Winter poses many risks to your home – and to your homeowners’ insurance rates, if significant damage occurs. Here’s a summary of steps you can take to protect your home and your pocketbook over the winter season.
· Clean your gutters.”Ice damming” is a serious problem in cold-weather areas. This occurs when melting ice and snow can’t flow freely through gutters and instead creates dams. Next, water backs up and, with nowhere else to go, seeps into ceilings and walls. To prevent ice damming, keep your gutters free of leaves and other debris. Even better, install “gutter guards” on your gutters to prevent debris from entering in the first place.
· Fix your roof. Snow, falling branches, weak shingles – all can lead to leaking and expensive roof repair. The fall is the best time to check your roof. Cut back any tree branches that could fall on your house, and repair any loose shingles or metal flashing.
· Remove weak or dead branches from trees. Wind, snow and ice can make quick work of weak branches, posing a hazard to your home and cars – as well as people.
· Fix all exterior stairs and handrails. Outside stairs are dangerous enough when snow and ice enter the picture; broken ones can be deadly.
· Protect your pipes. It’s estimated that 20 percent of all homeowners’ insurance claims result from frozen pipes that burst, causing extensive water damage. Keep your home heated to at least 65 degrees, even when you’re out of town; a slightly higher heating bill is much cheaper than burst pipes. Insulate all exposed water pipes with foam or fiberglass. And, it’s a good idea to know how to turn off your home’s main water supply; if a leak does occur, this can reduce the damage and cost.
· Insulate basements, crawl spaces and attics. Extra insulation in basements and crawl spaces can protect pipes from freezing; consider insulating your garage and any other unfinished areas, too. In the attic, too much heat coming through ceilings can cause your roof to get too warm, making snow and ice melt too quickly. This can overwhelm your gutters and result in ice damming.
· Maintain your heating system. Service your furnace and chimneys annually.
· Prevent fires. First, make sure all smoke alarms have fresh batteries and are working properly. Next, think about all the extra fire hazards your home faces during the winter: Christmas trees, lights, candles and – the cause of many winter fires – improperly placed space heaters. A little caution and common sense in all these areas will go a long way in preventing winter home fires.
As the old saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take the steps above to prevent winter home damage before it happens. And check with your insurance agent to make sure your homeowners’ insurance is up to date and will protect you fully against any possible winter hazards.