Biting cold, lying snow and strong winds bring the threat of damage to property and possessions and put home insurance under severe scrutiny. So while children and the young at heart will relish the opportunity to engage in some snow play, householders need to be on their guard against frozen and, ultimately, burst pipes, and the threat to roofs and gutters from heavy accumulations.
In 2011, Lloyds TSB Home Insurance alone handled 26,500 burst and frozen pipe claims, which cost more than £39 million to put right. So if disaster hasn't struck yet, now's the time to act to protect your property.
Naked or exposed pipes will easily freeze when temperatures plummet or heavy snow covers them, but insulation will minimise the chances of freezing and bursting.
The tactic is to wrap them p with strips of insulation, taking care not to miss out bends or hard-to-get-at pipes and paying particular attention to joints. Your local DIY shop will have a selection of easy-to-use pipe insulation materials, which you can apply without necessarily calling in a professional.
It is important to know where your stop tap or stopcock is located as you will need to turn the water off quickly if disaster strikes to minimise damage to your property.
Consider buying a winter tap insulation cover for outside taps or alternatively, turn them off at the stop tap, ensuring all the water is drained from their pipes. Fix any dripping taps or overflows and do not ignore a build-up of ice as this could lead to a blockage.
Heat rises, so if you have a loft containing pipes and tanks, consider opening the hatch and letting warm air in from other parts of the house to help prevent pipes from freezing.
If you have central heating, keep the thermostat to at least 10 degrees, which should be enough to prevent pipes from freezing, and don't turn it off even if you go away for a few days. If possible, set it to come on at least once every day.
Opening up any kitchen and bathroom cabinets will also allow warm air to circulate near the pipes under sinks, minimising the chances of freezing. Remember to check your home's exterior and seal any visible cracks around entry points for pipes and cables to prevent heat from escaping.
The high cost of domestic energy means households will want to control the cost of energy usage wherever possible. You can read our energy saving tips here.
It is also important to get onto the cheapest energy tariff. Online fixed rate deals offer the best value, and switching is a straightforward process that does not require any changes to the supply of either gas or electricity to your property.
You simply provide us with your details – you can find these on a recent bill – and we will search for the best deal for your needs. You can start the process of switching and saving in a matter of minutes here.
Boiler and central heating
It is important to have your boiler, central heating and any gas fires checked to ensure they are working efficiently. Failing to have your boiler serviced regularly by a GasSafe-registered professional could result in it not coping with the demands of winter and failing to prevent your pipes from freezing.
Don't forget to check your roof for cracked or broken tiles and hire a professional roofing contractor to carry out any required remedial work as soon as possible. Cracked or broken tiles could not only compromise your heating, but allow water in and lead to potentially more costly repairs later.
Clear gutters and drains of any leaves or debris to pre-empt blocks and overflows and allow water to flow unrestricted.
If there is a heavy fall of snow, bear in mind that the accumulated weight could cause damage, especially to a flat roof. If your attempt to clear snow involves climbing and working at height, take extreme care. Always get someone to hold your ladder, and if you are unsure that a surface will bear your weight, don’t take the risk.
Strong winds and storms can also lead to damage during winter, so don't forget your garden and outdoor space. Keep any gates and outbuilding doors locked or fastened and secure or store any other loose items such as furniture and potted plants as they could turn into flying missiles and cause damage.
Cut back low hanging branches that could cause damage in high winds or storms, especially those that hang near your home or electrical wires. The weight of the snow or the speed of the wind could lead to them collapsing, leading to significant damage.
Make sure outdoor pets are well fed and that they have a supply of fresh water. They might need more straw and hay than usual to keep them comfortable. Also check hutches are secure against hungry predators. If you keep fish in a pond, break any ice that forms on the surface.
Following the steps mentioned here may stop you having to claim on your home insurance, but you should always be prepared for the worst. Ensure you have an accessible home emergency kit (and that everybody knows its location), which should include torches, spare bulbs and batteries, as well as snacks, warm clothing, blankets and a shovel.
In addition to ensuring your home insurance documents are safe - preferably in a waterproof wallet - and easy to reach, have the contact details of a good local plumber to hand in case you need a professional urgently.
If disaster strikes
The first thing you should do when you notice a problem, such as water flooding the home, is turn off the stopcock - cutting the mains flow will limit damage considerably - and check all visible pipes for any split or evidence of freezing.
Leave any nearby cold taps open to allow the water to escape when it thaws and don't turn on hot taps until the central heating is switched off. Applying a hot water bottle or hot wet towel to a frozen pipe will help it thaw out and prevent bursting.
Check your home insurance to see what advice is provided in case of a domestic emergency. It will certainly provide guidance on how to claim.
If you have home emergency cover, contact your provider through the number provided, otherwise you should call a licensed plumber immediately to help contain the situation and reduce the level of damage the escaping water is likely to cause.
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