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Preparing Your Holiday Home for Winter

When the holiday season draws to a close, and you are no longer expecting any more guests, how do you keep your property in the best possible condition and avoid any nasty surprises during the winter months?

As with any home, there are always key elements which are going to cause you more problems than others. Here are our top tips to help you avoid the worst that the winter weather can bring.

Protect from Frost

Have you prepared your holiday home for winter?

Last winter the snow caught most people out.

Were you prepared for winter?

1. Turn Up the Heat to Avoid the Freeze

Burst pipes are every home owner's nightmare. Not only can a thaw lead to an incredible amount of damage in a very short space of time, it is also all the more frustrating because when know that the damage was avoidable. One way to escape this is to leave the heating on a very low setting (around 13oC).

2. Service Your Boiler Annually

Of course, it&requo;s going to be impossible to leave your heating on if it’s not working correctly. Having your heating system serviced annually is one way to safeguard against breakdowns and ensure that your boiler is working to its full potential.

Not only will a boiler service means that your heating system will run at its most efficient, you can also reassure guests that it is safe.

3. Invest in Insulation

Ensuring that your loft insulation is the correct thickness will not only retain heat but save money on your heating bills too. While you’re at it, invest in a good quality jacket for your hot water cylinder and lag pipes. If you have any exposed outdoor pipes, protect these with an insulating sleeve. In some areas, grants are available for energy saving improvements, so always check if these are available before starting work.

One area to pay particular attention to is the pipes leading to condenser boilers. If these freeze, then the system will shut down and you could be left with expensive bills to both repair your heating system and the damage caused by burst pipes.

4. Allow Warm Air to Circulate

If, like most properties, you have tanks and pipework in the loft, consider leaving the loft hatch open to allow warmer air to circulate and prevent freezing.

5.Drain the System Completely

If you are going to be away for some time, and you do not wish to leave the heating on for any reason, have a plumber professionally drain the system for you. This is particularly useful if you have small fuel storage tanks which you cannot guarantee will last the winter.

6.Clear Paths

If you are planning to let your home during the cold weather, ensure that your paths are kept clear of leaves, which become treacherous in wet or icy conditions. A supply of grit or salt will enable your visitors to keep paths clear and enjoy safe access.

Shelter from Rain

7. Make sure Your Roof is Sound

Either call in a roofer, or make sure you do a thorough visual check of the roof to ensure you have no broken or loose tiles. Besides the obvious going outside and looking at the roof, another good way to check is to enter the loft in darkness and see if you can see any chinks of light entering the roof space from outside.

Roof tiles can cause a great deal of damage if ripped off by the wind, not only to parts of your property, but also to neighbours' cars and windows as well. Making sure that they are secure gives you piece of mind that they won’t damage anything else, or worse, someone else.

8. Check Gutters and Drains

Leaves and other debris can soon block guttering and cause drainpipes to overflow, which may cause damp or flooding. If the downpipe becomes blocked and then freezes, you may find yourself with damage that was easily avoidable. Keep them clean.

9. Don’t forget the Eaves, Fascias and Soffits

A bad storm can lead to rain water being blown up under the eaves and entering the house. Checking that these are in good order before you leave for the winter can ensure you do not suffer these problems.

Guard Against Wind

10. Prune Your Trees

In high winds, trees can cause even more damage than burst pipes. Falling trees can and do damage houses and other parts of the property and falling branches can wipe out power lines in seconds.

Make sure your trees have any dead branches removed and that they are pruned to a height where they will not cause damage.

11. Check for Drafts

In the summer, when the weather is fine and the windows are open, it’s easy to miss draughts. Check for any gaps which may have appeared round windows and make sure they are sealed. There is little point in spending money to heat your home if all of that heat escapes around poorly-sealed windows. At the same time, check your windows are in good condition and attend to any repairs before you leave.

12. Secure Shutters

If you have shutters, make sure they are securely fastened. Banging shutters are a sure fire way for you to upset the neighbours. Secure them before you leave and you are far more likely to find them in good order when you return. Shutters are a handy burglar deterrent as well, after all, who wants to spend time breaking into a house with closed shutters, when the house next door has none? If you have an insurance policy through a French company, it is likely that the small print will require shutters to be closed when the property is unoccupied.

13. Keep Yourself in the Picture

Satellite dishes and aerials should be securely fastened and it is best to check that they are. Because they are attached by a cable, if they are caught by the wind they could repeatedly cause damage to the same area of your house and they could be instrumental in causing you to require some significant repairs.

Final Outdoor Checks

14. Check the Paintwork

Make sure that paintwork is free from flaking and that woodwork will not become water damaged over the winter months.

15. Make Certain that Ladders are Secure.

If you have a ladder which is stored outdoors, make sure that it is secured with a padlock and chain. That way, any light-fingered visitors will find it difficult to remove (or use it to break in and remove even more.)

16. Fix the Fence

Because fences tend to be long connected bits of wood, a weak link can see it all become wind broken and damaged very quickly. Make sure that the fence is secure before you leave and it will still be there when you return.

General

17. Have an Emergency Contact

Ask a friendly neighbour, or your housekeeper, to look in on the property every few days, just to check that everything is okay. Make sure that both you and they know where the stop cock is ... just in case.

18. Keep Things Running Smoothly

Gas and electrical appliances should be serviced annually by qualified engineers. This will give both you, and your guests, peace of mind that everything is safe.

19. Don’t Forget Your Outbuildings

Even the smallest of outbuildings will probably have things that need checking. Try to make sure that the roof is sound, and the door fits tightly in place. This is particularly important if the outbuilding is used for storage (don’t forget to bring in your garden furniture!)

Make sure all outbuildings are securely locked before you leave, especially as they often contain tools thieves can use to break into your home.

20. Are the Electrics are Safe?

Make sure that you disconnect any items which will not be used from the mains and install surge protectors to prevent appliances such as freezers being damaged should you decide to leave them connected.

21. Check items with Hoses

Dishwashers, washing machines and other items with pipes should all be checked to ensure that there is no leakage. Even the smallest of drips from a tap can cause some significant damage if left unattended.

22. Protect against Fire

Have your chimney swept annually (your insurance company will also require a certificate of proof) and check the flashing to make sure that no rain can enter this way.

In addition, replace batteries (if necessary) in carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and test them to make sure they are working.

23. Deter Burglars

  • Consider installing an alarm or, if your property is in a remote area, invest in grills and shutters as a deterrent instead.
  • Lock your doors and windows. Not doing so could invalidate your insurance and end up being a costly exercise.
  • If you are leaving a key, then put it in the hands of a friend or neighbour. Most burglars know the usual places people hide their keys and you could be making access simple for them.
  • Invest in security lighting. Outside sensors can be enough to startle many would-be burglars.
  • If you are leaving valuables behind, consider investing in a safe. However, we would always advocate that if valuables are precious enough to be put in a safe, then you really should not be leaving them in your unoccupied holiday home.

24. Be Prepared for the Worst to Happen

Always have an emergency pack available. This should include torches, a first aid kit and any important documents you may need. It should also contain directions to the nearest medical help and emergency contact numbers.

Preparing your holiday home for winter should not be a chore. Most of the points suggested here are simply routine maintenance, and if you are on top of them, then you should be able to simply turn the key to your home and look forward to next year.

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