10 Ways to Prepare Your Home for a Snowstorm, According to Experts
These tips are not the obvious pieces of advice you're used to.
If you live in an area prone to winter storms (or even if you're getting a freak snowstorm this year), it's likely that you know the basics—buy a snow shovel, stock up on non-perishable food and water in the event of a power outage, have plenty of blankets and cold-weather clothing. But even if you're toasty and well-fed, snow can wreak havoc on your home, from structural issues to plumbing snafus to safety risks. To make sure your dwelling is ready the next time the weather gets dicey, we consulted home improvement and utility experts. Read on to learn their 10 best tips to prepare your home for a snowstorm.
READ THIS NEXT: 10 Mistakes You're Making That Keep Your House Cold, Experts Say.
Check your roof.
According to Glenn Wiseman, sales manager at Top Hat Home Comfort Services, the first step in preparing for a snowstorm is to ensure the roof of your home can withstand the elements.
"Some common warning signs to look out for that your roof may need tending to are water stains in the attics, curling or broken shingles, caulking pulling from brick or wood, and granular particles from the shingles found in your eavestroughs," Wiseman says.
Leaks can cause a myriad of issues, so you'll want to get a professional in if you notice any of these red flags.
Prevent ice dams.
In an ideal situation, snow melts on your roof and then runs through the gutters to the ground. However, as property emergency services company PuroClean explains to Best Life, when temperatures outside are very low but your attic is warm, "the edge of your roof and gutters stay below freezing and when the melted snow makes its way to the gutters, it freezes." This then creates an ice dam.
Having a well-insulated attic will help prevent this, as will lowering the temperature at the top of your home ahead of a snowstorm.
Of course, sometimes freezing on the roof is beyond your control. In these instances, Joe Palumbo, president of the Minneapolis-based Ice Dam Guys, suggests having a roof rake or roof broom. They cannot remove an ice dam, but they can help prevent them.
"Both, whether used together or alone, are great tools to remove snow from your roof's north-facing slopes and gullies where snow and ice dam up. Even if you don't get ice dams, use one, as it gets the snow off your roof quickly and allows for proper drainage."
Tend to your trees.
A common hazard with blizzards is downed trees or snapped branches, which can fall on your house. This can occur from strong winds or limbs unable to sustain the extra weight of snow and ice.
"You should be looking at your trees and their larger limbs. If one looks dead, damaged, diseased, or otherwise compromised, schedule an arborist to remove it," advises Lisa Tadewaldt, ISA-certified arborist and owner of Urban Forest Pro. "If a tree is leaning towards an asset, monitor it and consult with an arborist as there's a chance the roots have weakened or are failing. If you know you have a hollowed tree from internal rot, that's also a culprit for falling."
Prep your pipes.
Freezing temps, which can be exacerbated by a snowstorm-induced power outage, can cause pipes to freeze and burst. Luckily, there are some simple ways to prevent this.
"Make sure your pipes are properly insulated. You can use pipe sleeves or wrap your pipes in insulation tape to keep them warm," Matt Hagens, carpenter and founder of Obsessed Woodworking, previously told Best Life.
Another pro tip is to "open cabinet doors where piping is present, especially when pipes are next to an outside wall," so they receive heat, according to Ian Giammanco, lead research meteorologist at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).
You'll also want to "keep faucets running in different parts of your dwelling to avoid their freezing," says Josh Dozor, former FEMA administrator and current general manager of medical and security assistance at International SOS.
If all else fails, turn the water off so it can't freeze inside the pipes. "Before cold weather hits, identify the location of the water main shut-off valve, and if specific tools (like pliers or channel locks) are needed to close it," advises Giammanco.
If you do turn the water off, be mindful when re-opening the valve. "Once it resumes, turn on the water on a slow drip before trying to fully open the faucets," says Dozor.
Don't forget about outdoor plumbing.
The same plumbing principles apply to pipes outside the home.
"Make sure outside hose spigots are insulated and covered. If possible, drain the water lines feeding them," says Giammanco. "Winterize exterior sprinkler systems by shutting off their water supply and draining their pipes."
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Guard your yard.
Even if items are outdoor-friendly, they may not be able to withstand the strong winds and associated risks of a snowstorm. "Store loose objects like decorations, kids' toys, patio furniture, and any materials or objects that may not be able to handle the weight of snow," advises Giammanco.
"Be sure to disconnect any outdoor items such as hoses, air conditioners, or lawn appliances to prevent damage from snow or ice," adds Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy Painters Chicago.
Maintain your chimney flue.
If you have a chimney, this is another part of your home you'll want to maintain in the event of a snowstorm.
"A chimney made from brick can crack and absorb water from prolonged exposure to precipitation," explains Wiseman. "Have your masonry checked by a professional once a year for any damage."
If you notice that any chimney parts—such as damper screens, spark arrestors, and rain caps—are missing or damaged, have them replaced, he says. "Ensure the cap is on and the damper is closed," Wiseman adds.
With snowstorms often come power outages. To prepare for the potential loss of heat, try to trap as much inside as possible.
"Close blinds and curtains and stuff towels and rags under doors to prevent any cold air from coming through," advises Dozor. "When entering/exiting a room, ensure the door remains closed to preserve heat." He also suggests that household members stay in the same room to maximize body heat.
Prior to the winter season, Giammanco recommends ensuring all window and door frames are sealed with caulk. "If condensation freezes on the inside, it's an indication they are not well sealed from the exterior," he explains.
If you're using a space heater, plug it directly into a wall outlet, says Christopher Haas, owner of Haas & Sons Electric. "They usually require or consume a lot of energy, which means a high electrical current. Having the current run through an ill-equipped extension cord or power strip can cause melting or even a fire."
If you must use a power strip, be sure it's high quality, and never leave the space heater unattended.
Have a backup generator.
The tips above will only keep you warm for so long. In extreme winter storms, power can go out for days or even weeks. This is why you'll want to have an alternate heat source, most of which will need to be powered by a backup generator.
- Run your generator outdoors to prevent its powerful fumes from circulating throughout your home.
- Make sure to use caution when operating a generator and keep kids and pets away from them to avoid potential risks.
- Create five feet of clearance on all sides of your generator to prevent fire hazards.
- Remember to change the oil and conduct routine maintenance when your generator is not being used.
Of course, having a generator will also enable you to power lights, chargers, and electrical cooking appliances.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
This is good advice no matter what, but especially ahead of a snowstorm: Either install a carbon monoxide detector or make sure your existing one has functioning backup batteries in case of a loss of power.
"The reason these are so important is that during big storms we usually crank up the heat. Whether this is a furnace, wood-burning stove, or generator, they all can produce unhealthy exhaust for you and your family," cautions Haas. "This could be because of product failure or simply the high volumes of snow minimizing the airflow of exterior exhaust vents. These detectors will be the first line of defense if your chimney is backed up, your generator exhaust is leaking in from the porch, or your old furnace has a leak."