As temperatures fall and winter weather closes in, we need to be mindful of how frigid weather and winter storms can affect our safety and homes. Snow and ice buildup on roofs and walkways, freezing temperatures endanger our plumbing and the risk of household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning increases. In fact, according to Insurance Journal, “Weather incidents account for more than half of all homeowners insurance claims, with wind, pipes freezing and bursting, roof and flashing leaks and ice dams among the major causes of home damage during weather events.”
Proper preparation is the key to keeping your home warm and avoiding expensive repairs. Before temperatures plunge below freezing and snow and ice start to accumulate, there are several steps you should take to prepare your home for winter weather, inside and out.
1. Make sure your home is adequately insulated.
To prevent heat loss, caulk and/or weather strip your home’s doors and windows, make sure your walls and attic are properly insulated, and install new doors and windows, if necessary. Insulate any water lines that run along your home’s exterior walls to prevent them from freezing in sub-zero temperatures.
2. Check your roof for damage or leaks that need to be repaired.
This needs to be done before the snow falls and the roof becomes slippery. This is also the proper time to clean your gutters, which will help prevent water and ice buildup. Remove any tree limbs that hang over your home or the power lines leading to it. Storm winds or accumulated ice and snow could cause these limbs to break, cutting power to your home or causing severe damage to your roof.
3. Take the necessary fire safety precautions.
To reduce fire risk, check your home’s exterior wiring for damage and have it repaired or replaced if it’s necessary. Remove bird nests and other combustible materials from exterior electrical fixtures.
Have your home’s heating system, fireplaces, and chimney professionally serviced to ensure they’re clean, in working order and properly ventilated.
You should also clean and/or replace exhaust fans and filters in your bathrooms, kitchen, clothes dryer, and furnace. Not only does this reduce the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning, but it also provides better indoor air quality.
4. Install hazard sensors.
Hazard sensors help save lives and money. If your home doesn’t already have hazard sensors installed, now is the time to put them in. Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide sensors can alert you to life-threatening situations in time for you to escape and/or call for emergency assistance. Also, the sooner you’re aware of water leaks via flood sensors or small fires via smoke and heat sensors, the less damage is likely to occur.
Low levels of CO poisoning create long-term health consequences—and high levels of CO poisoning can be deadly. Because CO is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, a special carbon monoxide sensor is the only way to detect its presence.
Flood sensors can provide you with instant alerts for even the most minor leaks, helping you keep residential water damage to a minimum. Winter can cause sudden thaws of heavy snow and ice
If your home already has an adequate number of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and flood sensors installed, check to be sure they’re in working order. Replace the batteries if they’re more than 6 months old. You may also want to consider installing professionally monitored environmental sensors as part of a comprehensive home security system.
Frontpoint offers wireless Smoke and Heat Sensors, Carbon Monoxide Sensors, and Flood Sensors. In combination with a professionally monitored home security plan, these devices provide you with in-home alarms and mobile alerts when activated. They also give you the peace of mind of knowing that emergency services will be dispatched to your home promptly—even if you’re overcome with a fire’s smoke or incapacitated by carbon monoxide exposure.
5. If you plan to use an electric space heater this winter, make sure you use it safely.
- Only buy heaters that have been safety certified.
- Never use a damaged or recalled space heater. Before using your heater for the first time this winter, check the heater’s body, cord, and plug for damage. Visit CPSC’s recall page to see if your electric heater has been recalled.
- Always place your space heater on a level surface where it will not be knocked over.
- Keep your space heater at least 3 feet away from furniture, curtains, papers, clothing, and other combustible materials.
- Always plug space heaters directly into wall outlets. Do not power space heaters with an extension cord or power strip.
- Do not run heater cords under rugs or carpeting, which can damage it.
- Keep electric heaters away from water, and never touch them when wet.
- Never leave a space heater running unattended or while you’re sleeping.
- If the heater’s plug or cord, or the wall outlet that the heater is plugged into, starts to feel hot while the heater is running, stop using the heater immediately. Have the heater repaired before further use or replace it.
6. Prepare for blizzards in advance.
Keeping a watchful eye on the weather forecast is vital for winter safety. If you know that a bad storm or an extreme cold front is on its way, you’ll be able to take all necessary precautions for home and personal safety. If the forecast indicates that you may be in danger of losing power, having your pipes freeze, or needing to stay safely indoors for several days in a row, here are some actions you’ll want to take:
- Make sure you have a safe alternative heat source, especially if your primary heat source is electric. Gas-powered generators, wood stoves, and gas fireplaces can all help heat your home if the power goes out. Check your wood or propane supply, if necessary. And remember to keep gas-powered generators, grills, and camp stoves at least 20 feet away from your home and garage.
