December sees the real start of winter and whilst most of our thoughts at this time of year focus on Christmas, it’s worth sparing a little time to make sure that you’re protected and safe from the elements.
The cold weather that usually arrives this time of year can cause real problems if you’re not prepared. A burst pipe can cause severe damage and major disruption to your home. Winter weather can also often make driving conditions difficult. Here are a few pointers to help keep you safe this season.
Frost is the solid deposition of water vapour from humid air. It normally forms on still, clear, cold nights. The cool night air causes water vapour in the air to condense and form droplets on the ground. When the temperature of the ground or surface is below 0 degrees Celsius the moisture freezes into ice crystals.
The minimum air temperature is a good indication of the frost and ice risk in your area. However, in some situations a ground frost can form even when the air temperature is above 0 degrees Celsius. Frost will usually occur during clear winter nights when the sun’s absence causes surface temperatures to plunge. Cloud cover can act as a natural insulator, trapping warm air near the surface and hampering frost formation. Clear nights let heat radiate out into the atmosphere, cooling the surface and encouraging frost formation. Many different factors contribute to frost forming—cloud cover, air temperature, wind speed and rainfall all influence the formation of frost, which makes it difficult to forecast more than a few days in advance.
Protect Your Property
Frost can wriggle its way into your building through loose tiles, chipping paint, tiny cracks and exposed pipes. It can also freeze and burst pipes, causing a lengthy and messy clean-up process. Protect your property by heeding these general precautions:
- Service your boiler and insulate your pipes. If your pipes burst, you could be without heating and hot water. Stay up to date on boiler maintenance and pipe insulation to ensure your home stays warm.
- Locate your main stopcock and learn how to turn it on and off. Without knowing where and how to operate the main valve regulating water flow into your building, you may be unable to clear your pipes and thus prevent them from freezing.
- Inspect all insulation. All pipes and tanks in loft spaces or anywhere liable to freeze should be inspected and insulated properly.
- Clear all gutters. When your gutters are blocked, water overflows and runs down your outside wall. That excess water and any frost that forms on your building’s exterior can work their way through tiny cracks in porous brick and cause serious damage.
- Examine your building’s exterior. If frost gets into loose paintwork, cracks or open joints, it can take hold and cause damage from the inside, invading your property with water and cold weather damage.
- Survey your roof. Your roof should be watertight with no cracked or missing tiles. Even the smallest hole can provide frost with an opportunity to enter and wrench apart tiles by freezing and refreezing.
- Allow heat to circulate. Heat should circulate through your whole building to ensure colder areas that contain pipes do not freeze. Keep inside doors open to encourage heat circulation.
- Leave heating on at least one hour each day. Neglecting to heat your building, even if you are away, can lead to freezing pipes, which can burst and cause all sorts of problems.
- Let a slow trickle of water flow through taps connected to pipes that run through colder spaces. Either drain the water system or let water flow at a slow trickle to discourage freezing from frost.
- Cover plants during frosty evenings. Use simple, fleece-covered frames or a layer of straw sandwiched between two sections of chicken wire to cover and insulate outdoor plants against frost.
Icy conditions mean that driving can be treacherous. Add to that the blinding, low winter sun that often accompanies frosty days, being on the road can become particularly dangerous at this time of year. Follow the tips listed below to ensure your safety when driving on frost-covered roads:
- Clear all vehicle windows of snow and ice – and make sure that your windscreen is fully de-misted. Driving with a misted window is an offence and can result in a fine and/or points on your licence. Never try to defrost your windscreen with hot water.
- Stay vigilant when clearing snow from your running vehicle—leaving it unattended even for a moment while it warms up extends an open invitation for thieves to ‘frost jack’ your vehicle.
- Ensure your tyres are appropriately inflated—full tyres provide better traction and control.
- Travel with a full tank of fuel for extra vehicle weight and increased traction.
- Stop 10 times sooner than you would on normal roads.
- Clean your number plates.
- Steer and brake gradually to discourage skidding. If you do skid, stay calm – simply lay off the accelerator and gently steer in the desired direction rather than relying on the brakes.
- Make sure you carry essentials such as de-icer, scraper, blanket, torch, warm clothing & boots and a shovel. And of course, a charged mobile phone.
- Drive according to the weather conditions – and if the forecast or conditions are bad – only drive if you really have to.
And finally, to make sure you enjoy a safe & merry Christmas:
- Make sure your Christmas tree is stable and away from doors, fireplaces & heat sources.
- Only use lights marked with British Standard BSEN60598 2-20 and the Kitemark. Check there is no exposed wiring.
- Check the batteries in your smoke & carbon monoxide alarms
- Keep presents out of site to reduce to risk of being the target of a break-in.
In the event that something does go wrong – make sure you have your home and motor insurance policy number and telephone numbers to hand. These can be found on our Contact Us page.