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How can I prepare my home for the cold winter months?

With most of the country experiencing cold weather at least a portion of the year, homeowners need to realize that sustained exposure to snow and ice can inflict significant damage on their homes and properties.

Below, has outlined some good tips that can help make home insurance losses less likely during an extended cold weather snap.

  • Remove all snow and ice from your sidewalks and entrances.
  • Keep an eye on any obstructions in your gutters and downspouts. By removing leaves and melting snow, the ice dams are less likely to form, reducing the chance of water build-up and seepage into the house.
  • Make sure you house is a minimum of 65 degrees, which prevents the walls and pipes from freezing.
  • Identify the location of the main water shutoff and find out how it works in the event of an emergency.
  • In a persistent cold snap, open the hot and cold faucets just enough so they drip, which prevents freezing.
  • Disconnect all outside hoses from the property.
  • Keep your attached garage door closed. Often, the door leading to your garage is less insulated than an exterior door.
  • Beware of dead or damaged limbs on and around your property. Wind, snow and ice have a habit of bringing them to the ground, and potentially onto your house, car or someone on your property.
  • Watch all woodstoves, electric heaters and fireplaces closely to make sure they are in good, working condition.
  • Additionally, close your fireplace's flue when it is not in use.
  • If you leave your home for an extended period of time, have the water system drained to prevent freezing or bursting.

While being proactive is certainly something we recommend at, being reactive in a worst-case scenario will make the best of a bad situation. Below we've outlined some of these worst-case situations and what you should do.

  • If pipes are already frozen, call the plumber immediately and start thawing. Bursting is not an inevitability, and can be avoided.
  • In the event the pipes have already burst, turn off the water ASAP and start mopping. Mold and mildew can exacerbate the situation.
  • Call your home insurance agent as soon as you have the situation under control. While he or she may not have to see the situation immediately, they will want to inspect the damages at some point.
  • If you can, make any temporary repairs to reduce further damage to carpet, furniture or appliances.
  • While reducing damages, make a detailed list of what did get damaged in your home.
  • If you need to purchase items related to the damage and are additional to your living expenses, save all receipts as it may be reimbursed.

Most of the damage as the result of freezing is often covered by homeowners policies, however, a lot of policies do not cover a sewage backup or any flood damage as a result. Flooding is covered by the Flood Insurance Program, but sewer/drain coverage can be an addendum to your current home insurance policy. As always, check with your home insurance agent for more information.

Last Updated: July 15, 2009

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