Get winter ready - everything you need to protect your property

With the potential for freezing temperatures and adverse weather conditions, winter can be hard on any home. 

High winds, heavy rainfall, ice and snow can all cause damage to the fabric of a property and our own data shows that property insurance claims increase significantly over the winter months. So, as a landlord with responsibility for the safety and security of your tenants, what can you do to minimise the chance of your rental falling victim to the harsh winter weather?

Well, the good news is, there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to protect both your property and your tenants against winter weather. And as long as you’ve kept up with maintenance and your tenant has reported any problems quickly, most winter property damage should be covered by your landlord insurance. 

Here, we’ve put together a round-up of the potential threats to look out for in winter and the steps you can take to make sure your rental is ready to withstand anything winter weather throws at it!  

To begin with, here’s a handy summary of the contents so you can skip ahead to anything that’s of particular interest:

Preparing your property for adverse winter weather

As climate change continues to take effect, we’re seeing increasingly extreme weather events in the UK. That means it’s more important than ever to prepare your property for the onset of winter, when harsh elements are likely to cause the most damage.

Properties that are kept in good condition fare much better in severe weather, so if you don’t already have a comprehensive maintenance schedule in place for your rental, it’s worth putting one together.

The main things that will make your property vulnerable to the effects of bad weather are:

  • Missing or cracked tiles or flashing on the roof
  • Broken or missing guttering
  • Brickwork with cracks in the mortar
  • Cracked render
  • Badly-sealed doors and windows
  • Cracked window panes
  • Blocked drains

All these things should be picked up through regular property checks and fixed as part of a routine maintenance schedule. However, it’s a good idea to run through this checklist ahead of winter and again after any bouts of bad weather – including high winds, heavy rainfall, snow and icy snaps – and make sure you carry out any repairs as quickly as possible.

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Storms and windy weather

Storms are on the rise in the UK, with February being the peak month for storm damage claims. At Total Landlord Insurance, storm damage is consistently the second most common claim and between 2014 and 2019, 64 per cent of claims were for damage to the roof of the property.

Strong winds in particular have the potential to be hugely damaging. They can rip off loose roof tiles – and dislodge anything else on or around the property that’s not secure – and flying debris can break windows and cause other damage.

So, once you – or your agent – has checked that none of your tiles are broken or loose and any flashing is secure, what else can you do to minimise the chance of having to make a claim?

Here are five steps you can take ahead of a storm that should help reduce the risk of damage to your property:

  • Check fences – make sure posts are secure and all panels are properly attached
  • Inspect trees for broken or dying branches and have them removed
  • Clear guttering and drains – and make sure guttering is securely attached with no leaks
  • Ask tenants to secure outdoor furniture – ideally put it away in a shed or garage
  • Remind tenants to check that all windows and doors are properly closed and secured

For more tips on preparing for storms and windy weather, check out our five-step plan for landlords and watch the video below:

Hail and heavy rain

Although only 2.7 per cent of storm damage insurance claims are as a result of hail, it’s the second most expensive type of winter weather claim we receive, with an average cost of £2,713.

Most of these claims relate to roofs and windows, so the best way to protect against hail damage is by investing in good-quality, modern roof tiles and windows.

Meanwhile, our most expensive average winter weather claim – coming in at over  £13,000 – relates to flash flooding caused by heavy rainfall. And with Met Office modelling predicting that intense rainfall associated with flash floods could be up to five times more likely by the end of this century, and the Environment Agency predicting 59 per cent more rainfall by 2050, it’s certainly something to take seriously. 

If your rental is in a flood-prone area, it’s worth taking advice from your local council or the National Flood Forum charity on the specific flood prevention and protection measures you could invest in to protect your property, as well as how much that might cost. According to Flood Re, it typically costs between £20,000 and £45,000 to repair a flooded home.

Even if your property isn’t particularly liable to flooding, any ground can become waterlogged when there’s persistent heavy rain. And if your property ends up with blocked drains and guttering, that could cause rainwater to pool and leak in through your walls.

So, make sure you run through this checklist ahead of forecasted heavy rainfall:

  • Is the roof watertight?
  • Is all the guttering securely attached and free from debris so rainwater can flow freely?
  • Are drains clear?
  • Are walls free from cracks?
  • Is the sealant around doors and windows watertight?
  • Are sandbags available to tenants in case of rising floodwater?

If your rental property is in a flood-risk area, you’re likely to need specialist insurance and not every insurer will provide cover. Total Landlord Insurance is signed up to the Flood Re scheme, which will cover buy to let properties as long as they meet certain criteria. To find out more and get a quote, contact us on 0800 63 43 880 or complete our quote form online. For more information you can also read our guide, which is packed with tips on the measures you can take to prevent flooding in your rental property.

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Snow and ice

Heavy snowfall is getting less common across most of the UK and the Met Office regional climate model simulation has shown that this trend is likely to continue. Nevertheless, with climate change causing increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather events, we’re still likely to see occasional periods of very heavy snow.

