Winter snow and ice

and how it causes problems in your house and home


How a Surveyor can help you

We are ready to help you with any property problems at any time of year even in the winter when it's snowing and icy. We carry out structural surveys and building surveys all year round. We also carry out engineer's reports where we look at specific defects in properties from cracks to dampness, condensation, black mould and foundation problems.

We also find that the winter months are particularly good for using thermal imaging as thermal imaging is not only good for advising you on whether you are losing heat from a building or on how to save heat (whichever way you look at it) it is also good for showing defective materials.


Icicles hanging down from a blocked
gutter. The soil and vent pipe was
frozen too, just think about that!

For any sort of property report please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat. We can even send you an example survey report that is similar to the property you are looking to purchase or that you have a problem with. We look forward to speaking to you.


Thermal image of a timber framed
Tudor property

Caveat Emptor

Caveat Emptor means Buyer Beware and is why a buyer will have a Building Survey carried out on a property before purchasing it so that they are aware of any problems with the property. If you maintain your property it will be easier to sell in the future and at the right price.


Typical house

Protecting your home for the winter

It is never too late to protect your home from the winter. It is worth having a good look around your home from a point of view of what damage can be caused by snow and icy weather. For those of us lucky enough to be having a winter holiday do not forget to turn off your water and ideally drain it down or leave your heating on a frost setting.


Snow on Victorian properties


Houses and homes are susceptible in
snowy and icy weather to frozen pipes.


So turn your water off during snow
and icy weather if you go on holiday

Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes are often the things that people do not think about unless they are going away for a long break. However it could be that you are going away over Christmas even for a short period during a cold spell. This can be enough to freeze the water in your pipes and when the frozen water expands it can damage the pipe causing a leak to occur when the water thaws out.

We have been involved in a few properties from a surveying point of view over the years where there have been frozen pipes and so insurance claims have ensued. By far the most common is, in our experience, bursting water tanks.


Snow covered 1960's houses. These
originally would not have much
insulation in the roof

Burst water tanks in roofs

Water tanks in roofs come in many forms but today we usually find plastic water tanks although we do still occasionally come across asbestos and cast iron water tanks. We have even recently come across a wood built lead lined water tank (believe it or not) this was in a very old listed property.


Insulated water tanks to stop the
cold getting in

Whatever the construction of the water tank each of them carries a large amount of water. We believe that the original design idea was that there should be a twenty four hour to forty eight hours supply of water just in case problems occurred with the external water supply and so this can be a considerable amount. Water tanks for domestic use vary in size and can range from 25 gallons to 100 gallons plus.


Wood built, lead lined water tank

How do you stop your water tank freezing up?

It is recommended to prevent water tanks freezing up that you don't insulate under the water tank ensuring any warm air below in the building transfers up underneath the water tank and stops if from freezing up.

Free and cheap insulation is not always a good thing

In today's properties with the amount of insulation they put into the property it is not always a good thing. We would add that in older properties where insulation has been added we have come across roofs where it has literally been thrown in and very little skill, if any, has been used. We certainly do not believe that the people who put the insulation in think about not putting insulation under the water tank.


Mass of insulation just thrown in the
loft space

Whilst we are considering insulating roofs…

Never in the history of construction have we put as much insulation into the roofs, walls and floors of properties as we do now. We feel there may be problems to come, particularly with the air tight modern houses, in the form of black mould, interstitial condensation and other issues that we are not aware of yet.


Roof insulation in a modern property


Old properties and problems with water tanks

When a water tank bursts, as you can imagine, it causes considerable damage. Depending upon the age of the property the water may travel down through a plasterboard ceiling or if your property is older than Pre-War Years, Wars Years or Post War Years it may take the lath and plaster ceiling down which in itself is difficult to repair.

This is particularly the case if your property is a Listed Building as this will have to be repaired in keeping with techniques used in the era that the building was built.


Lath and plaster

Lath and Plaster Defined

Laths are thin strips of timbers which are fixed to the structure. Wet plaster is applied to the laths, usually in several layers. The plaster forms a key as it is forced between the laths. This plaster, once dry, is given further coats and often a decorative finish.


This is what a lath and plaster ceiling
looks like when the plaster has been
taken off. It is completely different
and messier when it's caused by
water damage

How cold does your house and home get?

As mentioned earlier cold and freezing nights can also cause problems with the bursting of pipes, for example, where pipes are run through the ceiling and exposed to the cold air in the roof space or as some people call it an attic or a loft. The freezing water then expands into ice and can cause damage to the joints and when the ice thaws out the joints leak.


This is how cold your house gets. The
blue is cold walls with the only heat
being transferred through the roof

Freezing pipework can be used to your advantage

Interestingly freezing is used as a technique for changing radiators and carrying out repairs in a property when you do not want to drain down the whole heating system or the water system. When the freezing of pipes is used skilfully it can result in just the part of the pipe you want being frozen or the two parts to be exact and allows the heating engineer or the plumber to move the radiator or defective joint or part of the pipe and carry out the repair.

Plumber defined

Normally deals with all pipework although we do come across some who specialise in bathrooms and kitchens and others that specialise in drainage.

