Whether you live in your property or rent it out, all properties require ongoing maintenance, and with rental properties, void periods are a good time to undertake the works.
Ideally, the repairs should be done in the warmer months but sometimes it is unavoidable that these fall in the colder months. This is when more care and attention should be paid to the safety and security of your valuable asset.
For whatever reason you have an empty property over winter, it is really worth investing in some simple measures to protect it, especially during the colder months.
Seasonal Top Tips
1 – Don’t forget to check your home insurance
Check your insurance policy as most will have a clause that stipulates that you must tell them if the property is going to be left empty for an extended period. Most stipulate 28 days but some are 30. In some cases you may be obliged to change the type of insurance you have to one that covers for unoccupied properties.
Also, it is worth bearing in mind that some insurers will have specific stipulations if the property is being left empty. These can be maintaining around the clock low level of heating or following some of the advice in this article. If you are unsure, contact your insurance company to check their specific requirements to make sure you have adequate cover, should you ever need to make a claim.
2 – Look after your central heating system
By far, the biggest worry about leaving a property empty over the winter period is the risk of damage from water, either through a leak or a burst pipe. Left unattended, water damage can cause thousands of pounds of damage to your property. In extreme cases it can even cause structural damage to the building.
There are several ways to tackle this dilemma:
Leave the house unheated altogether.
This is the cheapest option, obviously, but it also leaves the property susceptible to subzero temperatures. To do this turn off the water and drain down all the water tanks and pipes. That means the boiler and central heating system too so as to prevent freezing damage. Ideally this should be done by a qualified heating engineer. If this is your preferred option, don’t forget you will also need to get the heating engineer back in the spring as the system will need to be re-filled and the heating system re-commissioned.
Leave the water and central heating turned on to the “frost” setting on your room thermostats.
This will keep the temperature above freezing (about 4 degrees). This is important because if it is any colder, the water will freeze and expand as it does so. Bear in mind that this option will only protect the water and central heating systems in the house. The water tanks and pipes in the loft will need extra protection because they will be cool anyway due to the loft insulation. Therefore you can either leave the loft hatch open (to allow warm air to rise from below), or introduce supplementary heating such as a small electric heater, again set to the “frost” setting.
The third option is if you are leaving your property empty but furnished.
The measures outlined above are fine if your property is completely empty but don’t use these if you are leaving it furnished. The low temperatures will not prevent condensation which might then leave furniture, fabrics, books and paperwork open to mildew and mould. In this case, leave the heating on a low temperature (about 12 degrees) which will be too warm for mildew and mould to grow.
The perceived wisdom used to be to have the heating come on an our at each end of the day but now the advice is to leave it on permanently. Turn your boiler’s output thermostat to “low” or “min” and the room thermostats to 12 degrees. Open the radiator valves fully and the radiator thermostat turned to “max”.
That is good advice for the inside of the property but don’t forget that if you have external taps, these will also need attention.
It is wise to make sure that any unprotected pipework is covered. Buy specialist lagging for this. Frost boxes for external taps are available but any type of insulation is a wise move for outside taps. Ensure that not only the tap is securely turned off but also that any hose pipes are disconnected. If left to drip it could form ice which would then present a slip hazard.
Also, just in case the worst happens and there is a burst pipe, leave a key with a trusted neighbour or local friend and make sure they know where the stop cock is. These are usually located either under the sink, near the hot water cylinder or in the garage. Also make sure the stock cock is in working order.
3 – And now, for the outside of the property
Obviously prevention is always better than cure so ensure general maintenance is up to date.
It is best to do any necessary repairs during the summer months. Pay particular attention to the roof. A poorly maintained roof may collapse under the weight of heavy snow and it will be expensive to put it right.
Start by making sure the gutters are clear.
Autumn leaf fall might mean they have filled recently. Check that moss hasn’t been washed from the roof and is lurking under the leaves. This may seem like common sense but left full gutters can overflow or sag which in turn can lead to water damage and damp issues. Use a pair of binoculars to check the roof coverings.
Look for slipped or damaged tiles that could become dislodged in high winds.
Look carefully also at the ridge tiles and ensure that all the joints are sound, no cracks or deterioration to ensure that water cannot get into the roof space. If possible, take some photos and check the roof in warmer weather just in case new damage has occurred and get it fixed.
4 – Think about security
It is a sad fact of life that would-be burglars target empty properties; probably because they are easy to identify. Therefore, it is wise to secure your property as best as possible. Fitting a burglar alarm is a positive step but there are other measures you can take to try to deter opportunistic burglars or those intent on entering your property.
The most obvious measure is to ensure that all external doors and windows are secure and locked. Don’t leave the keys in doors or anywhere visible from the outside as these can be retrieved by the more savvy burglar.
Hook lamps and televisions or radios up to timer switches to come on in different parts of the house at different times of day.
If you want to go all out you could get a very sophisticated security system that allows you to view the inside of your home, turn the heating on or off, close the curtains etc. all from your smartphone.