According to a study by a British property maintenance firm, 64% of people say their home makes them feel unsettled during winter.
Among the most common causes for this feeling were strange sounds, cold spots, odd smells and unpredictable electrics.
Although this may sound like there’s something spooky going on, most domestic complaints can be traced back to simple maintenance issues that have been left unattended.
For example, a lot of the strange sounds reported in the study were related to the changing temperatures. Timber framed homes often make some very ‘interesting’ groaning and creaking sounds. This is linked to the timber itself contracting and expanding as the home warms and cools more rapidly due to the use of central heating.
Knocking and banging sounds reported are often the result of water pressure that is too high. When the water pressure is too high, the water rushes through the pipes, causing them to knock or rattle free against their fixings. You can check your water pressure yourself by looking at the dial on the boiler. If that doesn’t shed any light on the problem, have a plumber take a look at your system.
Cold spots are another cause of concern. These are often caused by air leaks around window seals, doors or by gaps in the floor. You can check for air leaks by (carefully, and taking great care not to avoid flammable materials like curtains) holding a flame from a candle or lighter near the suspected source of leak. If the flame flickers, that’s a good sign you’ve got an air leak.
Nick Bizley is director of operations at Aspect, the property maintenance company who conducted the research. Nick says “It’s certainly that time of year when our homes start to cause us problems. For example, electrics like lighting and electric heating are being used more and people are starting to use their central heating after several months of no use, so there’s more demand on the home’s appliances and systems.
“Plus, the nights are drawing in and the weather’s getting colder. This can highlight certain problems around the home, especially as households start using their heating more frequently. And when you add the unsettling tapping, knocking and creaking sounds, cold spots and strange smells, it’s no wonder a lot of people are complaining of ‘spooky’ phenomena making them unsettled.
“However, most of the things that can make a home feel like this can be explained quite rationally and fixed if necessary. Knocking and banging from pipes, especially after taps have been shut off, is most likely due to high water pressure. It could also be due to the build-up of magnetite (a dark sludge) in a central heating system. “And there are a number of explanations for rooms, or specific parts of rooms, that always seem chilly. Radiators that need bleeding, draughts and poor insulation can all cause this to happen.
“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.”