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Cold comfort

By Oliver Bennett 20/11/2012

Winter-proof your home ahead of time…

Think ahead and cut the costs of preparing your home for the frosty winter weather, says Money Matters contirbutor Oliver Bennett.

It’s just human nature — when it’s sunny, you don’t fix the holes in your roof, only to find yourself calling a handyman in the bleak midwinter as the wind whistles through your house. But rather than accept the benefit of hindsight, why not winter-proof your home ahead of time?

‘If you think ecologically, you can cut your bills and your use of basic resources like gas, water and electricity, and also help ensure that your home keeps lovely and warm this winter’ says Oliver Heath, spokesperson for The National Home Improvement Show.

Plan ahead and you’ll save money and time — and potentially gain a greener house, too. And you don’t even have to be the DIY type, as there are plenty of easy ways to make your home cosier.

‘Prevention is always better — and cheaper — than cure,’ says builder Liam Hamblin of Scadbury Building Services.

Here are a few more ways to cut costs and stay warm this winter...


Anticipate your house becoming cold — this may sound obvious, but many people fail to act. ‘Schedule a servicing appointment with a heating engineer before everyone else does,’ suggests Liam. ‘Clean gutters — debris can cause roof leaks and structural damage if water doesn’t drain properly. While you’re there, check for loose tiles on the roof. But always use an experienced builder for this: don’t shin up a ladder yourself.’


Pipes should be insulated, as should hot water tanks, to prevent them from freezing and bursting in the cold weather. ‘This is an easy and cheap job costing less than £100, and will also save money on energy bills,’ says Liam. If you haven’t done so, then familiarise yourself with where the stopcock is: the tap that controls the water coming into your home. Scrutinise the exterior of your house for cracks. ‘This is where moisture can get in and cause rot,’ says Liam. And think about internal décor, too. ‘With bare floorboards, houses are draughtier. To combat this, put insulation foam between the joists underneath the floor to stop the cold air coming through.’


As energy prices have risen, insulation is crucial. So use good draught excluders, says Oliver: ‘They’ll eliminate cold draughts and save
warm air. Put them around doors, windows, letter boxes — even keyholes.’ If you have unused
fireplaces, buy chimney balloons.
‘These go up chimney breasts to stop warm air being sucked up
and cold air coming back down,’
says Oliver. ‘Fitting one will make an immediate improvement.’

A more technical improvement is to install a heat recovery fan, adds Oliver. ‘This is useful in moisture-heavy rooms, such
as bathrooms and kitchens, to reduce the build-up of damp that can often lead to cold draughts.’It extracts the warmth from stale air and preheats fresh air being drawn in. One can cost as little as £4 a year to run, according to Oliver.

Other lower-tech tricks include using heavy curtains over windows (taking care not to cover radiators), and increasing heat by using metal radiator-reflectors. Bear in mind that thermostatic radiator valves will cut bills in winter. During colder spells, keep the heating on low (the ‘snowflake setting’), particularly if you leave the house — this will ensure you don’t have an unpleasant surprise when pipes thaw after a cold spell.

Cover up

If you’re living away from the mains gas supply, think biomass, adds Michael. ‘Five years ago, fuel oil was less than 20p per litre, it is now more than 63p — a rise of 175%. Use a biomass boiler in place of a conventional boiler, or use solid fuel stoves.’ If your conventional gas boiler is old, think about replacing it. Michael says that a typical installation cost is £2,300, which leads to an average saving of £105 to £300 a year. And if you’ve got older windows, think about secondary glazing. ‘Make sure they fit the frames and add draught seals,’ says Michael.

Most high-street insurance policies cover routine eventualities, says Nick Egdell of Bondpay, a company that insures against builder failure. ‘For example, storm damage and leaks are normally claimable, but make sure there are no exclusions in the small print.’ Make sure you know your insurance policy, see if things like leaks and burst pipes are covered.

Always remember that, in the event of a claim, you may have to prove that you gave your house adequate protection. Insurance policies will not cover damage resulting from failure to maintain your property; for example, if you don’t remove leaves from the gutters, or don’t fix a roof that needs repairs. Keeping on top of your insurance policy conditions is a priority. ‘Sometimes people are covered by the insurance that comes with a mortgage, and left unprotected when they’ve paid it off,’ Nick says. ‘I’ve seen this happen quite a lot.’ Most boiler warranties cover breakdown, if this is not in your insurance. ‘You should make a decision as to whether it’s worth paying the £15 a month or so. It often is, as boiler repair is notoriously expensive,’ Nick says.

Green deal

Keep an eye on the 
Government’s Green Deal, due to come into play this autumn, says Michael Holmes, editor in chief of Real Homes magazine. It aims to incentivise green improvements to homes through a new financial mechanism that means consumers don’t need to pay up front for energy efficiency measures.

‘Insulation is the top priority and renovators can save up to £135 a year on energy bills,’ says Michael. ‘Many houses in the UK are built with cavity walls. Cavity insulation costs as little as £100 to £350 and will save up to £135 per year, paying for itself in around three years.’ Loft insulation is even more cost-effective, taking around two years to repay the installation cost of £100 to £350.

Top 5 savers

1. If you know a thing or two about home repairs, go
for the DIY draught-proofing option, which costs about £120 for materials. A professional job could cost double this amount.

2. Switch electrical appliances off instead of leaving them on standby — you could cut your bill by 8% per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

3. Mind your settings — your thermostat settings, that is. Many thermostats are programmable, so when you leave the house for the day, you can drop the temperature by 10 to 15 degrees — and make sure it’s warm again when you get home. This can reduce your annual heating bill by 10%.

4. Turning your thermostat down by just 1°C could cut heating bills by up to 10% — that’s a potential saving of
£40 a year.

5. Shop around for the best deal — you could save just by switching energy providers.

This post was written by Money Matters contributor Oliver Bennett.

This Money Matters post aims to be informative and engaging. Though it may include tips and information, it does not constitute advice and should not be used as a basis for any financial decisions. Sainsbury's Bank accepts no responsibility for the opinions and views of external contributors and the content of external websites included within this post. Some links may take you to another Sainsbury's Bank page. All information in this post was correct at date of publication.