Winter is quickly approaching. I recently wrote an article that gave several tips about how to minimize insurance risks when driving in cold weather. But what can we do if we just want to stay snug in our own homes?
As you might expect, there are several things that can be done to make homes more comfortable and safe during the winter. An added benefit is that by winterizing your house and planning for cold weather, you will also reduce your risk of having to file an insurance claim that may (or may not) be covered by your homeowner insurance.
If we start from the inside of the house and work our way out, here are a few tips to consider. If you believe that your heating bill is too high, have a heating contractor check the amount of insulation in the home’s attic and walls. There are also services that can take an infrared picture of your home to see where heat is escaping.
- Having a house properly insulated can offer immediate savings on heating bills. An inspection of insulation can also reveal other maintenance issues (such as damage by animals) that are much less expensive to correct if remedied early.
- Check doors and windows. Trying to raise the temperature outside of your home by using your furnace is not a good idea. If you have cracks around doors or windows that can be sealed by caulking or weatherstripping, then heat from your home is escaping through those cracks.
- Inspect all water pipes. Take immediate steps to prevent pipes that may be exposed to the cold from freezing. Although water damage caused from a frozen ruptured pipe may be covered by homeowner’s insurance, the inconvenience and cost of repairing a flooded basement when it’s 20 degrees below zero is something all homeowners would like to avoid.
- Space heaters used in the home have a much higher hazard risk than central heat.
- Clean and seal air ducts. Furnace air ducts that are coated with dust or have gaps are inefficient and will prevent your furnace from operating at maximum efficiency.
- Furnace maintenance. Have your furnace checked every few years (or anytime you think that there may be a problem) by a heating professional. If you have an old furnace, consider replacing it with a newer, more efficient model. Replace your furnace filter. Consider replacing an old thermostat with a newer programmable thermostat. The potential savings could easily be more that the cost.
- Test your smoke alarms to make sure they are working. Many fire deaths in the US are the result of smoke inhalation. Unfortunately, if the smoke alarms don’t go off when they should, there is a high probability that by the time the fire department arrives, it may be too late; not only for the house, but for the occupants.
- Chimneys and wood stoves. If you use a wood stove, have your chimney swept. Just a small buildup of creosote in your chimney can greatly increase the chances of a chimney fire. Make sure that your chimney is not obstructed and that unwanted pests have not made your chimney their home.
- Roof and gutters. An ice dam can occur when water freezes on a roof or in gutters. This usually causes shingles to be pushed up. Then water gets under the shingles and eventually finds its way into the house.
- Reduce your risk by cleaning all gutters to remove leaves that may have accumulated in the fall. Recall past winters. If you have noticed icicles or a buildup of ice on your roof, consider those to be warning signs. Have a qualified contractor assess the situation and/or consider installation of roof ice melt cables
- Shut off (and if necessary), drain water to outside faucets.
- Drain, coil, and store all hoses used outside during warm weather.
- Control ice and snow on walks and steps. As a homeowner, you are responsible for the safety of your family and your guests. Slips and falls are a major risk during the winter. Remove snow as soon as possible and place deicer on areas subject to foot traffic.
- Vacations. When on vacation, have a family member or someone you trust stop by your home to check on it every so often. Reduce the heat in the home (probably to the mid 50 degree range). Make a list of emergency numbers that can be called in the event of some type of unexpected occurrence. Stop delivery of items to the house that could indicate you are not at home.
- Remember to winterize all gas home maintenance accessories that you own. Run the accessory (lawn tractor, leaf blower, lawn mower, chain saw, etc.) until it is out of gas or add an appropriate amount of gas stabilizer to the tank. In cold weather, gas can deteriorate and cause issue when you want to use the item next year. Store all flammable materials in approved containers.
- And finally, these two items. If you need to exit your house quickly for any reason, make sure the family has an evacuation plan. Secondly, if you are totally snowed in and the power goes out, have an emergency kit available.
Proper home maintenance and winter planning can go a long way to making sure that you enjoy the change of seasons and don’t experience additional expenses.
Have a great winter!