Holiday homes in Spain are particularly vulnerable to storm and frost damage during winter, as they are often left empty during this hazardous period. By following some simple winter home maintenance tips, holiday home owners can help reduce their risk of filing insurance claims this winter – advises Schofields who specialise in property insurance in Spain.
Below are 7 common winter home insurance claims and how you can avoid them with some simple winter maintenance.
1. Thefts - Beating the Burglars
Most burglaries are carried out by opportunists when a holiday home is empty, or when your defences are down after just after arriving. Well secured entry points will discourage all but the most determined burglars. Some simple security measures include:
- Fit locks or bolts to all external doors and locks to all downstairs or easily accessible windows. Consider installing iron grilles (set into the wall) on windows, or roll-down, reinforced metal shutters.
- Never leave keys in locks or in obvious places, such as under a doormat or plant pot. Instead consider fitting a key safe if you have to leave keys for guests.
- When you take possession of a new-build property have all the locks changed in case copies of the keys have fallen into the wrong hands.
- Don’t forget to lock outbuildings with proper security locks, after putting all your garden furniture, tools and ladders away, so they cannot be used to break into your house.
- Ask trusted neighbour to check on the property from time to time and reward them for their troubles.
Some insurers exclude theft and malicious damage after so many days unoccupancy, or if security warranties aren't followed so double-check your policy terms.
2. Burst Pipes and Water Damage
When temperatures drop, pipes can freeze and burst. The damage from burst pipes can be horrendous, especially if the burst happens when your house is unoccupied and the burst goes unnoticed for weeks.
- One of the main causes of frozen pipes is switching the central heating off completely when a house is empty. Leaving the heating on a low temperature can minimise potential danger.
- Ensure pipes are well lagged, wrap exposed outside pipes with insulating sleeves and make sure that water tanks get insulation too.
- 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.
- Washing machines, taps, showers, baths, dishwashers etc. should be checked from time to time for leaks. Even a few drops of water can cause rotting and damp.
- Know where gas and electricity supplies can be turned off and where your stopcock is. Speedily shutting off the water in an emergency could prevent a great deal of damage.
If all else fails make sure your Spanish holiday home is fully insured for such losses.
3. Storm Damage
Storms and high winds can cause considerable damage to your property, which can go unnoticed, especially if you lock up your holiday home during the winter.
Some things to consider:
- Check roof tiles and slates are secure so you don’t get water damage in the loft/roof space.
- Don’t forget to check that any outbuildings are weather tight.
- Are the satellite dish and TV aerial fixed securely?
- Gardens – Don’t desert your garden during the winter months. Keep trees well pruned, remove dead/damaged branches and ensure they are clear of buildings and cables. Garden furniture should also be stored away.
- Gates and window shutters should be well fastened to avoid damage.
4. Blocked Gutters and Drains
Clear gutters and drains regularly of leaves and dirt as blocked gutters can cause overflow, resulting in flooding on the roof and damp problems. A flooded balcony/veranda may not only affect your apartment but the apartment below yours could suffer water damage as a result of your negligence.
5. Electricity Surges and Power Failures
Rural holiday homes are more likely to suffer from power failure due to storms, which could leave you with a freezing house if your electric storage heaters fail. More commonly, properties in Spain suffer from electrical storms and power surges, which could fry your electrical gadgets such as TV’s, telephones, modems etc.
When you leave your holiday home unoccupied unplug electrical devices to avoid damage from power surges or electrical storms, or purchase surge protectors.
6. Slip/Trip Accidents and Personal Liability Claims
If you are letting your holiday home in Spain throughout the winter, there is a danger that a guest could slip or fall on slippery paths and decide to sue. Your public liability insurance (if you have it) will protect you against such actions. However, keep paths well lit and clear of slippery leaves.
7. Fire Risks and Chimneys
An electrical fire caused by wiring faults could reduce your dream home to ashes. Have a qualified electrician to check your wiring is safe.
Make sure your chimney top is sufficiently covered to avoid rainwater coming into the house through the chimney. Also, don’t forget to have your chimney swept yearly to avoid chimney fires.
Fit smoke alarms on each floor, making sure they can be heard throughout the property.
Unlike most other holiday home insurers, Schofields policies do not have security, heating or unoccupancy warranties. However, holiday home owners should check their Spanish insurance policy and any obligations regarding these three critical areas. Exclusions and restrictions in the small print can render a holiday home insurance policy worthless, just when your property in Spain most at risk during the winter months.
With some sensible planning you can avoid nasty surprises this winter.