How to prepare your home for winter

Each year winter sneaks up on South Africans. With such a beautiful summer climate that lasts months on end, we’re often caught off guard when the weather suddenly changes, and the nights start drawing in. 

With our properties built for warmer climates; colder weather can see us shivering inside our own homes. Use this time before the rigors of winter set in to prepare your house properly; making sure you and your family will be safe; warm; and comfy during the coming chilly months.

1 Clean your gutter and waterproof your roof
If you live in an area with winter rainfall, the coming autumn weeks will require you to pay attention to your gutters. Clear the build-up of falling leaves and other debris to prevent gutters from getting clogged when the rainy weather starts. 

It’s also a good idea to get your roof inspected for leaks before the wet weather months, advises Alen Ribic, cofounder of SweepSouth, SA’s largest on-demand home services platform. If your area has low winter rainfall, use the coming dry months to waterproof your roof and repair areas that need fixing. “Roof maintenance is vital, as leaks collecting in your ceiling can cause support beams to rot and create unsightly water stains on ceilings,” he adds. 

2 Seal draughty openings

Make sure your home is well insulated to keep the heat inside and stop cold winter air from making its way through any gaps in window frames and doors. “A draughty house is expensive to heat and hard to keep cosy,” says Ribic. “Even a small draught can make a room a lot colder, so find and seal leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, there’s a leak.”

To spot smaller air leaks, especially around windows, hold a lit candle to the area – if the flame flickers, a draught is near. Add inexpensive weather seals to doors to draught-proof them and use acrylic sealant to fill small holes or cracks between window frames and the surrounding walls. 

3 Check ceiling insulation

Good insulation reduces the rate at which heat is lost from a house, which is significant if you consider that 25 percent of a home’s heat can be lost through the ceiling. “If a roof is well insulated, it will improve its efficiency, saving you money on heating bills in winter and helping your home stay cooler in summer by preventing hot hair from coming in,” says Ribic. 

A word of caution here – even if you’re an avid DIY-er, this is truly one area where it pays to get a professional in. Not only will they give you advice on what kind of insulation best suits the unique needs of your home, but they’re experts in handling the tricky job of installing ceiling insulation properly. If you have existing roof insulation, now is the time to have it checked for breaks, cracks, tears or other signs of age degradation.

4 Clean your fireplace

There’s nothing as cosy as a warm, crackling fire on a winter’s night — but before you spark up the first fire, make sure your fireplace and chimney or flue are in good working order. Whether gas, electric, or wood-burning, a poorly maintained fireplace can cause house fires or other dangers. Now is the time to schedule a professional to clean the chimney or flue of soot and any debris. They’ll also check the fireplace is in good working order and address any issues before they become hazardous.

5 Fix outdoor lights
Leaving for work early or arriving home after sunset? With winter evenings drawing in earlier and the sun coming up later, it will probably be dark outside when you do. Make sure that all outdoor lights are working so that your house has a well-lit exterior – a great security feature, especially on dark winter nights.

“A few solar lights around your property will ensure the exterior stays lit even during load-shedding,” says Ribic. Mount them along walkways to illuminate the route to your car, or on the wall outside your front door – and place the solar panels in a sunny location. If you’re good at DIY, mounting lights will be an easy task, but if you need help, find a trusted professional through an app like SweepSouth’s Connect, which lists reliable and rated professionals, like handymen, electricians, and plumbers in your area.

6 Quick fixes
Remember the fabric “sausage dogs” your gran placed in front of doors to prevent draughts? Adopt this trick from previous generations by sewing a long cylindrical tube shape out of fabric, then filling it with dry stuffing like uncooked rice or lentils. Rest it at the foot of any door that has a gap beneath it to stop heat from escaping or cold air coming in. Other quick ways to add warmth to your home are to swap sheer curtains for heavier, lined ones, and layer cold floors with rugs – bare floors contribute significantly to heat loss.

Do all you can to fix the problems that make your house feel cold during winter, concludes Ribic. “Not only will it greatly contribute to your overall feeling of wellbeing, but because heating home accounts for such a big part of a household’s energy consumption, you’ll be saving money and doing your bit for the planet, too.”

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