How to prepare your holiday cottage this winter

Swallows Barn holiday cottage in the snow

As the nights get darker and the bleak weather approaches, winter can be undeniably harsh for holiday homes.

Unfortunately, break-ins tend to increase in winter as opportunistic thieves take advantage of darker evenings.

There is also the onslaught of rain, frost, snow, flooding and storms – all these can cause damage and destruction at holiday homes.

Although insurance will cover some perils, insurance isn’t a maintenance contract – general ‘wear and tear’ is unlikely to be covered by insurance. Therefore, keeping your home well maintained and taking some preventative winter maintenance can lessen the chance of suffering damage in the first place. This will hopefully prevent expensive repair bills.

So what steps can you take to check your holiday home is ready for the winter ahead?

Holiday home winter maintenance checklist

  1. Frost:
    Cold snaps can cause devastation when pipes freeze and burst. To prevent pipes freezing, consider leaving the heating on (13C) when your holiday home is unoccupied.
  2. Improve insulation:
    Loft insulation can help reduce heating bills and retain heat, but don’t forget to also lag pipes and hot water cylinders in loft areas to prevent freezing. Wrap exposed outside pipes with insulating sleeves and check to see if grants are available in your area for energy-saving improvements.
  3. Open the loft hatch:
    During extreme freezing temperatures open the loft trap door to allow warm air from the house to circulate around the loft and pipes.
  4. Service the boiler:
    Heating failure could cause pipes to freeze and burst during cold snaps. Service your boiler annually to prevent break downs during the frosty months.
    If you have a condensing boiler, note that external pipes are prone to freezing in winter which causes the system to shut down. Ensure this pipe is lagged.
  5. Drain heating systems:
    Simply turning off the water is not sufficient for a property that is to be left unoccupied for a long period – there is still a lot of water in the system which can cause damage. Get a plumber to drain down the water and central heating system to remove the risk completely.
  6. Stopcock:
    Make sure you know where it is and that you can turn it on and off.
  7. Check roof tiles:
    Check for broken roof tiles which could lead to water ingress, plus tiles could fall off in high winds and damage property – or worse still, injure someone.
  8. Gutters/drains:
    Check for leaks and clear drains/gutters of leaves and debris so they don’t overflow and cause flooding or damp. Additionally, rainwater in a blocked downpipe may crack if it freezes.
    Also check that eaves, fascias and soffits are in good order.
  9. Prune trees:
    In high winds a falling tree could damage your property or a third party. Keep trees well pruned, remove dead/damaged branches and ensure they are clear of buildings and cables.
  10. Seal drafts:
    Check for gaps around windows and seal with caulk.
  11. Outbuildings:
    Don’t forget to check that outbuildings are weather tight.
  12. Satellite dishes/aerials:
    Are they fixed securely?
  13. Windows:
    Check all windows for wood rot, cracked putty and make sure water flows away from the glass and doesn’t collect on the sill, or drain behind it. Shutters should be well fastened to avoid damage, plus your neighbours won’t appreciate loose shutters banging in the wind.
  14. Check for leaks:
    Washing machines, taps, showers, baths, dishwashers etc. should be checked from time to time for leaks, because even a few drops of water could cause rotting and dampness.
  15. Slippery surfaces:
    If you are letting your holiday home or cottage throughout winter, there is a danger that a guest could slip or fall on icy/slippery paths and sue for injury. Keep driveways, paths and decking well lit and clear of slippery leaves. Make sure that you have a good supply of grit or salt and don’t use water to melt snow or ice, it may re-freeze and turn to black ice.
  16. Electricity surges:
    Install surge protectors as electrical storms and power surges can fry your electrical gadgets such as TV’s, telephones and modems.
  17. Paint:
    Check the exterior paint.
  18. Chimneys:
    Don’t forget to have your chimney swept yearly to avoid chimney fires. Inspect the flashings around chimney stacks, replace or repair damaged ones.
  19. Outside furniture:
    Inspect your outside furniture to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Ideally it should be stored when unused during winter to prevent it decaying or being damaged in a storm.
  20. Fencing:
    Inspect gates, boundary walls and fencing for damage – replace broken panels.
  21. Safety checks:
    Ensure gas and electrical appliances are serviced annually by qualified engineers and check for signs of damage regularly.
  22. Fire safety:
    Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working regularly and replace old batteries.
  23. Emergency pack:
    Torches, a first aid kit, important documents and phone numbers should always be to hand in case of power cuts or emergencies.
  24. Lock doors and windows:
    This may seem obvious, but some second home owners leave their windows slightly open when properties are left empty over winter in an attempt to prevent damp. This could invalidate insurance.
  25. Alarms:
    Installing an alarm at your holiday home can deter opportunists, who are likely to choose an easier target. However, consider its effectiveness if your property is remote and there is no-one around for miles. Fitting grilles and shutters may be more effective.
  26. Don’t hide keys:
    If you leave keys hidden under stones, plant pots etc. for guests or workmen, burglars are likely to know where to look. This could also invalidate insurance.
  27. Lock outbuildings:
    Where expensive garden equipment is stored and don’t leave tools lying around which thieves can use to break into your home.
  28. Ladders:
    If you have a ladder stored outside, make sure it is secured down with a padlock and chain.
  29. Security lighting:
    Install lighting to illuminate entry points. You can also deter thieves by putting some lights in your home on timers, so that they come on for a few hours in the evening. The same can be said for putting a radio or TV on a timer to give the impression that someone is home.
  30. Safe:
    Install a safe to secure valuables whilst you or guests are at your holiday home.
  31. A watchful eye:
    It is a good idea to get a neighbour or housekeeper to check your holiday home every few days to identify any signs of damage or suspicious activity.