Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Preparing for winter

04/11/19Preparing for winter

One of the most important aspects of building ownership is maintenance and repairs. Whether you are resident in your property or renting it out, it’s your obligation to make sure the fabric of the building is maintained, to ensure it is safe and secure. You’ll usually spot anything that could signify a problem, such as peeling paintwork, or dampness, so it’s worth being attuned to what to look out for. A little spot of damp on a wall could be a sign of something more serious, particularly in older properties that don’t have a damp-proof course, while damp on a chimney could signify a problem with the lead flashing between the roof and chimney.    

Maintaining a standard

Empty properties are another proposition all together. Because they are vacant and there’s no one living there day to day, problems can develop without being spotted. In this way, a small problem can quickly become something more significant. It’s worth being vigilant and regularly spending time at the property, to look for warning signs that something could be wrong. If you find evidence of leaks or dampness, this could be caused by defective water pipes or central heating, or a more serious structural problem, such as a leaky roof. The summer months are less of a challenge in keeping a property maintained, as the weather is generally warmer and the building has less ‘weather’ to deal with – although in recent years, as well as heatwaves, we’ve also had to endure a great deal of wet weather, which can test even the best roofs. The winter though brings a whole raft of extra problems, from extremes of temperature, to standing water and falling leaves.

Winter warmers

Many little checks can help to make your property winter-proof. One of the most important is to make sure your central heating system is checked annually. The older your boiler, the more likely it is to go wrong, and the extra burden of working around the clock during the winter can cause problems that you wouldn’t notice in the summer, where the boiler may only be heating your water cylinder. A qualified gas engineer will come out and check your boiler and if you have oil-fired central heating, make sure you have plenty of oil in the tank well in advance of the winter rush. Insulating your pipes, particularly in rural areas, where pipework may be up in the loft, or between outbuildings, is also important. Burst pipes can cause untold damage to vacant properties. Adequate draft-proofing can also improve a building’s winter energy efficiency. Modern UPVC window and door systems have a great deal of sealed draught-proofing built in, but older properties often have single-glazing or gaps under doors, which allow warm air to escape. 

External aspects

One job that is often neglected is clearing guttering of any debris. Guttering needs cleaning, particularly during autumn, where twigs, moss and leaves can gather and cause obstructions. If debris is left in guttering, it can block downpipes and back up, causing damage to timber facia boards and roofs, rotting them as they remain damp when the water overflows. If it freezes, water gathered in the gutter can cause damage to the plastic or iron guttering. In fact, the temperature challenges of winter bring with them their own set of issues. Check the external brickwork pointing, or outside concrete, to make sure there’s nowhere for water to collect, freeze and expand, causing cracking and degeneration. Freezing can cause particular damage to garden walls and coping stones, where crevasses can hold water long after it’s stopped raining. And it’s also a good idea to trim back any trees or other plants that overhang the property and could cause damage if they fell towards the building. Being prepared for winter is half the battle – things can still happen to empty properties, but if you’ve made the effort, you’ll hopefully minimise the risk of problems arising.

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