John Riha and Stacy Gilliam Preventive maintenance is crucial to the value of your home. Keep your place in tiptop shape with regular check-ups to save you the headache and cost
Get Ready For Winter Essential Tips To Make It Through The Colder Months
We have compiled the best advice to ready yourself for the winter months from planning a holiday to staying safe, fit and healthy
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A sharp haw frost in GloucestershirePhoto: ALAMY
7:00AM GMT 19 Nov 2013
Get your kitchen winter-ready
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It’s time to clear the remnants of warmer times from the kitchen – all those half-empty bottles of salad dressing in the fridge, un-eaten ice lollies in the freezer – and begin stocking up with more comforting staples. Hearty stews and one-pots are the order of the day, so buy pulses for the cupboard and make sure you’ve got plenty of cheap cuts of meat in the freezer – slow cooking means you don’t need to spend your money on expensive meat, and it’ll save you a trip to the supermarket on an icy winter day. Rearrange your herbs and spices so the more winter-friendly flavorings, like cumin or cinnamon, are closer at hand.
If you have a slow cooker, now’s the time to dust it down and perhaps bring it back onto the kitchen worktop if there's room. Casserole dishes should be easily accessible at the front of your cupboard: salad spinners and their ilk can be moved further back. Finally, have a dig through your recipe file and make a note of any winter warmers you particularly want to cook. To start you off, try a few of our tried-and-tested Telegraph recipes to see you through to spring.
Slow Cookers at Telegraph Shop.
Winter-proof your home
The cold, wind and rain can do serious damage to houses, as well as costing you a small fortune in heating bills. With a few preventive measures however, you can ensure your home is fighting fit for winter.
First, take a look at the outside of your property. Make sure there are no loose or missing roof tiles or cracks in the walls, that your drains are clear and working, that your TV aerial is firmly fixed, and that your guttering isn’t leaking or broken. You might also want to trim any nearby trees or branches that could cause damage if they fell.
Make sure your gutters are free of leaves (ALAMY)
Next, make sure the inside is as warm as it can be. Bleed the radiators if you need to, fit draught excluders, and make sure your loft and wall cavities are well-insulated. Lag your pipes and water tanks – this can also prevent pipes from bursting.
It’s a good idea to have your boiler served by an engineer – a broken boiler in winter can be expensive to fix – and check your insurance policy, to make sure you are protected for the full range of winter emergencies.
Get the garden ready for spring
Ready or not, real winter temperatures will transform your garden, killing off the last green sappy growth and sending most plants into dormancy. However, there are many useful – and, on a fine dry, day – enjoyable chores that will help the garden off to a flying start in spring.
Give the lawn one last mow with blades on a high setting and trim the lawn edges. This will keep it looking neat for longer.
Plant some tulip bulbs in borders or pots for a colourful spring show
Make a simple enclosure out of a sheet of chickenwire anchored around three or four posts and pile it full with fallen leaves (mow over them first to chop them smaller and speed decomposition). Or stuff leaves into strong black bin liners and leave them behind the shed. The resulting leafmould makes the best soil improver for next year.
Prepare for spring by planting some bulbs in containers (ALAMY)
If you live in a cold area and tender plants such as dahlias don’t make it through the winter, now is your last chance to lift and store the tubers in a cool, dry place.
Many plants in the herbaceous border will be skeletal seedheads - leave as many as you can for wildlife to forage. Hang up bird feeders and keep bird baths filled with clean water - birds will flock to them once natural food sources start to dwindle.
Mulch bare soil with garden compost or leafmould if you have it. If not, order in bulk online - look for organic cow manure, Strulch (organic chopped straw) or bark.
Weeds have grown fast in the mild conditions, but they will slow down once temperatures drop. Thoroughly weed your veg patch now and it should stay reasonably clear through the winter.
Up your beauty regime
Layering shouldn’t just be confined to your winter wardrobe it should be applied to your cold weather cream regime too.
Skin needs extra hydration and repair right now and the only way to weatherproof your skin is to up the ante by investing in active serums full of plumping peptides, anti-oxidants and vitamins.
Winter skin needs a bit more pamering (ALAMY)
Over the top use a richer in texture cream to seal and protect skin, susceptible to barrier damage during the colder months – remembering your day cream still needs a UV filter come winter.
Keep safe in your car
Many of the 7,700 rescues by the AA to cars stuck in ice, snow or mud last winter would have been avoided if the cars had been fitted with winter tyres, which are designed to generate optimum grip below 7 degrees C. A 4x4 on regular tyres won't be of much use in snow, whereas a regular family hatchback fitted with these cold weather tyres will be safer, with improved grip and braking capability.
Despite the outlay - it's easiest to have a set on separate wheels, rather than swapping just the tyres - winter tyres are a worthwhile investment, especially for those in rural locations. They are a legal requirement in countries such as Germany, where winters are usually far more harsh than in the UK.
