The colder weather is here again, it's that time of year coming; you feel that cold chill in the air, the snow and ice will soon arrive, and you know its time to get out that winter coat, scarf and gloves.You also know that cold wet weather on the way will test your rental properties and tenants to the limit. The last thing you want is a phone call from your tenants telling you there's a dire emergency.It's not a bad idea to write* to your tenants just to remind them that freezing temperatures can lead to water leaks and floods in the property, if they don't maintain a minimum amount of heat in the building.
A few other pre-winter precautions can help avoid this situation, or at the very least reduce the possibility of such a scenario playing out, to the absolute minimum.First off, make sure your landlord's insurance policy is up to date and that it covers you for the most common winter risks: storm damage, flood damage, water leaks and of course the biggest risk of all: third parity liability for injuries to your tenants, visitors and the general public.If a slate or tile blows off your roof in a gale, and it injures a passer-by, your liabilities can be horrendous. You will find a selection of tried and trusted landlord insurance providers here: https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/suppliers-directory/insuranceNext is the all important heating system. For tenants, the efficiency of the heating system has the most significant impact on their overall perception, enjoyment and cost of the house in winter.Whatever type of heating is provided it should be efficient, safely designed with a frost thermostat, and economical to run. As a landlord it is in your interests in the long term, and it is now a legal requirement, that energy efficiency in rental properties meets a minimum standard.Individual gas or electric fires, storage heaters and even coal fires are still widely used in rental properties, particularly older houses. These are usually far from best methods of heating in terms of cost and efficiency and are also in need of constant maintenance to ensure safety. Open fires need a regular chimney sweep.Whole-house central heating systems provided by gas or oil boilers are by far the most efficient, effective and the best safeguard against frozen pipes. For example, a modern condensing boiler is at least 90% efficient, meaning that they turn 90% of the fuel they use into heat. In comparison, older gas boilers can be as low as 30 to 40% efficient.It is a legal requirement in the UK to have gas systems, including boilers and flues, cookers, fires and any other gas and solid fuel appliances that are supplied by the landlord serviced and checked for safety annually by a qualified person, in the case of gas, a Gas Safe Registered Engineer.Having the gas check done does not necessarily mean the boiler has been served, so it's a good idea to arrange for the boiler to be serviced at the same time as the gas checks to avoid disruption for your tenants, and coming up to winter is a good time to do it. Also, although it's not a legal requirement just yet, it soon will be, so checking over the electrical system, if the same engineer can do the job, is very worthwhile as well.Coal fires or wood burning stoves need attention, so make sure the chimnies are swept annually, and test your carbon monoxide alarm. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 make it a legal requirement that landlords provide a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel appliance.For peace of mind many landlords like to arrange a contract with a maintenance company where regular maintenance and emergency call outs are all covered with a form of insurance. British Gas and Homeserve are two leading companies in this field, but there are others who operate locally and may charge a lower premium or fee.What if the worst happens and pipes freeze?If pipes freeze-up, copper pipes are more likely to split than the more modern plastic pipes, and they both need to be thawed out very carefully. The water stop tap should be turned off, the boiler switched off, and a slow thaw-out with warmth applied to the pipes. Don't apply a direct flame. Open all the taps to allow the system to fully drain out.When fully thawed out and drained, check for any pipe splitting and repair as necessary before carefully turning the water pressure back on and thoroughly checking for leaks. Any water damage in the property will need to be fully dried out to prevent mould formation.InsulationHaving an efficient heating system without good insulation is like pouring money down the drain: your tenant's are not going to appreciate a rental property where drafts and poor insulation lose all the heat they are paying for.If you own older rental properties, especially those with solid walls, where it's not possible to put in cavity wall insulation, you should think about ways of insulating which will bring up the energy rating to meet the current minimum EPC energy rating for new tenancies of "E". From April 2020, all existing residential tenancies will also be affected - The Private Rented Property minimum standard '� landlord guidance documentsThe Energy Savings Trust is also a good source of information for energy savings in rental homes.The Winter ChecksThere are lots of common sense straightforward things you can do to a property to improve its energy saving qualities and make sure your property is fit for winter. You need not tackle all these points at once but you can build them into a longer term maintenance programme.Internal
Condensation and MouldCondensation is a big problem in many homes, even new ones, particularly in the winter months. It's inevitable though that older properties will suffer most, especially those with solid masonry walls.Over time any condensation present will result in black mould patches on walls, particularly in the colder and highest rooms in the house like bedrooms and bathrooms where mould will start to form.Mouldy smelling clothes in the bedroom wardrobes are often a first sign.Condensation is a complex systemic problem which many people confuse with dampness. More often than not condensation is caused by the lifestyle of the occupants rather than anything that's fundamentally wrong with the property, though poor insulation, inadequate heating systems and poor ventilation at the source of steam, kitchens and bathrooms, will contribute to it.There are three main causes of condensation in rented properties:1 '�Inadequate heating '� particularly common in rented properties where occupants often try to save money by having little or no heating on during most of the day time, especially if they are out all day working. Not only is this false economy, as it costs more to get the place up to temperature from scratch than it does to leave the heating on low, it results in very cold surfaces where water condenses on contact.2 '�Lack of ventilation - production of lots of steam from cooking, bathing and washing / drying clothes without ventilating it at source results in hot steam laden air rising and condensing on any could surface. Bathrooms and kitchens should have good extractors to remove steam at source.What can you do to reduce Condensation?Providing you have taken the necessary precautions with your property and brought it up to a reasonable standard of energy efficiency this should take care of most eventualities. However, you may need to educate your tenants '� see our Condensation Letter - https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/documentsEducate your tenants to provide enough heating
Ventilate a source to remove moisture
It is well worth visiting or contacting your tenants before a cold spell and also sending them a letter to remind them of the importance of maintaining heat in cold weather.Many young tenants have no experience or awareness of the importance of this or the cost and disruption a bust can cause.* Cold Weather Letter If you have any questions about any of the issues here, post your question to the LandlordZONE� Forums '� these are the busiest Rental Property Forums in the UK '� you will have an answer in no time at all.