- Keep plenty of extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter clothing on hand.
- Stock up on drinking water and foods that don’t require cooking or refrigeration.
- Ensure you have plenty of first aid supplies and any medications you need to take regularly or in emergencies.
- Keep your cell phone and a backup phone battery fully charged.
- Locate your snow shovel and make sure it’s in good shape.
- If you own a snowblower, be sure that it’s working and that you have plenty of fuel on hand.
- Purchase a weather radio, battery-operated flashlights or lanterns, and extra batteries if you don’t already own them. And if the lights do go out, opt for battery-powered backup lighting before candles.
7. Reduce the risk of frozen pipes.
If bitterly cold temperatures are predicted, there are two steps you can take to reduce the risk of the water freezing in your home’s pipes, potentially causing them to leak or burst. First, keep the temperature inside your home reasonably warm, even if you’ll be away for an extended period. Second, in times of extreme cold, you may want to keep all of your home’s faucets slightly open so that they slightly drip continuously. If your pipes do freeze despite your precautions, you can thaw them slowly using an electric hairdryer.
8. Prevent injuries or home damage when there is snow and ice around your home.
When the snow begins to pile up, icicles start to form, and slippery patches appear on your walkways, you need to take action to prevent personal injury and potential damage to your home.
First thing’s first—bundle up before you go outside! Dress in layers. The air in between the layers will help insulate you from the cold, and if you get too warm, you can simply remove the top layer or two. Wear a warm hat and scarf, wind and waterproof outerwear, and insulated waterproof boots. If you get damp, change into dry clothes right away. Also, make sure you know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and how to treat them if they occur.
Once you’re outside, you’ll need to watch for snow accumulation on your home’s roof, especially if it is flat or low-pitched. The weight of the snow can create tremendous pressure, resulting in roof leaks, cracks in walls and ceilings, and, in extreme cases, collapsed roofs. If snow builds up, do not attempt to remove it yourself from the roof. Contact a professional.
If icicles form along your roofline, remove them, if possible, by standing on the ground and knocking them down with a broom. Do not ever stand under large icicles, as they could easily fall and injure you. Do not leave the ground when attempting icicle removal, as ladders and roofs can be extremely slippery in the winter. If large icicles are hanging from your gutters or you see signs of ice accumulation on your roof, you may need to contact a professional to address the problem to prevent the ice from damaging your roof.
9. Take care not to over-exert yourself when shoveling.
Keep your home’s walkways and driveways clear of ice and snow. Sprinkle salt, cat litter, sand or commercial de-icer on any icy areas. It’s best to use a snowblower or hire a snow removal service for large amounts of snow and heavy, wet snow. Shoveling is a strenuous activity that can put stress on your heart, back, and joints.
Scoop more, smaller loads of snow rather than overloading your shovel. Take frequent breaks, drink plenty of water, and stop immediately if you notice any signs of concern (chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or a racing heart).
10. Use home security technology to keep elderly adults and other at-risk loved ones safe when winter weather strikes.
Older adults and people with certain medical issues face extra safety challenges during the cold and slippery winter season. Age, illness, and some medications can make it much more difficult for people to maintain balance and proper body temperatures. People with the latter conditions may get cold more easily and are less likely to feel temperature drops, making them more susceptible to hypothermia.
Of course, it’s safest for these people to stay inside when temperatures are bitterly cold. Certain home security system components can really come in handy for those who need to avoid slippery steps, walkways, and driveways.
Exterior security cameras allow people to see what’s happening outside their homes without ever stepping a foot out the door. If there’s snow building up on the roof, icicles hanging from the eaves, or a package left outside a garage door, they can see that on their camera feed and contact someone to assist them.
If you’re worried about the safety of elderly loved ones inside their homes, there’s no need to brave bad roads to check on them. Interior security cameras with two-way audio allow you to check on loved ones visually and speak with them easily. Door sensors can alert you if a loved one with memory loss leaves the house when they shouldn’t. And with a single press of a button, panic pendants can send customizable alerts in case of falls, serious illness, or other emergencies.
As you can see, the dangers that winter weather causes for your home and your family are real, but there are many steps you can take to mitigate the risks that come with cold, ice, wind, and snow. With proper preparation, vigilance, knowledge—and a helping hand from your monitored home security system—you can enjoy the beauties of the season without worry.