After blizzards and sub-zero temperatures left Britain shivering this week, Rutland-based structural engineer and building surveying consultants Smithers Purslow has given a timely reminder of how to protect your home against the elements.
The British weather, love it or hate it, is the most talked about topic of conversation in the UK (not surprising given the increasing number of extreme weather events). US government scientists announced 2014 was the warmest year on record, Atlantic storms and severe winds left 800,000 UK homes without power, people living on the Thames and Somerset Levels found themselves waist-deep in water and rail links with the West Country were closed.
Weather incidents are rapidly becoming the norm, resulting in huge spikes in property damage insurance claims. In 2007 – one of the wettest summers on record – the Association of British Insurers said its members handled almost 32,000 subsidence claims; incidents typically associated with hot rather than wet weather.
Although we cannot control the weather, we can lessen its impact on our properties. Constant temperature extremes bring prolonged periods of water and heat penetration, which over time can wreak havoc on your home. Smithers Purslow, based in Spring Lane, Glaston, has come up with 10 tips on how to protect your home against the elements. Director Steve Fraser said: “No one can totally protect their property against a weather event, but these tips will help to lessen the impact of prolonged wet and dry spells and hopefully prevent homeowners and landlords from having to pay costly bills in the future.”
1 Keep up to date with property maintenance. Simple things such as fixing leaking gutters and blocked drains will prevent water spilling onto your external walls and seeping into the brickwork.
2 Repair cracked rendering and damaged brickwork. Building materials expand and contract during temperature extremes, cracking rendering and damaging masonry. While this is normal, it should not be ignored. Anything that allows damp to seep through will result in the moisture freezing when temperatures plummet, causing more cracks and greater damp penetration. Edwardian and Victorian properties require a different mortar mix (lime rather than cement-based materials). If you use the wrong mix to repair cracks, it will trap any damp, rather than allowing it to circulate and clear.
3 Clear air bricks and ventilation areas to floors, walls and roofs – if you block them you’ll encourage damp, rot and beetle infestation.
4 Replace damaged or missing wall or roof tiles. Not only do they let water in, but any gaps allow the wind to get behind and whip off the remaining tiles.
5 If you’re keen to keep out the cold by improving the thermal efficiency of your home via cavity wall insulation. Thoroughly check your property’s condition first and make repairs where necessary. Any water seeping into your wall cavity can become trapped in the insulation which effectively acts as a giant sponge, wrapping around your house, causing more condensation and possible water damage. Not all properties are suitable for this type of insulation so check with an expert first. It’s important to get the right balance between insulation and ventilation.
6 Check your gable wall (the triangular end of your house) is properly connected to your roof trusses (support framework). If it isn’t, which is common in older properties, mini tornados – as witnessed in London and Glasgow recently – could force the wall to collapse. High winds can also put huge additional suction pressures on walls.
7 Insulate your loft and lag your pipes. Continuing with the insulation versus ventilation theme, don’t insulate to the edge of the eaves – if you fail to allow air to circulate you’ll create condensation problems leading to rot and decay of the roof timbers. If you’re going away this winter, put your central heating on a timer and at a low temperature. Know where your stopcock is to prevent water coming into your home, check your radiator valves and repair any dripping taps. If a pipe does freeze, turn off the water at the stop cock and wait for the pipe to warm up or gradually thaw out using a water bottle. If it bursts, turn off the central heating and open the taps to drain the water through the system. Frozen and burst pipes are common during cold snaps, causing extensive internal damage, yet can be easily avoided.
8 If your property is at risk of flooding from overflowing rivers or storm drains, store sand bags or build a bund wall – an additional concrete or earth wall – to alter or add drainage channels to improve water run-off.
9 Subsidence, caused by foundation movement, is typically associated with dry weather and a lack of ground moisture. However, it can also be due to too much water softening the subsoil and washing away particles binding the soil together (following extensive periods of wet weather or prolonged leaking drains). Subsidence cracks are small, diagonal, wider at the top, thicker than a 10p coin and usually appear above windows and doors. There are three contributory elements to subsidence; the underlying soil, the age of the house and proximity of trees and shrubs. Cases are commonly found on clay soils which shrink and then swell, but can also occur where layers of underground rock are prone to dissolving such as with chalk, gypsum, salt or limestone which is common to this area. Houses built before the mid-1960s have shallower foundations than newer properties so are more likely to move. Tree roots sucking moisture from the ground cause shrinkage, so prune them regularly and if they’re too big in relation to your house, consider taking them out (insurer’s report trees are responsible for up to 70% of subsidence cases). By assessing and pruning your trees you’ll also lessen the likelihood of impact damage following high winds.
10 When repairing flashing to chimney stacks and roofs, don’t cut corners by using self-adhesive tapes or mortar fill-ins. These won’t last or are likely to crack, allowing moisture in.
n To find out more about Smithers Purslow visit www.smitherspurslow.com