As a first time homeowner, Ellina Webb looks into how to prepare a home for winter.

In the past 10 years, house prices have continued rising year on year whilst the shortage of new homes is also well documented. In the past 5 years or so, these rises have been eagerly watched by me as I stringently saved in the hope of one day getting onto the property ladder. This year though my home-owning dreams were met as I finally become a first time homeowner!

With many Government schemes like “Help to Buy” now available to those first time buyers like myself, many of my peers opted at buying new builds with the new build equity loan. Unfortunately, with new build homes in my location being vastly overpriced and along with additional fees of stamp duty, legal and surveys, an older property was more suitable for my budget – although unfortunately again the available properties were still too expensive to qualify for a Help to Buy ISA bonus which only applies to homes with a purchase price of up to 250,000 (or up to £450,000 in London).

However, regardless of these difficulties and without the help of a government scheme, I officially moved into my older home, a 1980’s purpose-built, top floor flat in May and like many of my first-time-buyer peers in both new build and older properties, our first winter as a homeowner is approaching… So what minor home maintenance should we be doing to weather the cold (and save a bit of money)?

 

New build Vs. older build

The differences between new build homes and older homes are vast depending on the period your older property was built.

The regulations affecting new build homes states that effective insulation should be installed, and as this graphic on the Barratt Homes website shows, by using effective insulation technology more warmth can be kept in and your costs can be kept down. In a typical 1980s built home however, some of the insulation methods used in external walls can potentially let twice as much warm air escape.

So for those who own a 1980s home they can expect their homes to be noticeably colder than the new alterative. Of course retro-fitting insulation in your older property is possible, but if you live in a flat, that decision usually isn’t down to you unless you are a freeholder.

Another difference between new build homes and older homes that will affect both the efficiency and temperature of your home are the windows. Typically all new build developments will have double glazed windows which ensure less heat is lost. For older properties and period properties the chances are that the glass will be single pane and the windows may be wooden which means issues like draughts (caused by leaks in the window panes) and condensation can cause discomfort.

Of course, new build properties aren’t free of these issues as this article on the Guardian points out. According to the article more than half of buyers of new-build homes in England have had major problems – like leaky windows for example. In fact Bovis homes recently had to set aside £7 million to repair poorly built homes sold to customers. But with the lack of affordable housing stock against the high demand, it’s no surprise that the construction industry is under pressure and timescales mean that the quality of some housing developments might suffer. 

Without leaky windows however, new build homes are fairly airtight which is great for keeping in the warmth. The bad side of this though is that ventilation can be poor which will have an effect on air quality. Of course there are solutions to help deal with that, like mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery – allowing fresh air into your home whilst recovering the heat from the stale air and helping maintain your indoor temperature – its especially important if you have children and pets, as Janvi Patel explores here.

For those in an older property however, the task of insulating your walls may have to wait until next year – although I hasten to add that mechanical ventilation systems with heat recovery are also great in older homes too especially as the removal of damp air really improves indoor air quality.

But what else can owners of new build and older build properties do to ensure they have a happy winter at home?

The Royal Institute of Charter Surveyors (RICS) have a great checklist on how to winter-proof your home here, so leaving that to the experts, I’m going to look into the cheap, easy and effective methods below…

Easy winter tips for new build homeowners

1. The consumer code

To offset what I mentioned about issues with new build homes, if your property feels cold or there are any other issues, under the Consumer Code for Home Builders there should be a system in place to deal with the issue. So make sure you understand the system and contact them if you do have an issue.

2. Dress up your living space

As I mentioned in my article about how to Hygge, which is a Danish concept of building a warm and happy sanctuary, incorporating good quality fabrics and textures into your home will make you feel warm and cosy. This is really important in new build houses which are often stark and lifeless when you first move in. Adding texture will help it go from a house to a home in no time. 

Easy winter tips for older build homeowners

1. Test run your heating system before it gets too cold

After turning my heating on for the first time since owning my flat (obviously I checked it worked before purchasing!) I discovered that getting the radiators on was a bit more tricky than I first thought. Radiators can often need bleeding or may have sludge inside which will affect their performance so a test run might highlight that your boiler needs servicing. Also with heating systems that you aren’t familiar with, getting to grips with the controls may take a while – especially if you don’t have a fancy smart meter or Smartphone compatible control app!

As a new homeowner I had no idea how to set the heating timer, let alone how to bleed a radiator, but thankfully with a bit of playing around, I have it set and working ready for the colder months.

2. Check for draughts

As I mentioned before, older properties will likely be leakier, especially if they have wooden windows and doors. My windows are thankfully double glazed PVC, however with a wooden front door I can feel a draught from underneath, even though a brush draught excluder has been added (which will also hopefully keep out any unwanted spider visitors!).

But aside from that, another way to help seal the draught is with a plush draught excluder – yes, like those shaped to look like a sausage dog! Draught excluders prevent cold air from passing around them, keeping your home warm and preventing warm air from escaping which will mean your heating will have to work harder to keep you warm. Draught excluders are usually low cost, so it’s worth the small investment. You can also fit a curtain over the front door which will help cut out draughts even better but will cost slightly more.

3. Inspect your home to see if you require a dehumidifier

As I mentioned, I have double glazed PVC windows which are great for keeping in the warmth. Unfortunately with no trickle vents, it is unavoidable that the warm indoor temperature against the cold outdoor temperature will cause condensation. Also by living in a flat, which means I have to dry my washing inside, during the winter months the humidity within my property will likely be quite high. If you have a similar situation to me, it might be worth investing in a dehumidifier to ensure comfort levels and mould is maintained. A dehumidifier takes moisture out of the air reducing the change of damp and mould. 

Easy winter tips for all homeowners

1. Purchase a quilt for your bed

I’m a big fan of a warm bed, so when winter comes it’s worth making a small investment in a quilt or a thicker tog valve duvet. Ikea has a great selection of duvets with different warmth rating so you can choose what’s best for you depending on how warm you want to feel in bed. Quilts are also relatively low cost, or you can even sew one yourself which apparently has a vast number of health benefits

2. Set some rules!

It might seem silly but setting some rules amongst the people you live with will help you keep your home comfortable over winter. Ensuring windows are kept closed, or only opened for a limited time to air a room while the heating is off which help keep your heating bills under control. Cooking with the extractor fan on, not having too much wet washing drying and ensuring the heating is off over night will again help with bills and also help mitigate any bad smells.

3. Warm the soul with good food

In my opinion the best way to have a happy winter is with good hearty food. Soups, stews, a spicy curry or a delicious casserole are all idea winter meals that can be slowly cooked on a simmering hob or in a slow cooker. With household cooking account for about 4% of the average gas and electricity bill, a slow cooker uses very little electricity because they are low wattage. In fact microwave cooking is even better, followed by using your hob.  

Uswitch has some great tips on energy saving cooking here

And of course a hot kitchen from cooking can warm a whole house meaning you can turn the thermostat down!

 

So no matter what type of home you own – if you’re a first time homeowner or a fifth time homeowner, I hope there is a tip above that you can make use of when weathering your first winter in your new home.

Now bring on the holiday season!!

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric

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