How to protect your property against snow this winter

Snowfall in the UK is difficult to predict: tiny fractions of a degree Celsius can make the difference between it just being cold, or rain and snowfall. This can be stressful for property owners, particularly landlords, who may not live near their rental property, in the event that there is an unexpected episode of heavy snowfall.

Heavy snowfall in most of the UK is getting less common as time goes by. And the Met Office Regional Climate model simulation has shown that this trend of decreasing days of winter snow in the UK will probably continue.

But this doesn’t mean that there won’t still be the occasional period of very heavy snowfall.  And although snow could become rarer in future, this may actually cause more disruption.

 

As snow becomes scarcer it is still vital to be prepared

There are significant variations across the UK when it comes to snow, with Scotland experiencing the highest snowfall and Cornwall the lowest. It may seem logical to assume that landlords in the snowier parts of the region should take more precautions to mitigate against the risks. However, this is not necessarily the case.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) cautions that the impacts of snow actually tend to be worse in areas where snow occurs less frequently, due to unpreparedness. NERC advises that it is important to guard against complacency when it comes to future snow events in Britain, as they will still occur despite a likely reduction in frequency.

After all, in 2018 the UK experienced blizzards, strong winds, drifting snow and bitter cold, causing death and disruption as the weather system, nicknamed the “Beast from the East”, combined with storm Emma to create some of the most testing weather experienced in the UK for years.

So, even if snow is becoming scarcer across the UK and even if your rental property is in an area that is rarely affected by snow, it is vital to be prepared: cold, snow and ice can cause serious damage to your rental property, resulting in unexpected costs and stress for both you and your tenants.

Here are some useful tips to protect your property and share with your tenants so that you are prepared for snowy conditions this winter.

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Top tips to protect your property against snow

Due to the unpredictable nature of snow, it is important to prepare your property in advance so that you are protected in the event of unexpected snowfall.

 

1. Check the roof and gutters

Icy or snowy conditions put added strain on the roof of your property. Snow can build up as it falls, leading to sagging or structural damage to the roof. As temperatures rise and snow melts and then refreezes, it can form ice dams at the roof’s edge and in your guttering, leading to damage. Ice dams prevent water-runoff and lead to water backing up into the house or into the walls, where it can refreeze, causing further damage.

There are a number of things landlords can do to prevent this from happening:

  • Have a trusted roofing contractor take a look at the roof of your property once a year, if possible. Roofs in good condition should be able to handle snowy or icy weather, whereas roofs in poor condition are more likely to suffer
  • Inspect your roof from the ground level twice a year: debris on the ground from broken slates and tiles can be a sign of damage
  • Check the insulation and ventilation in your loft. If it’s too warm, when it snows the snow can melt on the roof, which can then trickle down and reform as ice dams in your guttering, causing blockages
  • Clean out your guttering to ensure that meltwater can flow away
  • Keep the area around gutters as free from snow as possible to prevent ice dams from forming
  • Encourage tenants to let you know if an abnormal amount of snow builds up on the roof

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2. Check the pipes and water tank

During a cold spell, the water coming into the house from outside is much colder than it is during the rest of the year. The colder water can cause a contraction in the pipes, which sometimes causes leaks where the pipe has weakened over time.

At Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, 34 per cent of all claims paid out since 2008 have been for escape of water, defined as ‘when water has entered the property by the mains water supply and caused damage e.g. a burst pipe’. This is two and a half times more claims than the next most common claim type.

Controlling the temperature of water coming into the property is clearly not a practical option, but there are a number of steps you can take to lower your risk – prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to burst pipes.

  • Where possible, insulate external pipes and unheated internal areas (such as the loft) so they don’t freeze during extreme cold weather. Broken pipes can cause major damage to a property if left untreated. If they do freeze, thaw them out with a hairdryer. Never use a blow torch
  • If the water tank is in the loft, make sure the loft is insulated so that the tank doesn’t get too cold and cause the water to freeze. If this happens it can expand and cause the tank to split. When the ice thaws, the water will leak
  • Insulate old water storage tanks – although all new water storage tanks must be insulated, older ones will benefit from a hot water jacket. Take care not to place loft insulation directly under heater tanks though, as this stops heat rising from below. Make sure you inspect the water tank regularly to check it’s in good condition and not showing signs of age such as cracking or splitting

 

3. Stock up on salt or sand for use on paths and outside steps

Paths and driveways can become icy during cold spells. To prevent your tenants from falling and injuring themselves, you can provide de-icer such as magnesium chloride or rock salt. Tenants who are provided with an ice shovel may be more likely to keep paths and driveways clear of snow and ice.

 

4. Prepare the garden

  • Bring pot plants inside and mulch outdoor plants and trees that suffer with frost
  • Drain and disconnect hoses
  • Clear the lawn of debris and other outdoor objects to prevent them becoming obstacles when the snow falls
  • If there are any overhanging branches which may affect your property when weighed down by snow, get them removed

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5. Make sure outside drains are clear

If drains are blocked before an episode of heavy snowfall, they are likely to overflow and become could cause flooding when a cold spell arrives.

 

6. Advise tenants about heating

Advise tenants that they should keep the heating on for at least an hour a day during the winter months, even if they are leaving the property empty, for example over the Christmas period. This will keep water running through the pipes and reduce the risk of it freezing and causing burst pipes.

 

7. Service your boiler annually

The boiler is more likely to break down during the coldest times of year when it is working its hardest. During snow and icy weather the condensate pipe, which removes steam and condensation from the boiler, can freeze shut, preventing the boiler from working. The coldest times of year are of course also when gas engineers become very busy fixing broken down boilers. To prevent a breakdown during a cold spell it is always advisable to get the boiler serviced in summer.

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8. Carry out regular inspections and establish a rapport with your tenants

Advance preparations to mitigate against the risks of snow are within your control as a landlord. You can carry out checks to the roof and gutters, for example, during inspections: we advise landlords to carry these out twice a year and you can find out more information about inspections in our guide ‘How to inspect your property’.

But it is also important that you establish a good rapport with your tenants. Encourage them to contact you if there are any issues with the property so that you can rectify them as soon as possible

and ensure that there is an effective channel of communication between you and your tenants. To help you look after your property, we have designed useful advice sheets for your tenants.

If you have a good relationship with your tenants they are more likely to look after your property, for example by removing snow build up during a period of heavy snow fall.

What should you do if your property is damaged by snow and ice?

If you discover that your rental property has been damaged as a result of snow and you need to make a claim, it is important to notify your insurers at the earliest opportunity so that they can ensure the property is made watertight.

At Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, the claims team report a higher incidence of claims in winter, when pipes freeze and boilers are generally more active. Escape of water has been, and continues to be, the most pressing concern for landlords across the UK.

This commonly occurs due to cracked or damaged pipes which often feel the brunt of the winter chill.

Ensuring that you have comprehensive landlord insurance in place provides peace of mind that you are protected in the event that your rental property is damaged by snow or ice this winter. A policy like Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance’s Premier policy will not only cover the cost of resultant damage arising from an escape of water, but also loss of rent and alternative accommodation.