As winter takes hold and temperatures take a nosedive, we retreat into our cosy homes with mugs of tea and great TV. If you’re a homeowner or landlord, however, it’s wise to keep tabs on all the ways cold weather can affect and even damage your property to avoid costly repairs. Here we’ll look at all the types of cold weather damage homeowners and landlords might encounter, and how to prevent or limit them to protect your property.
Types of cold weather damage
It’s reported that cold weather costs the UK economy around £1 billion a day according to the Guardian. Property repairs make up the lion’s share of this – the water damage caused by burst pipes after a cold snap being a prime example. So let’s take a look at some of the most common issues caused by cold weather damage.
Burst pipes are one of the most common and priciest issues when it comes to freezing conditions. When pipes freeze, thaw and then burst, they can leak into your loft, basement and/or walls. In turn, this causes damp and mould that require urgent attention and repair”.
It’s important to be vigilant over frozen or burst pipes over winter as they can affect both your outdoor taps and indoor plumbing, potentially causing serious leaks, water damage or even leaving you with no running water for days.
Why do boilers break down in cold weather?
Your boiler is much more likely to break down in the cold weather simply because it’s in heavier use. If you happen to have a condensing boiler, you may also experience a break down due to a frozen condensate pipe. This is the most common boiler fault in condensing boilers and is caused when the temperature drops below freezing outside.
- Roof and gutter stress
Freezing conditions can be deadly for your roof and gutters. If water sits and freezes, it can form into an ice dam, causing leaks or even weight strain on your roof. If your gutters become blocked with leaf mulch and/or ice, they’re unable to flush away the rain or snow from your house.
- Damp and rot
The freeze and thaw cycles of winter are not friendly to any home’s exterior. For this reason, damp and rot are two of the common winter issues in the UK. Door and window frames are typically hit the hardest where rot’s concerned – especially if they’re timber-framed. Unless you’ve treated them with materials like epoxy filler and corrected any irregularities, they are vulnerable to wood rot.
- Loft water leaks
If you have water pipes, water tanks or cisterns in an uninsulated loft, cold weather can put you at risk from leaks and condensation build-up during the winter months. Technically these pipes and systems are exposed to the cold and aren’t properly protected, causing problems once the excess moisture freezes and thaws.
- Peeling sealant
In winter your caulk sealant is vulnerable to cracking or peeling away from your windows. This is because the fluctuating temperature causes it to expand and contract, causing draughts that let both heat escape and cold air inside, rendering your insulation less effective.
- Cracking paths
You would think your patio or concrete path is invincible but they’re not immune to the elements. When snow or frost thaws and melts, that water gets into cracks and erodes them bit by bit. When that moistures freezes again, it causes the cracks to expand and deepen. This can turn into a continual cycle of erosion and expansion until you make the necessary repair or replacement.
- Electrical hazards
Winter can be a very wet affair,, and we all know electricity and water do not mix. The risk of electrical hazards increases in a cellar where puddles can form or rising damp occurs, or when outdoor lighting gets waterlogged or rusty. You can avoid these issues by investing in water barriers for your cellar and weather-proof covers for your outside lights.
- Exploding pots
The physics of frozen water doesn’t spare our plants. If you’re a keen gardener you’ll know when water freezes and expands, which can literally shatter clay or concrete pots.
- Cracked chimneys
In particularly cold conditions, chimneys are at greater risk. Bricks will expand and contract along with the winter temperature fluctuations. In the worst cases, this causes cracks in our chimneys that degrade further with time. This is why it’s worth staying on top of your chimney maintenance during the warmer months.
- Damaged decking
Even with the best water repellent in the world, wooden decking is still susceptible to winter moisture damage, which causes discolouration and warping. A couple of top tips for homeowners: cover your decking with a tarpaulin over winter and clear any debris or snow as soon as it arrives.
How to prevent cold weather damage
We’ve outlined the typical types of damage sustained by UK properties caused due to cold weather. The thing is, many of these outcomes are preventable. Tick off these preventive measures and you can look forward to a relaxing, cosy winter.
