Preparing Your Home for Winter

Most people would agree that we haven't had much of a summer. Now the clocks have gone back and the dark nights draw in, what's the weather got in store for us this as winter approaches? More heavy rain? Gales? Snow and ice?

Happily, we'll be safe and warm in our homes while the elements do their worst. Or will we?

Now would be a good time to take a few precautions to make sure your house is in order. If there are jobs on your home that you've been meaning to get on with – or get someone in to deal with – then don't delay any further. And the first thing you should do is make sure your home insurance is up-to-date. But even with the protection of AA Home Insurance you still won't want to go through the hassle of getting repairs done and making a claim if you can help it.

So AA Insurance is urging householders to spend just a couple of hours to make sure their home doesn't come to grief because of storm or frost damage, or fall prey to burglars taking advantage of the dark evenings.

The AA has put together a checklist for outside and inside your home to help homeowners avoid some of the problems that most commonly result in winter insurance claims.

Outside

  1. Roof
    Make a visual check of your roof to make sure there are no slipped tiles. A gale could turn this into this into a hail of falling roof tiles. Check that your chimney pots aren't cracked or wonky and that the TV ariel is still firmly in place and not tilted at an angle.
  2. Gutters and pipes
    Has leaf fall clogged your gutters – especially if there are trees close to your house? Blocked drain pipes and silted gutters can cause water to enter the roof space with consequent damage to ceiling and walls. Check out your local DIY store for gutter leaf guards especially if there are tall trees close to your home. If there is a freeze, the weight of ice and icicles can bring the gutters crashing down. Make sure your outside tap is turned off from inside the house, too, and the pipe drained to avoid a burst if it freezes.
  3. Walls
    Make sure your damp proof course (a black line in the mortar two or three courses above ground level) isn't bridged with debris or soil. Trim any small trees or bushes that could break windows in a gale. Beware of trees close to the house – if they are getting out of hand, their roots could eventually cause subsidence. Have branches that are close to the house lopped, especially if they are dead.
  4. Security
    Check that your security lighting and alarm are in full working order – that the sensors are working properly.
  5. Garage / shed
    Make sure the locks on your garden shed and garage are in good working order and use them – especially if you are storing valuable items such as golf clubs, bikes and garden equipment.

Inside

  1. Water
    Check your stop cock – you will probably find it under your kitchen sink, in the cloakroom or under the stairs. A poll by AA Insurance showed that more than a third of respondents didn't actually know where their stop-cock is! You might be surprised to learn that 'escape of water' inside the home is the single biggest cause of insurance claims – not floods entering your home from outside! If your hot water and bathroom taps are supplied from a roof tank, look in your airing cupboard or next to the tank in the roof for the shut off valves. Check the insulation of the pipes and tank in your roof – a really cold snap could cause the tank to freeze. Get your central heating boiler serviced.
  2. Electrics
    Check plugs and sockets for cracks and damage. Have them replaced if necessary. Familiarise yourself with your 'consumer unit' (fusebox) too – make sure you have spare fuses to hand (if fitted) and that you know how to switch off the mains supply if necessary.
  3. Alarms
    Change the batteries in your smoke alarms and check that they are working – or fit them if you don't have them. Fit one upstairs as well as downstairs – they are inexpensive and save lives. If you have an intruder alarm, have it serviced.
  4. Windows and doors: Fit window locks if you don't have them – and use them! They should have removable keys. Check your door locks, too – including your patio doors. Some insurance policies insist on a five-lever mortice lock to BS 3621 on your main door, even if they don't, it's a good idea to have one fitted.
  5. Insurance
    Make sure you are properly covered and any valuables or additions are included in your policy (for example, have you had a conservatory built?). When you need to make a claim is the wrong time to find you've forgotten to renew your policy!

"These are simple checks and don't take long – yet they'll save you a whole lot of trouble in the long run," says Janet Pell, head of AA Insurance.

She also suggests putting together a 'first-aid kit' for your home. "Knowing exactly where you can lay hands on a torch, a roll of insulation tape, spare fuses, radiator bleeding key, spare batteries, WD-40, screwdriver, craft knife and plasters in a hurry could be vital. And make sure that vital telephone numbers, such as your insurance company helpline and police station, are there too."