From making the house nice and toasty to tidying up the garden, it’s time to get ready for winter.
Winter-ready: Think about checking your central heating before you need to turn it on fully
Think about checking your central heating before you need to turn it on fully when the cold weather arrives. Sheena Anker, a heating engineer for British Gas, says there is always a big spike in emergency call-outs when the weather changes and temperatures dip.
She says: ‘Most boilers have not been used for months over the spring and summer. That first cold snap of autumn – whenever it comes – is always our most hectic time. That is when boilers are most likely to seize up and things go wrong.’
Households can avoid or reduce problems by having an annual service on their boiler and central heating system – including radiators and gas fires for example. Particularly for older boilers, those aged between ten and 15 years, regular safety checks are important.
‘It is not just about ensuring your boiler is working efficiently,’ says Anker. ‘If something goes wrong and there is carbon monoxide this can be dangerous. We recommend households install carbon monoxide alarms as well as smoke alarms in their property and regularly check they are working.’ A one-off boiler service costs from £80 to £100 depending on where you live and which company you use. Make sure the engineer is Gas Safe registered.
A good service should involve a thorough inspection of the boiler and parts, the pressure and seals and the flue. For a guide to what to expect, consumer group Which? has a free servicing checklist here.
CONSIDER BOILER INSURANCE
Standalone cover is available for boilers and central heating and many contracts include an annual boiler service as part of the package. But with a high excess, the first part of a claim a policyholder must pay, and restrictions on cover – such as a limit on the number of call-outs per year and exclusions such as no cover for problems due to faulty repairs or installation – it is not surprising this type of cover has received a bad press in the past.
‘Calling in a professional at short notice, perhaps at night or at the weekend, can be horrendously expensive, so an annual boiler service agreement can be an attractive option,’ says Kevin Pratt, insurance expert at comparison website Moneysupermarket. ‘But as with any contract of this sort, hunt down a policy at a reasonable price.’
Think twice about buying the cover offered alongside your energy bill by your supplier. This will almost always be much more expensive – at around £30 per month – more than five times the price of the cheapest standalone plans. The level of cover and service on standalone plans varies between providers so always read the small print but low-cost contracts are available.
For example, 24/7 Home Rescue has cover from £4.95 a month with a £95 excess, and the AA charges from £5.99 a month with a £99 excess. Neither plan includes an annual boiler service.
HomeCare plans from British Gas start at £12 a month – there is a £60 excess on any claim and an annual boiler service is included. The HomeCare 2 plan covers the boiler and central heating and costs £13.15 a month.
Homeserve offers a boiler-only policy for £5 a month in the first year (there is a £95 excess and a free boiler service in year one only) – the premium then rises to £15.99 in year two. For broader cover most providers also offer plans to cover other home emergencies such as plumbing and burst pipes. Expect to pay from around £15 a month.
‘Hectic’: British Gas engineer Sheena Anker
INSULATE THE HOUSE
Lagging the loft and pipes and getting cavity wall insulation are common ways to warm up the home and bring down energy bills in winter – and avoid burst pipes. They are worthwhile measures but can be costly. Loft insulation can cost around £350, although could cut heating bills by on average £225 a year afterwards.
Other smaller and simple steps taken around the home can make heating more efficient, such as using draught excluders at the foot of doors or windows and putting reflective foil panels behind radiators to push warm air back into the room. Regularly bleed radiators to remove any trapped air which can stop them working efficiently.
All energy suppliers with over 250,000 customers are required to make a certain number of homes more energy efficient as part of their commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Ask your energy provider about any schemes or grants available. Eligibility is typically based on household income and whether you receive state benefits.
However, some energy companies are even offering to fit energy saving measures – such as cavity wall and loft insulation, which can run into hundreds of pounds – to anyone’s home, not just their customers, for free.
E.On has a scheme, which is available only for a limited time, which will insulate homes which have not had this done before.
However, council tenants, and those living in flats and maisonettes are excluded.
Visit eoninstall.com or call 0330 400 1083.
We spent £4,000 on a new boiler, so cover will rescue us if things go wrong
Keeping costs low: Steve and Clare
Like many householders Steve and Clare Davidson had never had their boiler serviced before – and had never bothered with breakdown cover.
But having recently stumped up around £4,000 for a new combi boiler and its installation – including scaffolding outside their period flat in Aberdeen – the couple are now keen to ensure its smooth running and minimise costs if anything does go wrong.
