Jack Frost’s knocking at the door

Remember when Guernsey was engulfed in snow, and photos of 8-feet-high drifts made the Daily Mail pages? With the prospect of snow ahead, we could be seeing beautiful wintry scenes again, but they do come with risks for homeowners, landlords and tenants, and these are much greater for unoccupied houses.

It was in 2013 when more than 15,000 tons of snow were removed from Guernsey’s airport runway, after a two-day blizzard that felled 70 trees.

We may not be expecting the same in 2021, but the Guernsey Weather Fox says Monday’s low-pressure system will spin into France, and when another low follows the same path, the precipitation deepens and bitter north-easterly winds squeeze through the Dover Strait, making snow most likely on Tuesday.

But even if it passes us by Guernsey can still see winter temperatures that are low enough for pipes to freeze, and it’s only after the thaw that leaks will ‘spring’ to life. What’s worse is that leaks are not always apparent until serious damage is done and that can be in occupied properties. Imagine the impact of a burst pipe in an unoccupied property if left unattended for two or three days!!

Good insulation and pipe lagging alone may not prevent pipes freezing, which is why building insurance companies have strict rules for properties left unoccupied for a prolonged period. And, with a cold snap on the way, now is a good time to check your policy for specific rules to ensure you’re covered. Even the time span before rigorous shut down measures are needed may be less than you think.

Typical requirements include turning off the water at the mains and draining the plumbing, toilet cisterns and any heating systems. Leaving the taps open will also prevent any remaining water building up pressure in the pipes.

Insurance matters aside, and even for short periods during the coldest months, it’s advisable for unoccupied houses with central heating to keep the thermostat at 12°C day and night. Setting the heating to come on early morning and late evening at 14°C will also keep warm air circulating.

Insurance company websites have plenty of good advice to combat the elements and preserve your policy – advice that’s all too often overlooked.

Suggestions include opening loft hatches in unoccupied houses, if the heating is left on, to allow warmer air into the roof space, and opening cupboard doors where water pipes lurk within.

Unplug everything not serving a purpose, leaving fridge and freezer doors wedged open. This reduces the damaging effect of energy surges, or an appliance shorting and causing a fire. It also exorcises any ghostly use of phantom energy.

Cold weather or not, condensation is a problem in a locked and shuttered house. Dehumidifiers reduce the risk of mould ruining fabrics, staining walls and, in serious cases, incubating health risks.

Temporarily sealing chimneys will prevent snow, rain or birds finding a way inside, but leave a note before anyone lights a fire.

Removing full or empty bottle-gas cylinders goes without saying, and cesspits must be emptied, especially in high water table areas. Disconnect hose pipes outside and insulate external taps. Beware of dripping taps as they freeze easily.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind, wrote Shakespeare, freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky. But, for unoccupied houses, that may not be as you like it!

NB If you need to check on your unoccupied property, please ensure that you comply with any Covid guidelines in place at the time.

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