20 Ways to Fortify Your Home Against Winter’s Worst
Turn your home into a bona fide anti-blizzard fortress.
Though every season comes with its own fair share of frustrations, when it comes to your home, nothing is more aggravating than winter. Between camouflaged patches of black ice and snowstorms that take out the power for days, winter is constantly poking holes in plans and, even worse, wreaking expensive havoc on houses nationwide.
According to research from the Insurance Information Institute, between 1997 and 2016 alone, blizzards caused $28.2 billion worth of damage in the United States alone, or $1.41 billion each year. Worse yet, the 15 costliest storms since 1980 have a body count, causing 688 deaths from coast to coast, to be exact.
The good news? Mitigating the damage to your property and person is easier than you might imagine. To keep you from becoming a victim of the wrath of Mother Nature, we’ve compiled a foolproof guide for how to winterize your home.
Clean the gutters.
Before a big storm hits your area and covers your house in snow, make sure that your gutters are free of any and all debris. According to the Insurance Information Institute, having clean gutters can “prevent ice damming, which is what happens when water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceilings and walls.” And considering that it can cost hundreds to thousands to have a room’s drywall or plaster removed and replaced, keeping those gutters clean can be a huge money saver in the long run.
Cover the pipes in your garage with insulation.
In any part of your house where heating is sparse—places like the garage, the basement, and the attic—it’s important to make sure that your pipes are protected with insulation. Should you decide not to insulate, the water inside of your pipes could freeze, causing them to expand, crack, and burst. The result? Water damage, the development of potentially-toxic mold, or even flooding.
And disconnect any outdoor hoses.
Keeping your hose connected through the winter months can also lead to frozen—and eventually bursting—pipes. To ensure that your pipes remain safe from snow and ice alike, Liberty Mutual Insurance recommends both safely disconnecting your hose and covering any outdoor faucets with foam insulators.
Invest in a roof rake.
Want to know how to winterize a home from the outside in? Start with one of your trusty fall clean-up tool: a rake. According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, the average roof can hold about four feet of fresh snow before it starts to surrender. However, fresh snow piles up quickly, so it’s important to make sure you’re scraping it off and preventing any serious roof damage before it starts.
Blast the heat—even when you’re out.
In the dead of winter, don’t turn off the heat when you leave the house for the day. You might not be at home to enjoy the warmth of your thermostat, but turning down the heat could leave your pipes vulnerable to freezing and bursting.
Check your roof for any damage.
Grab a ladder and climb up onto your roof to check for any missing or damaged siding or flashing. According to the United States Automobile Association (USAA), this damage “can let water and ice into your home,” so it’s best to take care of any much-needed repairs on your roof before the first snowfall strikes.
Make sure your attic is ventilated.
An ice dam is a block of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow from draining properly, thus causing leakage and damage to the inside of the home. In order to prevent any such damage, the USAA recommends making sure that your attic is properly ventilated so as to avoid the transfer of heat from the attic to the roof.
And keep it nice and cool.
Think keeping your attic warm all winter will help you fend off winter’s worst? Think again. “A warm attic can contribute to ice dam damage by causing snow to melt in the middle of your roof and drain toward the gutters where it may refreeze,” explain the experts at American Home Shield. In order to keep your attic cool, the home warranty company recommends sealing any cracks or holes in the ceiling so as to avoid any heat from the home leaking into the attic (and, thus, the roof).
Keep the faucets dripping.
While it may seem counterintuitive, keeping the water running when the temperature dips can actually keep water from freezing inside them. When the outside temperature drops to below freezing, make sure to keep cold water dripping from any faucets that rely on pipes running outside. Keeping the water on—even at such a minuscule level—can help prevent the liquid in the pipes from freezing and causing the pipes to leak or burst.
Keep your cabinets open.
According to the American National Red Cross, keeping kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open is another way to avoid dealing with frozen pipes. Opening these doors will “allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing,” ensuring that the water inside of them never turns into ice.
Check for any air leaks.
Those small cracks in your doorways and windows might not seem like a big deal, but in the wintertime, they give the warm air circulating in your home a means of escape—and they can significantly drive up your heating bill, as well. Before the temperature drops too low, inspect all of the entrances and exits in your home where air might be able to escape—and should you find any cracks, make sure to repair them with either caulking (in the case of something stationary like a doorframe) or weather stripping (in the case of something moving like a window or door).
Trim away any dead tree branches.
All it takes is one heavy snowfall for that brittle branch looming over your roof to come crashing down onto your house—and the bigger the branch, the more expensive the repairs. So, if you want to avoid a costly and cumbersome situation, then it’s best to trim off any dead tree branches surrounding your house before the heavy snow and ice hits.
Stock up on cold weather necessities.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, approximately 156,164 car crashes were due to icy pavement from 2007 to 2016, and an additional 186,076 accidents were caused by snow and slush in that same timeframe. In order to avoid becoming part of such frightening statistics, it’s important that you stock up early on things like ice melt, snow shovels, and windshield scrapers, all of which will help you prevent getting into a potentially fatal accident—and many of which may have sold out at your local hardware store by the time the first snow hits.
Give your deck a thorough cleaning.
One often-overlooked area when it comes to winterizing a home? Your deck. “Smart homeowners recognize that seasonal changes can wreak havoc on decks unless properly maintained,” Fiona Seal, Rust-Oleum Wood Care brand manager, explained to HGTV. “With a few simple steps, you can winterize your deck so it survives the onslaught of ice, snow, sleet, and moisture that can cause damage during the months ahead.”
According to the deck expert, one way to make sure that your deck doesn’t sustain any long-term damage is by giving it a thorough cleaning prior to the first snowfall. Things like dirt and oil stains can degrade the wood if left to sit for the season, so it’s important to remove them and then, once the deck is spotless, you can finish your efforts off with a layer of water-repellent protective coating.
Set up an emergency power source.
“In the event of a power outage, continuous power will keep you warm and help to prevent frozen pipes or a frozen battery operated sump-pump,” explain the experts at the Insurance Information Institute. “Consider purchasing a portable power generator to ensure safety—and be sure to follow all guidelines for safe operation.” In most cases, that means keeping your generator outside and not using it under areas like your mudroom or a porch, where a buildup of deadly carbon monoxide gas can make its way into your home.
Insulate the attic floor.
While insulating your attic ceiling may seem like a n0-brainer, insulating your attic floors is just as important when it comes to winterizing your home. Insulating your attic floors can help you ensure that the attic maintains a cool temperature and that the melting snow on your roof doesn’t turn into a pesky ice dam.
Keep the garage door closed.
Many homes are built with water pipes running through the garage. If your house falls into this category, then it’s important to make sure that your garage is kept closed through the winter so as to keep your water supply lines sufficiently warmed. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for burst pipes, a ruined car, and a lack of water inside the house, as well.
Never set the heat below 55°F.
It’s important to keep the thermostat set to at least 55° Fahrenheit when the winter rolls in, even if it feels comfortable inside your home. According to Moran Insurance, setting the temperature to anything below this could cause your piping to freeze, as “the temperature inside the walls where water piping is located is colder than the living spaces.”
Install a water-repellant membrane.
If a roof remodeling is in your future, then make sure to add installing a water-repellant membrane onto your list of repairs. This extra layer will prevent water from leaking into your house should something like an ice dam form, protecting your home from some seriously expensive damage.
Invest in a good homeowner’s insurance policy.
Investing in homeowner’s insurance can come in handy, particularly in the wintertime when the weather is especially unkind. According to Insurance.com, most policies will help with water damage, broken pipes, and even damage caused by a neighbor’s tree falling on your house.
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