Freezing conditions are set to hit the UK this week, with temperatures to plummet overnight, according to the latest reports.
After a relatively mild autumn, temperatures are due to take a dramatic downturn, marking the start of what forecasters are calling an ‘early winter’.
Data from British Gas reveals that as many people reach for the thermostat for the first time in months, the 2020 ‘Great British boiler switch-on’ is coming.
And after little to no use since last winter, over the next two weeks 109,000 households are expected to need help with getting their heating and hot water systems back up and running.
This will be one of the latest boiler switch on moments in five years, with it traditionally taking place by the second week of October.
British Gas fixes around 1.2 million boilers each winter, and the first cold snap is traditionally associated with a spike in demand for urgent engineer callouts.
People are being advised to prepare their homes now, to avoid being caught out when the cold weather arrives, and to ensure their heating and hot water systems can see them right through to next spring.
British Gas has warned this is particularly important while social distancing measures remain in place, to help its engineers prioritise emergency response cases and visits to vulnerable people who are most in need of support.
Hannah Hughes, a British Gas service and repair engineer, said: “Not every boiler will give up after taking the summer off, but even if yours seems fine, it’s a good idea to have it serviced and make sure it’s ready to withstand what’s to come.
“As well as looking after your boiler, making a few small changes around the home will help ensure your heating and hot water system is working at its best. A system that’s in good shape will keep you warmer for longer without using more energy than it needs – an important way to keep your bills down, at a time when more people are working and socialising at home.
“These are my top tips to help people stay warm, safe and energy-efficient in the home this winter. And remember, while it can be rewarding to resolve minor issues on your own, we’re here to step in if you’re ever uncertain – and we’re all taking the necessary safety precautions on home visits, including wearing full PPE.”
- Bleeding your radiators: When you haven’t used your heating for a while, air can enter the system and form bubbles at the top of your radiators, which stops them from working efficiently. If you notice cold spots at the top of your radiators, switch them off and after they cool, turn a radiator key in the valve at the top to let the air out. It’s worth having a rag or a small container to hand to catch any drips.
Don’t forget that bleeding your radiators may cause the system pressure to drop – you can spot this by checking the pressure gauge on your boiler, and it’s easy to top up if needed.
Cold spots at the bottom or in the middle of your radiators might mean you’ve got sludge building up – sorting this out is more complicated, and you might need to call an engineer to help flush out your system.
- Shutting out the cold: You wouldn’t leave the back door open when the heating’s on, but warm air could still be escaping without you realising – and cold air could be sneaking in! Draught excluders are available from most DIY stores, and they’re an easy and affordable way to draught-proof your home. As well as sealing the joins around your doors and windows, don’t overlook extra measures like letterbox brushes, chimney balloons and even keyhole coverings.
- Furnishing for warmth: Think about where your heat sources are, and make sure your radiators can do their job properly. Putting your sofa in front of a radiator may keep the best spot in the house extra toasty, but it will absorb heat that could be warming the rest of the room. Curtains and rugs have an important part to play as well – thick material (the thicker the better) prevents heat from being lost through windows and doors – just don’t forget to open your curtains during the day so that the sun can do some of the work!
- TLC for your boiler: In our experience, people often don’t give much thought to their boiler until something goes wrong with it. Your boiler is essential to keeping the household going, so it’s well worth looking after – and regular services can prevent problems from arising, full stop. For a regular monthly payment, British Gas’ HomeCare products provide ongoing maintenance, servicing and cover for breakdown or repairs, and include an annual boiler service as standard. To find out more, visit: www.britishgas.co.uk/homecare.
- Wrapping your pipes up warm: We often come across frozen condensate pipes – which don’t actually require specialist training to fix. The best solution is to stop the water inside your hot water pipes from freezing in the first place – water expands when it turns to ice, which can lead to burst or damaged pipes. Insulating materials are an easy, cost-effective solution, available from most DIY stores – if you keep your water system nice and cosy, it will do the same for you.
- Being energy smart: Unsurprisingly, winter is peak season for energy usage. Making the most of smart tech like thermostats means you can control your heating on the go and avoid wasting money on energy you’re not using. For example, if you’re stuck at work or delayed on the way home, you can use your smartphone to stop the heating from coming on too early and warming up an empty house. Also, if you have a smart meter installed, you can see how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence, helping you to identify where you can make savings. To find out more, visit: www.britishgas.co.uk/hive or www.britishgas.co.uk/smart.
- Installing a carbon monoxide detector: Faulty central heating systems are one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide in the home. You can’t hear it, see it, taste it or smell it, and it kills around 30 people a year – but fortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable. As well getting your boiler checked once a year, it’s essential to have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted. Available through British Gas or from your local DIY store, the detectors last between five and seven years, so check yours is in date and test it to make sure it’s working.
- Keeping everything ticking over: Like a car that hasn’t started for a while, your boiler can seize up if it’s not turned on for an extended period of time. It’s a good idea to run your central heating for at least an hour a day during the colder months – even if you’re going away – to make sure it keeps running smoothly. Check out the boiler manual to find out how to set the timer.
- Troubleshooting wisely: While there are plenty of simple fixes that you can make around the house, it’s important to know where to find trusted advice, and to recognise when you’ve reached your limit and need to call in the experts. Our Boiler Support service on Google Home and Google Nest devices is a great place to start – with clear and practical directions on offer, developed by engineers who do the job day in, day out. And new for this year, we’ve launched a digital advice service called Solved on Screen Live, where one of us will walk you through the process in real time.
- Getting the help you’re entitled to: It’s always worth finding out if you’re eligible for extra assistance with your energy bills, especially before the cold weather sets in. £140 winter rebates are available through the Warm Home Discount scheme, and face-to-face advice, financial support and grants are available from the British Gas Energy Trust (even if you’re not a British Gas customer).
British Gas YouTube videos showing customers how to winter-proof their homes can be viewed here.