How to weatherproof your home

We might be in the middle of an Indian summer, but winter is just around the corner – and a sudden cold snap could mean big fuel bills and burst pipes. Now's the time to weatherproof, says Kate Watson-Smyth
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The Independent Online

Now that you've probably turned the heating on, and for the lucky ones, are thinking about lighting the open fire, you've probably started to notice all those unpleasant draughts that you've forgotten about from last year.

The way the front door doesn't quite fit at the bottom, or how the wind whistles through the keyhole when it's facing a certain direction. Or even, in the really old houses, how you feel as if the glass itself isn't really even holding the weather at bay.

The weather might be wonderful this week but winter is just around the corner. Andrew Lowe, head of Direct Line Home Response 24, points out that taking precuations now will save you time and money in the long run. "Homeowners shouldn't forget the importance of taking precautions to protect their homes against wintry weather. A few quick and easy jobs done now could prevent damage such as pipes bursting," he says.

And of course, with winter comes those dreaded utility bills. The average household energy bill has gone up by 18 per cent to £1,239 in the last year (despite a massive decline in the wholesale price of gas). So this year it's time to invest a little of that hard-earned cash into winterproofing your home. This should bring the bills down, remove those unpleasant draughts and mean that, if you want to wander round your front room in shorts in the middle of December, you can do so without catching your death .

But a pre-winter MOT isn't just about saving money. John Keeble, of estate agent John D Wood, says that you can also add value to your home by taking a few small steps to insulate your house.

"Double glazing and insulation will both add value because we are now far more aware of how expensive energy supplies are," he says.

"We have found that buyers show little interest in HIPs but the simple way the energy-efficiency graphs are displayed is making them look more closely. Also, most people suspect that as the Government runs out of tax revenue from smokers and other sources, that it might start to find the difference between your actual energy-efficiency and your potential energy-efficiency a soft target to tax in the future."

So here's what you need to consider before the weather really gets going.



New boiler

This is the most important investment, the most expensive, and the one that will save you the most money in the long run. Condensing boilers are the most efficient and if your current boiler is more than 15 years old and you replace it, adding a new set of heating controls, you can expect to save a quarter on your bills, and reduce your carbon dioxide emissions. Make sure you contact a Gas Safe Registered engineer to discuss whether a combination or regular condensing boiler is most suitable for your home.



Loft insulation

Research from the Energy Saving Trust (EST) released last week found that nearly a quarter of British homes don't have any loft insulation, mainly because they are worried about the cost of installing it. Paula Owen, an Energy Doctor for the EST, says: "Insulating your home can ensure that you cut down on the 50 per cent of heat lost keeping an un-insulated home warm each winter."

Owen recommends visiting www.energysavingtrust.org.uk for information and advice about grants to help with the cost of installing loft and wall insulation.

"It's not sexy but will increase the market appeal of your property and should increase its value over time," adds Keeble.

Pipes

Make sure all your pipes are lagged to prevent them from freezing. Repair any dripping taps and leave the plugs in sinks in frosty weather, otherwise water can freeze in the pipes. Find out where your stop tap is so that if there is a flood you can turn the water off. All water companies offer advice on their websites and suggest that, if you are going away for a few days, you should leave the heating on low to prevent freezing. Martyn Foulds, of Halifax Home Insurance, says: "Most homeowners worry about fire and burglary but water damage is one of the most common claims we see. People have more bathrooms today, which means greater scope for leaks and the trend for wood flooring makes it more expensive to repair. We handled 21,000 claims for burst and frozen pipes last year."



Draught excluders

Kevin Milan, of Milan Property Maintenance says: "Houses lose so much heat through badly-fitting doors and windows – particularly sash windows which work loose over time. It's worth spending a bit of money to have them properly draught-proofed and to fit a keyhole cover in front of the lock to stop the wind coming through there. This will save you money on heating bills and allow you to turn the thermostat down as you won't be losing heat." Expect to pay around £150 per window.



Gutters and drains

All those golden leaves might look pretty while they're on the trees but once they start falling, they're just going to clog up your gutters and drains. This will eventually block them, meaning the water has nowhere to go, apart from spilling over and running down the wall and then you've got damp and possibly internal leaks. Take half an hour to examine your house for possible problems – loose bricks or cracks – then make a list and call in a roofer before the problems, and the weather, get any worse. Once the gutters have been cleaned, consider investing in mesh cages to stop more leaves floating in.



Roof tiles

December is usually one of the wettest months of the year, so before it starts it's worth checking for any loose tiles and getting them fixed before you have a major leak on your hands.

Warm up – and beat the bills

Paula Owen of Energy Saving Trust offers the following advice on how to save energy and cut down on your bills this winter:

* Turning the thermostat down by 1C could cut heating bills by 10 per cent and save around £55 a year.

* The cylinder thermostat should be set at 60C for the hot water supply.

* Make sure to close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows.

* Fix dripping taps – a leaky hot tap can waste enough water to fill half a bath in one week.

* Do a home energy check at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk and we will give you a free impartial report telling you how you can save up to £330 a year on household bills.

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