With winter around the corner and average energy bills double what they were a few years ago, many people may be worrying about how they will afford to stay warm.
Fortunately, there are a whole host of things you can do to winter-proof your home to keep the heat in, and also to protect it against any damage that cold and wet winter weather can cause.
Here, we look at a few changes you can make to your home that could make facing the winter a bit less daunting.
- Insulate your pipes and hot water tank
- Minimise draughts
- Consider double or secondary glazing
- Bleed your radiators
- Fit reflector panels behind your radiators
- Get your boiler serviced
- Consider insulating your walls, loft and floors
- Think about insulating your floors
- Clear your gutters
- Check your roof
- Flood-proof your home
- Use a smart thermostat
- Check your home insurance policy
Insulate your pipes and hot water tank
Insulating your pipes so they don’t freeze is easier than you might think. Most DIY stores sell foam tubes, also known as “lagging”, that fit around your pipes and prevent heat from escaping, allowing your water to stay hot for longer. All you have to do is buy it in the right size and slip it around any exposed pipes. This is particularly effective on any outside pipes, as it will prevent them from freezing or cracking in the cold weather. Read about how to protect against frozen pipes and make sure you’re insured against them in our article Frozen pipes: are you protected?
You can also buy lagging for your hot water tank, in the form of a large cylindrical jacket that keeps the heat in. A lagging jacket should be about 80mm thick, so if you already have one and it’s thinner than this, consider upgrading. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that this could save you £20 a year, which is already more than the cost of the jacket itself.
A persistent cold draught in your home can be a miserable experience, especially when the weather is freezing. Luckily, there are some simple fixes to stop cold air from getting in.
Draught excluders do exactly what you’d expect, preventing heat from escaping and cold air from blowing in. For doors, they come in a few different varieties, from seals that you can fix along the bottom to linen excluders that you place next to the door when it’s shut. Some people take the homemade approach, and use rolled up towels or old clothes as draught excluders as well. Find out more in our article 11 practical tips to keep warm and save energy this winter.
You can also buy draught excluders for unused chimneys – hot air rises, meaning that homes can end up losing a lot of heat through an open chimney. Chimney draught excluders need to keep the heat in but still let some air circulate, so they tend to be either made of wool (which is breathable) or inflatable with a small air vent. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a chimney draught excluder could save you £65 a year.
You can buy foam strips that fit around window frames to prevent cold air from making its way in. Metal or plastic strips are also available, which cost a bit more but last longer. To seal windows or fill in small cracks in doors, you can use a non-toxic silicone sealant to make them as airtight as possible.
If you have an old wooden floor, then it’s possible for heat to leak out through cracks in the floorboards. Using a flexible, silicone-based filler to fill these, or even just a rug placed on top is an effective way to reduce cold air leakages.
Consider double or secondary glazing
If you don’t have double glazing, then this could be worth considering too. It’s expensive to install, but double glazed windows keep the heat in much more effectively than single glazed windows. Alternatively, many DIY stores sell secondary glazing film, which you can apply to a window yourself in order to reduce heat loss.
Bleed your radiators
Bleeding a radiator means releasing air pockets that are trapped in your heating system, which allows hot water to circulate more easily. If your pipes are gurgling or the radiators in your home aren’t heating up properly (for example, they are warm at the bottom but cold at the top), they probably need bleeding. However, even if they are not in urgent need of bleeding, doing so can still boost your home’s heat efficiency and save some money on your bills.
To bleed your radiators, start by checking the heating is off and the radiators are cold. Start with the radiator furthest from the boiler, and hold a container or cloth under the valve and insert a bleed key (if you don’t have one you can buy them on Amazon for a pound or two). Turn this anti-clockwise until you can hear a hissing noise, which means air has started to escape. Once water starts coming out (hopefully into the container), turn the key clockwise to tighten the valve back up. Repeat this with all your radiators, making your way back towards the boiler, and then check if they work properly when you switch the heating back on.
Fit reflector panels behind your radiators
Additionally, if you have any radiators next to an external wall, then it’s possible for some heat to escape through the wall, particularly if it’s uninsulated. Radiator reflector panels can be placed behind the radiator to bounce heat back into the room, so none of it goes to waste outside. Heat essentially moves from a warm place to a cold place so fitting reflective foil results in more heat being moved into the room, rather than lost through the external wall.
You can buy kits online to make these, or simply use cardboard covered with tin foil. Bear in mind, though, that this heat-saving measure won’t work if you have cavity wall insulation.
Get your boiler serviced
It’s a good idea to have your boiler serviced every year, to make sure it’s in good working order and you can catch any minor problems before they develop into something more serious.
