Weather extremes are the exception to our generally temperate climate here in the UK. The fact that people still refer to landmark events – such as the drought of 1976, the great storm of 1987 and the harsh winters of 1947 and 1963 – reinforces the notion that such severity is rare.

But preparing your property for winter can involve some simple preparations that can make all the difference between an uneventful winter and one that is memorable for all the wrong reasons. 

Climate change 

Although we regularly experience sub-zero temperatures, heavy snowfall and calamitous flooding, we seem to be diverted by a selective national memory loss from taking climatic threats to life and property seriously.

News coverage of the thousands of people who suffer the privations of these seasonal catastrophes every year should motivate us to take every possible precaution. 

It can take only a matter of hours for normal weather conditions to deteriorate and cause damage that is at best deeply inconvenient and at worst displaces tenants and occupiers, causing widespread damage, costing millions in insurance claims and, in some cases, loss of life, 

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you should do everything you can to make your property safe. Landlords have an obligation, not least arising from the 2018 Homes Act or as many refer to it,  Fitness for Human Habitation Act (FFHH).

Tenants should also recognise their responsibility to maintain the property and advise when there are issues that may affect the structure of the property.

Here is a brief guide to the preventive action that can and should be taken.

External integrity 

Strong winds, heavy rain and plummeting temperatures can put enormous stress on the external structures of any property, with any existing weaknesses or nascent problems suddenly magnified. 

You should conduct routine pre-winter checks on the condition of the roof, looking for loose tiles, slates and flashing. Be aware of any dangerous tree branches that could break free in a storm and have them removed. 

While you are up there, inspect your guttering. Debris can get into it all year round but autumn is a particularly bad time with falling leaves, so give it a thorough clear-out to prevent water damage to the brickwork. 

The gutters feed into the drains, so you should also make sure these are clear of leaves and mud to avoid overflows and leakage.

Don’t forget to check the state of your windows for any gaps that could let in draughts and rain. You should fill and repaint any cracks and make sure the woodwork is properly treated to avoid the danger of it expanding and rotting.

Need a professional to inspect the roof and outside areas? Book an experienced Drone Pilot via Workstreams

As an experienced landlord, you will probably be aware of any history of flooding in the area; however, natural conditions and infrastructure change over time, so it is well worth keeping yourself up to date every autumn by checking with the Environment Agency that nothing has changed that might affect your property.

Pipes

All external and some internal water pipes, such as those in lofts or garages, are extremely vulnerable in sub-zero temperatures. 

If the water inside them should freeze, it will expand and may crack the pipes. This won’t reveal itself as a problem until the thaw when you will suddenly have burst pipes and lots of escaped water on your hands. Make sure all pipework is properly lagged to insulate it from the cold.

Complete regular property inspections so that you can check and evidence that pipes are well maintained in case the information is needed by your insurance company.

Heating

While you are thinking about the risks to the water supply, remember that your heating system and boiler, which you probably take for granted during the summer, could make your winter unendurable if they fail. 

The best time to have your equipment serviced is well before the cold sets in so that there will be no danger of your tenants suffering days and possibly weeks in an unheated property because you are at the back of the queue for a maintenance visit. 

Test the heating, timers and thermostat; in addition, it is a good idea to bleed all the radiators to ensure maximum efficiency. You could check the boiler yourself, but it is best to arrange a professional inspection.

Keep boilers, heating systems and compliance certificates in date – book a Safe 2 Engineer

Power cuts

There are all kinds of reasons for localised power failures and they can occur at any time of the year. They are most often caused by mechanical breakdown or cabling faults; however, power supplies and the national grid are under the most severe pressure during the winter months, which can make power cuts more likely. 

There is nothing you can do to prevent them but you can certainly be ready by making sure the property is equipped with: 

  • Candles
  • Matches
  • Torches
  • Blankets
  • Battery-powered radios, and 
  • Gas-fuelled camping stove or equivalent cooking unit 

Contact 0800 31 63 105 or visit UK Power Networks an emergency if your power fails.

Insurance

There is no reason to assume that anything in your insurance will have changed since last winter, but it pays to double-check. Find out whether the policy is still fully valid and that no new exclusions have been added that you may not have taken notice of before. 

Being wise before the event is essential.

Some if not all of these issues are covered by the Fitness for Human Habitation Act (FFHH), which since 2018 has placed an explicit rather than implicit set of legal obligations on landlords. 

Should a breach be discovered, this could leave you open to damages claims from your tenants. Requirements such as maintaining a building in sound condition, eliminating damp and providing adequate ventilation, drainage and hot and cold water are particularly relevant.

To avoid the inconvenience and expense of a major inspection in the late autumn, most of the structural and service concerns we have covered can be incorporated into a risk assessment and inventory property management regime. 

Read our white paperKeeping tenants and property safe – why landlords and agents should incorporate Fitness for Human Habitation into best practice.

Remember: the easier it is to be sure everything is in working order, the earlier you can anticipate maintenance issues, the safer you can make your property, and the easier the winter will be for you and your tenants.

Inventory Base specialises in property management software that is flexible and customisable, enabling you to add interim checks on pipes, heating, roofs and windows as part of a routine of property inspections and reviews to keep your property compliant and more importantly, safe.