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How to keep property safe in big winter freeze

Kent advises:

• Localised flooding through winter pipe bursts can be avoided by the use of proper lagging (particularly outside or in unheated areas). It is also advisable to add anti-freeze chemical to your central heating system or fit a frost thermostat to turn on the boiler whenever the air temperature falls below a minimum level;

• If you are going to be away from home for a couple of days, programme the central heating system to run continuously at a low level (about 5ºC). Additionally, open your loft hatch fully to keep the roof space above freezing point;

• If you are away for more than a few days and wish to turn the heating off, drain the hot and cold water system. You do not need to drain the central heating system, though, as long as it has been treated with anti-freeze;

• Snow should be cleared from parapet and valley gutters with wooden or plastic shovels to prevent moisture seeping through joints (minding your own safety). Alternatively, duckboards or electric heating tapes can be provided to keep gutters clear of snow;

• Be sure to keep gutters and downpipes free from leaves, moss and other material that can cause blockages. Water may otherwise fracture pipes if it freezes in them or cause accelerated deterioration of saturated wall faces in frosty conditions where gutters spill over;

• Ensure that salt is not spread onto the bottoms of walls when paths and roads alongside are gritted. Salt contamination can hasten significantly the decay of mortar joints, brick or stone;

• Consider moving inside statues and other garden ornaments that may be vulnerable to frost attack. Where this is not viable, some form of temporary covering might be used;

• Be vigilant as snow starts to thaw. Ice at the edges of roof slopes, for example, may prevent melting snow from draining away, causing it to back up and leak into the loft. If you attempt to remove the ice, be careful of your safety and avoid damaging the roof;

• If possible, avoid undertaking work with lime-based materials during the winter months when there is a risk of frost, because the freezing and expansion of water can cause failures. Make sure that any recent or new work is covered with hessian or another insulating material (leaving air gaps). The use of anti-freezing agents in mortars and renders is not recommended;

• Wipe windows every morning where overnight condensation has formed to prevent moisture damage to paint finishes, and timber or metal frames;

• In exceptional cases, heavy frost can affect the load-bearing capacity of the soil beneath a building and cause its partial subsidence. Where the stability of a structure is in doubt, the SPAB may be able to suggest the names of suitably experienced structural engineers who could be contacted;

• Finally, cold weather may bring at least one benefit. The action of frost is considered to improve the qualities of lime putty left to mature. It is important, however, that the putty is fully thawed and well mixed before you come to use it.

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