As with every season, the more extreme the weather is, the more your investment could be at risk of damage – this is especially important to be aware of in winter.
Here are some of the most important things to look out for and steps you can take to minimize costly damage.
The biggest winter threat is escape of water. You can take simple steps to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting. Your first job should be to check the pipes for any cracks or fissures – which should be dealt with immediately – obviously, remember to let your tenants know in advance before visiting the property.
Once you're happy the pipes are in good order, ensure there's plenty of lagging around them, as this will help insulate them and protect them from the cold.
If it's been a while since the last boiler service, it's important to book one. Although it'll cost you a bit of money, it'll be much cheaper in the long run than replacing the boiler if it breaks down. This will not only keep your tenants warm and happy but will keep those pipes warm too.
Now check the gutters, overflow pipes and drainpipes for cracks, damage and blockages. Fallen leaves and twigs will likely have landed in the gutters during autumn, which could cause later blockages.
Blocked or damaged gutters and pipes could lead to severe water damage to the roof or walls of the property – which may mean big insurance claims and loss of rental income – as your tenants may need to move out while it's being fixed.
Clearing gutters is quite a simple job, which you can do yourself with just a ladder, some gloves and a trowel. Make sure you scrape the debris away from the downpipe, as falling leaves could create more blockages. If the downpipe has already become blocked, you can buy a reasonably inexpensive 'Plumber's Snake' tool to remove it.
Put some prevention measures in place to prevent future blockages – you can buy cheap drain guards from numerous sites – or cover the opening with some chicken wire. These guards will need clearing regularly, but the job will be much quicker and cheaper than sorting out a blockage!
If your property has a gas fireplace, check it's working and have it serviced. Having not been used for around half the year, it could have built up dust or debris and may not be fully operational or safe.
If you're confident in doing so, you can give it a clean yourself, using a vacuum attachment and a can of compressed air, but you should still seek a professional opinion from a Gas Safe Engineer too.
Likewise, if the property has a working fireplace and chimney, have the chimney swept professionally. This will prevent chimney fires and the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Depending on the kind of fuel burned in the fireplace, you may need to do this more than once a year.
Checking your roof for potential problems could save you a lot of stress in the long run. Loose, cracked, or missing tiles can be hard to spot – and aren't necessarily something your tenants will notice.
Sorting these issues now will mean a much easier winter. Leaking roofs can cause a lot of damage, which can take a while to show itself.
You can survey the roof yourself from the ground to see if anything's obviously wrong – look out for shards of tile or grit in the gutters and on the floor. However, it's best to get a professional to survey thoroughly and, if necessary, fix the tiles – as it's a labour-intensive and specialist job, which can be pretty dangerous for someone untrained.
It may seem unlikely that a tree would fall on your property, but it does happen and can cause huge amounts of damage. Unfortunately, there's no foolproof method for ensuring the stability of a tree by yourself, but you can have adequate buildings insurance in place just in case.
If a tree on your land looks like it might topple in a storm, call in an arborist (tree surgeon) for advice. If it's a neighbour's tree or property of the council, you'll have to write to them and ask them to look into it, as legally you can't do anything yourself.
Information packs for your tenants
Put together a little pack of advice for your tenants. It's likely they haven't owned their own home before and so may not know to do certain things during the winter to prevent problems with the property.
Include advice on heating, such as having it on a timer to come on a few times a day to stop the pipes from freezing. Give them tips on what to look for in terms of potential damage, such as overflowing gutters. Advice on mould prevention is also always helpful, such as proper ventilation, heating and condensation removal.
It's also useful for them to know where the stopcock is in case of an emergency. The water must be turned off immediately if a pipe bursts to limit the damage caused.