How to stop pipes from freezing
This is one of the most common issues over winter. We’ve dedicated a whole article to What to do if a pipe freezes. If you want to avoid it altogether, read on:
1. Get your boiler serviced
If your central heating system isn’t working efficiently going into winter for example, there are cold spots or sludge build ups in your radiators or pipes it’s these sections that will be most vulnerable to the cold temperatures. So it’s best to get your boiler serviced once a year to do away with any niggles. This way you can be sure your pipes are prepped, your radiators are ready and your whole system can withstand the colder temperatures.
2. Insulate your pipes and water tanks
Pipe and water tank insulation is a must for weather-conscious homeowners and landlords. Pipe lagging and tank jackets are cheap to buy from most online DIY stores and they’re also easy to fit yourself. Just make sure you match your lagging sizes to your pipe and tank measurements.
How to keep outside drain pipes from freezing
To keep exterior pipes from freezing, you need to get lagging, buy yourself some polyethylene pipe insulation and duct tape and cover your pipes all over. Don’t just lag straight lengths of pipe, you should cover all the fiddly bits too, including the valves, fittings and bends. And remember your outside taps – you can get special insulated tap covers.
Pipes in colder areas of your home – consider wrapping the pipes in your unused loft spaces, garage or cellar (if you have one).
Water tanks – these are actually one of the most susceptible items during a big freeze and a leading cause of burst pipes especially if your loft isn’t insulated.
Seal your windows and doors
Repair any cracks or seals around your doors and windows in time for winter to avoid further damage. It’s also worth looking into weather stripping, which is a cheap and effective way to reduce heat loss and stop any draughts entering your home.
Leave your tap to drip during a cold snap
This may seem unconventional, but in freezing conditions it’s a common piece of advice to leave your taps to ‘drip’ so there’s a constant stream of water flowing through them. This is because moving water is slower to freeze.
Let warm air in and shut out the cold
If you have any pipes behind cupboard doors, especially if they’re just inside external walls like the mains water pipe under your sink, keep the cupboard doors open all day during a cold snap. This will let warm air flow over them. Similarly, if your loft is unheated and you have a bunch of pipes and a water tank or two in there, open the ceiling hatch leading to your loft and let the warm air from downstairs rise up and protect everything from the big chill.
Remind yourself where your stopcock is
It’s crucial that you know exactly how to stop the mains water supply to your home in case of a burst pipe, a leak or another home emergency. Familiarise yourself with where your stopcock is, and make sure the area around it is clear.
Turn off your mains water supply if you’re going away
If you know you’re all going to be out for more than a few days during Winter, it’s a good idea to turn off your water supply at the mains stopcock. It might even be worth draining the water afterwards, by running the taps until the pipes are empty. Just remember to close the taps again.
Clear gutters and melt any snow with a de-icer
Consider hiring a professional to clean your gutters before the winter months to avoid a build-up or blockage, and you can use a high-grade de-icer whenever any ice or snow builds-up.
Prepare your garden
Frost is bad news for your plants so bring your potted perennials inside (or another top tip is to wrap them with bubble wrap). Putting mulch around the feet of trees and shrubs stops the ground freezing around them.
Keep your home toasty
We know that energy bills start to add up over winter. However, if you’re able to keep your central heating on for at least an hour a day, this will prevent your pipes from freezing.
We’re on our way
More home emergencies happen during Winter than any other time of year, so home emergency cover is very much worth it. If your boiler breaks down during Winter we have experienced one-off repair service. However, if your boiler has broken down more than once and it’s old, it’s often more cost effective to replace it, if you want peace of mind and hot, running water during the coldest months of the year.
How do you protect pipes in extreme cold?
To keep your exterior pipes from freezing, protect them with polyethylene pipe insulation and duct tape. Consider wrapping the pipes in your unused loft spaces, garage or cellar, and get an insulation jacket for your water tanks.
How do you cover outside taps from freezing?
Don’t forget to insulate your outside taps as well as exterior pipes in winter you can get special insulated tap covers.
Should I drain my pipes to keep them from freezing?
If you’re going away for a winter break or you’re not going to be home for Christmas, it’s a great practice to shut off your water supply at the stopcock and drain all your cold taps so there’s no water left in the pipes to freeze.