As with every season, the more extreme the weather is, the more your investment could be at risk of damage – this is especially important to be aware of in winter.
The biggest winter threat is escape of water. There are simple steps you can take that will hopefully prevent your pipes freezing and bursting. Giving your tenants plenty of notice, your first job should be to check the pipes for any cracks or fissures – which should be seen to straight away.
Once you’re happy the pipes are in good order, make sure there’s plenty of lagging around them, as this will help insulate them and protect them from the cold.
If it’s been a while since the last boiler service, book another. Although it’ll cost you a bit of money, it’ll be much cheaper in the long run if you don’t end up having to totally replace the boiler if it breaks down. This will not only keep your tenants warm and happy, but will keep those pipes warm too.
The Government’s currently offering an Energy Saving Allowance to landlords, which gives a tax reduction of up to £1,500 per property, towards the cost of buying and professional installation of certain energy saving items, including:
- cavity wall and loft insulation
- solid wall insulation
- hot water system insulation
- floor insulation
By installing these items, you’re not only helping to reduce your tenants’ fuel bills (thereby making the property more attractive to prospective future tenants), but you’re also protecting your property against frozen pipes and damp.
Now check the gutters, overflow pipes and drainpipes for cracks, damage and blockages. Fallen leaves and twigs will likely have landed in the gutters during the autumn months, which could also cause blockages later on.
Blocked or damaged gutters and pipes could lead to severe water damage to the roof or walls of the property – which may mean big insurance claims and loss of rental income – as your tenants may need to move out while it’s seen to.
Clearing gutters is really quite a simple job, which you can do yourself with just a ladder, some gloves and a trowel. Make sure you scrape the debris away from the downpipe, as falling leaves could create more blockages. If the downpipe has already become blocked, you can buy a fairly inexpensive ‘Plumber’s Snake’ tool to remove it.
Put some prevention measures in place to prevent future blockages – you can buy cheap drain guards from numerous places – or simply cover the opening with some chicken wire. These guards will need clearing more regularly, but the job will be much quicker and cheaper than sorting out a blockage!
If your property has a gas fireplace, make sure you check it’s working and have it serviced. Having not been used for around half the year, it could have built up dust or debris and may not be fully operational or safe.
If you’re confident in doing so, you can give it a clean yourself, using a vacuum attachment and a can of compressed air, but you should still seek a professional opinion from a Gas Safe Engineer too.
Likewise, if the property has a working fireplace and chimney, have the chimney swept professionally. This will prevent chimney fires and the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Depending on what kind of fuel is burned in the fireplace, you may need to do this more than once a year.
Checking your roof for potential problems could save you a lot of stress in the long run. Loose, cracked or missing tiles can be hard to spot – and aren’t necessarily something your tenants will notice.
Sorting these issues now will mean a much easier winter. Leaking roofs can cause huge damage, which can take a while to show itself.
You can survey the roof yourself from the ground, to see if anything’s obviously wrong – look out for shards of tile or grit in the gutters and on the floor. However, it’s best to get a professional in to fully survey and, if necessary, fix the tiles – as it’s a labour intensive and specialist job, which can be quite dangerous if you’re not trained to do it.
It may seem unlikely that a tree would fall on your property – but it does happen and it can cause huge amounts of damage. Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof method for ensuring the stability of a tree by yourself, but you can have adequate buildings insurance in place just in case.
If there’s a tree on your land that looks like it might topple in a storm, call in an arborist (tree surgeon) for advice. If it’s a neighbour’s tree or property of the council, you’ll have to write to them and ask them to look into it, as legally you can’t do anything yourself.
Information packs for your tenants
Put together a little pack of advice for your tenants. It’s likely they haven’t owned their own home before and so may not know to do certain things during the winter to prevent problems with the property.
Include advice on heating, such as having it on a timer to come on a few times a day and stop the pipes freezing. Give them tips on what to look for in terms of potential damage, such as overflowing gutters. Advice on mould prevention is always useful too, such as proper ventilation, heating and removal of condensation.
It’s also useful for them to know where the stopcock is, in case of emergency. It’s essential that the water’s turned off immediately if a pipe bursts, to limit the damage caused.