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How to protect your home from winter weather

What to do before, during and after storms, floods and snow

The season of bad weather is upon us. Storms, floods to snow can all endanger your home, belongings and personal safety – but you can help minimise the damage by taking action in advance.

In fact, it’s a good idea not to wait for a bad forecast. Spend a few minutes in advance checking your property for anything that’s in need of repair or replacement. Spotting a loose roof tile or a leaning fence post early will increase the likelihood of having enough time to fix it before the bad weather hits.

Here are our top tips on actions you could take before spell of wintry weather arrives, as well as what to do (and not to do) during and after the event. This should help you and your family stay safe and minimise any damage and disruption to your home and property.


Storm/wind

1. What to do before a storm hits

Strong winds can cause considerable damage. Loosened or lost roof tiles, broken TV aerials and damaged chimneys are just some of the ways a storm can affect your property.

Follow the tips below as a matter of course when preparing your home for winter – don’t wait until a storm is forecast as you may not be able to get tradesmen to make any repairs in time. Most insurance providers will expect you to keep your home in a good state of repair in order for their policies to be valid.

  • Check your buildings and contents insurance is up to date.
  • Put loose objects in your garden such as furniture, toys, bikes and ladders away in a garage or shed.
  • Remove any overhanging or loose tree branches (assuming the tree isn’t protected – contact your local authority if in doubt) especially if they’re near windows, vehicles or power lines. The owner of the land on which the trees are situated is responsible for ensuring a tree is safe.
  • Replace (or at least secure) weak fences, posts and gates – if one blows away, it could cause damage to your property or a neighbour’s.
  • Check your roof for loose tiles and have them secured.
  • Check your gutters are clear from leaves and other debris, and that the brackets are fixed securely to the fascia board.
  • Check aerials or satellite dishes are secure – get an expert to have a look if you're uncertain.

If a storm is forecast:

  • Put loose garden objects such as furniture, toys, bikes and ladders away in a garage or shed.
  • Fasten all doors and windows.
  • Move your car away from tall trees, fences and walls.
  • Pack a power cut-proof ‘storm kit’, including a torch, radio, any essential medication, food, water and blankets.
  • Check on your neighbours to make sure they are okay, especially if they are elderly or disabled.
  • Keep up-to-date with the weather forecast and storm warnings at the Met Office's website  Link opens in a new window
  • Have emergency contact details to hand, such as for your insurer's claim line, roofers, plumbers and electricians.

2. What to do (and not to do) during and after a storm

The most important thing is not to put yourself at any risk. Stay indoors during the storm and don’t try to survey or fix any damage.

Take precautions when you inspect your property after a storm is over. Don’t stand under a roof with a loose chimney, or too close to a cracked wall; don’t touch any electrical or telephone cables that have blown down or are hanging loose.

Make a list of anything that’s damaged. Take pictures if you can as this could help your insurer to process any claim, especially if you need to tidy up or throw items away.

If you need to make a claim, contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Give them details about damage and anything you need to get repaired urgently – such as new window panes or roof repairs – before their condition worsens. If you need to make emergency repairs before your insurance company settles your claim, make sure you keep any receipts.


Flood

1. What to do before a flood hits

If heavy rain is forecast it can be a worrying time. Flood damage is perhaps the most disruptive kind of damage caused by bad weather, because of the long drying-out process. Properties on a flood plain are particularly vulnerable to flooding, but flash floods can occur anywhere – flooding can even be caused by a blocked drain.

You can check the long-term flood forecast for your address on the Government's website  Link opens in a new window where you can also sign up for flood warnings  Link opens in a new window for England and Wales.

If you suspect your home is at imminent risk of flooding, you can try to minimise any impact of floods by taking the following actions in priority order. Don’t forget to check on vulnerable neighbours too.

