Winter weather precautions

This page lists some simple precautions you can take to keep your home safe over the winter months, making sure that your home is 'winter proof', whether you rent or own your home. It also looks at what to do in an emergency, if pipes freeze or burst.

Things to do before the cold weather starts

Outside the home

  • Check the guttering outside your home isn't broken or leaking, and clear out any leaves or other debris. This will reduce the risks of leaks and blockages during freezing weather.
  • Insulate any water pipes in exposed places.
  • Make sure the roof is in good condition - check for loose or missing tiles and for any cracks in the chimney. Hire a professional roofing contractor to patch up any gaps.

Inside the home

  • Make sure you know how to turn off the water, gas and electricity. You may need to do this in an emergency. If you live in a flat, the supply may come from outside your flat, so make sure you know where it is.
  • Keep candles, matches, blankets, a torch and battery powered radio somewhere handy in case of power cuts. A camping stove will also be useful if you anticipate long power cuts.
  • Wrap up water tanks, cisterns and boilers with insulating jackets.
  • Make sure all pipes are insulated with lagging.
  • If you have a water tank in your loft, check that there isn't any loft insulation underneath it. This prevents rising heat from reaching the tank, which makes the water more prone to freezing in cold weather.
  • Repair any leaking taps or pipes - leaks can cause pipes to freeze up.
  • If you have an outdoor tap, wrap it up with insulating material or switch off the water supply to it altogether.
  • Check that your heating system is working properly - it's a good idea to get it serviced before winter sets in. The pages on electrical and gas safety have more advice on this.
  • If you live in an area that's prone to flooding, make sure you're prepared.

Things to do during winter

Outside the home

  • Check that any gas flues don't freeze over. This may cause a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide.
  • Keep an eye on the roof: check for loose or missing tiles after high winds or storms.

Inside the home

Keep your home well heated. Warmth is the best defence against problems caused by cold weather. If you can't afford to heat the entire property, make sure that at least one room is always kept warm.

Help to pay for heating during winter

Heating your home during winter can be expensive, but there are ways of reducing your bills. If you are elderly, disabled, or on a low income, you may be able to get some financial help to pay your bills. The page on paying for heating has more information.

Things to do if you're going away

  • Don't switch the heating off when you go away. Leave it on at a low setting, or set the timer so it comes on at least once a day. If you have a thermostat, set your heating to come on if the temperature drops below a certain level.
  • If you can't leave the heating on or very cold conditions are forecast, turn off the water supply and drain the system by leaving taps to run dry.
  • Ask a neighbour or friend to check on your home in particularly cold spells. If this isn't possible, leave a key or your contact details with a neighbour, in case of emergencies.

What if I rent my home?

Outside the home

If you rent your home, you aren't responsible for arranging and paying for repair work to be carried out to the structure of your home (for example, to the roof or walls). However, it's still a good idea to carry out the checks listed above, to make sure your home is fit to face the winter. If you think repair work needs to be carried out to the structure of your home, you should contact your landlord straight away.

Inside the home

Your landlord is responsible for fixing faults in the heating and hot water systems, gas and water pipes, and flues and ventilation. If the heating or ventilations systems aren't working or you don't think the pipes are adequately insulated, get in touch with your landlord about it.

Remember, it's up to you to keep these installations in good order. For example, it's your responsibility to heat your home to a reasonable level to prevent pipes from freezing, or to empty the water system and turn off the water supply before you go away.

Heating your home

Your landlord must ensure that your home is adequately insulated, so that you can keep your home warm and free from damp and mould without running up unreasonably large heating bills. Speak to your landlord if you don't think this is the case. It's in their best interests to keep the home well insulated and easy to heat, to prevent damage caused by cold and damp.

Find out more

The sections on repairs in privately rented and council housing explain your landlord's responsibility in more detail, and look at what you can do if you're having problems getting your landlord to carry out repairs.

If pipes freeze or burst

If pipes in your home freeze or burst, don't panic. Here's what to do.

Frozen pipes

If the water in internal or external pipes freezes, it expands and can split or crack the pipe. Once the water thaws, it will then pour through the hole:

  • If pipes in your home freeze, turn off the water supply straightaway and switch off the central heating and any water heating appliances (immersion heater, boiler, etc).
  • If you rent your home, you should call your landlord straightaway.
  • Drain the system by turning on cold taps and flushing the toilet. Don't turn on hot taps as this may cause further problems.
  • Thaw the frozen pipes with a hot water bottle or hairdryer, or by wrapping them with warm cloths. Start at the end nearest the tap. Never apply a direct flame, for example by using a blowtorch.
  • Turn the water back on again and check that nothing is leaking anywhere. You can then turn any water heating appliances back on.
  • Call in a plumber if you're at all unsure what to do.

Burst pipes

  • Turn off the water supply, central heating and water heating appliances and drain the system to reduce pressure on the leaking pipe(s).
  • If water from the leak is likely to come into contact with electrical wiring in your home, switch off the electricity at the mains. You may need to call in an electrician to check the system before you switch it back on again.
  • If you rent your home, contact your landlord to report the damage.
  • Try repairing the burst pipe temporarily using tape or a cloth.
  • Call in a plumber to fix the leaks permanently.
  • If leaking water is making the ceiling bulge, place a bucket underneath and make a small hole in the bulge with a broom handle - this should prevent the ceiling from collapsing.
  • If you live in a flat, check with your neighbours that you haven't turned off their water supply as well, and that water isn't leaking into their home.
  • Refill the hot water system before switching on the boiler or immersion heater.
  • If there is any damage, contact your insurer's helpline to find out about making a claim. If you rent your home, your contents insurance should cover any damage to your belongings.

What if the burst pipe isn't in my home?

If water is leaking into your home from a neighbour's house or flat, contact your neighbour immediately. If you can't get hold of them, you can try:

  • turning off the water supply - if you live in a flat or tenement building, you may be able to turn off the supply without entering your neighbour's home
  • contacting your neighbour's landlord - your council's website housing department may be able to tell you who this is
  • calling the police - in an emergency (for example, if water is flooding into your home) the police may be able to break into your neighbour's home so that the water supply can be turned off.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

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