Winter-proof your house: TV carpenter Walt Collins’ top tips

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 12 May 2020

Five simple tips for keeping your home and loved ones warm and dry this winter.

The coldest start to May in decades is a timely reminder that winter is on its way. And with more of us set to spend more time at home than usual in the coming months, it’s never been more important to make sure your home is as warm, dry and energy efficient as it can be. Carpenter Walt Collins, co-host of Channel 10’s Healthy Homes Australia and Buy to Build, says a few simple jobs that can easily be done in a weekend will not only keep you comfortable as the cold sets in, but will also save money off your heating bill. 

Carpenter cleaning out leaves from roof gutter

Walt’s five simple jobs to prep your home for winter

Dodge the draught 

When you heat your home, the hot air rises to the ceiling and cold air is drawn in from outside through cracks around windows and doors. That’s why you get cold feet (cold air sinks, hot air rises).

If you’re in a new home, chances are you’re pretty good for draughts, but once your home is more than 10 years old, those seals around your doors and windows start to degrade.

The easiest way to check for draughts is to hold a lit candle or a lighter up to a window frame, door jam or seal. If the flame flickers, there is a draught. 

Fixing this is simple. Most hardware stores sell draft excluder tape, a foam-based sticky tape which you can easily install down the length of the door jambs, around windows where they close and other areas where windows and doors meet the frames. This will dramatically reduce draughts. 

Another option is re-caulking along the exterior and interior of window and door frames. Often the old sealants have degraded, so you’ll need to scratch these out and then run a clean line of new caulking along and around the frames. There’s a bit of skill involved in caulking neatly, but a few YouTube tutorials will help you. 

Tradie’s tip: Start with door snakes and brushes if you want quick and immediate protection. Door snakes are a great idea and they come in some very cool designs. 

Watch out for: Be careful with excluder tape. There are varying thicknesses and widths, so check how tightly your door or windows seal before choosing the thickness.

Banish the damp

Winter can cause problems for both you and your home. Damp air can damage the structural integrity of timbers over the long term, as well as causing paint to bubble and plaster boards to bow. It can also lead to mould which is a health risk, especially for those with respiratory problems such as asthma. 

My number one rule as a home expert is good ventilation. You need clean, fresh and dry air in your home. When it’s sunny open a window and the front and back doors for an hour to let the air flow through.  

In terms of technology, I can’t live without a dehumidifier. It looks like a small heater, but pulls out the moisture from the air in your rooms and collects it in a built-in bucket which you empty. It will stop that musty smell in walk-in robes or spare rooms. Reputable brands are approved by the National Asthma Council of Australia’s Sensitive Choice program and carry a blue butterfly symbol.

Tradie’s tip: Ventilation is the key. If you think you have a damp problem ask a qualified builder to conduct an audit of the airflow in your home. You may need to get them to install under-house fans to increase airflow. 

Watch out for: Condensation on the inside of your windows, mould spores on bathroom walls and damp-smelling rooms are a sign you have a moisture problem. Don’t use bleach to clean it; you need mould-specific cleaning sprays like San-Air mould remover.

Add floor coverings

Over the past 10 to 20 years interior trends have been about timber or timber-effect floors. I’m guilty, I love floorboards. But in Victoria this can cause problems because it gets so cold. The ground temperature under your home plummets in winter and as you heat the house, cold damp air is drawn up through cracks in your floorboards. A concrete slab is better in this respect, but the concrete still acts like a big cooler under your floors. 

It’s easy to add a layer of insulation simply by laying out a rug on timber floors or tiles. In winter I’d be rolling out hallway runners, laying down lounge room rugs and even a large mat in the bathroom. Many people think carpets are old-fashioned, but a carpeted bedroom is so much cosier. 

Also consider blinds and curtains on your windows, as glass leaks heat which can end up costing you a fortune in heating. You might want to add thick layered curtains in winter and keep them drawn overnight. You’ll be surprised at the difference this makes to the temperature. 

Tradie’s tip: Sometimes it takes a few days of getting used to rugs on the floor if they’re new, so use tape to stick down the corners to stop initial curling, and watch your step. I’ve tripped over a new rug before, it’s easy to do.

Watch out for: Vacuum underneath your rugs twice a month to reduce the food supply for dust mites.

Install a carbon-monoxide detector 

If you have a gas heater or system at home you should also have a carbon-monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is a by-product of burning natural gas. It has no smell or colour so can build up undetected to potentially fatal levels. It only takes a small blockage in your heating system or an uncalibrated burn rate to have devastating effects.  

Carbon monoxide is invisible, it’s not true that an off-coloured flame is a clue. The only way to safely detect if you have a leak is with a carbon monoxide detector. There are several options on the market, from portable devices to permanent installation similar to smoke alarms. 

Tradie’s tip: According to Safe Work Australia the maximum recommended exposure to carbon monoxide gas measured over an eight-hour period is 30 parts per million. If your home monitor shows anything over 25ppm for a prolonged time call in a licensed tester and have your gas appliances serviced. It’s worth doing this every year if you have an older gas heater. 

Watch out for: If you ever feel dizzy or nauseous while your gas heater is on, it could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Immediately turn off the heater, open all the windows and doors, and seek medical help.  

Man draught-proofing door seal
Man sitting on chair reading book
Man kneeling down to look at dehumidifier

Clean out your gutters 

This is a horrible job but it needs to be done. At this time of year, the build-up of autumn leaves and other debris can block your gutters and downpipes so when it rains, water run-off from your roof backwashes under the roof tiles and into your wall cavity and roof space. The result is damp, mould, structural damage, and, of course, a leaky roof.  

But before you race up that ladder keep in mind that falls from ladders are a leading cause of hospital admission – particularly if you’re over 50. So be sure to get some help to hold the ladder steady while you’re up there, and if you’re over 50, it might be worth paying someone else to do the dirty work for you.  

Tradie’s tip: Run high-pressure water from your hose down the guttering and gutter pipes to help blast them clear.  

Watch out for: Ladder safety. For extra stability, it’s quite easy to remove a roof tile and tie the top rung of a ladder to the roof rafter. Look out for leaf and debris build-up in your roof valleys too.  

Need a helping hand around the home? RACV Home Trades and Services is there for you. From carpentry and electrical to plumbing and locksmiths, RACV Home Trades and Services can help you find the right tradie for the job.

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