Warming Your Home Safely This Winter

Monday, 12 December 2016

Very few people would admit to liking cold weather. Many of us prefer to be inside our cosy homes when it’s cold, wet or windy outside- this is particularly true for older people who are more vulnerable to cold temperatures.

The charity Age UK says that one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold1. Chilly homes pose a health risk as low temperatures make people more susceptible to flu, breathing problems and elevated blood pressure. A body adjusting more slowly to the temperature difference between the outside and indoors can contribute to increased heart attacks in the winter2.

Age UK recommends that bedrooms should be maintained at 18 degrees centigrade (64 Keeping your home warmdegrees Fahrenheit) and living rooms should be kept at 21 degrees centigrade (70 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to stay optimally warm.

Certain people of mature years are eligible to receiving various government grants and help3 towards their winter energy bills, such as the one-off Winter Fuel Payment for anyone born on or before January 5th 1953, one-off Cold Weather Payments for people on specific benefits, or the Warm Home Discount Scheme of £140.

Typical primary sources of heat

Most people in the UK, whether living on their own, as a couple or with a large family, will warm their homes safely this winter by conventional means such as:

  • Central heating systems comprising of a boiler, radiators and typically a thermostat allowing the occupant to alter the temperature to suit their needs. Some energy providers now even provide smartphone apps for the remote control of central heating, enabling customers to ensure their properties will be warm when they return. Central heating warms a home quite quickly but replacement boilers are relatively expensive and heavy usage can prove costly on monthly bills.

  • Electric storage heaters are the second-most common source of heat for UK homes without central heating, according to the Energy Saving Trust4. They operate by heating up using cheaper overnight off-peak electricity, and then radiating the heat in the daytime. Electric storage heating is often found to be more expensive, doesn’t provide as much user control as radiator or wall thermostats do and emits more CO2.


Secondary heat sources

Some householders with central heating or electric storage heaters may need to rely on supplementary heat sources during cold winters, particularly if they are older in years and feel the cold more readily. Typical means of heating one particular room include:

  • Portable heaters which can be electric and use fans, oil, convection or panels, or be fuelled by gas or halogen. More expensive and best relied on as a backup measure, there is also a fire risk associated with portable heaters, especially if they’re left unattended. Between 2009/10 and 2014, they were responsible for 73 deaths and 3,800 fires in the UK5.

  • Wood burning, multi-fuel and wood pellet stoves are trendy at the moment, forming attractive focal points and, of course, heat sources, in homes throughout the country. Suitability depends on each property, with stoves typically putting out a lot of heat but requiring storage space for the wood logs. Ash is also produced which will need removing periodically. Wood pellet stoves are commonly more expensive but work more efficiently6.

  • Open fires look beautiful particularly in larger properties and can generate substantial heat. Nevertheless, they require a reliable source of fuel and can pose a safety risk for pets and young children who may come into contact with the flames.

  • Gas fires are very popular secondary heat sources in homes across the UK and have a stylish appearance without the need to physically fuel and clean them. It’s important to get them regularly serviced, though, as in excess of 260 people aged 65 and over become poorly each year due to faulty domestic gas appliances. The Health and Safety Executive also reports that half of the gas fires it checked were found to be dangerous7.

  • Electric blankets are a fantastic way of ensuring that the bed is toasty but should ideally be replaced every 10 years and safety precautions should be taken such as not getting them wet and only leaving them on overnight if thermostatic controls are fitted8.


Alternative and unusual ways to warm your home safely this winter

With the purchase of festive food and gifts leaving many having to be extra careful over their domestic bills, some excellent alternative suggestions can be considered for keeping warm, such as:

  • Close the curtains when it’s dark, particularly if they’re of a thick quality, as this helps keep heat inside. Open them again when it’s light, to let daylight do its bit 

  • Buy a chimney balloon, which prevents cold air from entering via an unused chimney, whilst stopping heat escaping up the hole

  • Identify and reduce draughts, such as around letterboxes, keyholes and doors9

  • Radiators work better if they’re liberated, not hidden by furniture such as dressers or settees

  • Doors should be closed if a room isn’t being used, to keep heat where it’s wanted

  • Bare floorboards can be partly covered by cheap rugs or throws

  • Tin foil can be put on the walls behind radiators, so that otherwise lost heat is reflected back into the room10

If you don’t currently pay for a boiler servicing and repair plan or intend to use portable heaters, it’s always a good idea to read through your home insurance policy documentation to remind yourself what is and isn’t covered, along with your safety responsibilities. By planning and acting in advance, rearranging furniture and taking other steps to make the property more efficient, it’s possible to warm a home safely in the winter without it proving overly expensive.


1. http://www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing/keeping-your-body-healthy/winter-wrapped-up/winter-health-resources/

2. http://www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing/keeping-your-body-healthy/winter-wrapped-up/keeping-warm/

3. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/get-help-paying-your-bills/grants-and-benefits-to-help-you-pay-your-energy-bills/

4. http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-energy-efficiency/heating-and-hot-water

5. http://ageuklondonopinionexchange.org.uk/playing-with-fire-older-people-at-risk-from-incorrect-use-of-portable-heaters/

6. http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/wood-burning-stoves/article/wood-burning-stoves/multi-fuel-stoves-vs-wood-burning-stoves

7. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/711943/Action-to-cut-toll-of-deadly-gas-fires

8. http://www.fireservice.co.uk/safety/electric-blankets

9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24757144

10. http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/personal-finance/10-ways-keep-warm-save-4602593

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