As it falls, snow can build up and increase the strain on your roof, which – in the most severe cases – could lead to sagging or even structural damage. 

The other risk is ‘ice dams, which can form along the edge of the roof and around guttering as snow melts and then refreezes. This blockage can cause water to build up and seep through the brickwork, just as happens when the guttering gets blocked by leaves and other debris. And if melting snow on the roof is unable to escape, it will find any gaps between and underneath tiles and you can easily end up with a leak in your loft.

The only thing you can really do to tackle these problems is ask your tenants to let you know if there’s a build-up of snow or ice, then have a contractor do what they can to clear it.

Of course, the other danger for your tenants is when it’s slippery underfoot. Ideally, have gravel drives and pathways at your rented property – not only does this help reduce the risk of slipping, but it’s also a good deterrent for intruders, as it’s noisy to walk on! In any case, it’s advisable to provide your tenants with a snow shovel and some salt or grit that they can use to keep the entry to the property clear and safe.

For more information and advice on preventing these hazards during cold snaps, read our article How to protect your property against snow this winter.  

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Frozen and burst pipes

Escape of water

‘Escape of water’ is the term used by the insurance sector to describe a leak in the home. The definition is: “When water has entered the property by the mains water supply and caused damage.”

It’s comfortably one of the most common home insurance claims, with our own  10 years of property claims report revealing that 34 per cent of all claims paid out between 2008 and 2018 were for escape of water situations. This figure has remained remarkably consistent, with escape of water still accounting for 34 per cent of claims between 2015 and 2021.

The reason it’s such a common claim is that even the smallest leak can lead to significant property damage if it’s not spotted and dealt with quickly. And that can be particularly tricky in winter when pipes can easily freeze and burst behind the scenes before your tenants are aware there’s even a problem!

In 2019, The Association of British Insurers estimated that escape of water claims during winter cost the insurance industry around £1.8 million a day. At Total Landlord Insurance, the average escape of water claim between 2015 and 2021 cost on average £3,057, an increase of £600  compared with the five year period from 2014 to 2019 when the  average claim was coming in at £2,657. With the cost of escape of water claims increasing and around a third of all claims consistently related to escape of water, you must check that you’re properly covered by your landlord insurance policy. 

Both our Essential and Premier policies provide cover for ‘escape of water and resultant damage arising from fixed water tanks, apparatus or pipes’ – simply contact us for a quote

Burst pipes

According to our own data, over the winter of 2018-19, just under 69 per cent of all escape of water insurance claims were caused by burst pipes. 

This type of claim is so common because even a small fracture in a pipe can release major volumes of water and result in surprisingly large claims. Although the average escape of water claim is for just £3,057, some water damage and repair bills have clocked in at over £100,000 – the highest ever claim, paid in 2018, was for £145,855!

Burst pipes can lead to:

  • Cosmetic and structural damage – both to your rental property and neighbouring properties
  • Damage to the contents – furniture, fixtures, fittings and appliances
  • Expense and hassle of repair/restoration work
  • Possible relocation of tenants while repairs are made
  • Stress and inconvenience for landlords, tenants and neighbours
  • Loss of rental income due to a vacant property while repairs are carried out – unless you have an insurance policy that covers you for lost rent

One of the main causes of burst pipes is water inside them freezing – head to the next section to find out more.

Read more on burst pipes and how to avoid them in your rental property.

Actions to take following a burst pipe

One of the most important things to do when a new tenant moves into your property is make sure they understand what to do and who to contact in an emergency situation. Show them where the mains water stop-cock and electricity fuse box are located and how to turn them off. 

Then, in the case of a burst pipe, follow our seven-step checklist to keep the damage and size of the insurance claim to a minimum:

  1. Make sure the tenants shut off the water and electricity 
  2. Contact your insurer 
  3. Contact emergency plumbers to locate and fix the leak
  4. Ensure the water is contained and furniture and belongings are removed from affected areas
  5. Have the building properly surveyed for potential water damage
  6. Collect evidence of water damage 
  7. Use a dehumidifier to remove any resultant dampness from the property

You can also direct your tenants to our advice sheet on how to prevent burst pipes.

Frozen pipes

When the temperature drops in the winter, there is an increased risk of frozen pipes, even inside your property. As water freezes, it expands, which can force joints in the pipework apart and even burst the pipes themselves. Then, when the ice thaws, the water escapes and you could end up with a big leak – and a big problem.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid frozen pipes in your rental property:

  • Make sure all the pipes and water tanks are well insulated
  • Check insulation in the rest of the property – loft, walls and floor
  • Advise tenants to open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to let warm air circulate around the plumbing
  • Inspect pipes regularly to check for cracks and other damage
  • Ask tenants to run taps – even just on low – for a few hours each day to keep water moving through the system
  • Check seals on windows and doors to minimise icy draughts
  • Encourage tenants to keep the property well heated during particularly cold snaps – even leaving the heating on low during the night 

And if your property is going to be unoccupied for a period during the winter, turning off the water and draining the system will make sure there’s no water in the pipes to freeze.

