Getting your home ready before the nights draw in
COLDER and darker, it’s time to take a look at some of the issues that may hit you a little harder during the winter months. If the pavement wobbles in front of the back door or the building coverage of the insurance company is significantly exceeded by the realities of the construction industry, there is still time to wrap yourself in sensible calm.
Whether you have an ASHP, biomass boiler, or fossil fuel central heating, it is time to bring the system up to typical working temperature for several hours to check from the boiler / pump end to the radiators and UFH. This does not eliminate the need for full annual or semi-annual professional service based on your fuel and system type. All chimneys and chimneys should be swept and examined before relying on Old Smokey in the long run. During our homeowner check-up, we look for anomalies, stains, smells, strange noises, and anything we can’t fix like a simple radiator bleed. What is the pressure like on each hot water meter?
Are all TRVs working on the radiators?
Check that the screws / pins are set exactly to the set temperatures. The pin may just need to be tapped securely with a screwdriver head. Intelligent controls (thermostats and app-controlled radiators) should now be put through their paces. Is there a monthly fee for cloud-based access to your heating app? A little baffled by your own technique? Download the PDF Guide to Your Smart Servants if you don’t have one. Order heating oil or liquefied petroleum gas now – the prices rise with falling degrees Celsius.
Sealed indoors from October to April, we often forget how stale the indoor air can actually be. If you are on the dangerous end of the spectrum, make sure your CO and smoke alarms have fresh batteries. Go through the minutes with a press check. You may have old trickle ventilation on windows or passive wall or floor ventilation in your rooms. Make sure they are open indoors. Then go outside and make sure their outlets are clean and not clogged with creepers or collected leaves. To improve every breath and reduce allergens and irritating particles – don’t smoke indoors, use your range hood to completely purify the air and change filters. Keep the door of your oven closed and only burn seasoned or oven-dried wood (20% moisture content).
Look for air purification devices that aim to remove the smallest of allergens and pollutants in the air.
Introduce air purifying equipment if necessary and finally damp dust and regularly use a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filtration. If you have controlled ventilation (MVHR) it should run year round with the windows normally closed. Make sure you perform scheduled filter changes. The extractor filter for the kitchen and family bathroom may need to be changed more often as these positions simply work harder. Typically, filters need to be changed every three to six months. Every old, technically starved house has quick ventilation. Put on a hoodie and open the windows wide to create cross air.
Even if you are emotionally weakened by the threat of a fee to break out of that annual contract, now is the time to pester your utility (electricity and gas). First, shop with a price comparison site like Bonkers. All you need is your metering point registration number (MPRN) and your gas station registration number (GPRN). You can find this on your current invoice. Find out on your bills how much energy you use and how much you are currently paying per year, before PSO / recurring fees and the annoying VAT.
Look for the best gas and electricity deal on a price comparison site like Bonkers. Image: iStock
After a year, your initial electricity and gas savings will usually revert to standard tariffs. According to the CRU, 50% of the switchers slide back. With up-to-date meter readings, prepare to seal the DD / paperless billing deal. Keep an eye out for new time-of-use tariff packages and boiler cover protection plans. 365 days of cold weather protection – most energy companies in Ireland offer this insurance every month at a small extra charge on your electricity bill.
Price walking is the latest (luckily under attack) bogey practice in the insurance industry. It’s about charging loyal customers for two years or more to stay with the insurer and simply renewing their policy year after year. A recent report by the Central Bank of Ireland with 3.2 million customers over three years found that loyal customers could pay up to 32% more for the same policy and risk profile as a new customer. This double pricing is requested in a number of ways and while the suits handle it, it’s another reason to look for the best deal. Not all insurers are represented on switching sites – try it directly (ccpc.ie)
If you haven’t looked at your home and home contents insurance and renew automatically, you can not only waste money but also go into a big shock with major damage. Read the policy carefully and note all exceptions and restrictions. You can sometimes get a discount if you have an alarm system or high security locks installed on your property. Do you know the difference between value and replacement cost? What is the deductible you have to pay in the event of a claim? If a tree hits the house this December, but the old oak has clearly been a threat for years – will the insurance pay off? Maintaining a safe standard for your home is implied in the fine print jargon that most of us skip over. The company can pay out after a flood, but does the policy cover emergency accommodation or is it also worth it?
From taking stock of our possessions to understanding how to document an event and when and when to make no claims (that claim history will add to your insurance renewal costs) – make sure you have more than one contract in mind. Have a personal plan. First and foremost, tenants should also take out insurance to protect their personal property, but this also includes personal liability.
Doors and windows are a major source of drafts, so start with focused controls and upgrades here. The slimmest standard for roof / roof insulation for your home is 300mm wide ceiling insulation just above the attic and hatch (cut to size as a “cap”).
There are grants for modernizing house insulation.
It’s terrible work, even for the nimble – sizzling, hot, bruises, dusty work under a swinging lightbulb. A professional job for a standard semi-finished product, including mineral wool and all the materials for an attic, can cost up to € 10 per m2 (not splashes or bats for rafters). The SEAI offers € 400 grant aid with additional help for those receiving certain social benefits (see their grant pages, seai.ie).
Some utilities, including Energia, will do a SEAI-backed upgrade of homes built before 2006, add additional savings, and even manage the mandatory BER assessment process for you. If you can cut construction tape, side foam lengths and foil insulation with scissors, you can insulate the associated piping in and around your hot water tank, boiler and water tank yourself. Follow an online primer and always wear safety glasses, a mask (don’t cry again) and protective gloves if necessary.