Property Briefing: the worst of winter isn't over

As the first snowdrops begin to appear we tend to think that spring is on its way.

With the nights getting lighter this week I’ve found that I can work through lunch to down tools at 5pm and walk the dog without resorting to the use of a head torch. It might only be a half hour’s walk at the moment but my plan is to lengthen it with the light so that by about March I’ll be super fit.

There is definitely a sniff of spring in the air. Early daffodils have been spotted and in the farm sheds that surround our house, indoor lambs are being born, although it is still too chilly for the outdoor births.

So it was disheartening to see a report this week from Direct Line warning that winter is not over, in quite bold terms.

Apparently, February is the peak month for boiler breakdowns and the insurance company warns that householders and landlords should not be complacent.


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There is no danger of that for us. Our boiler broke down twice in a week last month, so bobble hats indoors and hot water bottles up jumpers are familiar sights in our lives.

The report says that last February claims were up 163 per cent compared to the monthly average.

Last winter the insurer saw a 27 per cent increase in claims on broken down boilers compared to the previous year and, with the recent severe weather, this winter could see even more claims being made.

The average malfunctioning boiler costs almost £1,200 to fix, so Direct Line is advising owners that prevention is better than cure even if the outside temperature feels relatively mild.


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It says that keeping your heating on low is a good idea as sudden cold temperatures can freeze your boiler’s external condensate pipe which could cause your boiler to stop working.

Insulating the pipes can help too.

Bleed your radiators and most importantly, keep your boiler serviced.

Our house is ten years old this year, which seems to mean that there are a lot of breakdowns in appliances, whether they have been maintained or not.


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So when another press release, from residential building firm Qualitas, suggested that broken-plan living is this year’s key trend for interior design, I thought I could identify.

But the term refers, not to muddling through with an overhead light that only works intermittently or a non-functioning extractor fan, but to breaking up open-plan living by zoning different areas for cooking, studying or relaxing.

Those refurbishing or reconfiguring existing homes, or building from scratch, are tending away from a complete open-plan layout and shifting towards light, interconnected spaces and areas which offer peace, privacy and a sense of independence, particularly for families with older children.

Typically, the space includes distinct areas for cooking and eating, lounging and a snug or study to accommodate the activities of the modern household, including homeworkers and areas for technology.


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Broken plan can be achieved in several ways – changes in the level of the floor with steps, different ceiling heights, the use of glass to divide one area from another, half walls or moveable bookcases and wide doorways.

As a design idea for modern living, I can see the advantages.

But when your boiler gives up the ghost, smaller spaces and an electric heater rule.