According to a Survey by Which?, only around three in 10 boilers that were serviced annually needed a repair in their first six years. However, this doubled to around six in 10 boilers for those serviced every two to five years. In other words, spending a little on a yearly check could save you a lot on costly repairs in the long run.
If you’re worried about the cost of boiler repairs, you might want to consider boiler cover, which in return for a monthly premium can provide peace of mind that if your boiler needs repairing, you won’t have to foot a large, unexpected bill. However, bear in mind that if you don’t make a claim, you’ll have paid hundreds of pounds to your insurer for nothing. Find out more in our guide Is boiler cover worth it?
Consider insulating your walls, loft and floors
It’s a much bigger investment, but if you’re able to spend the money, you may want to consider insulating your walls, loft and floor.
A third of your home’s heat is lost through the walls, though the cost of insulating these and exact savings will depend on the type of walls you have. If you have cavity walls – that is, external walls consisting of two layers of brick with a gap in the middle – then having these filled in costs about £475 on average, but saves you almost £200 a year on average, according to the Energy Saving Trust. If your external walls are solid, the savings could be substantially greater – but so is the cost of installation.
Many lofts tend to be insulated already, but the material used is often not sufficiently thick for you to really save on your heating bills. Making sure the insulation in your loft is at least 270mm thick could keep your home warmer in the winter and save you an extra £15 a year.
Think about insulating your floors
Insulating your floor is worthwhile too if you live in a property with a ground-level floor, and can save you over £50 a year, according to the EST.
You may want to wait until you are making other home improvements to consider insulation to minimise both costs and inconvenience. Read our article How to pay for home improvements for some ideas on how to build funds for making changes to your home.
Clear your gutters
No-one enjoys climbing up a ladder and clearing out the gutters, but making sure yours are free from debris is a great way to prevent your home from water damage (such as damp and leaks) as the weather gets colder and wetter. Of course, you can hire a professional to do the job for you which may be wiser unless you’ve got plenty of experience yourself.
Check your roof
Checking for cracked or missing tiles in the roof is also a good idea. Weaknesses in a roof can lead to leaks or even flooding, and invalidate your home insurance if you end up trying to make a claim for weather damage. If you’re worried about the condition of your roof, you could get a roofer to do a quick inspection, and ensure that shingles aren’t loose and gutters are security attached, for example. It may be relatively simple to make minor repairs to ensure peace of mind ahead of the colder months.
Flood-proof your home
If your home is likely to flood, see whether there are any steps you can take to protect it so you can minimise any potential damage. For example, It’s common for dirty water to backflow through drains and enter a property during a flood, so fitting non-return valves to ensure that liquid only flows one way through a pipe could make a huge difference.
It might also be worth stocking up on sandbags which can be bought from DIY and building supplies shops, or in some cases are offered for free from your local council. These can be placed in front of doorways to hold back flood water. You may also want to get temporary covers to go over air bricks in the event of a flood in order to prevent water from getting in through them. Make sure you remove them afterwards though so that the bricks can dry out and they can keep air circulating as intended.
Find out more in our guide What should I do if my home is flooded?
Use a smart thermostat
A smart thermostat connects your heating to the internet, allowing you to control it from your smartphone or other devices.
Certain smart thermostats can use information such as whether you’re at home or the current temperature in order to make adjustments. Some models even come with features such as draught detection, feedback on your current heating patterns, and the ability to heat different rooms in your home independently.
Some smart thermostats currently on the market include the Hive Thermostat and Hive Thermostat Mini, which go for £179 and £119 respectively and include hot water control, geolocation, temperature notifications, frost protection and independent heating zones. Or, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat goes for £219, and includes many of the same features, in addition to learning your temperature habits and showing you how much energy you’ve saved with it.
A smart thermostat may not be particularly worth investing in if you are happy using the timer functionality built into most thermostats so that it comes on at the same time each day. However, if you have an irregular schedule and often find yourself coming home at different hours of the day (or night), then a smart thermostat allows you to switch the heating on while you’re on the way back so your home isn’t freezing cold when you get in. A home typically takes around 30 minutes to warm up from when you turn on the heating.
Check your home insurance policy
Home insurance claims tend to increase in winter, when frozen and burst pipes, water damage and other adverse effects caused by the weather create headaches for homeowners.
Hopefully, you won’t have to contend with any of these problems this winter, particularly if you follow the other tips in our guide. However, it’s still worth checking your home insurance policy and seeing what exactly you are covered for – and if there are any exceptions that could make it harder for you to make a claim.
For some creative ways to keep warm this winter without spending too much on energy, read our article 11 practical tips to keep warm and save energy this winter. If you’re worried about your energy bills in the coming months, then our article The energy bills crisis: what can you do about soaring costs? contains more advice that you may find helpful.
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