Storm Arwen, Storm Barra… another tough winter?

Spring is still several months away with January and February renowned for being the ‘wetter months’. Here is our ultimate guide to things you can do to protect your home, and health this winter.

Boy running through snowy weather - A-Plan Insurance

40% of Brits are ‘caught out’ by winter due to a lack of preparation, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Met Office. That’s over a third of the population left unprepared. Furthermore, over a 25% have dealt with power cuts and 19% experienced a broken boiler.

Unfortunately for us Brits, January and February are renowned for being the ‘wetter months’. With Storm Arwen and Storm Barra battering the UK throughout Winter 2021, and with our health at an absolute premium this winter due to the increase in COVID-19 transmissions, there are some things you can and should do to protect your home and health from the winter elements.

How can I protect my home this winter?

  1. If you haven’t done so yet, service your boiler. December to January is the busiest time for boiler repair callouts according to British Gas, who are called out for around 45,000 visits in Christmas week alone!
  2. Bleed radiators and wrap pipes in insulation.
  3. Seal loose-fitting letterboxes, draughty chimneys and keyholes.
  4. Shut doors in rooms you aren’t using to keep the heat in, or cold out!
  5. Consider thermal blinds or lining underneath your curtains to keep that extra bit of heat in the home.
  6. Insulate! Half of heat loss in a home is via uninsulated walls and attic, while 10% is due to no flooring insulation, so fill and seal, and use rugs.
  7. In case of flood, keep a supply of sandbags at the ready.
  8. If expecting a high level of surface water, temporarily seal ventilation bricks with covers and use flood guards for external doors.
  9. Fit non-return valves to your pipes and drains and cover your outdoor taps.
  10. Keep all of your valuable electrics, from your boiler to fuse box and even television, wall mounted at least 1.5m off the ground.  

Avoid burst pipes this winter

Did you know that ‘escape of water’ damage is one of the most common claims an insurer will see? The average claim for burst pipe damage is between £6,500 and £7,500, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Although water damage is usually covered by your buildings insurance, the disruption is better avoided in the first place.

Avoid burst pipes this winter - A-Plan Insurance

While ‘escape of water’ can happen at any time of the year, winter poses the additional threat of the Big Freeze. Generally, pipes that are exposed to outdoor temperatures and pipes that run along exterior walls with minimal lagging tend to freeze more easily.

Here are some of our top tips:

  • Lag pipes and water tanks in unheated interior areas, such as loft spaces and garages.
  • Open the loft trap door on cold days to let heat circulate.
  • Consider wrapping vulnerable pipes in electric heat tape for extra lagging.
  • Ensure there are no cracks or gaps around the pipes that enter your home, and fill any you find.
  • Disconnect outdoor items such as hoses.
  • Know where your stopcock is and make sure you can turn it off when necessary.
  • Keep your heating on at regular intervals, and set it on a timer or leave it on low if you’re going away over the Christmas period. If you are going away, ask someone like a friend or neighbour to periodically check the temperature in your home.
  • Check that your boiler has been serviced.
  • If your property is going to be unoccupied for longer periods, turn off the water at the stopcock and consider draining the system so there is no water left in the pipes.

If you find your pipes frozen, turn your water off at the main stopcock straight away. Check to see if any pipes have burst. If not, either wait for them to warm up or thaw them with a hairdryer on the lowest setting, hot water bottles or a towel soaked in hot water starting at the end nearest the tap.

If you find a burst pipe, turn your water off at the main stopcock and open all the taps to drain the system. Switch off central heating and any other water heating installations. If you are insured with A-Plan, contact us for advice, including arranging for professional repairs and how to go about making a claim on your home insurance.

What should I do if I’m affected by a flood?

Make sure you’re on the UK Government mailing list for flood warnings (or here if you’re in Scotland). You can also check the government website.

If your area is on high alert, get your sandbags and other temporary flood precautions in place. Move valuables, including important documents, upstairs, and if you can, turn off your water, electricity and gas supplies. Also turn off appliances that use water, such as your dishwasher and washing machine.

Be prepared to evacuate immediately if you’re asked to – including your pets. Don’t risk leaving too late and becoming trapped upstairs with no means of escape, and only return when you’re told it’s safe to do so.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 999. Otherwise, if you’re flooded, the dedicated Floodline number to phone for advice is 0345 988 1188 (0300 2000 100 in Northern Ireland), and it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you have no insurance providing cover for alternative accommodation, you may be able to get temporary accommodation by contacting your local council who will come to inspect your home and assess whether you’re eligible.

You’ll need to call your insurance company before you begin the clean-up operation, and they’ll advise on what to do next, including whether you’re able to make a claim. It is important to speak to your insurer prior to clean up due to the potential biohazards involved and, above all, don’t take risks.

Is your home at risk of flooding?

It is estimated that 1 in 6 properties in the UK are at risk of flooding. While the Government has outlined a record £5.2bn investment into better flood protection for homes and businesses over the next 5 years, helping to avoid the huge £32 billion in flood economic damages, the flood risk to property will only be reduced by 11%. 

What to do in the event of a flood - A-Plan Insurance

The damage to a property can be monstrous, particularly for the uninsured. It is worth considering that the ABI suggests that the average household flood claim for Storms Ciara and Dennis in 2020 is estimated to be around £32,000, with these figures still to be updated, and include costs following Storm Arwen. 

Of course, the 2020 figures were also taken into account prior to the significant rise in building materials, from timber prices increasing by 23% in just one month to a 10% – 15% rise in other materials. All of this means that those original claim costs are highly likely to have increased.

It can be very difficult to obtain insurance for a property that has been flooded before, and you will not be covered for this under a standard buildings and contents policy.  There is a scheme called FloodRe, which helps homeowners in high risk properties. The acceptance criteria is based on the year your property was built and council tax band.  The scheme was set up to work with insurers ‘behind-the-scenes’, allowing your home insurer to pass the flood risk element of the policy to the scheme for a fixed price, and reimburses your insurer through their annual £180m levy.

A-Plan has arrangements with specialist providers which enables us to provide cover for homes at risk of flooding with all the information you need to make the right decision. Please do contact our friendly, knowledgeable team for help and support. 

Will my home or contents insurance cover any winter damage?

The answer is very much ‘it depends on what the damage is’.

You will need home, or ‘contents’ insurance for your personal possessions, while buildings insurance will cover your home in the event of a storm damaging your roof, or causing a leak which damages your home.

From burst pipes to storm flooding, if an event causes damage to your furniture, electrical goods and so on, you are able to claim for this via your contents insurance, however you will need to check how much you are covered for.

Of course, once your home has previously flooded and reinstated, you will need specialist flood risk insurance. It’s definitely worth checking your policy cover or talking to an expert to ensure you’ve covered all of your expectations, should the worst happen.

If you would like to speak to one of our flood specialists, you can call the team directly on 01865 241 241 and they would be happy to offer general advice and talk you through your options.

If you are looking for some handy winter tips for your vehicle, take a look at our latest blog How to jump start your car – and other helpful winter advice!