  • Check your buildings and contents insurance is up to date.
  • Take detailed photos of your home (inside and outside) and contents now, before any flood occurs.
  • Move items of sentimental value – such as photos, USB sticks, diaries and jewellery – upstairs.
  • Unplug all electrical items and move them upstairs if you can. Raise heavy items such as fridges or washing machines up on bricks.
  • Move furniture upstairs if possible. Raise heavy items such as sofas and sideboards up on bricks. If you can't move an item upstairs, at least move it away from the walls in order to speed up subsequent drying time.
  • Keep insurance documents in a watertight bag up high.
  • Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies at the mains.
  • Help prevent the water getting in by placing sandbags in front of doors. If you don't have any, a pillowcase filled with soil or a heavy object can help repel water. Plug sinks and baths, and block drainage and overflow holes.
  • Move your car to higher ground if it's safe to do so.
  • Pack an emergency flood kit. The National Flood Forum recommends that this contains the following:
    • Insurance documents and helpline number plus telephone numbers for local council and family and friends
    • Mobile phone and charger
    • Emergency cash and credit cards
    • Any essential medication
    • Any children's essentials (milk, baby food, sterilised bottles and spoons, nappies, wipes, clothing, comforter)
    • Portable radio
    • Torch with batteries
    • Camera to record any damage for insurance purposes
    • Bottled water and non-perishable food, such as cereal bars
    • Wash kit and toiletries
    • Blankets, duvets, warm clothes
    • Wellington boots, waterproof clothing, rubber gloves
    • First aid kit.
  • Keep up-to-date with the weather forecast and flood warnings on the Environment Agency's flood warnings page  Link opens in a new window or their hotline, 0345 988 1188.
  • Go to higher ground if you think you need to but do not attempt to drive through floods or walk across flowing streams. If your home floods before you can evacuate, go upstairs and listen to the latest storm information on your radio.

2. What to do (and not to do) during and after a flood

It’s traumatic if your home floods. Your safety is the most important thing – belongings can be replaced.

If you think you need to make a claim, contact your insurance company as soon as you can and give them details about the damage. Ask them for guidance about next steps, which will depend on the extent of the damage and whether your home is habitable.

These practical steps will help you get back to normal as quickly as possible.

  • List and take photos of anything that is damaged – this will help your insurer to process your claim.
  • Make a record of the damage by marking the maximum height of the flood water on the walls of every affected room using a permanent marker pen.
  • Open windows to let moisture out and speed along the drying process, as long as someone is at home – don't leave your home open or unlocked if no one is there.

Flood water is dangerous. The Government has the following advice for cleaning up your home safely after a flood.

  • Get a qualified electrician to turn off your electricity at the mains. Never touch a source of electricity if you're standing in water.
  • For hygiene reasons always wear waterproof clothing including wellington boots, rubber gloves and a face mask – flood water can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Tread carefully – there may be dangers underwater such as raised manhole covers and sharp objects.

Snow/cold snap

A cold snap can cause considerable damage to your property, even if it lacks the obvious drama of a flood or storm. A single burst pipe in your loft could mean water pours down into your house, damaging furniture and belongings and even bringing ceilings down.

Ideally you should take the following actions as a matter of course as winter approaches rather than when bad weather is forecast as imminent, to allow adequate time to make any necessary improvements.

1. What to do before a snowfall or cold snap hits

  • Inside your home:
    • Lag your pipes to reduce the risk of them freezing, which could make them burst and cause a flood. Do so on top rather than underneath – lagging under a pipe will prevent rising heat from reaching it.
    • Mend dripping taps as these can freeze and damage your pipes.
    • Insulate your loft to help prevent pipes and water tanks from freezing (and reduce your heating bills!).
    • Ensure your boiler is serviced annually.
    • Keep your heating on at a low temperature (around 15C) if you're going away to help prevent pipes from freezing – leaving your loft hatch open can also help warm air to circulate.
    • If you're going away for a longer period, turn off your stop cock (usually under your kitchen sink) and ask a neighbour or friend to check your property.
  • Outside your home:
    • Make sure your roof is in good condition – especially ridges, eaves and parapets – and fix any problems.
    • Clear debris from gutters to prevent blockages and water damage.
    • Check walls and chimneys are in good condition and there are no gaps where snow could enter your property.
    • If any exterior paintwork is chipped or blistered, sand and repaint it to stop frost and snow causing problems.
    • Lag outdoor taps and pipes and mend any dropping outside taps to help prevent them freezing and bursting.
    • Check roofs of sheds, garages and other outbuildings to ensure they're watertight – if time is tight before a storm, fix a temporary tarpaulin cover.
    • Put away wooden garden furniture and pot plants to stop them being damaged by ice and frost.
    • Trim branches to stop them breaking under heavy snow and damaging anything underneath.
    • Clear away garden equipment such as toys and brooms – you may not notice them and trip up after a heavy snowfall.

