16:12 22 November 2012
There's an old saying about the wisdom of fixing the roof when the sun is shining. We're deep into autumn, and the sun's appearances these days are fleeting and hardly of star quality. But it's still worth taking action now to prepare your home for the ravages of winter.
Working on the basis that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you'll not only make your home more comfortable and secure, you'll reduce the likelihood of having major (and costly) disruption as a result of storm damage, the effects of freezing or progressive decay. And a well-maintained property is less prone to buildings insurance claims, which should help lower your premiums in future years. So here's our winter action plan:
Winter action plan
1. Is your roof in good repair?
Your roof is a crucial first line of defence against rain, so you should check for broken, dislodged and missing tiles. Not always easy, and not always safe, so don't just race up a ladder and clamber around, especially if it's damp - ask a trusted builder to have a look, and maybe even at your neighbour's roof at the same time to bring down the cost.
The chimney stack also merits a look, just to check it is structurally sound and that any cowlings and covers are secure. If you have an open fire, remember to have your chimney swept regularly.
If your brickwork and mortar is in a poor state of repair, work should be done to stop water getting in.
2. Keep your aerial on
Check aerials are fixed properly so you can be confident they won't be brought off the roof or the wall in a gale.
3. Keep water run-aways clear
This is the time of year when gutters, downpipes, grids, grilles and drains can be clogged with leaves, branches and other vegetation, so it is important to check they are allowing water to run freely off your property. If it doesn't, it could escape into the house or linger in a pool and promote rot - and a backed-up drain flooding the garden and possibly the house could prove a real headache.
You should also check that pipes and gutters are sound (especially the joints). This again might well be a job for a pro.
4. Check nearby trees and shrubs
A lot of damage in winter is caused when trees lose substantial branches, or indeed fall completely, onto property or cars. If you have hefty vegetation in your garden, you should check for dead wood that might be vulnerable to strong winds. If the trees are in an adjoining garden or on the street, you should talk to your neighbours or the council.
Take advice before getting out the saw, though. This is, once more, work that might be best done by a professional. And, in some instances, it is even illegal to prune or remove trees without permission from the local authority.
Vegetation isn't only a potential problem in winter - thirsty roots during the summer can contribute to subsidence problems if they reach the foundations of the building. Again, expert advice should be taken about the extent of the problem and the best solution.
5. Check doors and windows
Wooden frames are vulnerable to rot if they are not protected from the damp. And if they are severely damaged, the damp can penetrate deeper into the fabric of the dwelling and cause more strife, so repair them if you can.
It could be just a question of re-doing the paintwork, with proper preparation and using the best paint you can afford. If work needs doing, best crack on and try to get it finished by the end of the month before the weather really turns for the worse.
6. Seal up holes and cracks
When it gets cold, wildlife seeks shelter. That's why my house has been overrun with spiders these past few weeks and I come downstairs every morning like I'm in an Indiana Jones movie. But the problems caused by birds and vermin such as rats, mice and squirrels can be of a completely different order, including chewed power and communications cables, ruined food, soiling and potential health issues.
The blighters will often find a way in through the tiniest gaps in the eaves or through adjoining garages. Block any gaps you see. And don't forget the shed or other outbuildings, if you have them. If you suffer any kind of infestation, you should contact your local council or retain a professional firm. If you put down your own poison, follow the instructions to the letter, especially if you have children and/or pets.
7. Lag pipes and the boiler
If we have a deep and sustained freeze, frozen pipes will be a problem - or they will once the thaw comes and water escapes from cracks caused by the ice. A little bit of water can go a long way and cause a huge amount of damage, so lagging pipes is valuable work.
And lagging the water tank and boiler will help reduce energy consumption.
You should also have your gas boiler serviced by a registered professional in advance of the period of peak demand.
You can do more to keep your property warm and trim energy bills by insulating your loft and having cavity wall insulation. You may even be able to get financial help towards this work from your energy provider or local council.
Closing the curtains at dusk and using draft excluders as appropriate can make a huge difference to ambient temperatures.
8. Prepare for emergencies
If you have to call a plumber out in an emergency, chances are his first question will be: "Where's the stopcock?" So it's as well to know the answer.
You should also know where and how to turn off your gas and electricity supplies. Keep a torch handy (with a decent set of batteries and some spares). Make sure everyone in the household knows where everything important is, and what to do if a problem arises.
It can also help to have a list of contact details to hand, including tradesmen and your household insurance company.
Get the best deal on buildings insurance
With your house in a good state of repair, you're less likely to make claims on your buildings insurance for water damage, which is good news in terms of accumulating a no claims discount. But no property is completely risk-free, so don't be tempted to do away with buildings insurance to save money. Indeed, having cover in place could be a condition of your mortgage, if you have one.
To make sure you get the best deal, don't automatically renew with the same firm. If you use our quotation facility there's an excellent chance you will secure a lower premium. We also have a range of offers from big-name providers that are well worth a look.
When you complete your proposal for buildings insurance, you'll be asked for your sum insured. This will not necessarily be the same as the market value - it could cost more or less to rebuild your property than it would fetch on the open market, depending on where you live. You can access a ready calculator here.
You can also save money by taking out buildings and contents cover with the same firm - a discount usually applies. Don't worry if you have separate policies with renewal dates that are a distance apart - the insurer you choose to take your business will be more than happy to sort out the administrative side of things on your behalf.
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