When winter arrives, our homes face extra challenges. In the northern hemisphere, due to the dropping temperatures, harsher weather and extra demand from the inhabitants, homes have to work harder than at any other time of year. That’s why home maintenance problems that can go unnoticed for most of the year really get highlighted during winter. But if you’re paying attention, it’s quite possible to nip these issues in the bud before they become a collection of expensive headaches.
So, what is your home trying to tell you this winter?
Banging, knocking and tapping
You’ve just retired to bed and you’re being kept awake by some really odd tapping, creaking and knocking sounds. The cause is most likely plumbing related. If the water pressure is too high, the water rushes through the pipes whenever the tap is turned on. This can cause the pipes to knock against their fixings or rattle loose.
Unless you live in a particularly hot part of the world where air conditioning is essential, your home is more likely to come under electrical strain during the winter. That’s because the demand we put on our electrical systems spikes as soon as the temperatures drop, and it’s not just because we’re using the heating system more.
We use our homes more in winter. We’re less likely to spend time outside and when we’re inside we’re more likely to do power intensive tasks like watching TV and cooking. Christmas adds extra strain to the electrical system. Visitors, each most likely wanting to charge their phones, Christmas lights – these may all sound like small issues but when you add them the strain on the home can be significant.
Nick Bizley is a property maintenance with Aspect.co.uk, who provide highly trained electricians across London. On the issue with electrics during winter, Nick says: “Kitchens can suffer from electrical problems because that’s where there are lots of appliances that use a lot of electricity, such as kettles, microwaves, electric ovens, hobs, grills and toasters. If they’re all on at once a circuit could get overloaded and trip. The only advice I’ll give here is to call in a qualified electrician. If your light switches or plugs ever behave in any way they shouldn’t, for example sparking sockets or flickering lights, it’s a job for a professional. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a big problem, but I’d recommend that only qualified tradespeople should be working on electrics.”
Creaking and groaning
If your home is timber-framed, as many are, you may notice that during winter you’ll hear a lot of creaking and groaning sounds. This is because the wood is contracting and expanding as the home heats and cools. In the morning, as the heating comes on and people are cooking and showering, the temperature of your home increases rapidly, causing the wood to expand. As the home cools in the evening, the wood contracts, causing more noise. In most cases this is actually nothing to worry about. But if the sounds are accompanied by cracks appearing or any sort of movement in the walls, it could be worth hiring a contractor to take a look.
If you’ve ever entered a room and felt a sudden chill, it’s probably a cold spot. These have two common causes; either there is an air leak or your heating isn’t working properly in that room. Air leaks normally occur around windows, doors or because of gaps in the floor or skirting.
To detect an air leak, take a cigarette lighter or a candle and hold it near to the suspected source of the leak, taking great care not to hold it near flammable materials, such as curtains. If the flame flickers this is a sign that air is escaping and coming in through the gap.
The other likely cause is inefficient radiators. If you feel your radiators when the heating is on and notice that the top is cooler is than the bottom, this is a sign that the radiators have air pockets preventing the hot water from rising all the way to the top. You can fix this quite easily by bleeding the radiators.
The presence of mice or other vermin is a sign that your home isn’t as secure as you have thought. The rule of thumb is that if you can fit a pencil into a gap, a mouse can get in it. The best way to plug a hole to prevent mice gaining entry is to use a combination of wire wool and silicon. But what if you can’t identify their point of entry? According to a blog published by cyber and home security experts Online Spy Shop, a lot of their customers are now resorting to motion activated spy cameras to detect where their unwanted visitors are gaining entry. So if you’re struggling to find the gaps, this could help.