Preventing Winter Damage: How Winterizing Your Home Will Prevent Water Damage and Fire Damage
As the temperature starts to drop and the snow begins to fall, it’s important to know how to winterize your home to prevent fire damage and water damage. Review our winterization guide to keep your heating systems working efficiently, prevent pipes from freezing, and limit the risk of fire and smoke damage this winter.
Preventing Winter Fire Damage
While many assume that it’s too cold for a fire during the winter, they are actually common due to the use of heating devices like furnaces, fireplaces, and space heaters. Stay safe this winter and learn to prevent a fire by identifying the biggest risks.
Have Your Heating System Inspected
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to have your heating system inspected. Whether you have a boiler or a furnace, an HVAC specialist will make sure that your heating system is in proper working condition. This may include cleaning and lubricating the system, checking ductwork or steam pipes, and testing your thermostat. They may also take steps to winterize your air conditioner.
Fireplaces are perfect for cozying up on a cold winter evening, but it’s important to treat them with respect. Be sure to properly build your fire to keep it from getting out of control and always use well-seasoned firewood to limit smoke and soot.
Never leave a fire unattended and supervise pets and young children. Make sure you have a working smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a fireplace and keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
Review our fireplace safety guide for more details.
Space heaters can help warm specific areas of your property, but they should never be used as a replacement for a heating system. Only purchase and use a space heater that is certified by an independent testing laboratory and never purchase a used device.
For electric space heaters, avoid using extension cords or power strips and never overload an outlet. For fuel-burning space heaters, always fill them outside and check for leaks or gas smells before lighting them.
Review our space heater safety guide for more details.
Use Electric Blankets Properly
Electric blankets are great for staying warm in bed at night, but you should always follow their safety instructions and operating instructions to prevent an electrical fire. This includes never using an electric blanket with an extension cord or power strip as well as overloading outlets and circuits.
Only purchase an electric blanket that certified by an independent testing laboratory and automatically shuts off after a specific time. Never leave an electric blanket on when you are not at home. Avoid buying used items, as they are could be damaged and start a fire.
Avoid Using Heat Cables on Your Roof
Heat cables are often sold as a way to prevent snow and ice from building up on your roof. While most need to be hard wired into your electrical system, some models come with plugs that work with standard outlets.
While these may seem like a great alternative to using a snow rake, they rarely work as advertised. In the best case, they only heat the roof immediately underneath the heat cables. This allows channels of snow and ice to form in the areas between the cables. More often than not, they just don’t work at all.
The hardwired units are often expensive to have installed and use a large amount of energy. The plugin models are much less efficient, still use a large amount of energy, and can even cause the wires to melt or start a fire.
Preventing Frozen Pipes and Winter Water Damage
While mid-winter thaws can lead to water damage, the biggest water issue to worry about are frozen pipes. Prevent a water event by learning how to prevent pipes from freezing and what steps to take if your pipes are frozen.
Your water pipes are likely to freeze when temperatures are below 20° F / -7° C for several hours. Uninsulated pipes and setting your thermostat too low will allow pipes to freeze much faster. You should check the insulation on your home and pipes each winter and never set your thermostat below 55° F / 13° C. Keep cabinet doors below sinks open to promote airflow and reduce the risk of pipes freezing.
Review our preventing frozen pipes guide for more details.
If you suspect your pipes may be frozen, you should take steps to thaw them as quickly as possible. Wrap them in towels soaked in warm water or use a hairdryer, heating pad, or space heater to help thaw a frozen water pipe. You should never use boiling water or an open flame to thaw a frozen pipe, as there is a risk of thermal shock that could cause the pipe to burst.
Review our thawing frozen pipes guide for more details.
If you’ve had a frozen pipe burst, you need to shut off your main water supply valve as quickly as possible. Water will continue to flow from a burst pipe until you shut off this valve, leading to hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water entering your properly.
Once the water is off, begin extracting the water using a pump or even a bucket. After removing as much standing water as possible, use a wet/dry vacuum to suck excess water from carpeting and other materials. Then use fans and dehumidifiers to dry the area. If you work quickly, you can avoid permanent damage and mold growth.
