As winter quickly approaches (or has already arrived in some places!), people keep asking me: how can I protect my home from winter damage? You definitely don’t want winter damage leading to a huge real estate bill.
With ice, wind, snow, and other winter nuisances, homeowners need to protect their homes from winter damage in two ways. First, they need to take proactive measures to prepare the home for these winter factors. Second, when these winter damages do become a problem, they need to immediately address them.
In the following article, I’ll dive into some more details about the best ways to protect a home from winter damage. Specifically, I’ll cover each of the following topics:
- Overview of Winter Damage
- Winter Damage Issue 1: Heavy Snow and Ice on Roofs
- Winter Damage Issue 2: Ice on Gutters
- Winter Damage Issue 3: Driveway Damage
- Winter Damage Issue 4: Frozen Pipes
- Winter Damage Issue 5: Flooding Basements
- Final Thoughts on Winter Damage
Overview of Winter Damage
Unfortunately, winter brings a variety of harsh weather conditions that can wreak havoc on a home. Snow, ice, heavy winds, extreme cold – all of these issues can cause problems leading to hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage-related bills for homeowners. And, this damage can occur both outside and inside a home, meaning homeowners must take major steps to weatherproof their properties.
Broadly speaking, dealing with winter damage involves two strategies:
These are the actions homeowners take before the winter weather arrives in order to best prepare their homes for the toll imposed by these harsh conditions.
Homeowners can’t prevent all causes of winter damage, but they can mitigate the extent of damage by taking prompt actions when these issues arise.
In the following sections I’ll outline five major sources of winter damage – and the mix of preparatory and reactive ways people can protect their homes from this damage.
Heavy Snow and Ice on Roofs
Snow and ice may look pretty, but when they accumulate on roofs, the weight and freezing temperatures can cause significant damage. And, for anyone who has replaced a roof before, you know how much this damage can cost to fix!
Homeowners can prepare for this rooftop accumulation by inspecting their roofs every fall. If damaged shingles exist, fixing them before the snow arrives can prevent further damage to the roof itself – and the house, if a hole forms.
From a reactive perspective, homeowners should primarily focus on the accumulation of large icicles on the roof. These objects can weigh a ton and do tremendous damage to roofs. As such, when you see these objects, you’ll want to remove them as soon as possible. Additionally, once the weather allows it, make sure to do a secondary inspection of the roof to look for any recently-damaged shingles to repair.
Ice on Gutters
Ice damage doesn’t limit itself to roofs – it puts gutters at significant risk, too. While icicles hanging from gutters look pretty in the wintertime, they put tremendous amounts of strain on gutters that can, in extreme situations, rip those gutters off your house (another expensive problem to address).
Additionally, ice can damage gutters from within, that is, not just the icicles hanging off of a gutter. If ice and snow build up in blocked gutters, ice dams can form. These dams – though not always visible from ground-level – can build up a tremendous amount of weight in gutters that can severely damage them.
For a proactive strategy to avoid these problems, homeowners need to make sure that they’ve cleared gutters of leaves and other debris before winter arrives, as this will help prevent the formation of ice dams. Next, if ice does accumulate – either as dams or icicles – homeowners need to remove it as soon as safely possible, either with a de-icing agent or heated gutter cable.
Next to replacing a roof, resurfacing a driveway tends to be one of the most expensive repairs homeowners face. And, the harsh treatment your driveway receives every winter can dramatically accelerate the need for repairs. Every time you salt, shovel, or plow your driveway, you run the risk of damaging it.
To extend the life of your driveway – and help avoid major bills – homeowners should inspect it every spring. If you find cracks or chips, repair them before the next winter. These little damages, though minor, can quickly lead to far worse problems. Chips and cracks let water enter the driveway, which, when it freezes, can drive huge wedges. And, when a plow or shovel catches one of these cracks, it can rip up a major chunk.
But, during the winter, you still need to remove snow and ice from your driveway. As such, to minimize damage, make sure you use a rubber-bladed shovel and de-icing supplies that don’t have harsh and corrosive chemicals, as they can quickly damage a driveway.
While the above damage generally causes problems on a home’s exterior, frozen pipes can do significant harm to a home’s interior. In extremely cold weather, the standing water inside your home’s pipes can freeze and expand, which can then burst the pipes. As temperatures thaw, these bursted pipes can then cause massive flooding inside a home.
To prepare for – and help avoid – this damage, homeowners should first turn off the water to hoses and make sure they’re drained. This plumbing tends to be close to the exterior of a home, and it’s typically the first that will freeze and burst in cold temperatures.
As an additional precaution, homeowners can insulate pipes in the home with heat tape or foam insulation. For plumbing near a home’s exterior walls, these measures can make the difference between burst and normally functioning plumbing.
As a reactive measure when it becomes extremely cold, homeowners should also open the cabinet doors under sinks. While seemingly inconsequential, this action can help warm air circulate and keep pipes from freezing. And, if still concerned about freezing pipes, you can leave the faucet on a slow drip, as running water does not freeze as quickly as standing water.
Basement flooding can certainly occur in all seasons, but melting snow and ice have a pesky way of finding their way through cracks to flood a basement during winter thaws. If you’ve ever hired someone to clean up a swamped basement – or rented a shop-vac to do it yourself – you know how much of a pain this can be.
Homeowners should take two preventative measures to avoid basement flooding during the winter. First, prior to the cold weather arriving, make sure to have your basement sump pump inspected to ensure proper functioning. Next, make sure you clear any clogged drains every fall. If you take these steps, even if water does leak into your basement, you’ll minimize the damage.
Final Thoughts on Winter Damage
If you live in a cold climate, you can’t avoid the reality of winter weather – and the harsh impact it can have on a home. But, by taking the appropriate steps – both preparatory and reactive – you can minimize the winter damage caused by this extreme weather.
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