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How to Prepare Your Home for Winter

traditional oak frame home exterior in winter
(Image credit: c/o Border Oak)

The last couple of years have brought unusually cold temperatures and wet weather, making it all the more important to prepare your home for winter. Often tasks are inexpensive to undertake — but could prevent costly remedial work down the line.

This winter, rising energy prices mean that simple, cost-effective measures such as draught proofing, which help stop heat escaping from your home, are even more imperative. They are also small steps towards retrofitting to create a more energy-efficient home.

From straightforward repair jobs inside and outside the home, to those which require professional output, our guide sets out essential winter maintenance tasks, for a warm and comfortable season.

1. Replace Slipped Roof Tiles or Slates 

Making roof repairs will prevent leaks and damp that can cause deterioration to the structure and help prepare your home for winter.

“If there are only a few slipped or missing tiles or slates, they can usually be refixed or replaced fairly easily,” says chartered surveyor Ian Rock. 

“On shallow pitched roofs, common on 1970s properties, the underfoot can start to sag, diverting rainwater down wall cavities. In this case, the lower layers of underfoot may need to be stripped, replaced and rebated.”

2. Get Your Chimney Professionally Swept

Ideally, this task is best undertaken before the winter – and the heating system – starts. Sweeping will improve the efficiency of your chimney by ensuring any potential blockages, such as nests or a build up soot, are removed before you start using your open fire or log burning stove.

This job will typically take a professional chimney sweep between 30 minutes and an hour to complete; they should provide you with a certificate on completion. Chimney sweeping costs from £40. 

Sweeping the chimney can also reveal any potential issues. For instance, if excessive of water is noted, then it's possible that the flaunching (the mortar upon which the chimney pot(s) sit) or chimney stack brickwork require attention.

Warm White Rattan Illuminated Christmas Stag's Head above a woodburning stove and white fireplace

Getting your chimney sweep before using your woodburner in winter will help ensure its efficiency. (Image credit: Lights4fun Ltd. 2019)

2. Lag Pipes to Reduce Heat Loss Over Winter

Lagging your pipes, particularly plastic plumbing, will help to reduce heat loss from your system and, more importantly, prevent them from getting too cold and bursting. This is particularly important when plumbing is located in cold areas such as in uninsulated loft spaces and garages.

Foam pipe laggging can be readily bought from most DIY sheds and builders' merchants, and installed on a DIY basis. This task is likely to cost under £50 (depending on the size of the house), with annual savings of £3 to £7 on energy bills.

3. Clear Gutters and Downpipes of Debris

An essential task when preparing your home for winter — look for leaves, moss and other debris and clear gutters and downpipes to prevent blockages in heavy rain and snow. Homes with aging and shaded roofs (where moss build up can be an issue) and in close proximity to trees can be particularly prone.

Some of the best gutter cleaning products can make this a quick task. Preventative measures such as gutter and downpipe guards are also a good way of ensuring rainwater goods do not become blocked over the winter months.

Cracked, missing or damaged rainwater goods or brackets should ideally be replaced, too. Leaky rainwater goods, can, over a period of time lead to damp, so it's important to make these cheap fixes now — rather than making costly remedial work at a later date.

4. Get Your Boiler Serviced

Your boiler should be serviced annually to make sure that it’s still safe to use and works efficiently. Ideally this should be done before the heating season.

According to research by Ratedpeople (opens in new tab): "The most popular months for gas boiler jobs are January (13%), February (12%) and October (11%), with most of us putting off checking our boilers until the depths of winter when we’re thinking about our heating. If there’s a problem, many homes can then be left with no heating or hot water in the coldest months whilst the issue is fixed, or a new boiler is installed.”

There are other ways to ensure your central heating's efficiency. Bleeding radiators, to release trapped air, is a task which can be undertaken on a DIY basis. While power flushing, although a job best left to the plumbers and heating engineers, can ensure a build up of sludge is removed from radiators.

5. Top Up Your Oil or LPG Tank 

If you do not have mains gas but instead have an off-mains heating system, ensuring you have enough fuel for the heating season is a key step in preparing your home for winter — to avoid running out if you get snowed in or when the weather is at its coldest!

If you can, avoid buying oil in the coldest months, when increased demand will push up prices; set a date in your calendar for the summer, or any unseasonably warm spell, when suppliers generally sell oil at lower prices to reduce their surplus. Remember, you can store oil for up to two years.

6. Insulate Your Loft Space

If you haven’t already insulated this space, or you have poorly performing insulation that has slumped over time, tackling this project will pay quickly pay dividends over the colder months. The Energy Saving Trust (opens in new tab) estimates that topping up loft insulation from 120mm to 270mm could save around £12 a year.

“The amount of insulation installed in the lofts of new buildings has steadily increased over the past half century, from about 25mm in the 1960s to 270mm today,” explains Roger Hunt, author of the Old House Eco Handbook. “Where existing insulation is in a poor condition (for example, it has lost its effectiveness where compressed) or badly fitted, complete replacement is normally advisable.”

8. Check Outdoor Lights are Clean and in Working Order

The best outdoor wall lights are not only important to safety – illuminating paths and entrance ways on dark winter nights – but will also often be attractive features in their own right. So, ensuring they are clean and free of debris is a quick but useful task before winter.

Give outdoor lighting a good clean (shutting off the power to the unit first). Check that the bulbs are still working, and if they are not, swap over to an LED bulbs. If your solar lights are covered with snow or winter debris, you’ll need to remove this to allow them to operate properly.

9. Fix Broken Gates and Fences

This will prevent any further damage during freezing winter conditions and helping to secure your property against burglaries (while keeping pets safely within the garden).

10. Draught proof Windows, Doors and Floors

With current energy prices rises, undertaking draught proofing measures can be a relatively simple and cost-effective way of improving your home's thermal performance.

Measures include insulating loft hatches, adding draught proofing strips to doors, and blocking up unused chimneys. Some tasks can take minutes — others, such as insulating beneath timber suspended ground floors, are more invasive and will require considerably more work.

Adding secondary glazing to draughty single-glazed windows can be cost-effective alternative to replacing windows.

11. Avoid Loft Conversions and Roofing Projects

“A lot of customers try to do their loft conversion over the winter period and while it’s possible to protect from the rain, it’s very difficult to protect workers from heat loss,” says contractor Ross Malone of Orchestrate (opens in new tab). “I’d also avoid roof projects, as fibreglass doesn’t work in low temperatures.”

12. Invest in a Log Store

If you do have a woodburner or open fire, protecting seasoned firewood from the elements is a key outdoor job in winter. So, now is the time to invest in a dedicated log store, or to build your own, perhaps using palettes.

The best log stores are slightly elevated from the ground, feature a solid roof with an overhang (to protect firewood from the rain) but are also open to the front or sides (or both) to allow for good ventilation. 

A dedicated log store will also provide a place to season wet logs for future winters.

Claire Lloyd
Claire Lloyd

Claire became Editor of Homebuilding & Renovating in 2016 and has been a member of the team for 14 years. An experienced homes journalist, her work has also appeared in titles such as Real Homes and Period Living.

She has a particular interest in green homes, and interior design is a passion too; she has undertaken qualifications in this area. 

After finishing a major renovation of a period cottage, she is now onto her next project: overhauling a 1930s property in the Shropshire countryside.