Winter breakdowns - how to avoid household repair bills

Caroline Cassidy

With soaring energy bills, the last thing most householders need in winter is an expensive repair bill. Cold weather and heavier usage can affect all kinds of utilities and appliances around the home, so if you want to avoid an emergency call-out, here's how to protect them.

Flooded carpet
Flooded carpet

Possibly the most important household item to keep running well is the boiler. Without it, most homes are without heat and hot water and with freezing temperatures predicted, it's essential to avoid a breakdown. Frozen gas flues can also give rise to a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide, which is to be avoided at all costs.

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In order to ensure that your boiler is in good order, an annual service is recommended as it will signal any potential problems and keep your boiler running more efficiently. You may also want to invest in boiler breakdown cover. This can start from as little as £11 a month, and since uSwitch estimated the average boiler repair bill last year was £280, it could be worth paying the extra if you can afford it. Check with your gas supplier to see whether they offer such a service.

Frozen pipes can cause serious damage to your home and will inevitably result in an emergency call-out bill, as ice will eventually cause the pipe to burst and thawed water will pour from any break that occurs. Not only are your home and its contents at risk if this should happen, but repairs can be a tricky business, sometimes requiring lawns, tarmac or paving to be torn up.

Therefore, taking care of all your pipes in winter is a must-do. The pipes themselves should be insulated, as should your water tank. Opening the loft door during very cold weather to let heat in will also help. Replace washers in dripping taps too, as frozen drips can quickly block the pipe.

If you plan on going away during the colder months, it's worth setting the heating to come on a couple of times a day or leaving it on very low in order to avoid a nasty surprise when you return, though most modern boilers have a frost protection device that automatically turns on when the temperature drops to a certain level.

With the likelihood of more waste and plant debris, drains are more likely to become blocked in the autumn and winter. Falling leaves can quickly build up, and the Christmas excess of fatty foods and the waste associated with them mean your home's drains are under more pressure than usual.

To help prevent the unpleasant problem of a blocked drain, remember to regularly clear leaves and other debris from gutters, gullies and grates, and avoid pouring cooking fat or grease down the sink, as it readily congeals in the pipes and causes a blockage. If your home is prone to blocked drains, it's worth calling out a reputable firm to thoroughly clean them before the harsh weather hits.
Kitchen appliances
There's no doubt modern technology has proved a boon in the kitchen, but throughout the winter months, household appliances such as tumble dryers and washing machines often have to endure a much heavier workload than during the summer. And at Christmas, it's likely the cooker, refrigerator and dishwasher are working overtime.

Since a broken washing machine or cooker is not something you want to contend with during the festive period, you may want to consider home appliance cover. For example, British Gas will insure kitchen appliances either individually or in discounted bundles, for which you get a 24/7 helpline and unlimited annual call outs. If you can afford the extra expense, and particularly if your kitchen appliances are no longer under warranty, it could save you a bundle.

When it comes to expensive household repairs, prevention is almost certainly better than cure, so get your house in order this winter.