Preventing Home Damage from Winter Cold

Lucy Lazarony
November 3, 2020

Snow, ice and wind can damage your home this winter. Take steps now to prevent winter damage. Here are some tips on protecting your home this winter from the Insurance Information Institute. Clean out gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. If water is unable to drain through the gutters it could seep into the house. Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow or wind could cause weak tree branches to break free, damaging your home or car. Repair steps and handrails. Broken steps and banisters become very dangerous when covered with ice and snow. Use caulking to seal cracks and wall openings to prevent cold air and moisture from entering your home. Install weather stripping around windows to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from blowing in. Let’s look at more ways to protect your home this winter from damages from snow, ice, cold and wind. There’s a lot to do.

Winter Preparations Inside the Home

Add extra insulation to attics and basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat should escape through the attic it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water can then refreeze leading to more ice build up on the roof and this could even lead to ice dams, which can damage your roof. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will help to protect your home’s pipes. Think about insulating garages and other unfinished areas of your home to keep pipes from freezing.

Get a reliable back-up power source. If there is a power outage, having back-up power will prevent frozen pipes not to mention keeping you and your family warm. So consider purchasing a portable power generator for your home.

Have your heating system serviced. Your furnace, boiler and chimney should be serviced every year to prevent any smoke or fire damage.

Check pipes closely for any cracks and leaks. Have any damaged pipes repaired immediately.

You don’t want a crack to turn into a bigger problem.

Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This valve will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent pipes from bursting.

Remove combustible items away from any heat sources that you’ll be using this winter. These heat sources include fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters. So make sure these heat sources are clear of anything that could catch fire.

Install or check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Residential fires and carbon monoxide poisonings increase during the winter. So check that your detectors are working properly. If they aren’t, promptly replace them with new ones.

Learn where your pipes are located and learn how to shut the water off. If pipes should freeze, you’ll need to move fast. The sooner you shut off the water and get a plumber working on the problem, the better your chances of avoiding major damage.

Hire a licensed contractor come out to your house to look for structural damage in your home. If damages are found, make all the necessary repairs as soon as possible.

Get Coverage for Sewer Backup

Flooding that is related to melting snow can overburden sewer systems. And when raw sewage gets backed up into the drains of your home, this can cause thousands of dollars in damages to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer backup is not covered under standard homeowners insurance policies or renters insurance policies. It is also not covered by flood insurance. But sewer backup can be purchased as a separate insurance product or as an endorsement for a standard homeowners insurance policy. If you live somewhere with heavy snowfall you may want to consider this policy. It just takes one big snowfall to melt to cause a problem.

Find Affordable Home Insurance Coverage

Winter Survival Tips

Keep sidewalks and entrances to your house free from snow and ice. You want a clear and safe walkway for you and your family and any guests who come to visit.

Keep gutters free of leaves and debris so melting snow and ice can flow freely. Ice dams can cause water to build up and water could seep into your house. So make a habit of cleaning out gutters and keeping them free of debris.

Keep your house heated to a minimum of 65 degrees. The temperature inside the walls where the pipes are located is substantially colder than the walls themselves. A temperature lower than 65 degrees will not keep the inside walls from freezing, which is where the pipes of your house are located.

Learn how to identify where the location to the main water shutoff is for your house. Find out how to shut it off in case you have to use it.

Open hot and cold faucets enough to allow them to drip slowly. Keeping water moving within the pipes will help prevent freezing.

Disconnect hoses from outdoors spigots. There’s no need to have the hoses connected in the winter months.

If your garage is attached to your house, keep the garage door closed. The door leading to the house is probably not as well-insulated as an exterior door.

If you use fireplaces, wood stoves and electric heaters, monitor them closely and make sure they are working properly. If you suspect a problem with a wood stove or electric heater, replace it promptly.

Remember to close the flue in your fireplace when you’re not using it.

If you leave your home on a trip, ask a neighbor to check in on your house. If there is a problem with water leaking or frozen pipes, getting to the problem quickly could mean far less damage.

What to Do if the Pipes Freeze

If you discover the pipes in your home are frozen, don’t wait for them to burst. Call a plumber for assistance and take steps to thaw them immediately.

If your pipes do burst, turn off the water and then mop up the spills. You want the water up off your floor. You don’t want the water to do more damage to the inside of your home.

Call your insurance company as soon as possible. An insurance adjuster doesn’t need to see the spill before you mop it up, but he or she will want to inspect your home for damages.

Remove any carpet or furniture that could be further damaged from water seepage.

Make a list of damaged items. Take photos of the damaged items. If you have a home inventory collection of photos you’ll be able to compare the items before they were damaged, which could prove useful.

Save the receipts for additional living expenses if you need to leave your home while repairs are being made. Submit these receipts to your insurance company for reimbursement.

Standard homeowners policies will cover most of the damages from freezing, so for example, if house pipes freeze and burst or if ice forms in gutters and causes water to back up under roof shingles and seep into the house, both these scenarios would be covered. A standard homeowners policy also would cover if the weight of snow and ice damages your house.

If your home has water damage, it is important to make sure that it is properly dried and repaired to prevent any potential problem with mold. So consult the help of professionals if you need it.

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