By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA
Last winter’s snow and ice caused millions of dollars worth of damage to homes and businesses in the Sturbridge area. Many New Englanders were ready to move south or consider hibernation.
What will this winter bring?
Even if it turns out to be a mild winter, it’s worth preparing for the worst. After all, during the past year, we’ve been subject to near-record snowfall, tornadoes, a near hurricane and even an earthquake. Do you really want to take a chance and assume that we’ll be spared this winter?
Last year, we recommended that readers winterize their homes not only for their own safety and to protect their homes, but to keep their homeowner’s insurance premiums from rising. When homeowners file major claims, their premiums rise and, in some cases, they may even find it difficult to buy insurance.
It’s a message worth repeating and expanding on. What should you do to prepare?
Check your roof and gutters. Last year, we had so much snow, it caused many roofs to cave in. Some people went on their roofs to shovel the snow off, which is dangerous and can also lead to insurance claims. Others bought snow rakes or hired snow removal services to clear their roofs.
Hiring a service is expensive, but is, of course, safer than doing it yourself. At the least, buy a snow rake now, so you have it when you need it.
It is especially important to make certain the entire inside of your roof is well insulated, as ice dams are caused by uneven temperatures on your roof. If your roof is warm enough to melt snow in one area, but not at the edge of your roof, ice dams will result. Adding insulation, not only on your roof, but throughout your home, may seem expensive, but it will quickly pay for itself by lowering your heating bills.
It’s not too late to re-shingle your roof, so that it will be better able to withstand winter ice and snow. It you don’t replace your roof, check it for missing or damaged shingles and have them replaced. Also check the flashing around your chimneys and skylights to make certain everything is tightly sealed.
When most of the leaves are off the trees, it’s a good time to clean your gutters and downspouts. If they are not clean, the flow of water through your gutters will be blocked, and ice will accumulate. Leaves and debris will also hold water and add weight, potentially causing further damage.
Run a hose through your downspouts to make sure they are free of debris, and check the water runoff to make certain your downspouts are taking water away from the foundation of your home. Otherwise, it can cause flooding.
Also, trim any tree branches that hang close to your roof, as they may break from the strain caused by snow, ice and wind, and could potentially damage your roof.
Prepare for blackouts. Harsh weather frequently results in blackouts that can sometimes last for days. Be sure to have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand, as well as emergency food supplies. A back-up generator is also recommended. It’s best to buy one now, rather than waiting until a pending storm increases demand and reduces supply.
Make your home air tight. The average American home has leaks equivalent to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group. Sealing any leaks with weather-resistant caulk or masonry sealer can reduce your energy costs, keep out animals and insects, and keep your home dry and comfortable.
To locate leaks, hold a lit incense stick near the areas of your home that are most likely to be drafty, such as recessed lighting, skylights, door and window frames, and electrical outlets.
Inspect your heating system. Your heating system has perhaps the greatest potential for both life-threatening safety problems and major insurance claims. Having your furnace inspected to ensure that it’s running safely and tested for the presence of carbon monoxide. Also be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
Your plumbing. Bursting water pipes is another common winter nuisance that can cause damages that are expensive to repair.
Any pipes that are exposed to the cold should be covered with insulating material. Insulating your hot water tank, your air conditioning units and your exterior faucets can also help. Also be sure to shut off the water to your exterior faucets and drain them.
Winterize your car. Winter puts an extra strain on your vehicle. Those who drive frequently in inclement weather should be especially certain to prepare their vehicle for the elements.
Start by replacing your wiper blades and filling up your windshield washer reservoir. Next, check your tire pressure. Tire pressure drops as the weather gets colder, so be sure your tires are properly inflated for the best possible traction when the roads are slick. If you live in a hilly area or do a lot of driving, consider buying snow tires.
Check your battery and make certain the connections are not corroded. Inspect your belts and hoses to make sure they are not worn or loose. If you have four-wheel drive, check to make certain that it’s functioning properly. Also, check your antifreeze.
Be certain to have emergency supplies in case your car fails and you need to spend time waiting for help. Have a blanket, gloves, an ice scraper, a flashlight, a small shovel, paper towels, jumper cables and a bucket of sand in your trunk.
Finally, keep your gas tank full, not only to keep from running out, but to prevent your gas lines from freezing.
Shutting down for the winter. Just as you need to pay special attention to your unoccupied winter home during the summer, you need to pay special attention to your unoccupied summer home during the winter.
Be sure to shut off your water and drain your plumbing. Also be sure to keep the heat running at a high enough temperature to protect your home. Have someone check on it frequently or, better yet, have someone live in it while you are away.
Most of us would rather put off thinking about winter, but those who delay will be too late. Keep in mind that spring is only half a year away.
Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.