How to keep your home safe against cold-weather threats

The cold, dark winter months bring with them a much greater risk of problems with your property – from the threat of frozen or burst pipes, to the increased chance of being burgled. Even a cosy fire can add to the domestic hazards you face.

But winter doesn’t have to be so testing. Here are some simple steps you can take now to protect your home against the most common problems.

Beat the big freeze

It’s inevitable that there will be at least one or two periods of very cold weather every year, leading not only to increased heating bills, but also the risk of damage to pipes. Here’s how to prepare:

  • Lag outside pipes to prevent them freezing and then bursting in the cold.
  • Leave the heating on low if you're going to spend time away from home. At least 15°C will ensure internal pipes don’t get too frosty.
  • Make sure you know where the stop cock is in case you do suffer a leak.
  • In severe cold weather, leave the loft hatch open if you are going to be away for a few days or more, to let heat into the roof space if you have a water tank in there.
  • Insulate the sides and top of the water tank in the loft, but leave the underside clear to allow warmth from below to penetrate and prevent the tank from freezing.

Weather the storm

Winter weather means a greater likelihood of high winds, storms and of course snow, all of which can take their toll on your home. In late autumn or early winter, it is worth taking a few preventative measures:

  • Check your roof for missing slates, not forgetting felt on sheds and garages – if necessary call in the experts rather than attempt to inspect high roofs yourself.
  • Keep your gutters, gullies and drains, including downpipes, clear of autumn leaves.
  • Cut back low-hanging tree branches which could be brought down by strong winds or heavy snow.

 Keep burglars at bay

The long winter nights provide extra cover for burglars. Make their lives more difficult by:

  • Investing in a burglar alarm, or even just a siren box, which can act as a visual deterrent.
  • Making sure your doors are strong and in good condition; fit good-quality mortice deadlocks where possible.
  • Ensuring that French doors are fitted with top and bottom mortice locks.
  • Not leaving spare home or car keys in view from outside, or near windows or letterboxes.

Minimise domestic fire hazards

Open fires, the use of candles and fireworks all increase the chances of a domestic fire in the winter. Keep the risk to a minimum by following these tips:

  • Install a functioning smoke detector and test it regularly.
  • Avoid leaving candles unattended, in a draft or somewhere they may be knocked over; and keep a guard in front of an open fire if you’re out of the room.
  • Set off fireworks for New Year or Bonfire Night celebrations well away from the house and from any over-hanging trees. If you live in or near thatched homes, it’s perhaps best to leave fireworks to organised displays.
  • Invest in a couple of fire extinguishers – keep them handy and know how to use them.
  • Don’t fill a chip pan more than one third full of fat or oil.
  • Always switch off electric blankets before getting into bed and make sure they carry a safety mark.

For more information about how to protect your home and belongings, go to Solved.