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Protecting your home in the winter months

While everyone loves a white Christmas, and that glittering carpet of fresh snow is undeniably beautiful, protecting your home during winter in cold climates can be a lot of work. From freezing pipes to power failures, here are five cold weather risks to look out for and protect against during the winter months:

Water woes

Winter weather can wreak havoc with pipes and waterlines. There are a few different things to watch out for, and several solutions to put in place.

First, take a walk around the house and look for exterior pipes, access points (including garden hose spigots), and water features (including pools, ponds, fountains, etc.) Turn off and drain the lines for anything you won’t be using during the winter; when the water freezes in pipes, it can burst them, making for some costly repairs come spring.

Next, consider waterlines located on exterior walls that serve the house and can’t be turned off. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to invest in some renovations to improve insulation and avoid freezing. Less invasive solutions include keeping doors, windows, and garage doors closed, and the heating turned up inside to keep the walls (and pipes) toasty, installing localized heat sources, or leaving hot water turned on at the taps and dripping slightly, so the warm water keeps the interior of pipes from icing over.

If you’re taking an extended vacation during the winter, you may want to shut water service off and drain the pipes, rather than heating an unoccupied home. Keep in mind that this requires some preparation and shouldn’t be left until the last moment.

Power problems

Winter power failures sometimes occur; you can prepare to wait one out, but you can only do so much to prevent losing power. Depending on access to services and the depth of winter in your area, plan to be self-sufficient for hours to days, or even weeks.

Warm blankets, candles and/or flashlights, and a non-electrical heat source are a must. If you have a wood-burning fireplace or a gas fireplace that doesn’t rely on an electrical starter, you’ll be able to heat at least part of your home until the power comes back on. Battery-powered or propane heaters and generators are other options.

Potential power outages are another good reason to consider shutting off the water supply and draining pipes if you go on vacation; even if you plan to leave the heat on. If the power fails while you’re gone, everything will freeze, and you may come home to burst pipes and flooding. Also, be sure to clear fire hazards away from heat sources before the season kicks in.

Insulation issues

Upgrade the insulation in your home. The investment will save you money down the line, preventing burst pipes and continuous heat loss. A one-time investment in more and better insulation will save power costs when heating a leaky home every winter.

That is also a reason to upgrade your building envelope. Go around the exterior and check for damage every spring and fall, repairing and sealing locations where heat might be escaping. Old doors and windows are often the worst culprits, losing heat to cracked seals or inadequate single-paned glass and other legacy construction.

Exterior evils

In addition to checking for building envelope breaches and heat loss issues, there are a number of exterior maintenance items to stay on top of if you want to avoid winter damage to your home. It’s important to clean out gutters before winter so that the cycles of freeze-thaw don’t result in flooding, standing water, and excess water seeping in along the roof and corners of the house. If you don’t already have them, installing gutter guards can help make this less of an ongoing chore.

Repair and remove exterior structural risks before the snow falls. Fix any aging and rickety steps or railings. Trim deadwood from trees to avoid a branch through the roof during ice storms. Plan for snow clearing without damage; you’ll want to be equipped with a shovel or snow blower, salt, and/or some de-icing solution before a storm hits. Store your equipment within easy reach (i.e., not in a shed far from the house) and clear pathways, fixing anything that might snag when you go to shovel/plow them.

Thaw troubles

Your most significant damage risk is probably water runoff and flooding during a thaw. Mid-winter and early spring thaws are not uncommon, and water and ice, not to mention clogged gutters and leaky building envelopes, can leave you with standing water seeping back into the home. If any pipes have burst, you’ll suffer flooding inside the home or into cavities within the structure.

Following the preparation tips above can help, but sometimes water ingress is unavoidable. Prepare with basins and towels to catch the water and avoid further damage, and use a sump-pump to remove larger amounts of water quickly and continuously. When it comes right down to it, your best efforts to prepare can’t always guarantee a damage-free winter. The choice is yours, but it’s a wise choice to make sure you’re covered by an adequate home warranty program to cover maintenance and damage repairs.

Prepare for winter weather woes by taking stock in the fall, cleaning and repairing any risks, and stocking up on supplies to ride out stormy weather. Pay particular attention to pipes at risk of freezing and fire risks, and don’t forget to register for coverage in case of damage.