Every winter, your home goes up against the roughest of weather. From relentless snow, to pounding hail storms to ever-lingering ice, the elements sure do put your home through the ringer. And according to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2014 alone, American homeowners who failed to winterize their homes lost a collective $2.4 billion dollars from damages caused by snow, ice, and freezing winter temperatures.
“In 2014 alone, American homeowners lost a collective $2.4 billion dollars from damages caused by winter weather.”
How, you ask? From all of the associated property damage. For example, the average claim for damage caused by a frozen pipe that’s burst is about $18,000. This cost often includes replacing or repairing the pipe itself, as well as the drenched floor and drywall. And collapsing trees – with weak or dead branches that can be snapped off by the howling wind, or from the weight of ice and snow – can cause anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 dollars in damage per tree when they come crashing into your house.
But the good news is that the winter doesn’t always have to have its way with your home and wallet. Preparing your home for winter weather can help prevent, avoid, and reduce these and other problems that could cost you thousands of dollars to repair. And the best way to see what needs fixing in your home is to perform a winter home fitness test.
Why winterize your home?
There’s a long list of benefits that go along with winterizing your home. Real estate experts note that weatherization efforts, on average, lower homeowners’ energy consumption by 35%, as well as reduce their annual energy costs by 32%.
And as an added bonus, weatherization efforts also boast a strong ratio of savings from the home improvement investment. For example, for every $1.00 you spend on safeguarding your home from airflow and insulation issues, you’ll net a return of $1.80 in savings in your bank account.
On top of all the energy savings, preventing a small problem from becoming a huge issue will save you thousands. As our wise founding father Benjamin Franklin once quipped, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” And here’s how you can make the most of your prevention efforts this winter.
4 ways the winter elements can destroy your home
Contrary to popular belief, your home isn’t indestructible. It might feel that way when you’re sitting by the fire as the wind howls outside, but there’s probably a problem brewing at this very moment. So, let’s look at some of the common ways the elements damage your home
1) Ice will destroy your chimney
Go outside and take a good look at the mortar on your chimney. There’s no way it’s going to last as long as your roof, and over time, the rain will begin to find its way inside the cracks. As it freezes, you’ll find chunks of the mortar falling off. And now your flashing (that thin sheet or strip of water-resistant material that’s installed at roof intersections) won’t be able to save you because the water will get in and roll down your interior walls. If you’re really unlucky, you could end up with a mold problem you had no clue about.
2) Extremely powerful winds are determined to damage your roof
If you live in an area where hurricanes, blizzards, and very strong winds commonly strike, then you know that they can be powerful enough to rip branches off trees and send them hurtling towards your roof. Once this happens, it can easily tear your roof apart until you have large holes where the rain and snow will find its way inside, causing all sorts of water damage. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to keep an eye on trees and cut off any old or broken branches. It’s one of the reasons why steel roofs are becoming ever more popular, as they’re capable of withstanding nearly anything the wind will throw at it.
3) Your pipes can freeze and burst
One of the most annoying ways the cold weather can damage your home is by causing your pipes to burst. It’s a much harder problem to fix, especially if you end up with additional issues like a flooded basement. Burst pipes are caused by the water inside your pipes freezing up until they expand so much that they crack. It’s common when your pipes run outside to garden taps or through uninsulated walls. You could always stop using your garden tap during winter, but it might not be practical, and this doesn’t solve every issue. The best thing you can do is add insulation to your pipes to stop them from getting too cold.
4) Piles of heavy snow could collapse your roof
Snow might look pretty when it’s lying on your roof, but if there is too much of it, then it becomes dangerous for a number of reasons. The most worrisome one is that the snow may slide off – like a mini avalanche – and fall on top of someone standing or walking below it. An old roof could also buckle under the pressure, which would cost a great deal to fix.
Even if the pile of snow on your roof isn’t heavy enough to damage the roof itself, your guttering might not be so lucky. With all that added weight, it could quickly come crashing down to the ground. To prevent this, you can clear your gutters of leaves and other tree debris ahead of time so the snow doesn’t build up as easily, and then you can remove any piles yourself with a rake if there is enough there to be deemed dangerous.
How to prepare your home for winter: the space-by-space home fitness checklist
When was the last time you took a tour of your home and thought “how do I protect my house from winter weather”? It’s probably been years, and in all that time, it’s likely that a few important things have slipped through the cracks. But if enough melting snow starts seeping into those cracks, it’s going to cause far too much expensive damage to your refuge from Mother Nature’s cold shoulder.
Because winterizing your home entails a lot more than just making a quick trip to the nearest supermarket for some eggs, milk, and bread. You have to keep in mind that the blizzards, sleet, and the extreme cold can wreak havoc on your home’s structure and safety. And to ensure that your home is fit and properly prepared for the next blast of winter weather, use our Winter Home Fitness Checklist below to do a complete once-over of your property and fill those cracks. It’s a simple breakdown for how you can prepare and protect your home – both inside and out.
For your indoor spaces
Adequately winterizing your home’s interior for the cold weather is crucial, as you’re going to be indoors most of the time. Here are a few important steps to keep yourself warm and protected. A few quick fixes around the home could alleviate many energy inefficiencies and reduce your monthly costs throughout winter and beyond.
