The Heat is on – Winter is on Its Way


While there have been some sunny days this autumn, global warming certainly doesn't spell an end to cold winters, as last winter cruelly reminded us. So now might be a good time to think about 'winterising' your home. Here are the AA's top tips to help your home hibernate.

Are you safe?

First thing perhaps is to have a good look around the outside of your home. Check your security lights are working (or fit some if you don't have any), and the locks on your garage and garden shed. As the nights draw in, don't encourage prowlers to see what's worth pinching. Although AA home insurance does include cover for shed and garage contents, you do need to ensure they are secure.

A spot of maintenance outside…

If they are easily accessible, make sure your gutters, downpipes and drains are in good order, and that they're not full of dead leaves (or get a maintenance man to do it for you). Accumulations can cause leaks, soak up water and then freeze, adding weight to the gutter. Last winter plenty of homes suffered falling gutters, which can cause a lot of damage – especially if your car is parked below. Trim any branches from shrubs and trees that are getting close to windows, and make sure your airbricks are clear too.

Have a visual check of your roof: check for slipped tiles or slates or any other signs of damage. A severe storm could soon find weaknesses, and before you know it there's a shower of debris flying off the roof.

Oh, and put your garden furniture away – leaving it out over winter will only damage the finish and ruin it for next year.

…and inside

A trip into your loft can be time well spent. Look for any signs of daylight that may indicate problems with the roof; best to get it looked at and sorted out before it's too late. Worth checking too are any signs of wildlife that have found your loft a cosy place to keep warm and dry – particularly squirrels, which can cause a lot of damage. If you have bats then you'll need specialist advice as they are a protected species. You can find out more about living with bats from the Bat Conservation Trust.

As you make your way around your roof space only tread on the joists and not between them. A foot through the ceiling may be the stuff of slapstick humour, but if you don't have accidental damage cover on your home insurance it could cost a lot of money to put right, which is no joke at all.

Waterworks

Many homes have a water tank and associated pipework in the loft – make sure they are properly insulated against freezing weather. One of the biggest causes of home–insurance claims is 'escape of water'. During last winter an awful lot of water escaped from frozen roof pipes and tanks – in some cases running up individual claims of several thousand pounds as ceilings came down and furniture was ruined.

Do you know where your stopcock is?

We mentioned that 'escape of water' is the most common single cause of home insurance claims. So it makes sense to check where your stopcock is – and whether it works so you can shut off the supply in the event of a leak. A survey by AA Insurance showed that nearly half of us either didn't know, or only thought we knew, where it is. Common places are under the kitchen sink, under the stairs, or in the downstairs cloakroom or bathroom. In older homes it could be anywhere.

Take a moment to turn it off – the main cold tap in the kitchen should stop running (and if you have a combination boiler, all hot and cold taps should stop). Homes with a loft tank and immersion heater may have a stop valve in the loft and/or in the airing cupboard – these will stop the supply from the tank and the hot–water system.

Don't forget to turn off the supply to your outside tap, and then drain it by leaving the outside tap turned on. The shut-off valve should be indoors where the tap pipe enters the house .

It might be worth taking out an inexpensive Home Emergency Response policy, which will provide cover for such emergencies as a serious water leak or failure of your electricity. The AA doesn't just repair cars: it can help with an emergency at home too, 24 hours a day.

Everything in tip-top shape

This could be a good time to get your boiler serviced – and come to that, perhaps your washing machine, dishwasher and burglar alarm as well. Make sure your door and window locks are all working satisfactorily too. And check your smoke alarms and test the batteries.

In fact, why not make up an 'emergency box' just in case? A decent torch, a couple of screwdrivers, some insulation tape, a list of emergency help telephone numbers, and a few spare candles and matches in case of a power cut. Add spare 3, 5 and 13-amp plug fuses, and perhaps a couple of spare electrical plugs (but don't attempt wiring them unless you are confident – remember brown is live, blue is neutral and green/yellow is earth). A pair of scissors and a Stanley knife could be useful – plus a packet of plasters. And keep your box where you can easily find it in the middle of the night when the power has failed.

Are you insured?

You may be surprised to know that a third of Britain's homes have no insurance cover at all. That may be an oversight or an effort to save some money, but it can be a false economy.

Make sure your home insurance is up to date and consider including:

  • Accidental damage – this is for incidents such as the foot through the ceiling mentioned above, dropping a pot of paint, accidentally leaving a tap running and so on
  • Personal property outside your home – this covers your luggage, Christmas presents, camera and other things you may take if you go away for a few days, anywhere in the world. This extension could also get you a discount on travel insurance if you exclude baggage cover, as it would be covered by your home insurance

AA home insurance is one of the most comprehensive on the market. What's more, AA home insurance includes, free of charge, a 20 percent increase in contents cover to meet the cost of Christmas gifts.