Get winter ready - everything you need to protect your property

Winter can be hard on our homes – whether we’re living in them or renting them out. In fact, our claims data shows that claims increase significantly over the winter months.

While this can be worrying for landlords there are a number of preventive measures you can take to secure your property during the harsh winter weather.

Cold or stormy weather can lead to flooding, roof damage and burst pipes, all of which are not ideal for a rental property. There is also an increased risk of fire damage during these months as we begin to light fires and use heaters to warm up our homes.

And the risk of burglary increases, as the long nights embolden would-be thieves, making it easier for them to spot empty properties and enticing them with the opportunity to swipe a few Christmas presents along the way.

To make life easier for you, we’ve rounded up all of our tips and best practice advice to help landlords keep their properties well looked after each winter.

We’ll be looking at how you can protect your property from the unforgiving winter weather as well as how you can improve fire safety in your property, ward off burglars and reduce the risk of burst pipes.

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Landlord insurance claims have decreased steadily in recent years, but escape of water claims continue to exceed all others year after year. Our 10 Years of Property Claims report revealed that 34 per cent of all claims paid out since 2008 have been for escape of water situations.

Escape of water is the term used by the insurance sector to describe a leak in the home. It is defined as “When water has entered the property by the mains water supply and caused damage” and is comfortably one of the most common home insurance claims

Indeed, there are two and a half times more claims than for the next most common claim – storm damage. This is because even the smallest leak can lead to significant property damage if not spotted and taken care of in due course.

Get winter ready - everything you need to protect your property | Burst pipes

Burst pipes

More than three quarters of escape of water claims filed in 2016 related to a burst pipe. This represents a quarter of all claims received by Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance and whilst escape of water has been a stable trend in recent years, with fewer claims every year since 2017, burst pipe claims are still common. 

Burst pipe claims are so common because even a small fracture can release major volumes of water and result in surprisingly heavy claims, with water damage and repair bills that have been known to clock in at over £100,000!

Burst pipes can lead to:-

  • Structural and cosmetic damage to your rental property and neighbouring properties
  • Damage to furniture, fixtures, fittings and appliances
  • Expense and hassle of repair/restoration work and relocation of tenants
  • Stress and inconvenience for landlords, tenants and neighbours
  • Loss of rental income due to a vacant property while repairs are carried out

In the event of a burst pipe, in order to reduce the spread of the damage and the size of the claim, aside from ensuring that tenants know what to do and whom to contact, landlords should also ensure that:-

  1. The water and electricity are shut off and that tenants and guests know how to do so
  2. The building is properly surveyed for potential water damage
  3. Water is contained and furniture and belongings are removed from affected areas
  4. A dehumidifier is used to remove any resultant dampness from the property
  5. Emergency plumbers have been contacted to locate and fix the leak
  6. Evidence of water damage has been collected

Ultimately, the main enemy you’ll be fighting is pipe contraction, which will weaken your pipes and could eventually lead to a rupture. Direct your tenants towards this tenant advice sheet for a quick fix, but for more exhaustive information, check our winter tenant advice page.

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Frozen pipes

In winter, when the temperature drops, there is an increased risk of frozen pipes, which can cause leaks and flooding in your rental property. A burst pipe can be catastrophic, leading to thousands of pounds worth of damage and major inconvenience for you and your tenants.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid frozen pipes in your rental property, lowering the risk of a burst pipe and the devastation that can cause:-

  • Minimise draughts from outdoors by keeping doors and windows closed
  • Insulate pipes and water tanks
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing
  • Inspect your pipes regularly
  • Keep the pipes running regularly, several hours a day
  • Seal and identify any air leaks
  • Advise tenants to keep the heating on for at least 20 minutes every other day during winter

Thawing frozen pipes

If your pipes are frozen, it’s imperative that you’re careful as if a pipe has already burst you could start a flood in your home.

To thaw a frozen pipe, first turn the water off at the stop cock and check to see if any pipes have burst. 

If you have been lucky, turn the faucet on gently to allow a trickle of water to run through the pipes and begin applying heat to the affected section using electric heating pads, space heaters or even hair dryers.

Continue applying heat until the water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area or it is not easily accessible, it’s always a good idea to call in a professional plumber.

Avoiding burst pipes should be your top priority when preparing for winter. To underline this fact and help landlords to stand on their own feet without relying too heavily on their handymen, the video below illustrates how best to avoid burst pipes.

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Preparing your boiler for winter

The best way to protect your property from this kind of damage is to take care of your boiler. There is no better time to have your legally mandated annual service than just before the winter chill sets in. 

Before you call in the professionals, however, you should first give it an informal inspection. Look for cracks and signs of leaks, check the pressure gauge to ensure the pressure is at the optimum level (between 1 and 1.5 bar) and test the radiators.

Next, check and bleed the radiators, a particularly important task as radiators are responsible for 27.5 per cent of water escape claims.

You’ll also want to insulate (or lag) your pipes and isolate any outdoor pipes, which are more susceptible to freezing.

The best thing you can do to prepare your boiler, however, is to have a good relationship with your tenants. Work with them to ensure they know how to look after the boiler and that they are aware that the temperature in the property should never drop below 13 degrees.

Below, you’ll find a video dedicated to helping you prepare your boiler for winter, which elaborates on the tips above and makes a few more specific points too.