- Insulation: Check the insulation in your attic, basement, and garage. According to data collected by the National Association of Realtors, improving insulation alone can reduce your heating bills by 20%.
- Pipes: Make sure all the pipes passing through these unheated places are adequately insulated. Ideally, they should be wrapped in electrical heating tape first, followed by foam insulation. Bursting of pipes from freezing is far more common than it needs to be, and it can give rise to some seriously expensive repairs.
- Ceiling: Check for leaks in the ceiling and repair or replace any damaged or missing shingles
- Heating: Examine your furnaces, heating vents, thermostats, oil tanks, wood stoves, and water heaters. Make sure they’re clean and in good, working condition. Buy a space heater to keep on hand as a good back-up on those extra chilly days
- Filters: Replace dirty filters in your furnace and HVAC system every month or two. Dirty filters can, sometimes, lead to a fire. And if you use a propane or oil-powered furnace, be sure that you refuel it.
- Vents: Keep your vents free of obstacles to allow the free-flow of air.
- Smoke detectors: Check for smoke and carbon monoxide leaks with the help of proper detectors, and replace old batteries as well.
- Fireplace/chimney: Examine the fire brick in the fireplace for open mortar joints. Should you see any, get them repaired immediately to prevent the possibility of a fire breaking out.
- Weather stripping: Check for weather stripping on all sides of the doors and the windows. If some it cracking or missing, apply new or additional weather stripping. You can also use rope caulk for this by simply pressing it into the areas where air leakage has been taking place. Air leaks can cause the cold air from the outside to come in and allow your warm air to escape, compromising your home’s efficiency by up to 30%. It is, therefore, crucial to avoid them.
- Fans: Make sure that your fans are spinning in the right direction. During the summer, ceiling fans run counterclockwise to create cool breezes. Turning blades in reverse displaces hot air as it travels upward to the ceiling, sending that hot air back into the room – making the space more comfortable for those nearby and reducing heating bills by up to 10 percent. So circulate smarter and save!
- Water heater: While most water heaters are set to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the can actually operate at 120 degrees without a perceptible change in performance. Stepping down into your basement or into the maintenance closet to adjust your furnace will just take a few minutes, but the positive impacts will last until next spring. Covering your water heater in a special insulating wrap will also keep it working more efficiently.
For your outdoor spaces
The outside of your home will be taking the main brunt of the winter weather. So make sure you give it the TLC it needs to make it through to the spring. Many of these solutions are simple, affordable, DIY projects that you can often complete in under an hour.
- Windows: Dual-pane windows are not only safer, but they’re also really good at insulating your home. The double layer of glass between you and the world outside is filled with argon gas, which will greatly help with the insulation properties of your windows. You could also have the UV coating on your windows which lowers the chance of fading for any artwork and furniture inside your home. You could also have ones with safety film on, which keeps them from shattering into pieces in case of impact. This can also help secure a potential weak spot in your home where burglars could break in.
- Roof: Check your roof for cracks or other openings. Make sure you replace any missing shingles and install weather stripping on the roof opening(s) to deter melted snow from seeping into your home.
- Pipes: Turn off the water supply to all your exterior faucets, and drain out excess water from plumbing lines, underground sprinklers, garden hoses, and pipelines by opening up the exterior faucet. Doing so should help keep the pipes from freezing and bursting.
- Gutters: The gutters and the spouts should be devoid of leaves, grime, and other debris. The deposits of wet leaves in the gutters adds substantial weight and volume to them in winter, which increases the risk of damage. Clean out the gutters to reduce the risk of ice dams as well.
- Chimney/fireplace: Make sure the chimney’s flue and draft is functioning properly and fully operational. It needs to easily and securely open and close, and then drawing up the smoke as well. Apart from that, keep your chimney clear of bird, rodent, and other animal nests.
- Patio furniture: Since you won’t be using it much in the winter, keep your patio furniture covered and protected.
- Deck: Apply an extra coat of sealer on your deck so the sitting winter water doesn’t warp it.
- Pool and fountain: Drain your pool and water fountains, and unplug their pumps as well.
- Doors and shutters: Repair any loose shutters or doors to minimize possible damage from wind. And be sure to apply weather-stripping around these as well.
- Walkways and driveways: Spread anti-slip gravel out all over your walkways and driveways. This will help prevent slips, skids, and falls when the snow comes down. Also, make sure you’ve got shovels and rock salt on hand for when the next snow storm strikes.
How to win the winter weather war: prevention
There are thousands of things that could potentially go wrong with your home in the winter, and we’ve only touched on the most common ones today. However, far too many people wait until something goes wrong before they fix a problem affecting their homes, and this almost always ends up costing them a lot more money. That’s because it’s cheaper to prevent anything bad from happening in the first place.
So if you can take care of potential home issues before something gets damaged and take the time to winterize your home, then your wise prevention will save you a lot of hassle and keep you from having huge bills to pay.
Remember, your home is your castle, and it’s smart to start treating it as such. So make the smarter move and devote the time it takes to properly prepare your home for whatever wicked winter weather may come your way. Because, after all, it’s always smarter to over-prepare than to be left out in the cold.