How to prepare your home for winter

Winter brings a range of safety hazards and considerations specific to the colder months. These easy tips will help you survive the winter months in comfort and may even save you money.

As well as implementing a range of free or cost-effective ways to improve the safety of your home during the next few months, you may also discover ways to make savings on your gas and electricity bills.

Did you know that house fires are more common in the colder months than at any other time of year?

Help reduce the risk of house fires
Did you know that house fires are more common in the colder months than at any other time of year? Despite this, research published by the Country Fire Authority suggests that only 45 per cent of houses attended by fire services had smoke alarms and of those, 31 per cent were not working.

“Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and batteries should be replaced on a yearly basis,” Aaron Flavell, General Manager Home Services at RACV says. “Every home needs a smoke alarm in working order at all times of the year, but it is especially crucial in winter when house fires are a major hazard.”

Aaron recommends gas heater systems be professionally serviced every two years to test for carbon monoxide.

If you have a fireplace, ensure your chimney is inspected and cleaned before you begin using it in winter. The build-up can prove a fire hazard. “It is also a good idea to stock up on firewood before winter arrives – some companies will even deliver directly to your door,” adds Aaron.

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Ensure potential fire hazards are inspected and that smoke alarms are tested monthly

Safety tips in the home
Winter is a time when you are likely to dust off electrical items you only use at certain times of the year, such as wall heaters and electric blankets. “It is important to test these electrical items to make sure they are not faulty, as malfunctioning electric blankets and heaters can cause electric shocks, overheat and potentially be fatal,” says Aaron.

An easy way to test an electric blanket is to check that it is heating evenly across the entire surface. If this is not the case and there are any hot spots or discolouration, the electric blanket should not be used.

“Also keep an eye out for frayed or damaged cords on electric blankets or heaters and ensure that items with these are immediately discarded,” Aaron advises.

Portable and space heaters should always be kept a reasonable distance away from flammable items such as clothes, furniture and curtains.

“It is also important to ensure children and pets are supervised when they are in the same room as a fireplace or heater – never leave them unattended.”

Energy-efficient heating
If you’re in the market for a new heater or heating system, there are several things to look out for, Davyn Edwards, General Manager at Club Home Response says.

Top of the list should be the energy efficiency of the appliance, which will have a  significant bearing on your power bill. “At this stage gas appliances are still a lot cheaper to run than electric units,” Davyn says.

For gas ducted heating and gas room heating systems, keep an eye out for energy ratings of at least four stars.

“The higher the star rating, the more expensive the unit is to buy, but given these appliances generally last for 15 years or more, it is worth spending that little bit extra on the initial purchase,” Davyn adds.

Electric in-slab heating is good for people with allergies or asthma because it does not circulate dust, pollen or other allergens. However, it is also the most expensive central heating system to run. If you have an in-slab system, keep the thermostat at no higher than 18 degrees. Each degree higher can add between 5 per cent and 10 per cent to the running cost of the system.

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You can save on your power bill by choosing more energy efficient units

Other ways to save
Almost 40 per cent of a household’s annual power usage happens during winter, but there are some easy things you can do around the home to help combat the rising bills. Aaron Flavell, General Manager Home Services at RACV, says making the heater the last resort can have a big impact. “In winter, you should be prepared to rug up and wear warm clothes at home instead of instantly flicking on the heater,” he says.

Aaron also recommends checking that window and door sills are functioning correctly to stop cold air from entering the house. A simple door snake, easy to make or buy, can keep you cosy inside and seal the home from chilly draughts.

You don’t want to miss out on hot showers during winter, and your plumber can check your water heater to ensure it is working correctly. If so, make sure the family allows at least 10 minutes between showers (if possible), to maintain hot water and the right pressure.

Other ways to save on your power bills include switching incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient LED bulbs, investing in energy-saving power boards for rooms with multiple appliances and turning TVs and computers off instead of leaving them in stand-by mode when not in use.

Aaron says homeowners should be particularly wary of leaving video game consoles on stand-by, and adds that up to 80 per cent of energy demand from consoles is used to preserve network connection when the system is on stand-by.

What are your best tips for surviving winter and saving money? Join the conversation below.