How to avoid expensive home repairs this winter

Before the winter weather hits you need to be sure your home insurance will protect you

Felicity Hannah
Friday 11 October 2019 14:01 BST
Storm Lorenzo may have passed, but more bad weather will likely hit soon
Storm Lorenzo may have passed, but more bad weather will likely hit soon

The signs that colder weather is coming are all around us. Leaves are starting to fall, The Apprentice is back on, and spiders the size of saucepans are scuttling around our homes. All those things should be a warning that it’s time to check your home is ready for winter and that your home insurance is ready too. That way, if the cold or the storms do cause damage to your property, you can have confidence that you’re covered.

So, with Storm Lorenzo behind us but the next one likely to hit soon, what do you need to know to be sure you are protected? Here are the common pitfalls that could cause problems.

Not telling your insurer about building work

We often start thinking about building work at this time of year so that extension or improvement is ready for Christmas. But it’s important to let your insurer know because otherwise they may not be willing to provide cover during the works.

A spokesperson for LawSure Insurance warns: “Whether it’s major structural changes or just a small bit of work, you’ll need to tell your insurers what’s going on.”

Leaving your home empty

It may be unusual to holiday for a lengthy period but if you are planning a long break to get some sun this autumn and winter then make sure your insurer is comfortable with your home being left empty.

Some specify that the property should not be left for longer than 30 days but others have a shorter period.

Renting a room

If you’re starting shopping for December then now may be a time you start to look for some extra sources of income. Some people choose to rent a spare room in their home to a lodger, with the government allowing up to £7,500 a year to be earned in rent before any tax becomes due.

Before you sign up a lodger make sure you check your home insurer is okay with that.

Inviting another person to live in your home may have an impact on the risk you present to your insurer. So doing it without their permission could invalidate your cover.

Underinsuring yourself

One thing it is really important to understand about home insurance is how problematic underinsuring can be.

If you have undervalued the cost of rebuilding your home or you have undervalued the contents, you could find yourself stuck if the bad weather leaves you making a claim.

For example, if your home’s contents are worth £40,000 but you have told your insurer they are worth £20,000, that doesn’t mean you would get up to £20,000 if you made a claim.

In fact, many insurers would say that you did not give them the full information and might cap your claim at a lower amount to reflect that or even refuse it entirely.

Now is a good time to go from room to room pricing up the contents realistically and ensuring your policy meets them.

The more accurate you can be, the better – if you overinsure then you are paying for more cover than you need.

Accidentally misleading the insurer

If you have told your insurer that you have a certain kind of lock or a security feature such as a powerful alarm then you need to let them know if that changes.

They have determined your risk based on the security extras you have in your home, so if anything changes then you need to let them know to avoid the worry of wondering whether your policy will still protect you.

Avoid paying the excess by doing some maintenance

New homeowners soon discover that houses can be money pits and it can be tempting to skimp on the maintenance. A recent survey by Aviva found that more than a quarter of homeowners admit ignoring minor faults until they become more serious.

Well, winter is the time that many faults do become more serious and prevention is better than a cure.

Taking some time to check and repair your home makes sense, before it gets too cold to do the outside jobs.

Aviva suggests checking the roof for missing or damaged tiles and slates, as water damage from rain can be significant. While you’re at it, clearing the gutters and drains will also allow water to drain freely.

The comparison website for tradespeople says that getting a professional to clear debris costs around £5 a metre, but if you leave it so long it causes damage, it can cost £30 a metre to replace gutters.

Call out a chimney sweep. Unswept chimneys pose a greater fire risk, so as the weather gets colder, get it swept before you light your fire or stove.

You may not have a fire but everyone has a boiler and now is the time to get it serviced so it’s ready for the cold. This is not the time of year to go without a boiler.

Now is the time to repair or secure wobbly fences and broken gates so they don’t come apart in windy or stormy weather.

Check the taps and repair any that drip, particularly outside. It’s also a good idea to insulate outside taps.

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