Mothballing an unoccupied property

Avoid invalidating your home or unoccupied property insurance by protecting your empty home from damage, crime and vandalism.

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths

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Key points

  • Mothball your property to prepare it for a vacant period - it could save you money on repairs
  • Your home insurance is invalid if you leave the property empty for longer than your policy allows
  • You can take out dedicated unoccupied property insurance if your standard home insurance doesn’t cover you

Why should I mothball my empty house?

Preparing the house to stay secure and standing while you’re away is called ‘mothballing’.

Unoccupied properties are covered for a set period in your home insurance, or you can take out unoccupied property insurance for longer periods away.

Always tell your insurer before you leave the property, so it can rearrange your cover to suit the duration.

When vacant, the house is at risk of deterioration, break ins, theft and vandalism - some basic security and maintenance measures mean you're less likely to need to make a claim.

If you do all you can to make your empty home secure and safe, your home insurance or unoccupied property insurance could be cheaper as a result.

340,000 The number of properties in Britain without a permanent resident

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According to University College London

Tell your insurer if the house is empty

Tell your insurer the dates your property will be unoccupied.

It'll tell you if you need to take out extra cover.

Most home insurance policies stipulate how long you’re allowed to leave your property unoccupied.

The limit dictates how long the property can be empty, but still comprehensively insured.

The timeframe is different in every policy, if unoccupied properties are insured at all.

If your house is empty for longer than the limit, and you need to make a claim, you won’t be covered.

If you are covered, check that the level of cover is consistent with the cover you have when the property is occupied.

Protect possessions in an empty house

Here’s what you need to do to look after an empty home...

Deter crime

  • Remove or lock up valuables and jewellery so they’re out of sight
  • Remove or store any expensive garden furniture and tools and make sure ladders, bins or anything a criminal can climb on is locked away
  • A trusted neighbour or friend parked on the drive and collecting post will give the impression that the house is in regular use, deterring squatters or opportunistic criminals
  • Cut down high bushes and overgrown plants to increase visibility around your property, so there are fewer places to hide

Check the locks and alarms

  • Insurer-approved locks on all doors and windows will mean lower home insurance premiums
  • Check your gate, shed and garage locks too
  • If you have an alarm system, make sure it's working

Install timers for light switches

  • Set timers on a variety of lights and radios in the house in a realistic irregular pattern

Protect the house from damage

Deep clean indoors

  • Clean the interior and exterior of your property to deter rodents, insects and other animals moving in

Clean the gutters

  • Clear gutters, hoppers and downpipes
  • Check for any water pooling, dripping or soaking in where it shouldn’t be to avoid damp

Remove garden and food waste

  • Rubbish and rotten vegetation can also cause damp, so prune plants and clear debris
  • A tidy garden will also give thieves the impression that your house is occupied and checked regularly

Consistent ventilation

  • Don’t block ventilation grills and chimneys
  • Buildings need to breathe to avoid damp and rot
  • If your windows have trickle ventilators, keep them open
  • Keep interior doors, cupboard doors and your loft hatch open so warm air can circulate
Reduced council tax

Contact the local authority to find out how much council tax you need to pay

Your council might offer a reduced rate during periods of unoccupancy, or an exemption while the property’s occupied, but some will expect you to pay the full rate

What you pay may also depend on whether the house is furnished or not. For more details, and to find out your own local council's rules, read the Gov’s guide to second or empty homes

Weather damage and ventilation

Burst pipes are common in cold weather, especially if you’ve turned the heating off while the property’s vacant.

Turn off the water supply completely

If you turn off the water supply, drain the pipes completely to avoid any freezing and bursting.

The problem with this is that a cold house can become damp, so another option is to keep the heating running on low.

It’s a good idea to get the boiler serviced before you leave as well.

Leave a tap on

If you're unable to turn your water supply off, leaving one tap on each floor dripping very slightly will avoiding stagnant water in the pipes that could potentially freeze.

Lag the pipes

Make sure all pipes and tanks are properly lagged. If they aren’t your insurance might not cover you if they do burst.

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