As the cold steals on and winter weather takes hold, it becomes that time of year when any homeowner’s worst nightmares might be set in train. Both represent potentially very costly damage to the entire structure of a property and typically provoke a torrent of insurance claims.
The twin disasters waiting in winter’s wings are flooding and subsidence, so it may be helpful to look at ways you might be getting your home ready to combat them, and get ready for winter weather as a whole.
As an island nation, with many rivers and streams running through it, the surge in water levels brought on by winter storms poses the threat of flooding.
Just how great a risk is likely to be faced by your own home may be gauged simply by entering your postcode in a webpage published by the Environment Agency and you will be given an indication of the likely risk of flooding from either sea or rivers – or both.
There are defensive measures you might take:
- if there is a long-term but relatively imminent risk each winter, you might want to consider pooling your resources with similarly affected neighbours to invest in a permanent flood barrier;
- if the risk of flooding is moderately severe you might also think about the advance precaution of moving electrical sockets and outlets above immediate ground level to one and a half metres or so above the floor;
- MDF and chipboard kitchen units are especially vulnerable to flood damage and may need to be replaced with solid wood or plastic ones;
- fit non-return valves on sinks and toilets to prevent back-flow of sewage through these pipes;
- if conditions progress from high risk to flood warning, of course, it is time to take more immediate action;
- make sure you have, or have access to, a stockpile of sandbags – still one of the most effective, immediate responses to rising flood waters;
- move items or value and any electrical appliance which can be easily moved to upper floors – those appliances which cannot be moved might be raised several inches by lifting them onto blocks in situ;
- fit air-brick covers to prevent the ingress of water through these – and remember to remove them once any floods have subsided.
The cost of insurance
One of your essential defences against the costly damage that winter weather, and more specifically flooding may cause is flood insurance.
The difficulty is that if your home has experienced flooding in the past or is located in an area particularly prone to flooding, insurance companies may be wary of extending cover to you or, if they do, charge an expensive premium.
On the 4th of April 2016, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that following some of the worst storms and flooding in a century, insurers were faced by claims totalling some £400 million in relation to more than 8,000 properties. Hence the trend towards higher flood insurance premiums for all homeowners.
With support from the government, the industry introduced a scheme called Flood Re, a non-profit making arrangement designed to spread out the overall cost of flood insurance to homes likely to be affected by winter weather and flooding.
To benefit from Flood Re and to identify those insurers maintaining a concern to offer the flood protection you need, you might want to consult us here at GSI Insurance where we are able to secure competitively priced quotes for the cover you need.
Potentially even more damaging than flooding is subsidence which results from a significant disturbance of the foundations on which your home is built. It may become evident after any floods have subsided, although subsidence is a headache that might occur in either winter or summer.
Rising water tables brought about by winter weather storms may be enough to wash away foundations – especially those laid in lighter, sandier soils. Droughts in summertime may have the same effect – especially in clay soils this time – as spreading tree roots dry out and shrink the ground around them, leaving voids into which foundation material may tumble.
To help you spot the signs of subsidence, you might want to read through the guide we have published on our website at GSI Insurance.
To help prepare your home and defend it against the risk of subsidence, one of the key factors in winter time is to ensure that the site is adequately drained – including those times when the water table is rising. Therefore, ensure that drains, connections to rainwater drainage systems and soakaways are free from all blockages and providing sufficient drainage.
For year-round protection against the risk of subsidence caused by soil shrinkage, take particular care of any trees or larger shrubs and undergrowth planted close to your home. Uprooting and removing such plant life is not only likely to reduce the visual appeal of your property but may even encourage subsidence into the holes felt by the root clusters that are removed.
A safer way – suggests the Subsidence Forum – is to maintain a regime of pruning back the foliage on a regular basis, so that the leaves do not absorb more water from the ground than left to grow in an uncontrolled way. With less water absorbed from around the building’s foundations, this may help reduce soil shrinkage and the risk of subsidence.
Homes in some parts of the country may be at greater risk of subsidence than others – where the phenomenon is known to have happened to other buildings in the area, for example, or where there have been mining or other extraction industries at work in the past.
In those circumstances, you may find it difficult to arrange fully comprehensive home insurance that includes subsidence insurance or have to pay a hefty premium for cover to include the risk of subsidence. The alternative, therefore, might be to exclude cover for subsidence altogether from your building insurance. Many home insurance policies do not include cover against subsidence as a matter of course.
Specialist providers such as us here at GSI Insurance, however, have used an expertise and inside knowledge of the whole of the market to identify niche insurers prepared to extend cover against the risk of subsidence – yet at a price which you may still find entirely affordable.