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Avoiding Winter Property Damage


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As any Canadian knows, ice, snow and wind can be hard on your home or property. But there are steps homeowners can take to guard against the potential damage winter can cause.

Home insurance and winter damage

Keep in mind that your insurance policy is not a maintenance policy. It won’t cover you if the damage to your home could have been prevented by proper maintenance. Be proactive and take steps to protect your home in the winter. It can save you in the long run.

If you do need to make an insurance claim, do it as soon as you notice any damage caused by the winter elements. Don’t wait until spring; make any possible repairs right away to prevent further damage. If your home was properly maintained, the initial damage will probably be covered. But additional losses occurring because you didn’t take care of the problem right away might not.

Be aware of how winter weather can affect your home and take steps to avert damage.

Ice dams

An ice dam is a wall of ice that forms at the edge of the roof. When heat from inside melts the snow on the roof, water runs down and refreezes at the roof’s edge. Eventually, the ice builds up and blocks water from draining off the roof. This, in turn, forces the water into your home and can cause thousands of dollars of damage.

Take these steps to avoid this type of trouble:

  • Clean out gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris, so melting snow and ice can flow freely.
  • Install gutter guards. They prevent debris from entering the gutter.
  • Make sure your attic is well ventilated. If the attic is cold, there will be less melting and refreezing on the roof.
  • Keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic from within the house.
  • Install a water-repellent membrane under your roof covering.

Freezing pipes

Frozen water in pipes can cause pressure buildup leading to pipes bursting. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are particularly vulnerable to freezing. 
Take the following precautions to keep water in pipes from freezing:

  • Make sure all pipes near the exterior of your home are well insulated. Fit exposed pipes with insulation sleeves.
  • During cold spells, open cabinet doors in your kitchen and bathroom to allow warm air to circulate around  pipes.
  • Seal holes in your home’s outside wall. Holes for television, cable or telephone lines can expose your pipes and electrical system to extremely cold temperatures and their effects. Use outdoor caulking to seal these small openings in your home’s foundation.
  • Keep slow trickles of water flowing from faucets connected to pipes that run through an unheated or unprotected space.
  • If you plan to be away for more than four days, arrange for someone to come by regularly to make sure the heat is on.

Vulnerable exterior spots

A well-maintained roof and walls will help keep the effects of winter at bay.

  • Make sure roof shingles are securely fastened. Shifting ice and water can wreak havoc with loose shingles and lead to the need for costly repairs.
  • Fix small cracks in masonry. This will keep water from getting in between the bricks, expanding as it freezes and causing larger cracks. 

Interior hot spots

Malfunctioning heating systems within your house during the winter months can create damage.
Be sure to take the following measures.

  • When using fireplaces, stoves or space heaters, ensure there is proper ventilation. Keep flammable material away from space heaters and do not overload electric circuits.
  • Have your heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.
  • Check pipes for cracks and leaks and have them repaired.
  • Make sure that smoke detectors are working properly.

Flooding

When the weather warms up and snow starts to melt, you want to make sure it doesn’t seep into your home and cause water damage.

Follow these tips to minimize the risk of flooding.

  • Shovel snow away from the house, especially basement windows.
  • Check your property for obstructions that could prevent melting snow from draining away from the house. Clear a path for the water.
  • Check catch basins on the street to ensure they are not obstructed.
  • To be on the safe side, move valuable items located in your basement to higher levels if there is a thaw.

Risks to buildings and people

Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break and fall, causing damage to your home or injury to people. And ice underfoot can lead to falls.

  • Trim trees on your property and remove dead branches before winter sets in. 
  • Shovel and put sand or salt on icy walkways. If someone slips and falls on your icy steps, you may be held liable for his/her injuries. Under certain circumstances, this may be covered by your home insurance policy, but it is always best to prevent accidents if you can.