5 cold weather home emergencies (and how to avoid them)

  • 5 cold weather home emergencies (and how to avoid them)

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    Winter house

    With freezing weather gripping parts of the country, some homeowners are finding themselves scrambling to respond to emergencies caused by the cold. If you want to avoid joining their ranks, you need to know about these five cold weather emergencies and how to avoid them.

  • How frozen pipes can hurt your home

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    Pipes under a sink

    Frozen pipes

    Actually, a frozen pipe may be only an inconvenience compared to the emergency caused by a burst pipe, which can often occur after a water line has turned to ice.

    Burst pipes can send water cascading onto the floor, walls and furniture and require costly repairs. The average frozen pipe insurance claim is for $18,000, according to data published by insurer The Hartford in 2014. Plus, you have to disrupt your life while renovations are done and your house dries out.

    How to avoid it: You'll want to insulate any pipes near exterior walls or in unheated areas of the house. If you haven't had a chance to insulate the pipes or are concerned they might still freeze in a cold snap, open cabinet doors under sinks to allow warmer air to circulate. Then turn both the hot and cold water on so a steady drip is coming out of the faucet. If your pipes do freeze, turn off the main water valve to the house, open all the faucets and open cabinets and crawl spaces to let the heat from the house thaw the pipes.

  • Avoiding slips and falls on winter sidewalks

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    Sidewalk covered in snow

    Injuries due to icy walks

    Another cold weather emergency to avoid is slips and falls on icy walks. It would be bad enough if you fall and injure yourself, but it could be worse if someone else slips on your sidewalk and then sues you.

    Zurich in North America, which insures businesses, says it sets aside $1 billion a year for slip, trip, and fall claims, and the average non-worker claim runs them about $15,132. If someone falls on your property, your insurance company may cover any claims but that doesn't mean it won't cost you nothing. You may have to meet a deductible, your insurance premiums may go up and you'll have the stress of potential legal action.

    How to avoid it: The simple way to avoid this emergency is to clear walkways of snow within 24 hours or less of it falling. Spread salt or an ice melt product to prevent ice from forming after the snow is gone. If you have two walkways to your house, such as to a front and back door, but only keep one cleared in the winter, consider blocking the uncleared path to direct visitors to your cleared walkway.

  • Preventing winter damage from above

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    Tree fallen over in snow

    Collapsed trees and roofs

    Heavy snowfalls, ice storms and heavy winds can all conspire to bring down trees and rooftops during the winter months. The Hartford pegs the cost of a collapsed tree at anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 on average with bigger trees out West costing an average of $10,000 in damage.

    Meanwhile, a collapsed roof could cost even more plus require you and your family to relocate elsewhere for weeks until your house is repaired and deemed structurally sound.

    How to avoid it: Unfortunately, the best time to prevent tree collapses is before the cold weather hits. Branches should be trimmed away from power lines, and trees or limbs that appear weak or unhealthy should be removed before nature takes them down herself. To prevent a roof collapse, remove snow after a storm as needed. You can buy a roof rake to do it yourself, but hiring a pro may be a safer bet.

  • Don't let your gutters freeze

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    Icy gutters

    Ice dams in gutters

    Gutters full of ice also have the potential to turn into a winter nightmare. These ice dams can loosen or destroy gutter systems, but a more serious problem is the potential to create roof leaks. As ice from the dam builds up on the roof, it can get beneath shingles, lifting them and allowing water inside the house.

    How to avoid it: The best way to avoid ice dams is to keep your attic well-insulated. Dams typically form when heat escapes from the house and melts snow on the roof. Water then rolls down to the gutter where it melts again and creates a dam. If a dam does form, using a roof rake can be one way to try to clear out the ice. In the event your attic starts leaking from a dam, This Old House suggests putting a box fan in the attic and pointing it at the leak as a way to freeze the water and prevent further damage.

  • Kepping rodents and other pests outside in winter

    Maryalene LaPonsie | Improvement Center Columnist | February 22, 2016

    A raccoon

    Winter pest infestation

    Your house is so warm and cozy in the winter that it shouldn't be surprising animals of all kinds want to move in with you. Mice may head to the basement or the walls, squirrels and raccoons may settle in the attic, and bugs could hitch a ride on firewood.

    How to avoid it: Sealing up any cracks or vents in the house is the best way to keep animals from making their way indoors. Store firewood away from the house and off the ground if possible. Covering wood with plastic may be another way to eliminate any bugs that could be living in the wood. If you do find yourself hosting unwanted guests, your only options may be to set traps, call an exterminator, or hope the cat hasn't become too soft.

    Don't let the cold weather cause a state of emergency in your house. Take some extra precautions now to avoid having these winter hazards ruin the rest of the season for you and your family.