Ask the Expert: What precautions should I take with an unoccupied house over winter?

Q. We have a property that is likely to be unoccupied over the winter. Are there any precautions that we should take?

A. With an empty property over the winter, one of the main concerns must be to ensure that the property is properly protected against the danger of burst pipes. By far the safest way to deal with this is to have both water and central heating systems fully drained down. This does mean that the property will feel cold, damp and uninviting, but that’s a small price to pay for the security of knowing that you’re not going to face a repair bill for perhaps tens of thousands of pounds.

Sadly, the other main concern you need to address is the risk of vandalism – or at least, unauthorised entry. Obviously, a properly functioning alarm system can work wonders in helping to deter intruders, and asking a neighbour to keep an eye on the place is also advisable. However, an empty house is easily spotted, so it’s a good idea to keep a couple of lamps, and even a radio, on timer switches, to give at least the casual observer the impression that someone’s at home. And if your neighbour can be prevailed upon to park a car in the driveway occasionally, then so much the better.

You should try to visit the property regularly, or arrange for someone else to do so. Again, this will help create the impression that the place is occupied. Also if anything has gone wrong, or any damage - accidental or otherwise - has occurred, it can be spotted and rectified before its expense escalates. Besides, it’s important that the property should look cared for. Few things are more likely to attract the unwelcome attention of vandals and others than a general air of neglect. This is true at any time of year, of course, but particularly so during the winter months. So, things like keeping the front garden neat and tidy, the windows clean and the hallway free of accumulated junk mail, are all worth doing.

Finally, bear in mind that many insurance companies will only cover empty properties for a limited period of time – often as little as one month. So, check!