Did you know that water damage affects around 14,000 people in the United States every single day?
Or that 1 in every 60 insured homeowners will file a property damage claim due to water damage or freezing each year, at an average cost of $11,650?
That kind of risk can have a chilling effect on your bank account if you’re not properly insured and lead to major upsets in your daily life as you struggle to get water and freezing damage under control.
Homes are particularly vulnerable to water and freezing damage during the winter. As cold temperatures set in, homes become more susceptible to frozen and bursting pipes, roof leaks caused by ice dams, water leaking through foundations, and more.
Luckily, you can reduce the likelihood of water damage and avoid becoming a part of these unfortunate statistics with these 25 ways to protect your home from winter water damage.
Factors for Homes Most Vulnerable to Winter Water Damage
Generally speaking, four main factors influence risk levels from water and freezing damage during the winter. These are the factors you need to consider.
Age – Older properties are more likely to be at risk of winter water damage because piping is often older and at a greater risk of corrosion or failure. Lowering risk by taking measures like insulating pipes or applying heat tape may be harder as well due to more limited access to pipes, as well as corrosion.
Size – Larger properties are often at greater risk because problem spots can go undetected. Even small leaks can lead to big problems because water damage can accumulate over time and result in sudden catastrophes.
High-Value Assets – Expensive furniture, electronics, artwork, clothing, and more can all become ruined by water and freezing damage, resulting in costly repairs and replacements that take a long time to fix, leading to an upset in your daily life.
Vacant Properties – If no one is around to spot problem areas early, then it may be too late to stop winter water damage.
We recommend talking to your local insurance agent to ensure you get customized coverage that meets your unique set of risk factors.
#1 – Proper Ventilation
Keeping your home well-ventilated reduces the amount of moisture in the air, which can lead to mold growth.
By occasionally opening your windows for a few minutes to let the stale air out and the fresh air in, you can not only decrease the moisture levels in your home but also drastically improve your indoor air quality.
#2 – Plan for Winter Storms
Having a plan in place and supplies on hand in case you get snowed in or lose power for an extended period is always a good idea. This can include things like:
- Fresh Drinking Water
- Extra Blankets
- Secondary Home Heating Sources
Not only will you be more comfortable in your home, but you’ll also be there to spot problems before they become disasters.
#3 – Flood Preparation
If you live in a flood-prone area, consider installing flood barriers and having sandbags on hand for quick use.
You can reduce the impact of flooding by placing sandbags over drains like showers and baths to prevent grey water from backing up into your house. Don’t forget about exterior doorways and vents!
#4 – Open Cabinet Doors
If your piping is behind cabinet doors, open them up to circulate warm air into these often much cooler spaces. You can use a space heater to increase the temperature if need be. The strategy is to ensure the piping behind the wall gets enough warm air to prevent freezing and bursting.
#5 – Turn Up the Heat
Putting your thermostat up slightly higher when really cold temperatures set in might be a good idea to avoid catastrophe. Sure, you might pay a little bit more in fuel costs, but the cost of an insurance loss is likely to be much higher if you have to file a claim.
#6 – Insulate Windows and Doors
Make sure all your windows and doors shut and seal tightly. If they don’t, reduce those drafty areas with weather stripping to keep all that precious heat where it belongs: indoors.
#7 – Not Going to Be Home?
If your house is unoccupied for an extended period, drain your pipes before you go away.
You can also shut off the main water valve to your home or install a flow valve check that automatically shuts off the water supply if it detects too much water is flowing into your home, say, from a burst pipe.
#8 – Get a House Sitter
Having someone your trust check on your home if you’re away for an extended period is always a good idea.
If you lose electricity, ensure your house sitter checks to see that your heating devices are working properly once the power is back on.
#9 – Smart Technology
Installing a temperature alarm can alert you to a growing problem when the temperature drops. Consider a threshold of 60 degrees so that you have plenty of time to deal with any situation that arises.
Smart thermostats can be a great way to monitor your home for temperatures and leaks while you’re away and stay ahead of potential issues. You can even connect water and freeze detectors to some systems for complete coverage.
#10 – Appliances
Turn your washing machine, dishwasher, and other water-reliant appliances off, and make sure the hoses are in good condition. Consider shutting off the water to them entirely.
#11 – Water Leak Detectors
You can be proactive against burst pipes, foundation leaks, and leaking appliances with water leak detectors. These nifty devices can identify leaks and send alerts to your phone, even when you’re not there.
