Prepare for extreme cold weather at home
As the temperature plummets this winter, your home might be exposed to snow and frost. Extreme cold weather can significantly impact the structural integrity, efficiency, and overall well-being of your house, as well as your ability to keep warm. Extreme weather can also cause you to lose water supply or electricity.
Here are some things you should look out for and how to tackle any issues.
Issues with your home caused by cold weather
When water within pipes freezes, it expands, putting immense pressure on the pipes. This pressure can lead to cracks or bursts, resulting in water damage when temperatures rise.
Signs your pipes might be frozen include:
- No running water.
- Only a trickle coming out of your taps.
- Heating that won’t turn on.
If you think you have frozen pipes, don’t panic. If you can, locate the pipe by looking for condensation or pools of water around it. To encourage it to thaw, use warm towels or a hot water bottle and keep your taps turned on.
If you suspect a pipe has burst:
(Remember, a burst pipe isn’t always a flooded room but could be a gradual leak.)
- Turn off your water supply using the stop cap, usually under your kitchen sink.
- Turn on all taps to try and remove water from the system as quickly as possible.
- If there’s a change water could have affected your electricity supply, turn your electricity off too.
- Call a plumber to fix the damaged pipe.
- You might also need to call your home insurance provider and an electrician.
To prevent frozen pipes, insulate them and allow faucets to drip during extremely cold nights. This can help maintain water flow and reduce the risk of freezing. Place a bucket underneath the tap to catch any water. Use this to water your plants, or in the kettle so it’s not wasted.
The expansion and contraction of roofing materials due to extreme changes in temperature can weaken their structure over time. Additionally, the formation of ice dams, caused by melting and refreezing snow, can lead to water damage.
If you think there’s damage to your roof, inspect both inside and outside your home if you can. But make sure to wait until the extreme weather has passed if it’s unsafe to be outside. If you’re concerned, call a professional or local handy person for advice.
Things to look for:
- Missing tiles or visible damage.
- Blocked gutters.
Often, damage is minor, and you can fix it yourself. However, if you’re unsure, it’s safest to seek professional help. For more severe cases, always speak to a professional.
To prevent roof damage, have regular roof inspections, adequate insulation, and proper ventilation. Here is a handy checklist for checks you can do yourself.
Extreme cold weather places increased demand on heating systems, as we often need them to work harder and for longer to keep our homes warm. This can lead to breakdowns, inefficiencies, and higher energy bills.
If your boiler stops working during the winter, it could be because of a frozen pipe. If you can’t identify the pipe, or if you suspect another problem, call a plumber.
To prevent potential breaks, have regular maintenance of heating systems. You should have your boiler serviced once a year.
Cold air can find its way into your home through gaps and cracks in doors, windows, and walls. This makes your living space uncomfortable and increases energy consumption as your heating system works harder to maintain a comfortable temperature.
To prevent unnecessary cold patches, you can do some simple draughtproofing. These are low-cost measures to insulate your home. Things like sealing gaps around windows, letterboxes and doors, simply closing doors between rooms and using draught excluders can make a big difference.
High-cost measures include insulating your roof, walls and floors. Proper insulation is essential to combat drafts and reduce energy loss.
How to prepare for extreme weather
In extreme cases, your home might lose power or your boiler might stop working. Although you can’t prevent these from happening, here are some steps you can take so you’re prepared.
Before the weather gets too cold, turn on your heating to check it’s working. Over the warmer months, heating is used less and sometimes not at all. This might mean you don’t know if there’s a problem. If you have a central heating system, you should also check your radiators are working and bleed any that aren’t . A good indicator for radiators that need bleeding are any cold patches.
Ensuring your heating works before you need it will mean you won’t have to wait for repairs when your home is too cold. If you have a boiler, you should have a boiler service every year too.
Installing simple draughtproofing measures around your home makes a huge difference. But if you’re able to, the best thing you can do is to insulate the fabric of your building, mainly your walls, floors, ceilings and roof. This work can be costly and disruptive but will ensure your home keeps heat indoors. If you’re planning other work like an extension or a new kitchen, you can tie in insulation measures to eliminate the cost and disruption.
Keep up to date with daily forecasts and follow any warnings and advice issued by the Met Office for your area. Doing this means you can plan for when the coldest weather hits. For example, you can check if your local warm spaces will be open as you might prefer to be around people.
Keep the following items somewhere easy to find so you have a better experience if you find yourself without heating or power:
- Non-perishable food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated or warmed up. For example cereal bars, tinned fish, crackers and nuts.
- A torch with spare batteries.
- Blankets and layers for warmth.
- A power bank to charge your phone in case you need to call anyone for additional help.
Have numbers for local services such as plumbers, electricians, your energy provider and any family or friends who could help you. Make sure these numbers are saved on your phone and written down, in case you lose access to your device. If you ever feel in danger or need serious help, call 999.
In the event of a power outage or loss of heating due to extreme weather, it’s usually safest to stay home if you’re advised not to travel. Keep warm with layers of clothing, blankets and duvets and try to stay in one room with the doors shut to keep as much heat in as possible. The smaller the room, the warmer it’ll feel. While you might be tempted to use outdoor equipment, such as a portable stove, to keep warm or cook food, don’t use these indoors. Instead, opt for food you don’t need to refrigerate or warm up.
Need extra support?
If you could benefit from extra help during a power cut, you can sign up to the Priority Services Register (PSR). On the PSR, you’ll get notice of planned electricity and water shortages, support before and during an outage which includes special and direct help if you use medical equipment that relies on electricity. Find out more.
Give yourself a better chance of protecting yourself and your home against extreme winter weather by following this advice. If you need specific winter advice such as how to use your heating, or how to stay warm at home for less, look at our advice pages.