Isn’t it amazing how short our collective memories are?

The weather problems that have hit the UK for the last 6 weeks are being talked about in terms of the “worst in living memory” by many media outlets, but the truth is far removed from this. Within the last 30 years there have been winters with more snow and lower temperatures which must surely count as living memory unless you live in the world of Logans Run. Houses built in the last 10 years seem to be suffering worse than those built 50 years ago, which goes against the convention that as technology improves problems diminish. Why?

I think the answer is that we, as a society, have forgotten what winter can be like. A succession of mild winters have led us to believe that houses don’t need as much protection, that snow won’t be an issue and the modern, cheaper alternatives will work better than their old counterparts. The collective memory loss is even ingrained in the industry standards, as evidenced by the NHBC specifications for gutter location.

Living in Scotland it really didn’t come as a surprise that we had snow, but the realisation that our house was built to the same standards as a house from the south coast and that we weren’t considered to be in “an area where snow is likely to accumulate on the roof” was a surprise. The ISO standards require different construction and gutter location for such areas, but those standards are contrary to NHBC. Confused? So were we.

The result was all too evident last year when around 50% of our guttering was damaged or simply ripped off by the snow from our roof. Once again we were told by the builder that our house was not in an area where snow was a consideration and Morley (the designers of the guttering) were adamant that they had not made any mistakes. The changes that were made have allowed us to weather the snow this year with far less damage, but guttering was the least of our problems when we had a pipe burst.

We’re not the only people to have suffered, but both the houses with bursts we’ve been involved in have shared a common issue – poor design. Designing a property to cope with extremes of temperature isn’t rocket science, but it’s an art that has faded away as the winters have been milder. 20 years ago public building in the area were designed with snow guards on their roofs and pipework that was carefully insulated and artificially warmed if there was any concern. Today no such protections are designed in as they increased the complexity and so the cost. The results are self evident with schools and hospitals suffering burst pipes and large snow piles blocking doors.

This winter isn’t over yet and so we don’t know if we’ll have more snow (likely) or more cold snaps, but with each year we are relearning lessons that 30 years ago were well understood. We are planning changes to overcome the design fault that caused our burst pipe and the guttering damage. We’re lucky to be in a position to make the changes.