Is your home at risk as winter approaches?

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance points out: "While insurance will help to meet the cost of damage or loss following severe weather damage or a break-in, it can’t compensate you for the inconvenience or lingering distaste that a thief has been rummaging through your possessions, for instance.

"Equally, while it’s hard to prevent damage in a storm as severe as Katia, a few simple checks and repairs can mean the difference between a distressing claim for weather damage and surviving the winter in comfort."

Most people renew their home insurance regularly but cover can become out-of-date with the result that you are under-insured.  That’s especially so if you’ve added an extension or conservatory; or converted the integral garage or roof space into an extra room.  If your three-bed home has suddenly become a four-bed one your insurance will need attention. Apart from the increased value of the property, there will be investment in furniture and carpets as well.

Will your home withstand the winter storms?

The last couple of winters have produced some very unwelcome weather with claims for snow, ice and water damage last winter alone exceeding £1.4 billion, according to the Association of British Insurers.  So if the weather is OK this weekend, why not give your home a visual check-over?  Here are some of the things to look out for along with some other tips to keep your belongings where they belong:

* Slipped tiles or slates that a strong wind could lift and result in tiles raining down and the rain or snow getting in;

* Branches from nearby trees that could break a window in a strong wind. Check also that soil or debris isn’t bridging your damp proof course: if it is, clear it away or you could end up with damp coming through your walls;

* The state of your gutters and downpipes: after the autumn they can become blocked with leaf fall and debris.  In winter this can freeze and cause overflow, in turn causing icicles that get heavier and heavier – eventually bringing your guttering down.  If necessary, get a local handyman to help clear them out;

* Pipes and tanks in your roof space – are they adequately insulated?  If you have up-to-date roof insulation your roof space can become very cold indeed.  A burst pipe up there, especially if you are away, could leak hundreds of gallons of water through ceilings and carpets, ruining furniture and possibly ruining your electrics too. If you’re going away for a while during winter, leave the heating on at a low level and if you can, ask a friend or neighbour to check your home from time to time. If you do have a burst pipe, turn the water off at the main stopcock: you might find this in the downstairs cloakroom, under the kitchen sink or perhaps under the stairs. There will be a stopcock in the street, too, beneath a little metal or plastic cover but you need a special key to turn this off (available from most plumbing or DIY stores).  It might be worth checking which one is yours though, so you can point it out to a plumber if need be;

* Smoke alarm! You should have smoke alarms fitted upstairs and downstairs – they’re not expensive and can be a life-saver.  Check that they work (the alarms have a button for that purpose) and change the batteries if necessary.  And while talking about fire safety, don’t overload sockets with too many plugs; make sure you never leave your cooker unattended when it’s on (the biggest cause of fire claims is cooker fires – chip oil for instance can spontaneously ignite if it’s left on the ring too long and it produces a lot of nasty smoke).  So if the phone rings, either ignore it or turn your cooker rings off while you take the call!

* All safely locked away? Your insurance policy is likely to specify that you have a decent lock to BS3621 standard for your main exit door and key lockable windows.  Always make sure doors and windows are locked if you aren’t there – even if you are just "popping out".  Otherwise a burglary claim might not be valid.  While talking about keys, don’t leave your car keys on the hall table or hanging on a convenient rack just inside the door – the number of cars stolen by thieves taking the keys first is going up sharply, often simply by "fishing" for them through your letterbox using a long pole or even a fishing rod!  If you do have valuable jewellery, think about fitting a small safe – they aren’t too expensive and can be fitted relatively easily. After all, the real value in a necklace or ring can be in its emotional or sentimental attachment rather than what it’s worth in monetary terms. Don’t leave ladders or tools that could be used for a break-in lying around – make sure they are locked away in your shed or garage;

* What else? You could think about joining your local Neighbourhood Watch; fitting movement-sensitive exterior security lights; an intruder alarm or just putting interior lights on a timer if you are away, giving the impression someone is home. Good security measures can get you discounts on your home insurance!

* Emergency! If you are unlucky enough to suffer a water leak, electrical failure or blocked drain in your home, you need help pretty quickly.  The AA is well known for rescuing motorists at the roadside, it can help householders too through AA Home Emergency Response.

* Finally, if you are in an area where there could be flooding and you are warned that this could happen imminently, move as much as you can of your property upstairs and make sure there are no electrical items left switched on.  If the worst does happen, turn off your electricity supply and don’t attempt to use wet electrical equipment – and call your insurer who will give you help and advice.

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