As winter fast approaches, our homes start to play tricks on us. The drop in temperatures, the absence of light and the very fact that we’re spending more time indoors all combine to make people feel less than comfortable at home. In fact, according to a study by property maintenance experts Aspect.co.uk, almost two thirds of UK residents say they feel ‘unsettled’ in their homes as winter approaches.
So what’s causing this mass sense of unease in the UK’s homes? Well, according to the research, it’s mainly to do with how homes behave during the change of seasons.
In the warmer months, we tend to spend more time outside and the time we spend inside is more likely to be enjoyed with the windows open, so any odd smells tend not to be as noticeable. Come winter, we’re inside more and the windows are less likely to be open, so not only do we notice smells more, but our home is more likely to suffer from them.
One of the most common causes is damp. This is down to poor ventilation, leaks or a combination of the two. Nick Bizley, a property maintenance expert and director of operations at Aspect.co.uk, says it can be tricky to isolate the specific cause of an odd smell due to the sheer variety of possible causes.
“Strange smells are a little harder to diagnose, because the potential causes are so varied. A constant ‘musty’ smell could be the result of damp conditions and the growth of mould caused by poor ventilation. This is more likely if it’s a room that gets less use and receives less natural light and fresh air from outside, such as a spare room or the loft. If the smell is more distinct, for example an unpleasant rotting or ammonia smell, it could be a sign of pests, such as mice. Blocked drains can cause a very strong and unpleasant smell too.”
Another source of winter confusion are the odd and unexplained noises our homes make. There’s often an innocent explanation. Common causes include timber contracting and expanding as the house warms and cools due to the dropping outside temperatures and the rising indoor temperatures when the heating comes on.
Plumbing can also be a source of strange sounds. If the water pressure isn’t quite right, the pipes can sometimes rattle in their fixings as water surges through the system to meet demand. This causes a knocking or tapping sound that can resonate around the entire home. According to the research by Aspect, this is most often heard in the bedroom. That’s because most people are in their bedrooms at the quietest times, away from other normal household sounds.
Nick says: ‘Knocking and tapping of pipes can happen anywhere in the home. The reason it’s probably more pronounced in bedrooms is because people are more aware of sounds when they’re trying to sleep and other sources of noise such as traffic and TV aren’t drowning them out. Pay attention to when you hear the knocking and tapping. If it happens as water is running, or just after the taps have been shut off, it could be linked to water pressure. When the pressure is too high, the water can move the pipes, causing them to knock against their fixings or each other. Always consult a plumber who specialises in heating and hot water when faced with pipe problems.”
This one is potentially more of a worry. Because we’re in our homes more and we use more appliances during winter, there is simply more demand on the circuits in the home. So any underlying problems can become compounded.
Participants in the Aspect.co.uk study reported flickering lights and sparking plug sockets among their assorted electrical problems.
Nick believes that kitchens are often worst hit when it comes to tricky electrics.
“Kitchens can suffer from electrical problems because that’s where there are lots of appliances that use a lot of electricity, such as kettles, microwaves, electric ovens/hobs/grills and toasters. If they’re all on at once a circuit could get overloaded and trip. The only advice I’ll give here is to call in a qualified electrician. If your light switches or plugs ever behave in any way they shouldn’t, for example sparking sockets or flickering lights, it’s a job for a professional. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a big problem, but I’d recommend that only qualified tradespeople should be working on electrics.”
Although it can be disconcerting, most of the tricks your home plays on your during the winter can be sorted with a little basic maintenance. In cases where electrics are involved, it’s always best to call in a professional, but even so, it might be a very simple problem to fix.