It's easy to check your lights, wiper blades, coolant and screenwash, but the component most likely to fail in cold weather is the battery. Get yours checked - and if it needs replacing, make sure you don't pay over the odds in desperation.
Even with the right tyres, there's still a chance of becoming stranded. Equip your car with a hi-vis vest, a folding snow shovel, a foil blanket and a bright torch (with new batteries, naturally). Most motoring organisations and suppliers sell them, but it's much cheaper to assemble your own.
Get the AA Winter Car Kit from Telegraph Shop
Also make sure there's plenty of fuel in the tank and that your phone is fully charged. It's also worth carrying warm clothing or a blanket, as well as high-energy snacks. Hopefully you'll never need them, but you'll be extremely glad to have them if you get stuck in a snowdrift.
Winter driving tips
- When driving in snow, get your speed right – not too fast that you risk losing control, but not so slow that you risk losing momentum
- Start gently from stationary, avoiding high revs. Stay in a higher gear for better control, and if it is slippery, in a manual car move off in a higher gear, rather than using first
- If you get yourself into a skid the main thing to remember is to take your foot off the pedals and steer
- Only use the brake if you cannot steer out of trouble. Double or even triple your normal stopping distance from the vehicle in front so you are not relying on your brakes to be able to stop
- It's better to think ahead as you drive to keep moving, even if it is at walking pace
- Plan your journey around busier roads as they are more likely to have been gritted
- Slow down before you get to bends, so that by the time you turn the steering wheel you have already lost enough speed
- On a downhill slope get your speed low before you start the descent, and do not let it build up – it is much easier to keep it low than to try and slow down once things get slippery
Find winter sun
Where to go
First question, of course, is where to go to make sure you get sunshine. The Caribbean is one obvious destination, with temperatures hovering around an idyllic mid 80s Fahrenheit at the moment. How about Antigua, with its gentle sea breeze, or Barbados, where the sea temperature means you won’t have to hold your breath as you walk into the water? It’s a celebrity favourite: you can find more high-profile winter sun endorsements here.
The Caribbean provides the perfect antidote to the British winter (ALAMY)
Dubai too is ideal at the moment: get there now before the spectacular desert city starts to get uncomfortable hot.
High summer is now approaching in South Africa, one of the more attractive long-haul destinations for a shorter break due to its sympathetic time difference.
Closer to home, Marrakesh winter temperatures often hit 65F, while Lanzarote in the Canary Islands has virtually no rain, and some very pleasant temperatures at the moment. The warmest and driest part is Playa Blanca on the southern tip.
Want to combine the beach with some more active options? Our experts also have advice on the best places for walking during these dark winter months.
Here’s our full guide to winter destinations with guaranteed sunshine.
Also see our experts’ advice on winter sun destinations with character.
How to get a good deal
Next step is to ensure you get a good deal. Earlier this month, we published advice on winter sun holidays on a budget including Cuba, “one of the cheapest Caribbean islands”.
Even if you haven’t booked anything yet, there is no need for concern. Nick Trend, Telegraph Travel’s consumer expert is optimistic about the prospect of finding a good-value trip to the sunshine.
He writes: “The best bargains are to be had for travel between now and the week before Christmas, when demand is low, airfares are good value and resorts all around the world are quiet.”
Read his full advice on how to book a late deal here.
Telegraph deals and offers
Make sure too you check Telegraph Travel’s late deals and offers page; we publish news of all the latest discounts and new tours that land in our inbox here.
Telegraph Travel hand-picked also has some exclusive rates on luxury accommodation.
Stay fit and healthy
A strong immune system will reduce your chances of catching a common cold. According to nutritionist and author Dale Pinnock, boosting your levels of the mineral zinc (which is abundant in seafood and pumpkin seeds), can improve your chances of staying healthy. “Men in particular tend to be low in zinc,” Pinnock says, “as their bodies require much more than women to function properly. Make sure you keep your zinc intake at a healthy level and your body should be in a good state to combat illness over winter.”
Pinnock points out that there is increasing evidence of a strong relationship between gut fauna (the bacteria in our digestive systems) and our immune systems. “Keep your gut fauna strong and the rest of the body should follow suit,” he says. Pinnock advises steering clear of probiotic yoghurts (“they are packed with sugar and additives”) and eating plenty of prebiotic foods (“foods that contain compounds that act as a food source for the good bacteria in your system”), such as leeks, sweet potatoes, garlic and leafy greens.
Leeks and greens are natural prebiotics (ALAMY)
In the colder, darker months, our natural supply of vitamin D can diminish too, Pinnock says. This nutrient is needed to activate our T cells - the immune system's killer cells - and it can be topped up with foods such as milk and cheddar cheese. “Just keep away from the lower fat stuff,” Pinnock adds.
Browse the Winter Essentials at the Telegraph Shop.