Steve, 54, a manager with a large telecoms company, and Clare, 58, who works in administration at Aberdeen University, chose Scottish Gas (part of British Gas) for the new boiler and installation as they felt it was a trustworthy brand and the pricing was transparent.
They got free HomeCare 2 cover for one year as part of the deal worth £174.
‘You never know with tradespeople if the quoted price at the start will be what you end up paying,’ says Steve.
‘The outlay has been high but we did not pay any more than the agreed price at the outset. As part of the new boiler price we now have breakdown cover included, which will cover any issues that might arise with the boiler.
‘That definitely gives us peace of mind. It is not something I had thought about before but I like the idea we can call and will have reputable tradespeople come out to help.’
There is nothing better than a roaring open fire on a cold day but regular maintenance of the chimney is essential.
There are around 30,000 chimney fires every year, according to professional trade body the National Association of Chimney Sweeps – and they are often caused because the chimney has not been swept.
Regular sweeping removes soot, birds’ nests, cobwebs and other blockages as well as creosote (the tar that builds up in the chimney), which will help to prevent dangerous chimney fires.
Not only is there a safety issue, but also insurers will not usually cover damage due to fire if the chimney had not been swept by a professional chimney sweep.
For more information and to find a chimney sweep in your area consider visiting nacs.org.uk.
Insurers will not usually cover damage due to fire if the chimney had not been swept
SORT THE GARDEN
Putting away the barbecue and the garden furniture is often one of the first signs summer is over. Autumn is a good time to sort out the garden and lock valuable items away securely – either in a shed or the garage. Clear guttering and prune overhanging tree branches which could cause damage to a home in a storm. Trim hedges and secure fences to deter thieves.
If you have made larger purchases over the summer – such as a new barbecue, garden heaters or furniture and power tools – it is advisable to check your insurance cover should they be damaged or stolen. The value of contents in the garden can run into thousands of pounds. Home insurer Aviva reports the average garden claim is more than £800.
Many household insurance policies will cover garden furniture and other items left outdoors, plus trees, plants and shrubs, sometimes as standard but more usually as an optional extra.
Be careful though as terms and conditions will vary widely between providers and there will be limits on the claim, typically at around £1,000 to £1,500 in total – and within this there will be individual item limits. There will usually be a range of exclusions, for example many policies will not cover flood and storm damage for items left in the garden.
Hannah Maundrell, of online comparison website money.co.uk, says: ‘Go through home insurance documents with a fine-tooth comb and be sure to ask about particularly valuable items that are not kept in the house.’
If you have expensive plants or particularly valuable items in the garden or outhouses speak to an independent insurance broker who can seek out specialist cover.
Find one through the British Insurance Brokers’ Association at biba.org.uk.
Check your energy bills – and switch to a cheaper supplier
Big savings: Sandra Coomber
With price rises from the Big Six suppliers kicking in and colder weather just around the corner, it is vital to review your energy bills – and the provider. Chances are you could make a big saving by switching ahead of the winter months.
Claire Osborne, energy expert at price comparison website uSwitch, says householders who have not switched for a few years are likely to make big savings – as much as £300 or more in the first year.
Osborne says: ‘With more than 50 suppliers in the market offering a range of deals, you can find one that suits your needs and can compare not just on price but other things such as customer service, whether they provide green energy and best fixed rates.’
She adds: ‘Whether you choose to go with a large supplier or one of the smaller, newer ones, make sure you are not rolled on to the supplier’s default standard tariff – these are normally the most expensive deals.’
It is important to supply regular meter readings – usually once every three months – to your energy company if you do not have a smart meter which can do this automatically.
Almost six million households never do so and it leads to around half of consumers receiving much higher bills when they finally submit a reading. Retired delivery drivers Sandra and Pete Coomber, both 70, first switched supplier five years ago from E.On to EDF and then again two years ago to First Utility.
The couple, who live in Bristol and have two children and four grandchildren, knew little about the company but the savings looked attractive.
‘We decided to go for a fixed tariff with First Utility for two years,’ says Sandra.
‘It was a bit of a leap in the dark as I didn’t know the company – it was not one of the big names I recognised.
‘But we are set to save almost £300 over two years. Switching is simple, the energy companies do all the work for you. The savings make a big difference to us.’
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online