A Handy Guide to Keep Your Home (and You!) Safe in a Winter

Extreme cold weather can have detrimental consequences on your home and on your household budget. The following tips/ precautions can avoid the expense and inconvenience of winter damage and can even help you save on the heating costs.

  1. Add extra insulation to attics and basements – If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water then can refreeze, leading to more ice build-up—and may even lead to ice dams that can damage your roof. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes. Consider insulating garages and other unfinished areas to keep pipes from freezing.
  2. Ensure availability of a reliable back-up power source – In the event of a power outage, continuous power will help keep you warm and will also help to prevent frozen pipes, or a frozen battery operated sump-pump. Portable power generator can be kept handy for such exigencies.
  3. Get the heating system serviced – Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.
  4. Check pipes closely for the presence of cracks and leaks – Have any compromised pipe repaired immediately.
  5. Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system – This will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.
  6. Move combustible items away from near any heat sources that you’ll likely be using. This includes fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
  7. Install/ check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Not only do residential fires increase in the winter, but so does carbon monoxide poisoning—so regularly check that your detectors are in working condition.
  8. Know where your pipes are located and learn how to shut the water off – If the pipes freeze, speed is critical. The quicker you shut off water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better your chance of preventing major damage.
  9. Insure yourself for a sewer backup – Flooding caused by melting snow can overburden sewer systems wherein raw sewage backed up into the drains in your home can cause thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer backup is not covered under standard homeowners insurance nor is it covered by the flood insurance but the same can be purchased as either a separate product or as an endorsement.

The following tips/ precautions will help to protect home from damage due to cold weather:

  • Make sure to clean out the gutters of any debris – Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters so that the melting snow and ice can flow freely. This will prevent ice damming because of which water seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.
  • Ensure that the gutter guards are in place – Gutter guards prevent debris from entering the gutter which allows the flow of water into the gutter which takes it away from the house and into the ground.
  • Trim Vegetation – Ice, snow and wind could cause weak trees or branches to break free and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.
  • Repair side steps and handrails – Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice. Use caulking to seal cracks and wall openings to prevent cold air and moisture from entering your home. Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from blowing in.

Some General Tips for protection during Cold Weather:

  • Keep the house heated to a minimum of 18 degrees Celsius. The temperature inside the walls where pipes are located can be substantially colder than the walls themselves. A temperature lower than 18 degrees will not keep the inside walls from freezing.
  • Identify the location for the main water shutoff in your home. Find out how it works in case you have to use it.
  • Open hot and cold faucets enough to let them drip slowly. Keeping water moving within the pipes will prevent freezing.
  • If you are going to be away, drain the pipes. This can be done by first shutting off the main water line and then draining all lines by opening the taps and closing them. Once the water runs out, also flush toilets to remove water from tanks. Be sure to have someone check on your home while your away to ensure heat is being maintained as well.
  • Make sure all hoses are disconnected from outside spigots.
  • If you discover that pipes are frozen, don’t wait for them to burst. Take measures to safely thaw them immediately (such as wrapping pipes in towels soaked in water heated on the stove, or using hot air from a hair dryer, while being careful to stay away from standing water to avoid the risk of shock), or call a plumber for assistance.
  • If your pipes burst, first turn off the water and then mop up spills to prevent the water from doing more damage than it already has.
  • Make temporary repairs and take other steps to protect your property from further damage, such as remove any carpet or furniture that can be further damaged from seepage.

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