The impact of climate change on your property

Since Greta Thunberg began the school climate strikes in August 2018, climate change has rarely been out of the headlines. The protests in central London by Extinction Rebellion in 2019 brought many parts of the capital to a virtual standstill and, two weeks later, the UK Government declared a climate change emergency.

The latest models show climate change affecting everything from sea levels to food prices and we’re seeing increasingly extreme weather events. With mounting pressure on governments around the world to take action, we can expect to see more ‘green’ legislation coming in and all of these things together are going to impact the places where we live and the way we let and rent homes.

Creating an eco friendly home will certainly go some way to fighting future climate change, but a lot of damage has already been done. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the Earth’s temperature would continue to rise for several decades. That means we need to consider the unavoidable impact of the climate change that’s already been caused and is waiting in the wings.

So, what are the risks to property and what can you do to prepare and protect your rental to withstand the elements as climate change takes effect?

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How to protect your property from the effects of climate change

The impact of climate change on your property

Flooding

Of the 17 record-breaking downpours that have been recorded since 1910, nine have occurred since 2000.

Severe weather through the winter of 2019/20 resulted in the worst floods in 200 years, with parts of England and Wales totally submerged.

According to government data, we should expect extreme flooding in the UK to continue to rise, with the Environment Agency predicting 59 per cent more rainfall by 2050. Scientists have also predicted that there is now a 34 per cent chance of rainfall breaking a regional record somewhere in the UK every single winter – and they could even be underestimating the contribution of present-day climate change.

So, with the UK’s wet weather set to become even wetter, we’re going to need to shore-up our properties against the risks posed by heavy rainfall and flooding.

The most at-risk properties are those:

  • In coastal areas
  • Below sea-level
  • Near major rivers
  • On ‘flood plains’

You can find out whether your property is at risk now by entering its postcode into the GOV.UK flood risk map.

Coastal and river flooding is not the only risk. 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.

However it’s caused, flooding can result in enormous damage to property and belongings. That’s just one reason why it’s so important to have dedicated landlord insurance cover. Our own award-winning Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance has one of the lowest excesses in the market for escape of water claims – just give us a call on 0800 63 43 880 if you’d like to know more.

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Making your property more flood resistant

This is about keeping water out:

  • 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 property more flood resilient

This is about minimising any damage if water gets in:

  • 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

For more preventative measures and information on what to do if your property floods, read Measures that must be taken to prevent flooding in your properties.

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

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Storms

It certainly seems as though storms are becoming more frequent. Met Office modelling has shown that intense rainfall associated with flash floods could be up to five times more likely by the end of this century.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) stated that the cost of clearing up the damage from storms Dennis and Ciara, which hit the UK in February 2020, would exceed £360m. And in the USA, there were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2020 alone, shattering the previous annual record of 16 events.

While the UK is less at risk from severe storms than areas such as the Caribbean or the United States, high winds can still do enormous damage to property. Flying debris can break windows and cause other damage, strong winds can rip off loose roof tiles, and blocked drains and guttering can cause rainwater to pool and leak in through your walls.

The best way to protect your property is simply to stay on top of the regular maintenance jobs. If you keep the fabric of the building in good condition, it’ll have the best chance of making it through a storm unscathed.

Here are a few good housekeeping tips to help make sure your property’s ready to withstand any extreme weather: 

  • Keep the guttering clear and make sure drainpipes are fixed firmly to the wall
  • Replace any cracked or slipped roof tiles
  • Make sure window and door seals aren’t damaged and replace any loose fittings
  • Ensure fencing and fence posts are securely fixed in place
  • If there are trees on your property, remove any hanging or broken branches

Read our guide for more information on how to protect your property from storm damage

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The impact of climate change on your property

Fire damage

In April 2019, the UK set a new record for the number of wildfires experienced in any one year – that’s in just the first four months. In the past, wildfires were a seasonal phenomenon, only tending to occur over the summer. But in February 2019, wildfires were recorded in Sussex, Scotland and North Wales.

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.

According to Dr Susan Prichard, from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington:

“Extreme fire weather events including increased lightning and strong winds, are becoming more common under climate change.”

That means we can expect the number of fires to increase as temperatures slowly climb.

To help you assess the extent to which your property could be affected by a wildfire, the Met Office has produced a Fire Severity Index (FSI) map, which shows how severe a fire could become, if one were to start in your area.

If your property is in a FSI level 3-5 area, there are a number of steps you should take to protect your property and your tenants:

  • Create a ‘safe zone’ of at least 10 metres around your property that is as free of combustible materials – e.g. 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
  • Remind your tenants not to light any fires in high winds, high temperatures or low humidity
  • Make sure fire crews can easily access your property and your garden – and make sure they can easily read the house number from the road.

Read our guide to help reduce the chance of a fire in your rental property.

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At Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, we looked at our insurance statistics to see if climate change was impacting our claims on behalf of landlords. We found:

  • Flood claims have risen 380% since 2018
  • Storm claims rose by 71% between 2019 to 2020
  • Fire damage claims account for our highest payouts with an average of £22,558

Find out how these increased claims are impacting the landlord insurance market and what you need to do to protect yourself.

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Record temperatures

The world is getting hotter. In July 2019, the UK recorded its highest-ever temperature of 38.7 degrees Celsius at Cambridge Botanic Garden and, in August 2021, Sicily set a new record for Europe when it reached a blistering 48.8 degrees. The Met Office’s leading expert on climate change, Professor Peter Stott, has said, “Europe will need to prepare for the eventuality of further records being broken with temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius being possible in Europe in future.”

While we all appreciate 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 a home – is a common issue, usually caused by heat drying out the area the property is built on. If the soil is rich in clay, it’s particularly vulnerable to getting dried out and tree roots can exacerbate the issue, as they suck up what little moisture remains.

The risk of fire damage from out of control bonfires or wildfires is raised in hot weather, and 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 you can prepare your property for extreme heat:

  • Find out if your property is built on clay-rich soil. This is as simple as digging into the earth around it and taking a closer look. If you can squeeze it in your hand and it doesn’t crumble away, 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 outside of the property, that’s a cause for concern
  • Ensure tenants keep BBQs and bonfires a safe distance from the property and make sure there’s a fire extinguisher or water source nearby
  • Ask tenants to wait for their BBQ coals to be completely cool before they dispose of them
  • Make sure gaps, pipes and entrances that lead into the home are properly sealed

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What is the Government doing and what does it mean for landlords?

In response to its self-imposed ‘climate emergency’, the Government announced one of the world’s most ambitious net-zero carbon targets, aiming to eliminate the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions altogether by 2050.

As these targets become policy, they will have a wide-ranging impact on how we live on a day-to-day basis.

Gas boilers are already set to be phased out by the mid-2030s, with requirements to replace them with more eco friendly equivalents.

It’s also likely that the Government will start policing its Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) more forcefully. Landlords who don’t comply are already at risk of receiving a £5,000 fine and being named on a public register.

No one knows for sure what effect climate change will have. But those who take action today will be better prepared for whatever happens tomorrow. If you want to learn more about how climate change has affected our customers’ insurance claims over the last 10 years, read our 10 years of claims report.

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