How to protect your properties from the effects of climate change

In April 2019, a series of protests by environmental activists, Extinction Rebellion, brought many parts of central London to a virtual standstill.

The job of the peaceful but disruptive protests was to raise awareness of the threat of climate change inactivity. They were successful – the activity generated headlines around the world and put climate change at the top of the international agenda. Two weeks later, the UK government declared a climate emergency.

Politics and protests aside, current models show climate change affecting everything from sea levels to food prices. It will undoubtedly impact our homes and the places where we live, as well. And with increasing pressure on governments to act, we’re likely to see a whole raft of ‘green’ legislation affecting our day-to-day.

So, what is the climate change outlook over the next 10 years, and how should landlords prepare?

 

Flooding

Of the 17 record-breaking downpours that have been recorded since 1910, nine have occurred since the year 2000. And, according to government data, we should expect extreme flooding in the UK to continue to rise. In fact, scientists predict that there is now a 34 per cent chance of rainfall breaking a regional record somewhere in the UK every single winter.

Coastal areas are particularly at risk, as are properties below sea-level, near major rivers or on ‘flood plains’. To find out if your property is at risk now, you can enter your postcode into GOV.UK’s flood risk map. Over the next 10-20 years, more and more homes will become at risk.

Coastal and river flooding is a risk, but not the only one. As sewage and drainage systems struggle to cope with abnormally high levels of surface runoff, water can back up into people’s homes. Extreme cold weather can also cause flooding by freezing the water in the pipes, causing them to burst. Whether through ingress of water from rivers or sea, or from burst pipes, flooding can cause enormous damage to property and belongings.

If your home is at risk of flooding, you need to take the right steps to prepare. Flood protection is often divided into flood resistance and flood resilience. The first helps keep water out, the second minimises the damage it can do if it gets in.

To make your home more flood resistant:

  • Buy temporary seals for external doors and ‘air bricks’
  • Install one-way valves on toilets and drainage to reduce the risk of sewage backing up into the house
  • Get a sump pump system that can pump water out from below floor level

To make your home more flood resilient:

  • Use waterproof ceramic or stone instead of wood flooring
  • Raise the height of your electrical sockets to prevent water reaching them
  • Replace wooden window frames with UPVC

If you’re concerned about your properties, you can also sign up for advance flood warnings at  GOV.UK.

It is important to take out a residential landlord insurance policy as standard homeowners’ policies most likely will not cover damage to a rental property.

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Storms

The Met Office have used meteorological data to model UK rainfall and found that intense rainfall associated with flash floods could be up to five times more likely by the end of this century.

Elsewhere in the world, violent tropical storms have caused enormous damage and loss of life. Hurricanes Florence and Michael are estimated to have caused around $17bn and $15bn of damage respectively. And both have been attributed in part to human-related climate change.

The UK is less at risk than areas such as the Caribbean or the United States, but high winds can still do serious damage to property. Strong winds can rip off loose roof tiles and blocked drain pipes can cause rainwater to leak into your walls. Often, preparing for a storm can come down to simple good housekeeping.

A well-maintained home is much more likely to make it through a storm unscathed.

Here are a few good housekeeping tips to help you prepare for an extreme weather event:

  • Guttering should be free of leaves, and drainpipes fixed firmly to the wall
  • Fencing and fence posts need to be securely fixed in place to protect them from being blown over or away
  • Roof tiles and TV aerials should be securely fixed in place
  • If there are trees on your property, any hanging or broken branches should be removed and taken down
  • Any corroded windows or loose fittings need to be replaced to prevent them being shaken and further damaged by the wind

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Fire damage

In April of this year, the UK set a new record for the number of wildfires it has experienced in one year. That’s more than any previous year, in the first four months alone. In the past, wildfires were a seasonal phenomenon, occurring over the summer. This winter, wildfires were recorded in Sussex, Scotland and North Wales.

A geographer at the London School of Economics, told New Scientist earlier this year.

“I would argue that those statistics suggest that we are already experiencing climate change and that it has already led to increasing wildfire risk”

– Thomas Smith

While the most common direct cause of wildfires is human ignition – either accidental or intentional – climate change has been proven to increase the risk of fires spreading. And this will only increase as temperatures climb.

Wildfires are regional, with some areas more at risk than others. Thankfully, the Met Office has produced a Fire Severity Index (FSI) map which shows how severe a fire could become were one likely to start in your area. At the time of writing, the areas showing the highest risk are the countryside around Doncaster and to the east of Peterborough.

If your property is in a FSI level 3-5 area, there are a number of steps you ought to take in order to protect yourself:

  • Create a ‘safe zone’ of at least 10 metres around your property that is as free as possible of combustible materials such as wooden fencing, wood piles and trees
  • Keep grass trimmed and watered – short green grass will not carry fire to your home
  • Make sure any fuel tanks for BBQs, lawnmowers or vehicles have at least three metres of gravel around them on all sides
  • Compost debris instead of burning them and avoid lighting any fires in high winds, high temperatures or low humidity
  • Make sure that fire crews can easily access your property and your garden, plus make sure that they can easily read the house number from the nearest road

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Record temperatures

Towards the end of last year, The Met Office announced that human-related climate change has made UK heatwaves thirty times more likely than they would otherwise be. Earlier this year, the UK enjoyed its first ever record-breaking February heat wave, with temperatures reaching an unseasonable 21.5 degrees Celsius.

While everyone in the UK appreciates a warm summer’s day, extreme heat can pose risks for homes that weren’t built to withstand it. Subsidence – the caving in of the ground below your home – is a common issue. This is usually caused by heat drying out the area your home is built on, particularly if the surrounding earth is rich in clay. Tree roots can often exacerbate the issue, as they suck up what little moisture remains.

Fire damage from out of control BBQs or bonfires is another risk. And finally, pests such as wasps, bees and rats tend to flourish during warm spells. Once inside your home, they can do cosmetic or structural damage to brick, concrete and wood, by chewing on or boring into it.

Here are a few ways to prepare your home for extreme heat:

  • Find out if your home is built on clay-rich soil. This is as simple as digging into the earth around your house and taking a closer look. If you can squeeze it in your hand and it doesn’t crumble away and holds its shape, it’s probably rich in clay
  • Watch out for cracks in the wall that grow or change shape over time. Most cracks aren’t evidence of subsidence, but if they are wider at the top than the bottom and visible on both the inside and the outside of your house, that’s a cause for concern
  • Keep your BBQ or bonfire a safe distance from your home and make sure you have an extinguisher or water source nearby
  • Always wait for your coals to be completely cool before you dispose of them
  • Seal gaps, pipes and entrances that lead into the home