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Ten ways to winter-proof your finances and avoid chilling bills

Winter is an expensive time, so take steps now to limit its toll on your pocket, writes Louise McBride


Energy saving concept. Stock picture

Energy saving concept. Stock picture

Energy saving concept. Stock picture

The damage inflicted by Storm Lorenzo on some parts of this country earlier this month was a reminder of the toll which winter can take on our day-to-day lives - and finances. Between storms, snow, black ice and floods, winter tends to throw its worst at us. Any damage caused by bad weather to your home or car - or, indeed, any personal injury incurred - could leave you seriously out of pocket. So too could a burglary, and winter is usually a peak time for them. We also spend more on heating, electricity and lighting.

So, with winter fast approaching, what can you do to limit its impact on your pocket?

Get the right locks

A burglary could easily see thousands of euro worth of belongings stolen from your home - more if you have particularly valuable items, or if the burglar steals your car keys (and car). You could also face a major bill to repair any damage.

So fit a five-lever mortice deadlock on the front and back doors (if you have not already done so) - and do the same for any other outer doors.

Expect to pay between €20 and €40 for a five-lever mortice lock, depending on the size of lock and retailer. Most insurers will not cover you for a break-in if you do not have these - or other equally secure - locks. Check your home insurance policy to see exactly what locks you should have on your home - and what other security measures your insurer expects you to have in place - for you to be covered in the event of a burglary.

For example, to be covered by Liberty Insurance for break-ins, the main exit door on your home should be fitted with a five-lever mortice deadlock or deadlocking rim latches. Furthermore, Liberty requires there to be similar locks on other outer doors - or else key-operated security devices fitted to the top and bottom of those doors.

It is a good idea to fit locks to the top and bottom of any patio doors you have - as this should prevent the door from being lifted off its tracks by burglars.

Get a dog & CCTV

Burglars are more likely to be put off by dogs and CCTV cameras than house alarms, according to a survey by a UK insurance company a couple of years ago. You could buy a basic, DIY-installed CCTV system for a few hundred euro - but the bill for a professionally installed one could run into the thousands. Should you be interested in a dog, be aware that some estimate that the likely lifetime cost of owning one ranges from €15,000 to €23,000, depending on its size. Be sure you have the time and inclination to look after a dog if considering buying one for your security.

Do not underestimate the value of an alarm - it is widely accepted that they are an effective deterrent against burglars. You could pay anything from several hundred euro to €1,000 or more to get a monitored intruder alarm installed, as well as a monthly fee for the monitoring.

Check your flat roof

The repair bill for damage caused by a leaky flat roof could easily run into the thousands. The repair bill for damage caused by a collapsed flat roof - such as a roof which has buckled under the weight of heavy snow - could easily run to €10,000 or more, depending on the size of your roof. Even if you have home insurance, you might find that your insurer will refuse to cover damage caused by a flat roof - particularly if your roof is over a certain size or age, and if you do not regularly maintain it.

"One area where people often get caught out with storm or water damage to their home is flat roofs," said Jonathan Hehir, managing director of insuremyhouse.ie. "Be aware of the conditions of your policy around the maintenance of a flat roof. If you go to make a claim for storm damage to a flat roof, an insurer could argue that your flat roof has been damaged by wear and tear over the years - rather than by a storm.

"Your insurer could then refuse the claim. So it's important to check that your insurer is aware of the flat roof on your home - and what the conditions of you being insured for a flat roof are."

With Liberty Insurance, for example, your flat roof must be maintained by a qualified roofer or builder at least once every five years - unless the manufacturer of the roof or the roof's materials has recommended otherwise. Axa does not cover storm or flood damage to felt roofs over five years old, unless you can prove it has been inspected by a professional builder every three years.

The materials that your flat roof is made of could also come into play. With Allianz, Aviva and FBD, you will not be covered for storm or flood damage if it is more than 10 years old and made of torched-on felt - or if your roof is made of any other felt and is more than five years old.

You are unlikely to be covered for any damage to your flat roof if it represents a larger portion of the overall roof area of your house than is covered by your insurer. Some insurers cover flat roofs that represent up to 30pc of the overall roof area of a home, but others only cover a flat roof if it is no more than a fifth of the overall roof area. So be careful when choosing an insurer.

Get storm & ice ready

Storms could cost tens - and, in some cases, hundreds - of thousands of euro worth of damage to a home. So take steps to safeguard it.

Insulate your water pipes and water tank, as this should help prevent burst pipes in your home during a cold snap. A burst pipe could cause tens of thousands of euro in damage. Understand what you need to do to limit the damage caused by a burst pipe. "Know where the stopcock (which turns off the water supply to your home) is located and make sure it works," said Hehir. "If a pipe bursts, turn off the water at the stopcock, switch off the central heating and any other water heating installations - and open all taps to drain the system."

Clear out your gutters before freezing temperatures hit. "Full gutters increase your chance of having ice form on your roof," said Hehir. Keeping your gutters clear should also help prevent dampness and leaks in your home.

You should be able to get your gutters cleared for around €60 to €100, depending on the size of your home and the number of gutters you need cleared, as long as you shop around.

Inspect your roof for loose tiles or damaged chimney pots, and get any problems repaired.

Cut down - or top - large trees which are very close to your home. They can cause considerable damage to your house if they fall during a storm.

Tree surgeon prices vary, so shop around. You could pay anything from a couple of hundred euro to €1,500 or more to get a tree removed - depending largely on its height, diameter, location and condition. The tree-cutter might split the timber for you for a fee - and this may be worth it if you will use this timber for firewood.

Get flood ready

Take steps to limit any damage which floods might cause. "If there are immediate flood warnings for your area, it might be worth using sand-bags and wrapping to protect your property," said Hehir. "If you live in a flood-risk area, keep personal and expensive items as high above ground level as possible during the more risky periods." Park your car on high ground - and away from the sea, rivers or lakes.

Know where you will stand with your insurer if your home is damaged by flooding.

Insurers often will not cover homes that are in areas which have been flooded previously - though they may consider doing so if improved flood defences have mitigated the risks.

De-ice cars with care

Stay in your car when de-icing it this winter. Insurers usually refuse to cover the theft of a car if the keys to the ignition are left with or in the car when it is unattended - as is typically the case when de-icing one's car on a cold morning. In recent winters, a number of cars were stolen after their owners left them de-icing on a driveway.

Sunday Indo Business