Whatever the time of year, the British weather has a way of delivering your property some quite punishing treatment. The weather alone contributes to the wear and tear which might quickly – and substantially – reduce the value of what is likely to have been a substantial investment in your own home, buy to let property or commercial property. That immediately raises the question of what you might do, if not to exclude every risk from the elements, at least to help with weather proofing the property.
What follows is the briefest of guides.
Repair and maintenance
Probably the single biggest favour you can do for your property is to keep it in a good state of repair. By making sure that the structure and fabric of the building is intact and in good working order helps to protect it against the ravages of the weather and its potentially falling value as a result.
If you are a landlord, you have a responsibility for maintaining the property in a good and safe state of repair and this may be enforced by local council officers. In Scotland, there is even a “Repairing Standard” which sets out the contractual and legal responsibilities of the landlord for keeping the property maintained and for carrying out any necessary repairs in good time.
Even with respect to your own home, the local authority may enforce very basic standards to ensure that the building is not in a dangerous or unsafe state of repair.
In any event, the general state of repair and protection against wear and tear caused by the weather is likely to be taken into account if you ever need to make a claim on your landlord or home insurance – any value of any claims settlement may be considerably reduced to reflect the insurer’s assessment of damage resulting from wear and tear.
So, what checks and actions might you take in the interests of general repairs and maintenance?
- the Property Checklists website offers a detailed list of what might be included in an inspection to be completed at least once a year;
- top of that list, in fact, is the importance of establishing just what level of maintenance the property needs for your home insurance or landlord insurance to remain valid;
- as a most basic standard, the property needs to be wind and water tight – and this involves more than just checking whether you feel a draught around doors and windows;
- since water is one of the sources of long-term damage to the exterior of the building, it is essential to check and ensure that all rainwater goods (such as gutters and downpipes), drains, and other external pipes are adequately maintained and doing the job for which they are intended;
- the utilities supplied to your property also help to keep it in a good state of repair, so make sure that water, electricity, gas, wastewater, space heating and water heating installations are also in good working order;
- the roof, of course, provides the primary protection of the building against the elements, so check that no tiles or slates are missing, there are no cracks in the chimney stack and that the flashing where this meets the roof is intact;
- check the walls for any cracks that may have opened up, especially if they appear to be widening still and, if necessary, consult a surveyor about the possible cause or causes;
- is there anything on or near the walls (such as overgrown vegetation, for example) which might be encouraging the accumulation of rainwater and the resulting build-up of damp; and
- after it has been raining, check the inside walls, at the top and bottom, to detect any signs of damp – arranging for a generally free damp check of walls and timbers.
Winter weather proofing
There are some times of the year, of course, when weather proofing may become even more important – what with the risks of winter storms, snow, ice and flooding.
Tips on preparing your home for wintry conditions is published by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
You can also read our article here on getting ready for winter.
If water pipes freeze, they may rupture and leak once the thaw sets in – with any escape of water potentially causing considerable damage both to the structure and fabric of the building and to its contents.
All exposed pipework needs to be adequately lagged, therefore, including those in the roof space, where loft insulation may be responsible for leaving water pipes more vulnerable to freezing.
This is also a reason for your regular repair and maintenance inspection schedule to include a check of your heating system. The system provides an ambient level of heat which not only contributes to your own comfort, but also protects the home and its contents against sharp falls in temperature – so, you don’t want this to break down just when you need it the most.
Following any winter storm, you need to bring forward your normal repair and maintenance schedule to double-check that no tiles or slates have been dislodged, no branches or other debris have fallen onto – or is in danger of falling onto – the roof. Check that no gutters or drains have become blocked and that there is no accumulation of run-off water.
Flooding from swollen rivers or rising tides in the sea is likely to pose an even greater threat during winter – and some homes may be more vulnerable than others in this regard. Before weather proofing your home against the risk of flooding, therefore you might want to consult the Environment Agency’s maps indicating those areas at greatest risk.
The severity of that risk, of course, might determine the defences – and the cost – against flooding. You might want to take into account some of the following considerations:
- your possible need for specialist flood insurance for your home;
- in a high risk area, you might want to work with neighbours for a common investment in longer-term flood barriers and defences;
- if you home is in a flood risk area, you might also want to move electrical outlets and sockets above an immediate ground level – to around one 1.5 metres above floor-level;
- replace chipboard and MDF kitchen units with plastic or wooden ones;
- non-return valves on toilets and sinks are designed to prevent sewage and waste water from flowing back;
- purchase specially designed air brick covers to help prevent flood water coming through them – remembering to remove them, of course, once the flood waters have subsided; and
- make sure to keep a plentiful supply of sandbags.
The weather may also exacerbate one of the greatest nightmare likely to face any property owner – and that is the risk of subsidence.
Long, dry spells and droughts, for example, might lead to the shrinkage of soil – especially clay soils – around tree roots, giving a dangerous possibility of the building’s foundations crumbling into the void and resulting in subsidence.
Whilst some homes may be more vulnerable than others – if there have been previous incidents of subsidence or the property is built on a site where mining or other extraction industries have taken place, for example – subsidence may develop at any time of the year. The problem might stem from shrinkage around tree roots during summer droughts, but is might also be caused by winter storms, floods and a rising water table washing away the foundations of your home.
The causes of and defences against subsidence is a complicated issue and there is only a very general consensus even amongst the experts. Nevertheless, there are guides available on the internet and including our own Guide to Subsidence.
Come rain or shine, your property is vulnerable to the weather, no matter what the time of the year. Hopefully this short guide has given you some food for thought as to how to protect yours with adequate weather proofing.