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Careless whispers: property experts warn on costs and dangers of ignoring your home’s cries for help this winter

From mysterious cracks in the ceiling to suspicious sooty black marks, three quarters of UK homeowners are currently perturbed by a ‘niggling feeling’ about something in their house or flat that they’ve not got around to fixing.

Failing to recognise these sorts of niggles as early warning signs that something was wrong has already left UK (owner-owned) households out of pocket to the tune of approximately £17 billion1, according to new Gas Safe Register research2. 50% of a study of 2,000 people who own homes, say that not acting when they got ‘that niggling feeling’ has ended up costing them more money in the long run than an early fix or maintenance would have – with the average outlay per homeowner estimated at £1,876, and with one in 20 (5%) having to fork out £5,000 or more.

Today, to launch its ‘Winter House Whispers’ campaign, Gas Safe Register - the UK’s official registration body for gas engineers and gas businesses, has assembled a crack team of the nation’s top ‘house whisperers’ including TV property expert, Martin Roberts, and Head of Which? Trusted Traders, Raj Kakar-Clayton, to help the nation better understand the risks to health, wealth and safety of letting niggling feelings fester. Martin explains:

 "If our homes could talk, what would they say to us about what they need? After 20 years in property, I’ve heard every shoulda, woulda, coulda going when it comes to regrets about dealing with niggles too late. The costs can be high financially if repairs or replacements are needed, but you can’t put a price on the health and safety of your family. If you have damp or mould in your home, you’re more likely to have respiratory problems, allergies or asthma. Whilst having unsafe gas appliances can, not only put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, they can leak gas and in some instances lead to fires and explosions. Learn to listen to your home.”

Leaky taps (named by 26%), draughty windows or doors (23%), clogged guttering (23%), cracks in walls (22%) and damp or mould (21%) are the nation’s top five most annoying niggles, costing on average between £900 and £1,900 to fix if not acted on early. Indeed, some of the most profound long-terms environmental and health risks arise from factors that can often be less obvious. For example, excess moisture in our homes can not only lead to a host of problems, which left untreated can incur irreparable damage affecting house values, but it has been known to exacerbate the symptoms of those who are suffering from asthma and in some severe case, long-term lung issues have also been known to occur.

The costliest niggles if left ignored, include rotting wooden decking (£3,344 average cost to fix left), lazy yellow flames on gas appliances (£3,250), black sooty marks or stains on/around gas appliances (£3,239), leaking pipes (£2,520) and boilers making rattling and banging sounds (£2,333). Lazy yellow cooker flames, rather than flames that are blue and crisp, and sooty marks or stains are definitive warning signs of unsafe gas appliances and – if left unchecked – can pose life-threatening risks such as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Yet, when quizzed on gas safety, Gas Safe Register’s research shows a lack of both awareness of the signs of unsafe gas appliances, as well as confidence on the right action to take on niggles relating to gas safety.  Just a third of homeowners feel confident about the right action to take on the niggles relating to unsafe gas appliances (such as lazy yellow flames, sooty black marks and excess condensation on windows). Similarly, only a third know that house fires can result from not having gas appliances safety checked on annual basis, and just under half correctly said that collapsing and developing nausea can also be the results of carbon monoxide poisoning from unsafe/unchecked gas appliances.  

Whilst when it comes to attitudes and behaviours concerning home maintenance, a quarter (25%) of homeowners would rather cut corners and avoid paying for expert help if there is an issue within their home, with nearly a third (29%) claiming they would rather try a DIY fix than seek the help of a qualified trades person.

Bob Kerr, Gas Services Director at Gas Safe Register says:

“With this campaign we want to help everyone become a house whisperer when it comes to their own home, to help them get to grips with what those niggling things they notice, but put out of their minds, might mean for their wealth, health and safety. This is of particular relevance to gas safety and is the reason why I encourage anyone who has gas appliances to book in their annual Gas Safety Check. As the temperatures continue to plunge, gas boilers in our homes are under more pressure than ever. And, although it may seem like a ‘niggle’ at the time, it’s always better to be Gas Safe Than Sorry. Getting it done will ensure your appliances are safe to use this Winter whilst - despite the initial outlay - also potentially having financial benefits.”

Raj Kakar-Clayton, Managing Director at Which? Trusted Traders, said:

“With the colder winter months truly starting to kick in, coupled with the rising costs of living and the energy crisis, keeping your boiler in check by way of a frequent service which usually cost close to a hundred pounds could reduce energy bills and the number of repairs. Less than half of the respondents realise it can have those benefits. However, if you find yourself at the mercy of a broken boiler, each call-out could end up costing you up to £200, and if a new one is needed, this could end up costing a homeowner thousands of pounds. We’d advise consumers to pay attention to the seemingly small problems, as in the long term they can  end up costing you more, in both time and money.”

Martin Roberts and Gas Safe Register’s House Whisperers’ golden rules for a healthy and happy home:

  1. Get clued up on which house niggles to prioritise and when – from the more urgent that if left unheard, can not only be a pain in your wallet, but could also put your health and safety at risk, through to those that are simply more cosmetic and less time sensitive.
  2. You shouldn’t cut corners when it comes to spending money in the short-term on things that can improve your health, wealth and safety in the long-term at home - house niggles will only become worse over time. Even if you think you may be saving in the short-term, niggles left unchecked and not addressed could mean you are forced to spend thousands of pounds in terms of renovations and repairs later down the line
  3. Use trade experts for jobs you're not confident with, and ALWAYS for ANY gas or electrical work- when it comes to home improvements, however big or small, it’s easy to get caught up in the aesthetics or keeping costs down and let home safety take a back seat. Before deciding to embark on any work, don't take on any DIY job you're not completely confident with and instead, rely on trade experts who have the right skills and are qualified to carry out the work safely and, in the case of gas, legally.
  4. Check gas appliances for warning signs that they are not working properly– such as lazy yellow flames instead of crisp blue ones, black marks or stains on or around the appliance and excess condensation in the room.
  5. Only use a Gas Safe registered engineer to fit, fix and service your gas appliances - you can find and check an engineer on our website or call 0800 408 5500.
  6. Have all your gas appliances regularly serviced and safety checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer annually.

1 Figure calculation:

  • There are 27.8 million households in the UK, according to latest ONS figures. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2020
  • Of which an average of 65% are owner occupied, equivalent to 18,070,000
  • Half of (nationally representative) homeowners surveyed by Gas Safe Register have ignored warning signs in their homes, and have ended up spending an average of £1,876 per homeowner on later repairs
  • Based on 50% of UK owner occupied homes, equivalent to 9,035,000, failing to recognise early warning signs of house niggles has cost UK households approximately by £17bn (£16,949,660,000)

2 Research conducted by 3Gem on behalf of the Gas Safe Register. 3Gem surveyed 2,000 nationally representative homeowners within the UK (aged 18+) in December 2021.

3 2021 W? survey of 153 Which? Trusted Trader heating engineers how much they would charge for a one-off service.

4 Less than half of respondents realise that servicing your gas appliances could in fact reduce energy bills (45%) and decrease the chance of needing repairs (47%).

5 According to Which? if a boiler is run to ruin and needs replacing, a new one can vary between £1,500 - £4,764.