10 tips to avoid getting stung by the big freeze

The cold weather and snowy conditions set to affect most of the UK by the end of the week could cause massive problems for your home and car if you're not prepared.

Freezing conditions leading to burst pipes cost insurers £194 million in pay outs last December and January 2010 but according to Malcolm Cooper, pricing and underwriting director at Legal & General's general insurance business, many of the problems homeowners faced during last year's cold snap can be easily avoided with a little forward planning.

"Burst pipes can be a very stressful experience, especially during the winter months as it can mean extensive damage and no hot water. However, with a little preparation homeowners could be spared costly repair bills this year."

Steve Sweeney, head of car insurance at moneysupermarket.com, offers similar advice for looking after your car in winter. "Without doubt prevention is better than the cure so it's necessary to stress the importance of regular checks to your vehicle to avoid breaking down while on the road.


Here are Moneywise's top 10 things to do this winter

Your home

1. Check all pipes and water tanks are fully lagged. You shouldn't just do this to cold water pipes, in danger of freezing but also to hot water pipes and tanks. This will stop heat loss and save you around £35 a year according to the energy saving trust. A hot water jacket costs approximately £15 and £10 for pipe insulation. It's easy to fit your own tank jacket, although you might need to pay for professional fitters to lag hard–to–reach pipework.


2. Check your boiler is up to scratch. Ideally your boiler should be serviced once a year. This costs approximately £65. If your boiler is particularly old, it may make sense to invest in a new more energy efficient boiler. Boilers are ranked from A–G with A rated boilers being the most energy efficient.

3. Bleed radiators before it gets too cold. Your central heating system won't work properly if there are air bubbles in your radiator. Bleeding your radiators ensures they work to full capacity.

To do so, turn off your central heating system, find the bleed valve – usually a square shaped valve near the top – place a bowl underneath the bleed valve to catch any leaking water and insert a radiator key into the valve then slowly turn it anticlockwise. A quarter or half turn should be enough for the air to start escaping out with a hissing sound. When the water starts to dribble out all the air is gone. Tighten the valve as the water begins to flow.

4. Keep the heating on. If you are going away overnight leave the heating on a low setting in case the temperature drops. Keep the loft door open so that warm air circulates your pipes. If you're going away for longer and want to switch the heating off ask a friend or relative to check on your home and switch off the water supply at the mains.

5. Draught–proof your home. Fill any gaps between doors and windows with a sealant. Block gaps around the edge of your flooring too to stop heat escaping. Also check that your loft insulation is adequate. It should last 40 years but check it's still up to scratch if the insulation pre–dates you moving in. To install new insulation expect to pay approximately £250.

Your car

6. Keep a spare tyre in the boot. If you live in a more remote area, a spare tyre in the boot could get you on the move quicker in the event of a breakdown. Make sure it's still in good condition.

7. Keep regular checks. Check the oil level, anti–freeze, hazard lights and tyres for tread depth and pressure.

8. Charge the battery. Also ensure that your car battery is adequately charged. If you're not using your car regularly still start up the car and run it up to normal temperature to stop the battery going flat.

9. Be prepared. A torch, reflective triangle sign, high visability jacket and thermos flask are important if you have to make long journeys in severe weather conditions.

10. Scrape off snow and ice. Leaving you car under a blanket of snow will increase the chances of the locks freezing so scrape it off even if you're not planning to drive anywhere.