How to protect your home in winter

Follow the eight tips below to protect your home from the cold winter weather.
Fairfax NZ

Follow the eight tips below to protect your home from the cold winter weather.

Winter is almost officially here, although in some areas it feels like it's already hit, and with the colder weather comes an increased risk of damage to your home from rain, frost and snow. While we can't predict the weather, we can help you prepare for its effects. So here are some top tips from AMI and Neighbourly.co.nz for protecting your home against some common winter woes.

Clear your roof and gutters of leaves and debris

Blocked gutters can cause a number of problems, including penetrating damp, rotting fascias and corrosion. Clear gutters thoroughly to remove all debris. As a final step, use a mixture of one part bleach to four parts water to wash gutters out and stop mould and lichen from growing.

Remember to disconnect the downpipe before cleaning if you collect rainwater from the roof for domestic use. Rinse the entire system thoroughly with clean water before reattaching the downpipe. Take care when using water blasters or hoses as the high pressure can result in water penetrating your house.

Prune overhanging tree branches

When overhanging branches come into contact with roof cladding they can scratch, gouge and even puncture roofing materials. In a storm, tree branches can break and cause damage to your roof or power lines. When pruning branches, remember to stay safe and keep clear of any power lines.

Reinforce gutters with snow straps

If you live in a heavy snowfall area, consider installing snow strap brackets. These will reduce the chance of your gutters and fascias buckling or breaking from the weight of the snow. Snow straps should be installed no more than 50 centimetres apart, and be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

Know the location of your important taps

If your pipes freeze or burst, you will need to be able to turn off your home's water supply. The mains tap (also known as the stop valve) is usually found outside your property under a metal or plastic cover. Check that the mains tap is in good working order and that your pipes and water storage tank are adequately insulated. If you have no mains water supply, ensure you know the location of your water supply and how to turn it off.

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Check your pipes and taps for leaks

Washing machines, taps, showers, baths, dishwashers and your hot water cylinder should be checked regularly for leaks. Even a few drops of water can cause rotting and dampness, particularly in the cold winter months.

If your hot water cylinder has an exhaust pipe that penetrates the roof, make sure it is insulated and has a PVC cap to prevent frost damage.

Prevent damage to the toilet bowl

If water freezes in the toilet bowl it can cause the bowl to crack. To prevent this from happening, place a ping pong ball in the toilet bowl. If water freezes and expands, the ping pong ball should take the pressure and prevent the bowl from cracking. Alternatively, you can leave anti-freeze in the toilet bowl to prevent the water freezing.

Swimming pools and fish ponds can also be protected from damage by dropping tennis balls into the water.

Drain your pipes and hoses in freezing weather

When temperatures drop, pipes can freeze and burst causing significant damage to your home. If your home will be unoccupied during winter, you should drain your pipes before leaving to prevent damage. If you have a holiday home, this is especially important. Burst pipes can cause a lot of damage, which may not be covered by your insurance policy. Please check your policy wordings.

You should also drain and disconnect outdoor hoses to stop them spreading ice onto your paths and driveways.

How to drain your pipes:

1. Turn off water at the mains tap (see tip 4)
2. Turn on the lowest outdoor tap around your home; this allows the water sitting in the pipes to drain away
3. Flush the toilet and turn on both the hot and cold shower taps to drain water from the showerhead
4. Turn off electricity to the hot water cylinder and slowly drain it by turning on the lowest hot water tap in the home e.g. the bath tap.
5. When it comes time to turn your water back on again, make sure all your taps are fully turned off before you turn the water on at the main. Also check there isn't anything blocking the plugholes.

Take immediate action to solve problems

If your pipes freeze:

1. Turn off water at the mains tap immediately
2. Turn on the lowest cold tap in the home
3. As you start to heat your home, the pipes should thaw and drain. Do not try to thaw pipes with a naked flame
4. Call your plumber immediately to check the condition of your pipes.

If your pipes burst:

1. Turn off the water at the mains tap immediately.
2. If you have no mains water supply you should turn off your water pump.
3. If the pipe is located in the ceiling or wall space, turn off the electricity immediately.
4. Turn on all taps to the sinks and baths to drain the system.
5. Switch off the hot water cylinder.
6. Ensure all items of value are moved to avoid any water damage.
7. Warn any neighbours who may suffer water damage.
8. Contact your plumber for immediate assistance.
9. Contact your insurance company as soon as you can. If you're an AMI customer you can call AMI on 0800 100 200, pop into your local branch or visit ami.co.nz.

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