#12 – Generators
Generators are a wonderful invention, but they require maintenance, proper installation, and safe use. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions for safe operation and have them maintained regularly.
#13 – Automatic Fuel Delivery
Setting up automatic fuel delivery for oil and propane can help you avoid running out of fuel and running into unexpected water and freezing damage.
#14 – Winterize Your Pipes
Winterizing your pipes can be one of the best ways to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
You can use heat tape or heat cables and foam insulation to do this, especially if they’re located in unheated areas such as:
- Exterior Walls
Use expanding foam or caulk to seal cracks in walls, floors, ceilings, and your foundation so that pipes don’t get chilled from cold, drafty air.
#15 – Hoses and Outdoor Faucets
Disconnect and drain garden hoses, and don’t forget to drain and close outdoor faucets with cut-off valves. Cover your outdoor faucets with faucet covers as well.
#16 – Dripping Faucets
Letting your bathroom and kitchen faucets drip very slowly overnight can help prevent pipes from freezing by allowing a tiny amount of water to continue flowing.
#17 – Ice Dams
Ice dams are a common problem caused when melting snow on a roof refreezes at the edge of the roof, creating a dam that keeps water from properly draining. Water can back up and leak into your home, and ice can even form between your shingles and exacerbate the problem.
To help prevent ice dams, you can:
- Keep your gutters clean and debris-free, which helps water flow freely and prevents it from backing up and forming an ice dam.
- Insulate your attic. This will help to keep the heat in your home from escaping into the attic, which can cause the snow to melt and refreeze at the eaves.
- Ventilate your attic. This will help to keep the air flowing in your attic and prevent moisture buildup.
- Install heat cables or heat tape. This will help to melt the snow and ice on your roof before it has a chance to form an ice dam.
- Use a snow rake to remove snow on your roof. This is a temporary solution, but it can help to prevent ice dams from forming.
Here are some additional tips:
- Have your roof inspected by a professional to make sure there are no leaks or other damage that could contribute to ice dams.
- Consider installing a roof snow melt system. This is a more expensive option, but it can effectively prevent ice dams.
- Be prepared to act quickly if you do experience an ice dam. If you see water dripping from your eaves, or if you notice a large buildup of snow and ice on your roof, take steps to remove it.
#18 – Gutters and Downspouts
Clear your gutters and downspouts of leaves, debris, ice, and other hazards to ensure they’re draining properly. You want to move all that water away from the foundation of your house.
Foundations & Basements
#19 – Seal Your Foundation
Seal any cracks or openings in your foundation. This will help to prevent water from seeping in.
#20 – Remove Snow Buildup
Snow buildup around your foundation can lead to water and ice buildups, then funnel water toward your home rather than away from it. This can be a big problem, especially in early spring, when snow starts to melt and water drips off your roof. You don’t want water pooling around your foundation.
#21 – Sump Pumps
Installing a sump can remove water from your basement in the event of a flood when heavy rains or melting snow cause flooding in basements or other low-lying areas of your home.
Don’t forget to have your sump pump serviced regularly!
If you rent your property, not only will you want to follow the tips above, but you’ll also want to take additional steps.
#22 – Remove Window AC Units
Remind tenants to remove air conditioning units from windows when the weather turns cold. When AC units are left in, they let in the cold air and make it harder for heating systems to keep up with demand, resulting in a higher chance of experiencing winter water and freezing damage.
#23 – Maintain Warm Temperatures
Just like at your primary residence, it’s a good idea to maintain a base level of warmth in your home, usually 55-60 degrees, to prevent issues.
#24 – Weather Sealing
Make sure all windows and doors can close tightly and are well-sealed. If they’re not, it’ll make it harder for your tenants to maintain your property at an acceptable temperature that reduces the chances of water damage.
#25 – Sprinkler Systems
If your property has a sprinkler system, be sure to replace old sprinkler heads and have the system inspected annually.
Are you concerned about winter water damage?
*Disclaimer: We offer content for informational purposes; Co-Op Co-operative Insurance Companies may not provide all the services or products listed here. Please contact your local agent to learn how we can help with your insurance needs.
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This Old House. How to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/plumbing/21017302/how-to-prevent-frozen-pipes
Today’s Homeowner. How Much Does Water Damage Restoration Cost? (2023). https://todayshomeowner.com/cleaning/cost/water-damage-restoration-cost