‘The fastest way to lose money when you’re running a large country house is to have an inefficient central-heating system. To avoid warming up rooms that aren’t in use, fit all radiators with TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves), which can be fitted to most radiator types,’ says James Carter-Brown, head of building consultancy at Knight Frank (01488 688523). Thick curtains, window draught-proofing, secondary glazing or window shutters will reduce heating requirements.
It’s worth adding some anti-freeze chemical to your central heating system or fitting a frost thermostat to turn on the boiler whenever the air temperature falls below a minimum level, recommends the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. ‘And if you’re going to be away from the house, or you’ve just bought and are planning to start a refurbishment project, get a plumber in to drain down your heating system,’ adds Philip Eddell of Savills’ country-house consultancy (01635 277709). ‘You don’t want to come back to a burst pipe.’
Chimneys and flues
Schedule a visit from a HETAS-registered or equivalent approved sweep, and ensure that all chimneys and flues are in good shape. Any exposed flashing detail, whether it be on valley gutters, upstands or around chimneys, should also be carefully inspected. Don’t forget to bring inside lots of dry firewood and kindling for the log basket.
The winter of 2010 was extreme, and many houses suffered from water seeping in as a result of blocked overflows and valley gutters. ‘If your property has a complicated roof and parapets, consider the presence and location of trees and the prevailing winds,’ says Mr Carter-Brown. Clean all perimeter gutters and downpipes, and think about installing gutter guards if there are lots of trees in the area. ‘Mis-hit tennis balls are common causes of blocked gutters,’ adds Mr Eddell. Also, if you live near a road, ensure your drains aren’t blocked, or you might suffer from a sudden flash flood after heavy rainfall.
It’s very important to have someone inspect the condition of your oil-storage tank to ensure that both the tank and the fuel lines don’t become con-taminated over the winter months, advises Mr Carter-Brown. ‘Lots of low-density polyethylene double-bunded plastic tanks will deteriorate over time, and minor cracks and fissures can lead to water leaking in and damaging the quality of the fuel.’ This is particularly important if you have any water-coursing near the tank. ‘If your oil leaks into a stream, you’ll be in big trouble with the Environment Agency,’ warns Mr Eddell.
As your generator will have been gathering dust in the cellar since last winter, it’s a good idea to get it serviced in case power cuts strike during periods of bad weather. Equally, if there’s a sump pump or another device lurking down there, make sure that the servicing is up to date.
Conservatories and outbuildings
When was the last time that you checked the condition of the downpipes around these buildings? If you’re not going to use the space during the winter months, you should provide a consistent level of background heating (about 5˚). Consider moving statues and other garden ornaments into these spaces, as well as frost-sensitive plants.
These days, you’ll find a number of inexpensive but good-quality thermal insulation products in the shops. They range from the bagged insulation often referred to as ‘space blankets’ to semi-rigid batt insulation and traditional rockwool mineral-fibre-type insulation.
If a freeze looks likely to descend, be sure to address any repairs needed to damaged brick or stucco render. As soon as water seeps into any breaks, it not only penetrates the building fabric, but will also cause further damage if it then expands through freezing.
Watch out for any slipped or loose tiles, and ensure that all ridge tiles are correctly and adequately bedded.
‘Make sure your sensor-operated security lights all work, buy a bag of salt for slippery paths and have the game larder disinfected for fresh game deliveries,’ advises Mr Eddell.
National Maintenance Week runs from November 23 to 30
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