Freezing pipework can be used to your advantage

Dyno-rod is the name that everyone associates with drainage specialists but there are others such as;

1.  Homeserve 4. Metro-Rod
2.  Draindoctor 5. Drain Safe
3.  UK Drainage 6. British Gas

As you can see above even British Gas have started to carry out this type of work? It is always worth having a phone number of someone that you have used in the past as when your pipes or water pipes freeze everyone else's tend to freeze as well so the plumbers are in great demand. We would recommend getting to know and love a plumber!

Heating Engineer defined

These specialise in heating systems within properties and these can get quite complex. A fully trained Heating Engineer should have knowledge of all aspects of heating, hot and cold water installations.

Freezing gutters and downpipes and soil and vent pipes

Whilst at first this isn't an obvious one to think about but obviously if the pipes are freezing internally within the roof those outside are also freezing. We have seen water pour down the house causing damage to the brickwork and it particularly causes damage to render. We would also add that a frozen soil and vent pipe can simply be an inconvenience but can be more than an inconvenience if you cannot get your toilets to flush.


Frozen gutters are the least of the
problems as in this case the soil and
vent pipe was also frozen solid
meaning the Bathroom and toilet
could not be used

Freeze, Thaw, Affect or Freeze, Thaw, Attack

This is where deterioration or spalling occurs to brickwork or render and can also affect or should we say attack flat roofs. These areas tend to be out of sight and out of mind when you are trying to keep warm during the winter months but would be typical of the type of things we would pick up on a Structural Survey or a Building Survey or even where we carry out a Defects report.


Spalling of brickwork

Spalling Defined

Spalling occurs to brick or stone when water penetrates the surface and via freezing and thawing starts to cause deterioration to the surface. This in turn allows further water penetration and the surface breaks up further. This ultimately can lead to water damage or structural damage to the area.


Spalling on render

Problems with carrying out rendering in the winter months

We have been involved in a case where the rendering on the property had been carried out during the winter months and there were all sorts of problems with the top coat coming off.


Top coat of render coming away


Deterioration in the top coat of the render

Render detailing

We can usually tell if the render is good or not by the drip detail over the window and the bell mouth to the base of the property.


Window drip detail


Bell mouth detail


Bell mouth detail to the base of the
render which in this case was
deteriorating in places

Specialised equipment and instruments we use as Surveyors

Firstly we would comment that we use various pieces of equipment that aid us in reaching decisions such as thermal imaging cameras and resistance meters.

How thermal imaging helps us when carrying out Building Surveys and Structural Surveys on properties

We have also looked at the thermal efficiency and energy efficiency of properties and this may be worth considering if you have a property that feels very cold.

We use thermal imaging cameras where we feel there is a problem that can be identified by them. Thermal image cameras not only do the obvious in identifying the warm and cold areas in a building but they also identify where something is happening to a particular material.


Thermal image of a Tudor property.

A good example of this is a timber beam within a Tudor property that will have a consistent colour unless wet rot, dry rot, woodworm or a similar issue is present. This can be seen by the trained eye and trained Surveyor. We would add that, in our opinion, thermal imaging cannot be used on its own but needs to be used as part of a Building Survey.

Resistance Meters

Whilst we are carrying out building surveys we often utilise a resistance meter. This is sometimes known as the protimeter which is the most popular resistance meter. We use both protimeter's and Gann meters. In the photos to the right you can see us testing for dampness using a Gann meter.


Testing for dampness with a
Gann meter

Cold Bridging and Thermal Bridging

We were not sure where to put this in the article but it does need to be talked about. Older properties particularly those built around the War Years and particularly those of non-traditional construction will suffer from cold bridging. This is where the cold elements in the structure allow the transfer of heat through them. This is particularly so in the case of non-traditional buildings where they have been built with a metal frame or a concrete frame. Please see our articles on non-traditional buildings.


Cold bridging and condensation

Cold Bridging Defined

Cold bridging is caused by a colder element in the structure allowing coldness to pass through the structure much quicker when warm moist air is present in the property, often caused by things like having a shower or a bath, cooking or washing, particularly if you are drying washing on the radiators. This is also caused by the general climate which results in condensation on the element.

Independent Surveyors

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a surveyor with regard to valuations, mortgages, mortgage companies, surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, structural surveys, home buyers reports or any other property matters please contact 0800 298 5424 for a surveyor to give you a call back. 

Our Good, Bad & Ugly surveys!

We have developed, over many years, what we call our good, bad and ugly survey. This is a building survey also sometimes known as a structural survey. We have listened to feedback from our clients and amended and altered our surveys to make them easy to read and describe issues clearly. The key factor we believe is our surveys are easy to understand in plain English.

Examples of our building surveys

If you would like to see an example of our unique building surveys we are more than happy to email this to you. As mentioned above our surveys are easy to understand and contain photos, sketches and definitions that help to explain to you the specific problems that we find within the property.

The content of the website is for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon for specific or general decisions. Appropriate independent professional advice should be paid for before making such a decision. Why not free phone on 0800 298 5424

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