Now that the day light hours are shortening and the leaves on the trees starting to fall, home-owners’ thoughts naturally turn to the prospect of re-starting the central heating system.
The temptation can often be to delay the switch on for as long as possible to save money. Some home-owners may consider waiting until a good early morning frost makes the prospect of getting out of a warm bed so un-appealing that turning on the heating remains the only option.
However, leaving the central heating switch-on until winter starts to bite can leave home-owners vulnerable to unexpected problems with the system at a time when the heating is needed the most.
There is much to recommend planning a schedule of maintenance and service procedures well in advance of the first cold snap.
Although not obligatory for home-owners, an annual boiler service may be a condition of a boiler warranty agreement. Autumn is good time to get the Gas Safe registered engineer out to service and check over the boiler.
Some boiler checks can be undertaken regularly by the householder, such as checking for a crisp blue pilot light if the boiler has one. Maintaining an adequate boiler operating pressure of around 1.5 bar can be achieved by activating the valves at the base of the boiler. It is important to turn these valves off again once the pressure dial on the boiler reads the correct operating pressure.
Starting up the central heating well before the first frosts are expected will help to identify other problems that may appear after the summer of inactivity.
Thermostats and timers will need re-setting to account for winter conditions.
Electrical components may need turning on at isolation switches.
Occasionally pumps that have been inactive for a period may need the gentle persuasion of a sharp tap with a hammer to dislodge resistance caused by debris.
During first operation, radiators should be carefully checked by running a hand over them. Radiators that are cold at the top may need bleeding. Radiators that feel cold to the touch at the base may have developed an accumulation of sludge and debris.
When the central heating is not operating during the summer months, particles normally held in suspension in circulating radiator fluids, settle out and congregate at the bottom of pumps, pipes and radiators. These generally need removing by power flushing. Regular power flushing will help to prevent this seasonal problem.
Now is also a good time to check the mains water stopcock to ensure that if a winter water emergency arises, the stopcock is free and easy to operate.
Checking the insulation on an external condensate draining pipe of a gas condensing boiler is an absolute necessity. Any deteriorated insulation lagging should be replaced. A frozen condensate pipe will prevent a condensing boiler from operating.
Around the home, other early winter precautionary checks can prevent problems during the colder months.
One of the benefits of good home insulation is that domestic accommodation has benefited by preventing warm air from escaping via drafts and by conduction through walls, floors and roof spaces.
This, however, can create other problems that now need addressing.
Many water service pipes run up into the loft spaces to facilitate good gravity feed to outlets. These pipes are often located above the generous loft insulation layer and if not properly insulated they are vulnerable to frost damage. A burst pipe in the loft can cause horrendous damage to property and contents. The lagging on these pipes should be checked annually, as should the lagging and insulating jackets on water storage tanks that may also be located in the loft.
With home insulation comes a problem with condensation. Autumn is a good time to check that external air vents are not obstructed with leaves and other debris. Air vents in bathrooms should be checked for blocked meshes. Some windows have mesh ventilation panels, or trickle vents, incorporated into the frames. These panels should be in the open position for winter and the mesh clear of debris.
External drain pipe-work that facilitates drainage from washing machines and dishwashers should be checked for blockages and insulated. Blockages in theses pipes caused by frost or debris can result in the appliances pumping drainage water into their surroundings causing considerable water damage.
External taps and water pipe-work should be either drained if they are not likely to be used, or sufficiently insulated against frost.
Although installing double-glazing is a good insulation practice, some period properties are unable to install it due to listing or other practical considerations. In any property without double-glazing, thick heavy curtains, specifically made for winter use can replace light, airy summer ones. Such winter curtains are very efficient at insulating cold windows and reducing cold drafts.
Do not forget to check the working operation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Fitting new batteries annually where required and replacing the appliances in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations, usually every five to ten years.
It can be a good idea to keep a list of emergency plumbing and heating contact telephone numbers at hand, perhaps pinned to the kitchen wall.
It is also good practice to ensure an emergency back-up of torches, electric heating appliances, tinned foodstuffs and a fully charged mobile phone are available should the need arise.
By adopting a pre-winter routine check and review of precautions, and the early trial running of appliances, the household can eliminate most of the potential problems before they occur.
This can prevent considerable distress and damage from emergency situations that could easily be avoided.