This article is best viewed on a tablet or desktop computer and may not display properly on devices with small screens.
Tamsin McCahill, Lifestyle journalist.
Winter is just round the corner and along with a sudden desire for big roast dinners and comfy knitwear comes a craving to gather our families around us and hunker down at home.
Four out of the last five winters have been colder than average, with widespread snow and ice – all of which can put a big strain on our homes, cars and even our health. So now is the time to get prepared before Jack Frost comes nipping at your toes.
A winter health check
for your home
When it comes to your home, winter can be an expensive time of year. Add in any unforeseen extras, such as frozen pipes or broken-down boilers, and your finances could soon be stretched.
So before you batten down the hatches against the cold, you'll need to take steps to prepare your home.
DIY expert, designer and qualified chartered surveyor Grant James Crossley agrees. He says, “I'd always recommend undertaking a cyclical programme of maintenance – after all, your home is likely to be your biggest financial asset. Ignore any problems now and you really run the risk of haemorrhaging your hard-earned cash on putting things right.”I'd always recommend
undertaking a cyclical
maintenance – after all,
your home is likely to
be your biggest
Grant gave us his top tips for a winter home health check – and the first thing to do is head outside to assess your property. He said: “The exterior of your building is its first line of defence against winter weather – rain, ice and snow – so get your coat on!”
1. Easy winter
Clean away fallen leaves from drains and scrub away any dirt from paths and patios so they don't get slippery. Cut back dead branches, then remove any hosepipes that may still be attached and isolate the outdoor taps to reduce the chances of frozen pipe damage.
2. Check your gutters
Autumn leaves can clog up gutters and trap water, which may freeze and pull the gutters away from the fascia board. Clear any debris and use a hose to run some water along the gutters to check for cracks or blockages. Look for signs of rust, holes and leaks. If there's a blockage in the downpipe, you may need to call out the professionals.The exterior of your building
is its first line of defence
against winter weather –
rain, ice and snow – so get
your coat on!
Patch up coverings and
replace any missing roof
tiles. Even small holes
will allow precious heat
3. Patch up your roof
Time to get the ladder out, but before you do, read up about working safely with heights and remember you can always get a professional in if you need to.
So what are you looking for? Water penetrating badly maintained areas is a nightmare for householders. If you have a flat roof, check for signs of cracking, blistering or any pools of water. Patch up coverings and replace any missing roof tiles. Even small holes will allow precious heat to escape and rainwater to seep in.
4. Install outside lighting
Additional lighting near your front door can help protect your family from nasty slips and falls when it's treacherous underfoot.
Get busy on your home's heating and insulation1)
Have your boiler serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer and bleed your radiators to get them working properly.2)
Check all your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms work properly and make sure you know where the stopcock and fusebox are.3)
If you have an open fire, get your chimneys swept. Blocked chimneys can cause chimney fires, or even a build-up of carbon monoxide gases.4)
Contact your energy provider to find out whether you qualify for a home insulation grant.5)
Check your pipework is well lagged and if you have a cold water tank, ensure that it is insulated.
Prepare your car
for bad weather
For many of us in the past few winters, the phrase ‘getting the car out' no longer meant reversing it from the drive but extracting it from under a pile of snow.
Consider keeping a dedicated winter emergency kit in the car, as you never know when you may get stranded. Include items such as a torch, fold-up shovel, tow rope, de-icing salt and thermal blanket. You should also consider taking extra food and water, particularly if you're travelling on a long journey.Consider keeping a dedicated winter emergency kit in the car
AA patrolman of the year, Andy Smith, recommends taking water, a hot drink, and high energy foods such as chocolate, nuts and cereal bars in case of emergency. He also warns against being too blasé just because you are not heading out on foot. “Many people seem to view their car as their coat and therefore don't think to carry enough outer clothing,” Andy says. “Take a warm coat, gloves and hat in case the weather or the car catches you out.”
motor for winter
Make sure tyres are pumped correctly to lower the risk of skidding on ice and change them when the tread reaches a depth of 3mm (the legal limit is 1.6mm).
Check that all lights are working and ensure that they are clean. Replace any broken bulbs.
Service your car regularly. Colder weather conditions put a greater strain on your car's battery, so get yours checked before any long journeys. Ask the mechanic to check your brake pads too.
Buy two de-icers
Keep two cans – one in the car and one at home. That way you'll have a way of getting into your car should the locks freeze. Don't use boiling water to clear your windscreen – it could crack the glass.
Driving tips for
If heavy snow is coming down, think twice before leaving home. If you simply must drive, try to avoid sudden changes of direction and speed – especially on hills and in corners. The IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) offers these tips:>
Ensure your car windows are completely clear before you set off and clear snow off the roof or you risk a big chunk of it sliding down your windscreen.>
Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted.>
On a downhill slope, get your speed low before you start the descent, keeping it low as you go down.>
When driving in snow, don't go so fast that you risk losing control, or so slow that you risk losing momentum – avoid high revs, using a higher gear than usual.>
If you go into a skid, take your foot off the pedals and steer into it. Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble.>
Bends are a particular problem in icy conditions – slow down before you get to the bend, so that by the time you turn the steering wheel you have already lost enough speed.
Look after your health
According to the NHS, many common health problems such as asthma, colds and flu can be triggered or made worse by the cold weather. Fight the bugs with a little preparation to stave off the effects of the “sniffle season”.
Improve your diet
Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables like red peppers and mangoes are rich in antioxidants, which can boost the immune system, while eating oily fish can give you some much-needed omega oils and vitamin D.
Stock up on supplies
Buy cold and flu medicine, hankies and vapour rub in advance. Keep well stocked up on anti-bacterial wipes and sprays to minimise the spread of germs around the house.
Allergy-proof your home
Spokesperson for Allergy UK, Lindsey McManus, said that it's our winter habits of closing windows and turning the heating up that encourages a warm, humid environment – the perfect conditions for dust mites and mould spores to flourish in. In fact Allergy UK believes at least 12 million people become allergic to their own home. To reduce this, wash bed linen once a week at 60 degrees, vacuum regularly and use a damp duster instead of a dry one.
Brightly coloured fruit
and vegetables like red
peppers and mangoes
are rich in antioxidants
Get the flu jab
Flu can kill the vulnerable. But even if you're not over 65 or suffering from chronic illness, you still don't want it. If you don't qualify for a free jab from your GP, they are cheaply available from pharmacies.
Don't feel SAD
If winter's getting you down, you're not alone. Up to one in four Britons are said to suffer from some form of seasonal affective disorder, a low mood said to be caused by a lack of sunlight. Try exercising outdoors, working near a window and eating a well-balanced diet. A daylight-spectrum lamp, such as the Britebox, may also help.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.
About this article