2. What to do (and not to do) during and after the snow/cold snap

  • Inside your home:
    • If your taps or shower stop working it's likely you have a frozen pipe. Turn off your water supply at the stop cock and open the taps to drain the system and help prevent it bursting and causing damage. If you're confident you know what you're doing, locate the blockage and gently thaw with a hairdryer or hot water bottle – otherwise, call a plumber.
    • If a pipe bursts, turn off the water supply. Open the taps to drain the system, switch off the heating and all electrics and call your insurer.
    • If water drips from your ceiling, turn off your water. Pierce any bulges in the plaster with a tool such as a screwdriver and catch water in a bucket or pan. Open doors and windows, as long as you're in the property, to speed up the drying process.
    • Photograph damage – this will help if you need to make a claim.
    • Outside your home:
      • Keep paths and drives clear using salt or sand to add grip (not water as this could freeze).
      • Snow on roofs can cause injury by sliding off – remove it from any low roofs with a broom.
      • When any snow or frost has melted, look for any damage it may have caused. For example, check your roof for loose or damaged tiles, make sure any exposed timber on windows and facias isn't damaged, and look out for cracked slabs on paths and patios as broken ones could be a tripping hazard.

How to make a claim on your Virgin Money Home Insurance

If you first took out home insurance from 12 October 2015

If you need to make a claim, don't worry – we'll deal with it quickly.

  1. Call us on 0330 303 1124 for all claims including Home Emergency Assistance and Garden Cover, to get things started. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  2. We'll aim to settle in the first call. However, we'll get in touch with you if we need more details.
  3. Then we'll process your claim.

Calls are charged at your service provider's prevailing rate and may be monitored and recorded for training purposes and to improve the quality of our service.

To claim on a policy taken out before January 2015, call 0333 321 9521.

  • Family Legal Assistance - 0333 321 9521.
  • Key Cover - 0333 241 9599.
  • Home Emergency Assistance - 01384 884040.

We're here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

More information on making a claim

  • Take notes. Write down:
    • the time and the date of any incident
    • details of everyone involved (for example, the engineer that fixed your faulty washing machine)
    • exactly what happened.

This will help you recall details that we'll ask you to provide.

  • Take photos. Pictures can be valuable when you need to prove the damage in your home and confirm your details of the claim. Photos can also help you remember the events if you need to speak with your insurance company weeks later.
  • Contact the police, when necessary. You should report a claim for loss or malicious damage to the police. If it's a burglary, the police will issue you with a crime reference number which you will need when you contact us.
  • Don't throw away damaged items – we might need to inspect them. Badly damaged property can be stored in a garage or shed.
  • Don't exaggerate. This could lead to the whole claim being rejected.
  • Settlement – once it has been established that your claim is covered by your policy, we can arrange for repairs to be carried out by one of our approved contractors. We will settle the bill for the repair – all you will be required to do is pay the policy excess direct to the contractor. In some cases, we may offer you a cash settlement.
  • Contents claims – we will settle your claim by replacing the items, paying you their cash value or repairing them (we will decide which). We will appoint any necessary suppliers when you report your claim. The approved supplier will contact you to make arrangements to visit or collect damaged items. They will discuss the best way to settle your claim such as a repair or a replacement – all you will need to do is pay the policy excess. All our repairs are guaranteed for one year.
    We can arrange to replace any lost, badly damaged or stolen items. We replace all items on a new-for-old basis, except clothing and linen (unless you can prove that they are less than 3 years old) for which we make a deduction for wear and tear. All you will need to do is pay the policy excess directly to the contractor.
    We can even arrange for your item to be upgraded – all you will have to do is pay the policy excess and the additional cost of the upgrade.
  • Working with a Loss Adjuster. Where a large loss has occurred, such as a significant theft, an extensive flood or fire, we may appoint a Loss Adjuster – an independent expert with extensive local knowledge. They will arrange to visit you and will deal with the whole of your claim from start to finish on our behalf, including recommending the way your claim should be settled.
  • Take temporary measures. It is your responsibility to reduce your loss as far as possible, so if temporary repairs can be done to prevent further damage then you should have these carried out. Keep hold of all the bills – provided your claim is covered, we will reimburse you these costs. Bear in mind that works will only be covered if it is evidenced that the damage has been caused by one of the perils covered by your policy, so please ensure that any temporary repairs do not destroy any evidence you may rely on.
 

Links to external websites are for information only. Virgin Money receives no income from them and accepts no responsibility for the website content. The information in this article is correct as at 29 September 2017.