Winter weather can take a toll on a house. Frozen water pipes, icy walkways and sudden windstorms that send tree branches ripping through your roof are just a few of the problems your home (and its occupants) can encounter during the cold winter months. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your home from inclement weather and all the problems that go with it.
Freezing temperatures wreak havoc on your home’s plumbing system. When water freezes, it expands, and the expansion can lead to leaks and breaks in the system. Gary Findley, CEO of Restoration 1, a water damage and restoration company headquartered in Waco, Texas, recommended taking the following steps to protect your home against frozen pipes.
Let ‘er drip. When temperatures are frigid outside, keep one or two faucets running slowly at all times to prevent water lines from freezing.
Disconnect garden hoses. Disconnect water hoses on outside faucets. Connected hoses don’t allow water to drain out of the hose bib, increasing the risk of freezing and bursting pipes.
Close the door. Keep the garage door closed if water lines are in the garage.
Caulk it up. Seal all leaks that can allow cold air into your home where pipes are located. Use caulk and insulation around pipes that are exposed to the elements.
Keep cabinets open. Leave cabinets open under kitchen and bathroom sinks that are placed on an exterior wall to allow warm air to reach the pipes.
Don’t drop the heat. If leaving your house for extended periods, leave the heat on in the home. Don’t set the thermostat below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Small leaks and weak spots in your roof are easy to overlook in the warmer months but make it more vulnerable to snow and ice during the winter. Here’s how to make sure your roof is ready for the cold winter months ahead.
Stay on top of maintenance. If your roof is only a few years old, you may think it’s safe and sound. But John Myers, a real estate agent with Myers & Myers Real Estate in Albuquerque, N.M., said homeowners need to have their roof maintained periodically.
At a minimum, you should clear any debris from the roof, clear gutters and drains to ensure proper drainage, and inspect all areas for leaks and deterioration. If you notice any trouble areas, it’s time to call a professional.
“Having a licensed contractor perform maintenance on your roof right before winter can save you money and grief,” Myers said.
Trim those branches. High winds and the weight of ice and snow can cause tree branches to fall, damaging anything and everything on their way down. Trim any trees near your roof, driveway or other property.
“If you have trees near power lines, call your local utility company to see if they will trim the trees free of charge,” Myers said.
Some home appliances get more use throughout the winter, so preparing them before cold weather hits can help you avoid the expense of emergency repairs.
Check your furnace filter. Your furnace’s filter serves two purposes. “One is to clean the air in your home,” Myers said. “The other is to keep debris out of your system.” He recommended changing these filters every three months.
Using a dirty filter not only means the air in your home is dirty, but it can also mean your furnace will have to work harder to keep you warm and can even lead to system failure and expensive repairs.
Clean out your dryer’s lint duct. John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a platform that helps homeowners manage and maintain their homes, recommended cleaning built-up lint in the duct connected to the back of your clothes dryer. “Laundry loads increase in winter months, and a clogged duct causes your dryer to work longer to dry your clothes, which increases your energy bills,” Bodrozic said. But it’s not just about energy efficiency. Clogged ducts are also a source of house fires, so keeping them clear reduces the risk.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors account for nearly 1/3 of home fires each year. Make sure your fireplace is safe and ready to go before lighting that first match.
Call a chimney sweep. Dirt and debris trapped inside the chimney can cause a fire, which can spread to the rest of your house. The NFPA recommends hiring a qualified professional to clean and inspect your chimney and vents every year.
Choose the right fuel. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, choosing the right wood to burn is important. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends only burning well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months and stored in a covered and elevated location. Burning wet or treated wood creates more smoke and emissions that are not safe to breathe.
Plan to dispose of fireplace ashes safely. When you dispose of fireplace ashes, put them in a heavy metal container, moisten the ashes and cover the container with a metal lid. Store the container outside, away from your house, for at least four days. After that, you can dump them in a garden or flower bed away from your house. Avoid disposing in wooded areas or sites with dry leaves. Do not forget to moisten the dumping area. Never dispose of ashes in a flammable container such as a paper bag or cardboard box.
The winter months usually bring a welcome respite from flying pests such as mosquitoes and flies, but it’s prime time for other pests seeking shelter in your home. Luckily, there are ways to keep unwanted house guests from getting too cozy this winter.
Plug up cracks and crevices. Karen Thompson from the insect and pest control blog InsectCop.net said one of the easiest things you can do is plug up all cracks and crevices that allow pests to get inside your home.
“Do a thorough inspection of the exterior as well as the interior of your home, take note of all the gaps and seal them up. Remember, pests like roaches, ants and even mice can get indoors through holes that are no bigger than a dime, so don’t overlook small cracks in the foundation or holes in vent screens,” Thompson said.
Store firewood safely. Firewood is a common way for termites and other insects to get inside your home, where they can cause damage. Thompson recommended storing your firewood at least five feet from your home to minimize the chance that termites, carpenter ants and wood cockaroaches jump from the wood to your home.
“When bringing wood inside, bring in a little at a time and store it on an elevated storage rack that is located as far away from walls or wood furniture as possible,” Thompson said.
Many of the perils that can befall your home in winter may be covered by your homeowners’ insurance — but not all of them are. And if you have to file a claim, you’ll likely have to cover a hefty deductible and spend many hours dealing with adjusters and contractors. The tips above won’t guarantee you never fall victim to a natural disaster, but some small investments now can better prepare your home to withstand winter’s wrath.