So far in 2014, the winter weather has been somewhat mild, with temperatures in large parts of the country remaining above freezing throughout November and the majority of December. However, at the turn of the year, we see a change in conditions, with some areas having experienced snow and ice in abundance over the last few days of the year.
Unfortunately for many of us, both homeowners and tenants, the change in weather will have come as a bit of a shock, with the less harsh conditions until now having lulled us into a false sense of security.
When winter weather does get extreme, as it is threatening to do now with plummeting temperatures and bad weather predicted for the start of 2015, it's important that residents, whether they own a property or rent it, are taking care to make sure they protect their home against the conditions.
Burst pipes are the biggest problem facing most residents, with the Association of British Insurers saying that the average cost of a burst pipe can be between £6,000 and £7,500. For tenants in particular this can be bad news, because failure to protect the home properly against the weather can mean they are liable for the repairs.
So how do you make sure the home is ready to face the stiffest of winter challenges, and what can you do when something does go wrong?
Keep the property warm
No matter how warm or cold you may feel in your own property, remember that it's the pipes you need to be thinking about and not yourself. Even if you're not feeling the cold, a real drop in temperature can leave your pipes frozen and at risk of bursting.
To mitigate against this, you should ensure that your central heating runs at regular intervals. A timer can be a great way to ensure that hot water flows through the pipes every few hours, reducing the risk of them freezing.
If you are going away at any time, perhaps on a late winter break, for example, it's also important to make sure that you set the time more regularly. An empty property will get colder much faster, and you need to be safe in the knowledge that the pipes can stand up to the cold.
Insulation as protection
While keeping the heating on is the ideal way to make sure the risk of pipes freezing is minimal, it can be a costly venture, and many of us will be looking for a cheaper way to protect the home, especially with Christmas having just passed.
Thankfully, there is a way to do so. Pipes can be kept from freezing by insulating them. Insulation sleeves can be bought from most DIY stores, and they work by simply sliding them over the pipes, keeping them warm and lowering the risk of a burst.
Another little tip many don't know about is to make sure to fix any leaky taps as soon as possible. Water trickling constantly from a tap can freeze quickly and cause problems in the pipes. What might seem like nothing but a trivial matter can actually cause something altogether more serious.
However, in some cases even taking these steps won't protect a pipe freezing and rupturing, and in this eventuality, it is important that owners and tenants know what to do to stop the problem from getting worse.
What to do if a pipe bursts
If any of your water pipes should freeze and burst at home, it's vital that you know what to do to mitigate against flooding when they eventually defrost.
The ABI says that all owners and tenants should know where the stopcock that turns off the incoming water supply is, and make sure that it works so that they can quickly stop the supply of water in an emergency.
When pipes freeze, residents should switch off the stopcock immediately and try to use a hot water bottle to thaw off the pipes gradually, making sure to look for any leaks or ruptures anywhere in the pipes.
If a leak is found, the insurer says that residents then need to make sure they contact their heating provider immediately and drain all water from the system, ensuring that the water supply remains off until someone has repaired the pipes.
"Every winter, damage caused by burst pipes is widespread and expensive. Prevention is better than cure and a few simple steps can reduce the risk of facing the trauma of frozen or burst pipes during the winter," said Aidan Kerr, ABI’s head of property.