If you do end up with frozen pipes, you have to proceed carefully because if a pipe has already burst, you could start a flood. We’d suggest that, rather than trying to thaw the pipes yourself, you (or your tenants) turn off the water at the stopcock and call in a professional plumber.

You can find more details in our article, Top tips to avoid frozen pipes, and check out our short video on the key steps to take to avoid pipes bursting in winter: 

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Could PropTech help prevent a leak in your rental?

Increasingly, technology is allowing landlords to monitor their properties from afar, which is particularly handy for those with multiple properties scattered across the UK. 

So, this winter you might want to consider investing in a smart device that:

  • Shuts off the water supply automatically if a leak is detected
  • Alerts you to suspected leaks by text or email 
  • Allows you to turn off the water in your rental remotely, via an app 

To find out more, read our guest blog from Aqualeak, Can proptech help prevent your property leak?

Preparing your boiler for winter

Having an efficient heating system that works properly goes a long way to protecting your property against burst pipes. And if you have a gas boiler, there’s no better time to have your legally required annual gas safety check than just before winter.

If you can’t arrange an appointment ahead of winter – after all, many other landlords will be trying to do the same thing – you can give your boiler an informal inspection yourself:

  • Look for any cracks or signs of water leaks
  • Check the pressure gauge to ensure it’s at the optimum level (between 1 and 1.5 bar) 
  • Test the radiators and bleed them if necessary 
  • Check that all pipework is insulated or lagged

Finally, make sure your tenants know what the boiler pressure should be and make them aware that the recommended temperature in a home during winter is 18 to 21 degrees.

As a landlord, you’re legally responsible for the safety of the gas appliances and pipework in your property, so if you or your tenants are ever in doubt about the safety of your boiler, always call a Gas Safe Registered Engineer.

Check out our guest blog from JustBoilers.com, looking at the top five boiler problems you may face this winter and what to do.

And here’s a short video on how to prepare your boiler for winter, elaborating on some of the tips above:

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The importance of securing your property over winter

The long hours of darkness during winter create more opportunities for burglars. Our own trend data for the ten years from 2008 to 2018 shows that attempted break-ins peak in January and theft claims are highest through late autumn and early winter.

Over the five years from 2014 to 2019, 8.4 per cent of all claims we received at Total Landlord Insurance were for break ins, with an average claim value of £2,250, although many are considerably higher – the highest ever claim, paid in 2018, was for £80,438. 

So, what steps should you be taking to deter intruders and protect both your property and your tenants through the winter months?

Make it difficult for intruders to go unnoticed

Your first line of defence is deterrence, so here are three things you can do that will make it much harder for burglars to sneak up and break in to your property once the sun’s gone down:

Install exterior lights

Fit motion-activated lights to the front and back of the property – and anywhere else where someone might be able to gain access at night, such as a garage. Not only will that help deter burglars, it’ll also be more convenient and safer for your tenants coming and going through winter.

Surround the property with gravel 

Gravel makes an unavoidable  crunching sound when you walk on it, which could alert your tenants to someone approaching the property. So, rather than tarmac or block paving, go for a gravel drive and pathways. And the added benefit is there’s much less chance of tenants slipping when it’s icy. 

Cut back large bushes and plants close to the property

You don’t want to give an intruder anything to hide behind, so either cut back or completely remove any trees, bushes and large plants that are close to doors and windows.

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Making your rental property secure

According to the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, around 70 per cent of burglars break in through a door, with roughly one in five finding the door unlocked! Around 30 per cent gain entry through a window and about a third of those find the window either open or unlocked.

So, although your tenants are far less likely to leave windows open during the winter, remind them to always close and lock the doors and windows when they leave the property.

Properly fitted, modern double-glazing units are pretty difficult to break into when they’re locked from the inside, so that’s ideally the type of windows and doors you should install.

It’s also worth considering changing the locks for each new tenancy and if a tenant loses their keys.

Some landlords choose to install security alarms, but they can be more trouble than they’re worth if tenants don’t know how to operate them properly. Unless your property is in a high-crime area, taking the steps above to deter burglars and secure windows and doors should be sufficient for your tenants to feel safe and secure in their home.

For more on securing your rental property, see our ultimate guide, and here’s a handy tip sheet to pass on to your tenants: How to protect your home from burglary

The winter months can wreak havoc on a property, especially when you’re letting it to tenants who may not have dealt with issues such as leaks, storm damage or burglaries before. Prevention is definitely the key to having a hassle free winter, and it’s important to make sure you have the right level of insurance cover in place as things will happen.  And, just in case the tenant causes damage, that you have a deposit that you can recoup some or all of your costs through. Read our separate articles on winter related insurance issues and winter related deposit issues, for more in-depth advice on these topics. And you can find out more from a landlord’s perspective in our ‘Landlord voice’ article by seasoned landlord, Tom Entwistle, who shares his insights on preparing your rental property for winter, focusing on the need to view repairs and maintenance as an investment, rather than a cost.