Winter building maintenance tips

The most effective way to prevent winter property problems is really simple – do a bit of maintenance. In the article below, leading interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen gets together with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) to remind homeowners to get the basics right – and then have fun.

Laurence says: “Maintenance is too often the Cinderella of the property world. Yet together with good design, it is the most important factor affecting the quality of where we live. Many people place maintenance way down their list of property essentials, preferring to spend money on more immediately glamorous items.

“But there’s no point in buying a costly, luxurious carpet or rug for your bedroom, if two months later a leak caused by faulty roof tiles means you have to replace it. There is nothing stylish about damp! Preventive care is the best form of maintenance – it’s the least intrusive and, in the end, it’s the least expensive. Get the basics right – and then you can have fun!”

Each year SPAB promotes National Maintenance Week with the aim of helping homeowners throughout the UK with practical tips and advice on how to prepare their building to face the worst that winter can bring – regardless of the age of their property.

As Laurence explains: “The great irony is that if most of us spent a little time and money on some simple maintenance, in the long run we’d probably have more to spend on the, admittedly, exciting, creative and imaginative aspects of home ownership.”

The annual campaign is designed to promote awareness of the straightforward, economic and achievable maintenance steps that can be taken in autumn to stave off costly major faults and damage at a later date.

SPAB is Britain’s oldest conservation body fighting to save old buildings from decay and dereliction – having been founded in 1877 by none other than William Morris – who said: “Stave off decay by daily care.”

But it stresses that the message of National Maintenance Week is relevant to everyone who owns or cares for a property of any sort – whether it’s 500 years old or brand-new.

Water damage is a concern as winter rains approach. An annual cleaning of gutters and drains at roof and ground level can be much cheaper and less inconvenient than having to cope with a serious outbreak of dry rot in timber roof trusses and floorboards following years of neglect.

Spending 10 minutes outside on a rainy day checking the performance of gutters and drains can really make a difference. A few minutes spent clearing weeds and debris, or just a few pounds spent to mend a leaky gutter, can save many hundreds, and possibly thousands of pounds.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s 10 top tips for simple maintenance

  1. Look for blocked downpipes, best done during heavy rain when you can see water coming from leaky joints. In dry weather look for stained brickwork.
  2. Check ground-level gullies and drains are clear of debris like leaves, twigs and foreign objects – and have them cleaned if necessary.
  3. In autumn clear plants, leaves and silt from gutters, hopperheads, flat roofs and drainage channels. Have another go in the spring.
  4. Remove potentially damaging vegetation from behind downpipes by cutting back or removing the plant altogether.
  5. Use a hand mirror to look behind rainwater pipes for hidden splits and cracks in old cast iron and aluminium fixtures.
  6. Fit bird/leaf guards to the tops of soil pipes and rainwater outlets to prevent blockages.
  7. Have gutters re-fixed if they are sloping the wrong way or discharging water onto the wall. If sections are beyond repair, make sure that replacements are made of the same material as the originals (on older houses, this is sometimes lead, but more usually cast iron).
  8. Regular painting of cast iron is essential to prevent rust and to keep your property looking good.
  9. Don’t undertake routine maintenance work at high level unless you are accompanied and have suitable equipment. If in doubt always seek help from a professional.
  10. And finally- remember to take care at all times, wear protective gloves when necessary and never work at heights or use ladders if you are alone.