Before Old Man Winter Knocks on Your Door…

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Is your home winter-proofed? By preparing for winter storms and the deep freeze ahead of time, you can avoid winter-related disasters from wreaking havoc on the home front.

Damage caused by heavy snow, bitter cold, ice buildups and powerful winds accounts for a high percentage of homeowners insurance claims. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute reports that:

-Winter storms accounted for 7.8 percent of catastrophe losses from 1986-2005

-Losses averages more than $1 billion a year over that same period

-The average claim for water damage and freezing is $5,095

To prepare for winter, Allstate and the Insurance Information Institute offer the following tips:

OUTSIDE YOUR HOME:

-Clean out gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming – a condition where water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house, causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.

-Install gutter guards. Available in most hardware and home stores, “gutter guards” prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

-Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break, causing damage to your home or car, as well as injury to people on your property.

-Repair steps and handrails. This may prevent someone from falling and being seriously injured. Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.  

-Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations. Use caulking to protect water pipes and make sure that skylights and other roof openings have proper weather stripping to prevent snowmelt from seeping in.

INSIDE YOUR HOME:

-Keep the house warm. Set the thermostat for at least 65 degrees, since the temperature inside the walls, where the pipes are located, is substantially colder – a lower temperature will not keep the pipes from freezing.

-Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water can then re-freeze, causing more snow and ice to build up. This can result in a collapsed roof, and can contribute to ice damming. Ideally, the attic should be five to 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes from freezing. You may also consider insulating unfinished rooms such as garages to keep pipes from freezing.

-Have the heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.

-Check pipes. Look closely for cracks and leaks and have the pipes repaired immediately. Wrap exposed pipes with pipe insulation or heating tape. Allow your faucets to drip lukewarm water to minimize the chances of a pipe freeze. If you plan to travel or be away from home for an extended period of time, have someone check pipes and the temperature in your home on a regular basis. Turn the water off and/or have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing.

-Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect against the increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.

-Make sure that smoke and fire alarms are working properly. Residential fires increase in the winter, so it is important to protect your family with working alarm systems. Also, consider installing a carbon dioxide detector, since a well-sealed home can trap this toxic gas.

-Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The quicker you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have to prevent pipes from bursting.

-Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. If damage is discovered, you can have it repaired immediately rather than waiting for a more severe problem to occur. Also, ask about ways to prevent water damage resulting from snow-related flooding. Plastic coating for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other methods can prevent flood damage to your home and belongings.

DON’T FORGET YOUR CAR

Winter is just as hard on your car as it is on your house. Have a mechanic look over your car whenever you spot something that seems not quite normal. An inspection now may prevent you being stranded on a cold winter day.

-If your engine is experiencing hard starts, stalling or other problems, fix it now, not later.

-Install new windshield wiper blades. Blades should make full contact with the window. Keep extra wash fluid and an ice scraper in your car.

-Keep a cold weather safety kit in your car that includes gloves, boots, blankets, flares, water and a flashlight.

-Examine your tires for tread life and uneven wearing. Be sure tires are properly inflated. Tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degrees the temperature drops.

-Make sure the heater and defroster are properly working to ensure driver visibility.

-Flush the cooling system every two years with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. Check the level, condition, and concentration of the antifreeze mixture periodically.

-Check your battery fluid levels, battery posts, and cable connectors. Bad connections can prevent your car from starting.

-Make sure all lights and bulbs are in working order and replace any burned-out bulbs.

The Allstate Corporation (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer. Widely known through the “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate®” slogan, Allstate is reinventing protection and retirement to help more than 17 million households insure what they have today and better prepare for tomorrow. Consumers access Allstate insurance products (auto, home, life and retirement) and services through Allstate agencies, independent agencies, and Allstate exclusive financial representatives in the U.S. and Canada, as well as via www.allstate.com and 1-800 Allstate®.