caring for your home this winter

Winter in the Northeast can be a challenging time for homeowners. Freezing winds, heavy ice and snow, along with the cold weather may all cause damage to your home. The best way to address the issues that winter may bring is to get ahead of some of the most likeliest potential problems.

  • Frozen Pipes. When the temperature drops below 32 °F, water in exposed or poorly insulated pipes can freeze, causing them to burst. This can result in serious water damage to the home. The most vulnerable pipes usually are sprinkler and pool supply lines, pipes running along the exterior of the home, as well as those in the basement, crawl space, or attic. Consider adding insulation to the cold interior areas, wrapping exterior pipes in insulation (inquire about products at your local home improvement store), and draining sprinkler supply lines. In severe cold weather, leaving the water running at a trickle from the faucets can also help prevent pipes from freezing. For more specifics and helpful tips, visit this American Red Cross page.
  • Fire Safety. Nearly half of home heating fires occur during winter, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and account for roughly $1 billion in direct property damage each year. If your home has a working wood stove or fireplace, have the chimney inspected by a professional every year. Make sure to use stationary and portable space heaters correctly. Space heaters should be placed three feet away from upholstery, rugs and drapes, and never left working when no one is present. People with a hearing impairment can get smoke alarms with strobe (flashing) lights, and exterior light strobes can be used to attract neighbors’ attention in the event of a fire emergency. There are also alarm devices that emit a low-pitched sound, which can be easier to hear as we age. Those with profound hearing loss should consider installing vibration devices, which shake a pillow or bed and are activated by the sound of a smoke alarm. Don’t hesitate to contact your local fire department with any questions about fire safety in your home. 
  • Roof and Siding Damage. Roof and siding usually take the biggest hits during heavy snow, hail, sleet, or strong winds. The best way to prevent potential losses is to have your roof inspected before the winter months, allowing time for any necessary repairs. Falling tree branches and unhealthy trees can cause damage to your home and car. In a worst case scenario, they can be lethal – so bring in a tree expert to assess your particular situation. 
  • Ice Dams. Sparkling icicles along the eves of your home may look beautiful, but they are not a good sign. They indicate that an ice dam has formed along the eves or gutters. Ice dams can cause water damage to your home because they prevent melting snow from draining properly, forcing it to back up through the shingles and into the attic or other space. Icicles and water overflow may also drop to the ground, creating slippery and hazardous sidewalks. Adding more insulation to the attic can help solve the problem. Another way to prevent ice dams is to use a roof rake to clear off as much snow as possible after the snowfall. (Don’t be tempted to climb the roof – you are best off by calling in a professional.) A last resort may be to install heating cables along your roof line which will melt the snow and/or ice, allowing it to properly drain into the gutters.

It’s always a good idea to review your home insurance policy before winter. Having a good understanding of your coverage and implementing the steps you should take to further protect your home is likely to keep you safer, happier and more comfortable.

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