Is another 'Beast from the East' on the horizon this winter?

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), there’s a 70% chance of a recurrence of the El Niño weather event before the end of this year, which means we could be heading for yet another very cold winter.

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Weather-wise, this year has produced some headline-grabbing extremes.

Back in February, we endured a bitterly cold winter when freezing winds – dubbed the Beast from the East – swept in from Siberia, bringing widespread snowfall and freezing conditions to much of the UK. 

This was followed by a summer of record-breaking temperatures when the country enjoyed a prolonged heatwave that lasted from June until August – and while sales of beer and ice-cream spiked, livestock and arable farmers in England and Wales struggled as unrelenting hot, dry weather scorched crops and pastureland alike. 

According to The Met Office, 2018 is among the top 15 driest summers ever across the UK, and in the top five of the nation’s sunniest summers. 

Now, as winter officially begins (and if the long-range forecasts prove accurate), it’s time to start taking steps to protect your property against another season of potentially extreme weather.

Get your property ready

Undertaking some basic preparation for winter means there’s less likelihood of a small problem turning into a big one when cold and stormy weather strikes. Here are some pointers to get you started:

  • Check gutters, overflow pipes and drainpipes for cracks, damage and blockages. Fallen leaves and twigs can get into the gutters during the autumn months and clog them. Blocked or damaged gutters and pipes can cause severe water damage to the roof or walls of your property, so doing this simple job can help you avoid costly repairs. 
  • Examine your roof for loose or cracked tiles. A leaking roof can cause a lot of damage but may go unnoticed. You can do a quick survey using binoculars to check for cracked, broken or missing tiles or slates. Also, look for tile shards or grit in the guttering and on the ground. If you do need to make repairs to your roof always use a specialist, don’t do it yourself.
  • Make sure that any lead flashing (the strips that cover joins between the walls and roof) fit snugly and are fixed into the wall with cement.
  • Keep all rendered walls in good condition and prime them with good quality masonry paint.
  • Look after any trees on your property. While even a healthy tree can blow down in bad weather, poorly-maintained or diseased trees are much more likely to succumb to ice, high winds or lightning strikes. So, it's important to keep the trees on your property in good condition to reduce the risk of them causing damage during a storm. 

Avoid frozen pipes

A common risk when the weather turns very cold is frozen pipes. You should take the following steps to avoid this from happening:

  • Insulate water tanks and lag pipes, especially in unheated areas and make certain you lag everything – leaving a gap at a bend or a valve will expose the pipe and risk it freezing.
  • Get your boiler serviced. If you’re a landlord, you must arrange to do this annually as it is a legal requirement.
  • Fix any leaking taps and replace washers – even a small leak can result in a pipe freezing and then bursting when it thaws.
  • Leave the heating on low when you are away and ask a friend or neighbour to check the property regularly.
  • Turn off the water at the stopcock if you’re planning to leave your property unoccupied for a long time. You should also consider draining the system so that there is no water left in the pipes. 

Stay warm safely 

Whatever method you use to heat your property, it’s important to make sure it’s all in perfect working order to avoid accidents. Here are some tips to stay warm, safely and efficiently:

  • Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector fitted and that it’s working.
  • Check your radiators – if they are colder at the top than at the bottom then trapped air is likely preventing the heat from circulating properly, so you’ll need to release the air by ‘bleeding’ the radiator. You can do this with a radiator key.
  • If you have an open fire, then your chimney and fireplace should be cleaned and inspected annually to avoid chimney fires. A dirty chimney with a lot of soot build-up is dangerous because this residue can burn at very high temperatures. A damaged chimney can also spread fire to the surrounding areas in your home putting your entire property at risk so be vigilant, and for best results use the services of a certified chimney sweep.
  • Get your gas heating system fully serviced. A faulty boiler won’t heat your home properly and might even start leaking poisonous carbon monoxide – a colourless and odourless gas – so you should get it serviced by a Gas Safe Registered engineer once a year.
  • Take care when using temporary or portable heaters to prevent fire. Heaters are responsible for 4% of house fires each year so make sure you place them on a level surface, don’t leave them unattended, don’t move them when still plugged in or place them close to combustible materials. Never power a portable electric heater from an extension cable and make sure they are located where they can’t be knocked over. If you’re using a portable gas heater, take care that the room is properly ventilated. 

Who to contact when you need help

In the event of flooding or damage, contact your insurer - they can provide advice and get the claims process started. Most insurers have a 24-hour emergency helpline and can arrange for temporary repairs to be made to stop any damage to your property getting worse. Remember to keep all receipts from repair work as they will form part of your claim. 

For further advice and guidance on keeping your home and business safe this winter, call your local CLEAR office:

London: 0207 280 3450 

Horsham: 01483 274792

Leamington: 01926 420 555

Maidstone: :01622 683913

Spalding: 01775 716570

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