Protecting Your Home During Severe Winter Weather

It’s the end of January, and with that comes cold, bitter weather here in the Rochester MN area. Higher energy costs, burst or frozen pipes, ice dams, chimney fires and power outages are just some of the hazards and inconveniences that winter can bring.

There are a few precautions that we can all take that can help protect you from disruption and serious loss to you and your home. Protecting your home is vital to keeping you and your family safe and comfortable during the coldest part of our winter.

Indoor flooding
Home fires will make the headlines before water damage, even though water damage is more common and often just as damaging.  Water damage typically sees a surge during the first three months of the year.  Pipes are most likely to freeze when it’s the coldest outside.  Make sure to insulate any exposed pipes to help prevent freezing.

If you leave your home in the winter and set your thermostat at a lower temperature to save on energy costs, never set it below 55 degrees. Don’t be tempted to go lower. The pipes that route through your external walls and foundation will reach temperatures much lower than your thermostat setting. Although not a guarantee against freezing, 55 degrees will typically protect against frozen or burst pipes. Have someone check on your home daily while you are away.

If you really want to protect your home against broken or leaky pipes any time of the year, you can install an automatic water shutoff system. This system installs on your main water line. In the event of a burst pipe or increased water flow, the system will automatically shut off your water supply. Check with your insurance company to see if there are discounts to your policy as a result of installing an automatic water shutoff system.

Back up generators
Power outages can cause many problems from food spoilage to basement flooding. Install back-up generators to power all of your home's critical systems including sump pumps, security and fire alarm systems, and heating systems.

Winter power outages can result in plenty of problems from food spoilage, to freezing and flooding. Installing a back-up generator can be used to power critical systems in your home. You will want to make sure your heating systems, sump pumps, refrigeration, fire and security systems are all backed up. A back-up generator can protect you in the event of an extended power outage.

Chimney and furnace fires
While fire presents a year-round risk, certain causes of fire occur more frequently during the winter. Chimneys, boilers and furnaces are particular risks. Approximately 25,000 residential fires begin in a fireplace or chimney every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Home fires can happen at any time of the year, however certain causes are more frequent in the winter months. Fireplace, chimneys and heating systems are of particular risk. Chimneys and fireplaces account for approximately 25000 home fires annually.

Over time, fireplace and chimney surfaces can become coated with layers of unburned carbon based residue, typically referred to as Creosote. If the build up becomes excessive, it can ignite and result in a chimney fire. You can prevent chimney fires by having your chimney inspected and cleaned every year by a professional chimney sweep.

Furnaces, boilers, and water heaters should also be inspected annually to insure proper operation. Make sure that you don’t use your furnace room for general storage. Do not store paint, solvents, or other flammables in your furnace room as they pose a significant fire hazard. Books, papers, wood scraps and other flammables should also be stores elsewhere.

Ice damming and mature trees
Snow and ice storms can create a number of potential threats to your home. One of these is ice damming, which occurs in the days after a snowstorm.

Ice damming is another threat to your home.  In the days after a snow or ice storm, ice damming can occur due to melting and re-freeze.

Even though icicles hanging from your eaves are beautiful and picturesque, they are usually an indication that ice dams are forming. An ice dam is a build up of ice at the edge of your roof eave. As more snow melts, the water is trapped behind the ice dam. The result is water backing up under your shingles, soaking through your roof and insulation, causing damage to your walls and ceilings. The most common causes of ice dams are gutters that do not drain properly, and lack of insulation in your attic.

Large, mature trees with branches that hang over your property are another winter hazard. Strong winter winds, and ice covering old branches can lead to failure and collapse, a clear threat to your home or other nearby structures. A competent horticulture expert can assess and make recommendation for pruning out suspect or unstable branches in your mature trees.