they have not been done within the past five years. You are supposed to start by burning off the old gloss paint, but first test it for lead; if there are layers of lead paint then it may be better left undisturbed, and painted over.

Never visit a DIY superstore, except to laugh at the people standing in the check-out queues. Buy your tools and materials at a proper builders' merchant.

Get some decent tools. All homes should have a basic tool kit, including a claw hammer, screwdrivers, sharp wood saw, junior hacksaw, pliers, pincers, pipe wrench and adjustable spanner. Optional extras are a 25mm wood chisel, a plane, and a 50mm bolster which will double as a floorboard lifter. All these items are best bought individually; don't fall for the "complete tool kit" scam - they are of the cheapest quality and you won't use half of them.

Don't allow anybody to spray nasty chemicals on your floorboards. If you have got active woodworm then rejoice; it is a sign that your home is a healthy, non-contaminated place for all life, including your own.

Find out how to programme your central heating. Most importantly, with gas-fired radiator systems, locate the knob that adjusts the temperature of the water leaving the boiler; in winter it is often better to leave the heating permanently on and to turn down the water temperature at night and when you go out. This will help keep surfaces above dewpoint temperature and prevent condensation, which in turn will improve the insulation value of the walls.

Don't even think about replacement double-glazing. If your windows are draughty then make sure they close properly, and then fit draught-proofing strips. Use the thousands of pounds that you've saved on heavy curtains or on a holiday.

Find out how your home works, and you will be less likely to be ripped- off. There is no one book that covers all you need to know about home maintenance, but the Penguin Dictionary of Building (pounds 8.99) explains the jargon, and has DIY tips too. If you need advice, call the Association of Building Engineers on 01604 404121 and ask for a list of members in private practice in your area.

Finally, don't panic. You probably know more about building than you think.

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the Independent on Sunday or by e-mail: Jeff@doctoronthehouse.demon.co.uk

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