Preparing for Winter Weather
One of the most common causes of home damage during the winter season is frozen pipes that burst and cause water damage. Other common causes of loss include hail damage, fallen trees, ice dams that form on roofs with poor insulation, backed-up gutters that force water under shingles as they melt, and fires from congested fireplaces or unsafe heating sources.
To protect your home and family and avoid significant loss from these or other winter weather risks, consider the precautionary steps outlined below.
- Install an automatic water shut-off system, which can sense increased water flow caused by a burst pipe and will shut down the system to avoid significant damage. Contact your personal risk advisor as your insurance carrier may offer discounted pricing on select shut-off systems.
- Learn where your water shut-off valve is located before you’re faced with an emergency.
- Insulate exposed pipes and leave taps open at a slow drip to avoid frozen pipes when temperatures dip below freezing (32F/0C).
- When going away for an extended period, set the thermostat in the home to no lower than 55 degrees.*
- Consider installing a backup generator to power your home’s appliances, sump pumps, as well as security, alarm and heating systems in the event of a power outage. However, never use a portable generator indoors, inside a garage, or other closed-in location due to potential carbon monoxide poisoning.
- In case your power does go out, have other sources of heat readily available: portable space heaters, which should be kept away from furniture, curtains, and water; or a fireplace with dry firewood. Maintain a supply of extra blankets, winter coats, and sleeping bags to stay warm in an emergency.
- Arrange annual inspections for your furnace, boiler, and chimney, all of which should also be cleaned by a professional each year. Don't use your furnace room for storage.
- Arrange regular maintenance and inspections for your backup generator to make sure it's in good working order.
- Check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarms, and be sure to have fire extinguishers in designated areas of the home such as under the kitchen sink or mounted in an upstairs closet.
- Regularly inspect and maintain mature trees and other vegetation. Wind or heavy snow can make weak branches fall easily. Have trees trimmed before the winter season, particularly those near the house.
- Clean out your roof gutters in the fall, and consider installing gutter guards so debris doesn’t collect and interfere with water flow draining off your house.
- After a hail storm, assess your roof (or hire a professional to do so) and address damaged shingles promptly to avoid leaks and additional loss.
- Keep extra rock salt or ice melt and sand accessible to clear and add traction to icy walkways and driveways.
- Repair broken steps and unsteady handrails, which will become extra dangerous when covered with snow and ice.
- Don’t allow ice and snow to accumulate on your roof, windows, or around the foundation.
- Sign up for emergency advisories through your local jurisdiction.
- In case of a prolonged power outage, have extra gallons of drinking water, non-perishable food items, a manual can opener, medications, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, flashlights, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, and warm clothing and blankets on hand. Consider special infant-care or elder-care items if applicable.
- Create a family communication plan so you will know how to get in touch with each other if you’re not together when an emergency strikes.
- Check on your neighbors or others you know who may live alone and need assistance.
In general, avoid driving during or after severe winter weather. If you must travel, consider the following pre-travel tips:
- Have your vehicle inspected, specifically the battery, lights, and all belts and hoses. You may want to invest in an engine-block heater.
- Keep your gas tank at least half-full.
- Plan your route and allow plenty of extra time to get to your destination. Contact someone there to let them know your plan and when you should be arriving.
- Do not drive through standing water on roads or in parking lots.
- Follow instructions of local authorities and emergency personnel.
In case you become stranded, it may be helpful to keep the following items in your car:
- Extra cellphone charger and battery
- List of emergency contacts
- Shovel and windshield scraper
- Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Tire chains and rope
- Road salt and sand
- Booster cables
- Emergency flares and brightly colored flags or help signs
- Water and non-perishable food items
- Blankets, extra hats, coats, and mittens
- First-aid kit
- Road maps and a GPS or compass
- Waterproof matches and a can to melt snow for water
If you’re prepared for winter weather, you’ll be more likely to make better decisions if faced with an emergency situation. Take steps as early as possible to prepare your family and property for winter weather.
*Please keep in mind that you may need to set your heat above 55 degrees when you’re away in extreme weather conditions and depending on how well your home is insulated. Insurance policies require that reasonable care must be taken to prevent frozen pipes. This means maintaining heat or shutting off water and draining all systems and appliances.