Prevention is better than cure and that's certainly true when it comes to home maintenance. Every year I give our home a once over around this time to make sure we get through the colder months with as little drama as possible. Nobody wants an unexpected bill in January after all!
Rain, high winds, snow and ice can all wreak havoc on our properties so a little bit of preparation can go a long way. Burst pipes, leaking roofs and smoking chimneys are not the most pleasant emergencies to deal with in good weather, let alone during the cold, dark days of winter. As William Morris puts it, "stave off decay by daily care."
So how can you prepare your home for winter? Here are 8 simple tasks you can complete over the next month to stave off whatever this winter might throw at it:
1. Check roofs
See if you can find a pair of binoculars, stand back and take a good look at your roof. Try and spot any loose, slipped or missing slates and ridge tiles. Check any flashings and cement along the verges for tears, distortion or missing pieces that could let in water. Check the condition of flat roofs, particularly at edges and joints. You're really trying to spot anywhere that could leak when those rainy days come around. If you do spot anything, try and arrange to get them fixed as soon as possible, it's much easier to repair small issues than let them become a major disaster. Please be sensible if you attempt this yourself, I would always recommend hiring a professional to complete roof work because of the inherent dangers of working at height.
2. Check gutters, downspouts and gulleys
In the same vein, have a good look over your rainwater goods. Water is one of the primary sources of structural defects, so making sure your gutters and downspouts are able to perform properly can really help prevent common problems. Once the leaves have finished falling, clear out your gutters and downspouts so that they can flow freely. Make sure you wear thick gloves or have a professional do this for you (not everyone enjoys being up a ladder, including me!). Clear out any debris in ground level gulleys and perhaps invest in some drain covers to make the job easier in future. If you have any niggling suspicions about underground drainage being blocked or leaking, get yourself a CCTV drainage survey organised so you can have everything checked over, cleaned or fixed before an annoying blockage becomes a flood.
3. Cover external taps and pipes
Burst water pipes are not something you want to be dealing with at 7am on a winter morning. The biggest source of insurance claims over winter is "escape of water" so make sure you're not going to be another statistic. Pipes burst when the water inside them freezes and expands, cracking the pipe. Once the ice thaws the water comes pouring out of the newly formed crack. To prevent this, make sure to insulate any external piping and taps that could freeze. You can buy outdoor tap covers and pipe insulation from all good DIY stores. Also, make sure to insulate any gaps where pipes penetrate walls and check uninsulated lofts and sheds for any pipes you might have missed.
4. Install or maintain your outdoor lighting
Not that we will be going out much this winter, but coming home to a dark doorway and trying to find your keys with your phone light is not the most pleasant of experiences. Installing outdoor lighting not only makes your life easier, but it also makes your home safer in the darker months. A PIR light will come on when you walk near it, saving on electricity and unnecessary lighting (it's lovely to see the stars). If you already have external lights that only turn on at a switch, you can buy timers that slot over your light switch and are programmable for each day of the week, turning on the outside light only when you want it to. And finally - can you remember last time you changed the lightbulb?
5. Clean paving
Moss growth on outdoor paving and patios can be lethal, I've slipped over enough times myself to know that to be true! You can clean them the old fashioned way with elbow grease and a scrubbing brush, or you can break out the power tools and get the power washer on them. Not the cleanest of jobs, but your backside will thank you later. Be careful with natural stone - soaps and chemical cleaners can wreak havoc with them, accelerating decay and leaving you with a less than perfect patio. Try just plain warm water to begin with and if your still struggling to shift the grime then get some specialist advice for your type of stone. On that note, if you regularly use gritting salt on your paths, be careful about getting it too close to the house as it can exacerbate decay in stone and brick (same goes for natural paving). Take a look at the base of stone buildings next time you're in a town or city for the damage it can, partially, cause.
6. If you have a chimney, get it swept
There's nothing better than coming home to a roaring fire on a cold, wet day. To ensure your fire or stove works correctly, the gases need to be able to flow freely up the chimney and away. Sweeping the chimney removes soot, creosote, birds nests, cobwebs and other debris, reducing the chance of chimney fires and making sure your fire is as efficient as possible. Most chimneys need sweeping at least once a year, some like coal and wood burning appliances need doing more often.
7. Fix fences and gates
Winter storms can highlight the weaknesses in fences and gates. Spare yourself the scramble of fixing a broken fence panel after a storm and go check now. Make any repairs to panels, check the posts are secure and any timber rails if they are feather boarded. Get some WD40 on any squeaky hinges and make sure they are securely fixed. Check latches and bolts properly close so you don't have that horror movie moment of a gate flapping in the wind!
8. Check windows and doors
Changes in temperature and wet weather can cause untreated wood to expand, breaking seals and allowing water in where it shouldn't. Damp timber is also significantly more prone to rot. Make sure to give any timber windows a once over before the bad weather sets in, fill in any cracks with wood filler, sand and repaint as needed. You can also consider whether you need to improve the draughtproofing while you're there, to keep your home nice and snug as the temperatures fall. Even a simple sausage dog (not a live one obviously!) or a curtain over a door can reduce cold draughts significantly.
- There are lots of free resources, including online lectures, available from the SPAB during National Maintenance Week (20-27th November): https://www.spab.org.uk/whats-on/lectures/maintenance-matters
- Historic Environment Scotland has a series of Inform guides available to download for free on everything from repairing traditional brickwork to maintaining timber doors: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/archives-and-research/publications/?publication_type=36&searchPubText=