Prepare for winter

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As temperatures plunge, homeowners are being urged to check their heating is working properly, after last year saw a huge increase in the number of people who had problems.

Between September and November 2011, when mean temperatures dropped by 6.7°C, the AA Home Emergency Response Service saw the number of customers with boiler problems more than double.

Between September 2011 and March 2012, problems with boilers accounted for around half of the home emergencies the AA responded to, peaking at 56% in November. That month saw the highest number of home emergencies throughout the entire 2011/12 winter, despite it being the second warmest November since records began.

Met Office data shows that last autumn’s mean temperature of 11.2°C was 2.1°C above average, with a particularly warm November, demonstrating that it doesn’t have to get unusually cold to cause problems in the home.

Homeowners can carroy out simple maintenance tasks to prepare their homes for the colder weather.

October is the month when people traditionally start to turn on their heating. Data shows that claims begin to increase from September to October, around the time the heating is usually switched on. Identifying any faults early means remedial work can be carried out before lower temperatures make heating indispensable.

If you haven’t already done so, turn your heating on for a few minutes each week to check it’s working properly.

Make sure that your pipes are properly insulated – this will help protect them from freezing in the winter.

If your pipes do freeze, thaw them out gently using hot water bottles or a hairdryer.

Keeping your heating on a constant, low heat throughout the day could reduce the chance of a breakdown and help maintain a consistent temperature.

Leave your loft hatch open slightly to allow warm air to circulate if you’re away.

Locate your main internal stopcock so you can switch it off in the event of an emergency. It is usually under the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters the building.