Protecting your home from autumn weather

Prevention is the key to making sure that autumn weather, extreme or not, doesn’t damage your home.

Autumn leaves

As Eisenhower famously said, ‘Plans are useless – but planning is indispensable.’  So it goes with protecting your home against the weather.  Although we can’t predict exactly what or when extreme weather will occur, we can take measures to protect against it.

The main things to consider in autumn are rainfall and wind, says Dr Richard Wild, Chief Meteorologist at Weathernet. ‘There’s been a trend in recent years to name storms, particularly those that blow in from across the Atlantic. The naming of storms sometimes leads to scare stories in the media about how extreme the next one will be. The reality is usually not as bad. But, of course, they can still damage property.’

To protect your home, prevention and good maintenance is key, says Simon Loerns, Field Claims Manager at Hiscox.  ‘The problem is that people don’t think about things happening until after the event. Unless you’ve been bitten, you don’t take the jab, so to speak. But good preventative steps and good maintenance will save you money and hassle overall.’

Can your drains cope?

Keep an eye on things like drains, Loerns advises. ‘You could have a bubbling drain for months, think “I’ll do something about that” but never do. And then when the weather event comes, it’s too late.

‘With high-end terraced houses, especially houses of multiple occupancies where use is high, drains and main sewers can quickly become overwhelmed,’ says Loerns.  ‘That can start to back up into the property, which could be a sink or a toilet.  But in older buildings with older drainage systems, there’s often little you can do about that. You could install non-return valves to reduce the risk of flooding.  These let water out, but as soon as there is pressure from external water, they will close.  So they are very useful in helping you avoid backwash from the main sewers and everyone else’s waste coming into your freshly finished basement extension.’

Air bricks – don’t block them

Air bricks are a weak point where water can enter, but don’t block them, says Loerns. ‘If you block your air brick up. You’ll just create a warm, damp environment where you can get wet rot or dry rot into your timbers because there is no circulation.’

Electronic moats

At the top end of flood prevention there is another solution: electronic skirts. In the event of heavy, persistent rains, these can be activated to create a barrier three or four foot around the bottom of the building – essentially making an air-moat around you and the floodwater.  Though effective, this solution is very costly – even if it does have the cachet of making your home seem a little more like that of a James Bond villain.

Grass vs decking

Grass plays a huge role in soaking up rainwater – and therefore in protecting your home, says Loerns. ‘Historically, you would have had grass in your garden, and grass would soak up a lot of rainwater before it would start to run off into properties.  But when people replace some or all of their grass with decking, this can cause problems because the decking and hard surfaces can’t absorb the rainwater.  So you get run off.’

Roof extensions

Surface area for rain to hit and collect – if it can’t drain away – is a crucial factor in the potential for water damage.  This is where roof extensions can cause problems. ‘The larger the surface of the roof, the more rainwater collects – and that all still goes into the existing drainage system,’ says Loerns.  ‘You are loading a far larger volume of water into an older drainage system that might have been already at its limit.  So always consider what capacity your drainage system can take, and think about maybe rerouting the new roof to a different drain that you can install.’

Feeling pumped

There are some pumped solutions that can kick in when floodwater hits a certain height. ‘A lot of the high-end basements now have a fully tanked cavity drainage system,’ says Loerns. ‘These will pump floodwater out from the basement up to a higher level and into the street and this will help protect you in smaller weather events. However, if it’s catastrophic weather then you’ve got nowhere to pump to and it’s just going to come back anyway.’

French drains

French drains are another solution.  ‘A lot of people who live on a slope will use this as a means of flood prevention,’ says Loerns.  ‘If you are on a sloping site, a lot of places will have French drains built in around paved areas, so that the run off on the slope hits the drain before it hits your property.  You excavate your soil and fill it up with pea shingle mix – which acts as a sponge, essentially.’

This system is ideal for transporting surface water that builds up around walls, on driveways or even in waterlogged areas of a garden. It’s relatively inexpensive and simple to install, and doesn’t require specialist equipment. The key things to plan are where to dig the trench, and to where the excess water will drain away.

Wind

Gale-force winds can occur at any time. But much of the damage done is from small, movable objects like empty plant pots left in the wrong place. Keep an eye on whether trees have large dead branches that could be vulnerable to strong gusts, and if so, consider asking a tree surgeon to remove them.

Frost

Certainly in the earlier autumn months when it is milder, frost is unlikely to cause damage, Wild advises. ‘If frost does do damage, like causing a pipe to burst, this will be likely due to an existing condition, not because of extreme weather.’

‘Extreme weather can happen at any time of year,’ says Wild. ‘So it’s important to remember that there’s nothing that could happen in September, October or November that couldn’t happen in any other month. So indeed, taking steps to protect your home is a good idea  – at anytime.’

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