The clocks are due to turn back one hour this weekend – meaning darker mornings and earlier sunsets.
It also indicates the official start of winter – so if you haven’t already prepared your home and car for the colder months, this weekend is the time to do so.
Making sure you turn back all your clocks by one hour, and also adjust the timers on your boiler, are jobs for Saturday night before you go to bed. But there are several other odd-jobs you really ought to consider doing this weekend to get ready for the onset of the winter months.
1. Burglar-proof your home
Darker evenings provide the perfect cover for opportunist thieves. And with the recession also fueling burglaries, homeowners should take action to protect their homes and belongings now.
Martyn Foulds, senior claims manager of home insurance at Halifax, says: "Most burglars are looking for an easy target, and the cover of darkness makes life simpler for them. It is not only the financial loss that we want to protect people from, but also the distress caused by knowing a stranger invaded the home.”
The best way to prevent being broken into in the first place is to deter burglars as much as possible.
If you haven’t already got a burglar alarm, then you should seriously consider investing in one that is British Standard approved. If possible, make sure the alarm can be seen from the road. “If an alarm is fixed in a prominent position, thieves are more inclined to move on,” says Darren Black, head of home insurance at Confused.com.
Security lights and gravel driveways are also both good deterrents, as they will alert you when people approach your home. Equally, a ‘beware the dog' sign might make thieves think twice about breaking in.
Foulds says properties with high walls, spiky railings and prickly bushes not only put many thieves off, but also make a get-away that little bit harder.
Black, meanwhile, recommends people keep their valuables out of sight so they can’t be spotted through windows.
You should also consider tidying away outside bins as these can provide a ‘leg up’ into your home.
Finally, check all the locks of your doors and windows are working properly and avoid keeping a spare key under a doormat – if it’s convenient for you, then chances are the thieves will think so too.
2. Check your insurance is up to date
While it’s important to protect your home as much as you can, burgarlies can still happen. To avoid any financial loss, you should ensure you have contents insurance that is suitable for your needs.
The recession has meant many people have cut back on protection such as contents insurance, but it can prove invaluable should you fall victim to thieves.
Contents insurance is available to both homeowners and renters, and can cover your possessions within your home from theft or accidental damage.
You can choose between a new-for-old policy, which will meet the replacement or repair cost of any stolen or damaged items, or an indemnity policy, which will replace exactly what was there before.
Black recommends people check the limits of specified items within their contents’ policies to ensure these reflect the value of your possessions and are adequate to cover this should you fall victim to thieves.
If you are broken into, contact the police as soon as you can in order to report the crime and receive an incident number. You should then call your insurer and pass this number on, plus as much detail as you can about what happened and any damage that may have occurred during the break-in.
3. Protect your boiler
You boiler breaking down in the middle of winter is the last thing you want, so take steps now – before it gets too cold – to ensure it's working properly. You should get your boiler serviced at least once a year by a CORGI registered gas professional.
Don’t forget to also check whether your boiler is covered under your home insurance. If it isn’t, then consider taking out stand-alone cover.
The cost of this type of policy will depend on the level of cover you need; factors to consider include what level of costs you want covered and whether you might require unlimited call-outs.
Bear in mind that most policies are subject to limitations such as an initial no-claims period.
4. Give your home a pre-winter make-over
If you’ve got some time this weekend, make an effort to give your property a bit of TLC. Clear leaves or other debris from your gutters and drain pipes to reduce the risk of blocks and overflow, and check the condition of the roof, keeping an eye out for broken tiles, cracks in the chimney or problems with the pointing.
While you’re at it, it’s worth carrying out a proper safety check on all your gas appliances, as well as chimneys and flues, for carbon monoxide leaks. You can hire a qualified technician to check your appliances for you, and it’s also worth paying for a carbon monoxide detector.
Gareth Kloet, head of utilities at confused.com, says: “As the cold weather kicks in, it’s good practice to make sure that you have an up-to-date gas safety certificate. This is a legal requirement in rental properties but should be considered essential for all households.”
Make sure that vents have not become clogged during the summer – check all your chimneys and flues are clear from overgrown vegetation, birds and wasps' nests, so emissions can escape.
5. Check your motor’s running
Fewer daylight hours - not to mention hazardous weather conditions - make driving in winter decidedly dangerous.
Grant Bather, spokesman for Virgin Money, says: "With the seasons changing, nights drawing in and driving conditions becoming hazardous, motorists should pay extra attention when driving and should make sure that they are equipped should they have an accident or breakdown."
He recommends drivers regularly check their fluid levels – this includes brake fluid, oil levels, coolant and screen wash. You should also ensure your tyres are in good condition and the pressure is in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Janet Connor, managing director at specialist insurer RIAS, says: “The darker conditions can make it difficult to judge both speed and distance, so by adjusting to the season and performing regular checks, motorists can avoid both accidents and financial headaches.”
Other car mantainance jobs on your checklist should include keeping your windscreens clean and clear, and ensuring any repairs needed to your car are carried out as soon as possible.
With car theft also rising in the winter months, make sure your car is properly fitted with an alarm and, where possible, parked off the road in a secure garage or driveway.