A home-owner’s guide to winter-proofing your house

Winter home
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Related: 10 tips to save money while staying warm this winter

With the big freeze finally arriving this winter, isn’t it about time you winter-proofed your house?

If you haven’t taken the measures well in advance that is. If you’re one of those people (i.e, everyone’s dads) who keeps an old mac by the front door in preparation for covering the car windscreen overnight to safeguard the creeping of Jack Frost, it’s fair to assume that most of what we advise below will have long been put into practice.

What follows is a timely guide to avoid the perils of frozen (and subsequently burst) pipes this winter.

Trust us, nobody wants to be left out in the cold by not adhering to what are relatively effortless tasks to establish that your property is all geared up for the more seasonal flavour of inclement weather which is headed our way (or already with us, depending on when your read this info-piece). Which is why we’re reminding householders to introduce the necessary measures right now to avoid the misery and despair which comes with frozen and burst pipes.

Misery and despair brought about by having to deal with the expensive and disruption that can result from the damage caused by such a scenario panning out once we’re into the new year.

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Speaking about this very subject, the Association of British Insurer’s Head of Property, Aidan Kerr says; “Every winter, damage caused by burst pipes is widespread and expensive. Prevention is better than cure and a few simple steps can reduce the risk of facing the trauma of frozen or burst pipes during the winter. Home insurance will pay for the often costly damage caused by burst pipes, but it cannot compensate for the misery and inconvenience that they bring.”

Prepare yourself for cold weather by following these simple pointers;

Step 1: Around the House

Ensure that your boiler is serviced every year without fail, and that your central heating system and gas fires are safety and efficiency checked by registered Gas Safe professionals; rather than just a bloke you know down the pub who does that sort of stuff for a few quid.

[one-half] Make sure that your loft space is properly insulated (and ventilated), along with checking any pipes or water tanks located in there are similarly protected against the elements. You can do this yourself.

If you have an open fire, then don’t forget to have the chimney swept professionally each year before you start using it.
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Be mindful of where heat tends to typically escape from, place/attach dedicated draft exclusion devices/weather stripping to doors and windows in your property. Beware of the letterbox, as they have a habit of inviting a lot of unseen cold air into your gaff.

Maintain an ambient temperature within the home routinely, by setting your heating for regular intervals, while ensuring that you pre-set a timer if you plan on going away.

It’s imperative that you are aware of where your stopcock is situated, which will enable you to quickly block an incoming water supply if an emergency situation unfolds.

To prevent water from freezing, it’s crucial to repair ANY dripping taps.

Step 2: In the Garden

Attend to outside taps proficiently by lagging them so as to stave off attacks (potential penetration = bursting) by Jack Frost.

If storms are forecast, baton down the hatches and secure anything that could become a lethal weapon in strong winds; for example dustbins.

Take a timely look at your roof for any signs of broken tiles and cracks in the chimney or pointing, and seek to rectify anything noted before winter sets in.

Ensure that drainpipes and gutters are free from any debris which could cause blockages after a period of time (think leaves, etc…)

Lop off any low-hanging tree branches which could present problems in the event of a storm.

Step 3: Generally bracing yourself for the worst that Mother Nature has to throw at you

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As the temperatures begin to plummet, crank up your central heating to a minimum of 10 degrees to safeguard against freezing pipes.

Also a useful tip to leave the loft cover and kitchen/bathroom airing cupboards (where boilers are often located) marginally ajar to encourage warm air to circulate freely around said vulnerable water pipes.

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Make sure that you have your home insurance policy documents in an easy to reach place, just in case you need to speak with your provider in an emergency situation.

Listen to local radio/browse online weather websites to keep abreast of when and where the bad weather is predicted to hit, geographically-speaking, whilst also keeping an ear/eye out for emergency updates.

Have a very good idea (i.e, KNOW) where your mains water tap is located in your home.

Have an emergency home kit to hand in readiness for a particular adverse spell of winter weather on the off chance you are snowed in. Such emergency kits tend to comprise of torches (with spare bulbs and batteries), candles (and matches), tinned food, warm clothing, blankets and a shovel. As the Scouts always say, ‘be prepared’.

Have a reliable and recommended local plumber, heating engineer and electrician on speed dial .

What you need to do if your water pipes freeze

Proceed to immediately turn water off at the main stopcock  and then wait for it to warm up, or alternatively attempt to thaw the pipes with a hot water bottle.

If a pipe has burst, quickly turn off the water at the stopcock. Switch off your central heating system and any other water heating installations.

Open all taps, the objective being to bleed the system.

Contact your home insurance company’s helpline for advice, including arranging for professional repairs to be carried out.

What you need to do should a frozen water pipe actually burst

Endeavour to turn off the mains water supply; which is often found beneath the kitchen sink (or where the service pipe enters your home).

Turn off the electricity supply, central heating and immersion heater. If you observe substantial water damage, the electrical supply should be turned off completely. Wait at a neighbour’s or friend’s house until a qualified electrician can inspect the electrical system and ensure that it’s safe.

Run all the cold and hot water taps to drain the excess water from the system.

Catch any dripping water in buckets. If the ceiling starts to bulge or bow slightly under the weight, pierce a few small holes in it to let the water drain through; but only if you judge it’s safe to do so

Stay out of the room and don’t tamper with the ceiling if water has been leaking for some time (and the ceiling is bulging significantly).

Contact your household insurance policy provider as soon as possible for help and advice. They’ll also need to register your claim at this initial juncture.