Autumn is here, is it time to prepare for Winter?

autumn treesFor me, I find this time of year probably the most attractive of all the seasons, the leaves will produce a most wonderful array of colours and quite often where there are trees located within a garden, they will enhance the beauty of your house. Couple this with the early morning mists, and I find myself mentally preparing for the onset of winter.

For many, preparing for winter these days is relatively easy, you just turn the thermostat up on the heating, buy an extra jumper, and if you are really prepared, you are probably freezing or preserving a mixture of autumnal fruit in order to make those plum tarts, apple crumbles and sloe gin, and looking around it does seem a good year for sloes.

It’s also time to give your house a bit of thought, so that it is also prepared for the winter period.  I am a firm believer in saying that if you look after your house, your house will look after you.  Outside maintenance will include cleaning the rain water gutters, gullies and down pipes.  Obvious tasks will include removing fallen leaves from the gullies, cleaning out the gutters, making sure any moss that would have fallen off the roof doesn’t clog the pipes up.  The rain water goods, as we term them, form one of the most important elements in keeping property weather tight and in good order.

Other work will include external decorations, re-pointing bricks where necessary, and repairing external render on walls to ensure that they form a waterproof layer over the external brick walls.  It is essential that preparation work is undertaken properly.  Rub down the external painted surfaces with sand paper, ensuring all loose paint is removed from the surfaces being painted. Use good quality proprietary paint, making sure that the correct priming coats are applied. Do leave sufficient time between the coats to allow the paint to dry properly before applying the next coat.

If re-pointing brick work, rake out all loose mortar from the joints, and re-point using the correct strength of mortar.   It is essential that the new mortar is matched with the existing mortar otherwise you will make a statement about your repair history for years.  If in doubt, get a professional to do it for you.  A mismatch of mortar can lead to a reduction in value of your property, when you eventually decide to sell it on.  With regard to render, tap the external surfaces with a wooden handled bradawl, if the render is loose, the noise the bradawl makes will sound hollow.  Again it is essential any repair works completed to a rendered wall are done correctly, otherwise it will just create further problems in the future.

Another simple maintenance task is to check the external ground level is well below the damp proof course, particularly on flower beds where you regularly cultivate the soil and plant up beds for the summer period. If soil is heaped against the house side wall above the damp proof course, it will allow moisture to bridge the course, and thereby enter the house, causing an internal damp problem. There should be at least 100mm height between the external soil level and the damp proof membrane, to prevent this from happening, particularly caused by splashing up during periods of heavy rainfall. It’s a simple remedy, which can save thousands of pounds in repair work in the future.

Another problem regularly found is the leaking overflow.  Check your overflows, and make sure they are dry.  If water is running out of the pipe, it means a ball valve is likely to be leaking.  A plumber can fix this in 1 hour, alternatively if you feel competent enough, you can buy a new washer from a local builders merchant, and insert it yourself, making sure you leave it in good working order,

Heating is another area, which merits your attention.  Gas boilers should be serviced annually, to ensure they run efficiently.  If the boiler is located within a living area, consider putting a carbon monoxide monitor in.  They are relatively cheap to purchase, and will give peace of mind that the living area is free of Carbon Monoxide.  Carbon Monoxide is an odourless gas, which can be fatal to human life if it exceeds 30 parts per million. I have myself just fitted one outside the airing cupboard, and draw comfort that I will get the early warning of danger, just in case the boiler malfunctions.

Oil boilers should also be serviced, to ensure heat transfer to the boiler plates from the burner’s flame is as efficient as possible.  Burner nozzles should also be checked, and if necessary the boiler chimney should be swept to ensure sufficient draft to allow a good clean burn to take place.  This work is best done by a heating engineer, who will have the specialist tools to check that the combustion is as efficient as possible. Bearing in mind the price of fuel these days from an economic point of view, it is essential that the heating appliance works at its optimal efficiency.

Traditional fireplace chimneys should also be swept annually.  Over a winter period, soot will build up in the chimney, which gradually reduces the draft.  If the soot builds to such a thickness it can present a fire hazard. The occurrence of a chimney fire is a frightening experience, not recommended, and can be messy to clear up once the fire brigade have put it out.

All of these maintenance items are relatively cheap to complete, but all can save you thousands of pounds in long term expenditure if carried out in a timely fashion. And proper routine maintenance allows you to chose when the work is completed rather than have to complete the work at an awkward moment, when the breakdown causes maximum inconvenience to you.  Good luck with your winter preparations, and as ever if you have a question about maintenance work, feel free to contact us for information.

Tony Rowland SBK TLG

Tony Rowland BSc(Hons) MSc MRICS