Winter warmers: staying safe and snug this winter
As the temperature drops, we have a tried and tested routine: dig out hats and scarves, revert to warming soups and casseroles, and start speculating about snow days, but what about our homes?
Preparing our properties for inclement weather is more important than ever this year, with many of us mindful about the amount of gas we are using and how low the temperature may drop, thanks to climate change. Now is a good time for a reminder of the basics that may save your boiler breaking down or a pipe bursting.
The age-old debate still rumbles on – keep your heating on a low setting all the time or only turn it on intermittently? Current thinking revolves around insulation. If your home is well insulated, leaving your heating on is a good option as it may not kick in very often. For those in older, poorly insulated properties, using a timer so the heating only comes on when it’s needed is a more cost-effective approach.
There’s no harm in trying both methods if you have a smart energy meter, as you can compare costs. You can reduce energy consumption further by using radiator or underfloor heating thermostats to only heat the rooms you occupy, as well as by avoiding plug-in heaters (the Energy Saving Trust says using an electric heater is more than twice as expensive as using central heating), ensuring you have good insulation and keeping draughts out.
Pipework and central heating go hand-in-hand, and the real danger is when temperatures drop below freezing. If your property is left vacant – whether it’s overnight, for a week or for an extended period – leaving the central heating on and set to a minimum of 13 degrees will ensure any standing water in the pipes doesn’t freeze. Frozen water expands and creates pressure, which can rupture a pipe. Any crack or hole will start leaking water as soon as the temperature rises, which will result in a sudden flood or a slow drip – both highly damaging.
You can also protect pipes from freezing by lagging – the process of wrapping them in insulation material, such as foam sleeves. Pay particular attention to pipes in lofts, garages, basements and those that sit against external walls. It’s also sensible to insulate any outside tap and an older-style hot water cylinder.
If a property is going to be uninhabited for a long spell over winter, it’s wise to play it safe and turn off the water supply at the mains stopcock. Don’t forget, most modern central heating systems still work even if the water supply is turned off.
There is another pipe that’s often overlooked and when it freezes, it’s one of the most common reasons gas engineers are called out. The condensate pipe is what removes steam and condensation from a condensing boiler. If the temperature drops below zero, the condensate pipe can freeze solid and cause the boiler to shut down.
As well as insulating this pipe, you can reduce the chances of it freezing by shortening the amount of pipe that sits outside, making the condensate waste pipe as large as possible with a vertical fall and opting for a boiler with a syphon trap type of water release, rather than a continual drip.
There’s one final leak that property owners should be mindful of during winter and that’s carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas that can emanate from cookers, blocked flues and chimneys. As well as getting your central heating boiler serviced on an annual basis and installing a carbon monoxide detector, it’s wise to get a health check for other gas-fired appliances and book a chimney sweep before the first fire is lit.
If you have any questions about looking after a property during the winter months, feel free to get in contact with our team.
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