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The last few days have been a reminder that winter is well and truly here, with the temperature dropping and the country getting its first innings of both frost and snow. Even with energy bills on the rise, it's important to keep warm during this time of the year and make sure that your heating system is working properly. According to Government statistics, the 2012-13 winter period saw the largest excess mortality rate since 2008-09, with deaths coinciding with influenza, RSV and the cold weather.

The run-up to Christmas can be a busy time for plumbers and gas engineers, with consumers coming with all kinds of problems including broken down boilers and frozen pipes. For the tradespeople reading this it'll be good for business, but for the rest of us here is a few pieces of advice to keep away any unwanted costs as well as making sure your home stays warm.

The UK had a pretty good summer this year so it's likely that you haven't turned the heating on for a while, so it'll be good practice to check it regularly to make sure it's all in working order. Suddenly starting it up in a cold snap could result in it freezing up and potentially breaking down. Regular boiler checks by a professional plumber and gas engineer are important and should be done once a year, including servicing according to the manufacturer's instructions. Not doing so not only puts you at risk of forking out for repair costs, but in the case of gas boilers also puts you and your family at risk of possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

Another handy tip is to bleed your radiators. If you can feel cold patches on them it may be due to some air trapped inside that's blocking the system. It's easy to do and won't require the help of a plumber, but should that fail it might be blocked with something else. In this case the radiator might need a chemical flush and you will require a Gas Safe engineer to get the job done.

Most importantly, and this really goes for any sort of DIY maintenance work - KNOW YOUR LIMITS! If there's something you know that you can't do, don't try and do a botched job of it anyway as you'll end up having to pay even more to get it repaired properly.

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With plumbers and gas engineers needed more than ever during these winter months, now if the perfect time to qualify as a plumber and/or gas engineer with an intensive Access Training course. We not only offer comprehensive training for beginners, but also ACS reassessment to those needing to give their qualifications an update. To find out more contact one of our course advisers on 0800 345 7492.