Even if you keep up with your home’s maintenance on a regular basis, the cold winter season can mean extra repairs and damage to your home.
By taking steps to protect your home before temperatures drop, you can avoid the headache of dealing with major home repair or maintenance issues in the dead of winter.
We’ve put together the following guidelines to help homeowners prepare for winter storms and freezing temperatures.
Starting From the Top
One of your first winter-prep tasks should be an inspection of the roof area, including your attic and soffit.
Your home’s soffit should be vented to keep air flowing through the roof and attic. If your soffit is well-maintained, it will support healthy ventilation and air flow in the home by pulling moisture away from any insulation.
Look for your soffit vents under the eaves of the roof. If your soffit is damaged, blocked up with debris or installed incorrectly, moisture can build up in your roof and attic area and eventually freeze. You’ll want to clean, repair or replace damaged soffit to encourage proper air flow.
You can find even more information on inspecting and maintaining your home’s soffit here.
You can also prevent ice damage to your home by removing any sources of heat from the attic. Heat causes ice dams to form in and around your gutters, which prevents them from functioning properly and can cause further damage.
The most common cause of ice dams is a warm attic, which causes the snow on your roof to melt, then freeze again when temperatures drop overnight. Check the attic for any mechanical equipment that could create additional heat, and see if it can be relocated. Also, make sure there’s no heat escaping from your home up into your attic. If there is, check to find the root cause, such as not enough insulation.
And make sure your roof’s gutters are clear from debris and leaves on a regular, year-round schedule. When temperatures reach freezing levels, ice dams can form if your gutters aren’t clean, which further prevents proper drainage of snow and ice melt.
Clogged gutters and downspouts can also get saturated with rainwater and freeze, which leads to cracked gutters and additional damage to your exterior.
Clearing out your gutters doesn’t require much equipment (a pair of gloves and reliable ladder), but follow safety precautions to ensure there aren’t any accidents or falls.
Ensuring your home is well-insulated doesn’t just keep your family cozy; proper insulation also prevents winter weather damage.
Keeping your attic insulated is especially key. You can bring in a professional to blow fiberglass insulation between your roof joists just above the ceiling drywall. But if you’re a DIYer and want to handle installation yourself, remember not to block the flow of air and avoid covering attic soffit vents with any insulation material.
For details on how much insulation is recommended in your home, check out Energy.gov for suggestions and step-by-step insulation instructions.
Homeowners can also insulate water supply pipes by using foam insulators on all exterior faucets. Insulating exposed pipes around or underneath the home prevents the water inside from freezing, which can lead to burst pipes and possible flooding.
Check Your Siding Material
Damage to exterior siding is also a harsh reality for homeowners during cold winter months. The material you use for your home’s exterior plays a huge role in how well your home will stand up to freezing temperatures and winter precipitation.
When moisture infiltrates a home’s siding and then freezes, it expands. This can cause cracks, especially in wood or vinyl siding.
If you live in a climate that experiences freeze/thaw cycles, you’re probably familiar with this kind of damage. Freeze/thaw cycles occur when water infiltrates a material (like wood) and freezes, then expands. This can compromise the siding and grow into large cracks, and allowing for further damage, like mold or wood rot.
You’ll want to properly maintain and repair your siding throughout the year to ensure you’re protected against lower temperatures and excessive moisture. If your home has wood siding, you might consider treating it with a sealant (if it’s not already treated) to prevent water infiltration.
By choosing a durable exterior material like steel siding, homeowners can ensure their home is properly protected:
- Steel siding can be installed on top of exterior insulation.
- Steel siding is a non-porous material and resists the freeze/thaw cycle, so moisture can’t get in. That means your siding won’t crack, warp or peel.
- Steel siding is known for its sleek design. That’s because it doesn’t shrink like other materials. A siding material like wood will expand and contract, which can leave large gaps at the seams, leaving your home exposed to moisture and freezing temperatures.
Maintaining Window and Door Protection
One of the easiest places for heat to escape your home is through the windows and doors.
Check your doors and windows for any small cracks or visible damage that might have developed over time. Feel around the seams of each unit to check for cold drafts coming in.
You should also check your exterior: Look to see if there are any gaps between the window or door frame and the home's siding that might cause drafts.
If you find any gaps or cracks in the exterior, you have a few options:
- Re-caulk the seal.
- Install film insulators: The plastic film can be applied to windows and helps to reduce heat transfer.
- Replace the window entirely.
If you have an older home and haven’t updated the windows, you should consider replacing them before temperatures drop too low.
For extra assurance, you can always look to a professional energy auditor to help you look for ways to prevent wasted heat and energy in your home. The energy auditor will take a look at your old energy bills and conduct a thorough room-by-room examination of your home. They can then recommend energy-saving upgrades to your home that will help you avoid high utility bills.
In Case of Winter Storm Emergencies
Winter storms and blizzards can come on quickly, and the resulting damage and power outages can have lasting effects on a home. Luckily, protecting your home from more severe winter weather is just a matter of smart preparation.
Know what your insurance covers. Check with your insurance company to ensure you have appropriate coverage for winter damage. Winter storms bring flooding, fallen limbs and heavy snow, leaving some homes devastated and, without proper insurance, no way to pay for repairs.
Before things get too cold, trim your trees and remove any dead branches. Wind, ice and snow can cause branches to snap and fall on your home or car.
Inspect any steps or handrails around the exterior of the home. Address any needed repairs to ensure they’re safe to use in the ice and snow.
Check on your home’s monitoring and safety systems. Install a carbon monoxide detector, especially if you’re going to use other sources of power or heat. (Never run a generator indoors.)
It also helps to have a reliable neighbor or local friend you can call on if you’re away for the winter holidays and there’s a storm. They can check in on your property for anything that might need immediate attention, like burst pipes or limbs that might have fallen on the home.
Make sure all of your equipment is ready for snow season:
- Stock up on de-icing salt. Be sure to use it lightly: The compound can sometimes damage pavement and sidewalks.
- Keep a couple of snow shovels and a roof rake at the ready. If you have a snow blower, ensure it’s in working order before the cold hits.
- Store any fuel and generators safely, according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Ensure Better Protection for Your Home This Winter
The winter months can bring harsh weather conditions, but keeping up with your home’s maintenance can go a long way towards protecting it from serious damage.
By properly insulating your home, choosing durable exterior materials and planning ahead, you can ensure your home is protected from cold weather and the damage it rings.
If you’re looking for tips on protecting your home while you’re away during the holiday season, check out this blog post for ideas to keep your home safe, or celebrate the upcoming holidays with a few exterior decor idea.