Review our cleaning up after a burst pipe guide for more details.
Preventing Ice Dams and Future Water Damage
Aside from frozen or burst water pipes, the biggest risk of water damage during the winter is an ice dam. An ice dam forms when portions of your roof are different temperatures, causing snow to melt and then freeze.
As the melt snow freezes, it expands and can creep underneath roofing shingles or even your roof decking. After repeated cycles of snow and ice thawing and freezing, water will enter your home and can damage the rafters in your attic, ceilings, and walls. If this goes unresolved, it can lead to mold problems in the spring as well.
The most common sign of an ice dam are long icicles along the edge of your roof. While icicles are normal during the winter, these will be abnormally long and may even form a complete column to the ground.
Our Winterization Checklist to Prevent Water Damage and Fire Damage
Keep your family safe this winter and follow our winterization checklist to prevent water damage and fire damage this season.
- Test Smoke Alarms and Check Fire Extinguishers: You should test your fire alarm at least once a month and replace the batteries every six months. Also, check the expiration dates on your fire extinguishers and replace them as necessary. You should also take a moment to refamiliarize yourself on how they operate.
- Check for Doors and Windows Drafts: Check windows and doors for drafts that will reduce heating efficiency or even lead to frozen pipes. Apply caulk or sealants as necessary to eliminate gaps. If you continue to notice drafts, you may want to consider having your entire property insulated.
- Inspect Insulation In Open Spaces: If you have visible insulation in your basement, crawl space, attic, or any other room, inspect it for signs of deterioration or damage. Replace old insulation as necessary with modern, energy efficient insulation.
- Check the Ventilation in Your Attic: While it may seem counter-intuitive, your attic needs proper ventilation during the winter. This keeps your attic cooler and ensures snow melts slowly and evenly. This prevents ice dams and limits the chances of ice and water damage.
- Insulate Your Pipes: Depending on where you live, you may also want to insulate your pipes to prevent them from freezing. Homes in traditionally warmer climates are more likely to deal with frozen pipes because they are usually less insulated. Insulating your pipes is also recommended if you live in an area where the temperature routinely drops below 0° F / -18° C.
- Check Electrical Outlets and Switch-Plates for Cold Air: Cold air can blow through walls and escape around outlets and switch cover-plates. You may be able to remove the cover-plate and install insulation yourself, but whole-house insulation may be a better option.
- Install Weather-Stripping Around Windows: Cold air can easily enter through windows, so consider installing weather-stripping to improve your heating efficiency. You should avoid installing weather-stripping around a door, as it can block access if there is a fire.
- Clean or Replace Your Furnace Filter: If you have a forced air system, clean or replace your furnace filter to ensure your heating system works efficiently all winter. A clean air filter will also help extend the life of your furnace too. Most furnace filters are replaceable, but some models may have a filter that can be cleaned and reused.
- Locate Your Water Supply Shut Off Valve: Your water supply shut off valve is typically located in the basement near an outside wall. Take a few minutes to locate the valve and clear a path to it to ensure you can reach it quickly if there is a problem.
- Clear Snow and Ice Build Up From Your Roof: Use a snow rake to clear ice and snow from your roof to reduce the stress on your roof and limit the chances of an ice dam.
- Close Your Chimney Damper When Not In Use: Closing your chimney damper after each fire will help keep your home warmer.
- Check That All Windows are Closed and Latched: This will prevent cold air from coming through slightly ajar windows.
- Close Curtains at Night to Insulate Windows: This will help keep your home warmer by preventing the air from coming in contact with icy and cold windows.
- Avoid Heating Your Car With the Garage Door Closed: While a warm car is nice, running your car while the garage door is closed can cause toxic gases to build up that can lead to asphyxiation.
- Check Your Snow Shovel: Inspect your snow shovel and repair or replace it if it’s damaged.
- Stock Up on Snow Melt: Whether you go with rock salt or another type of snow melting material, make sure you have enough to get through at least a few major snow falls. Restock as you get low to ensure you don’t run out.
- Leave Faucets Trickling Overnight When the Temperature is Extremely Low: If the temperature drops below 20° F / -7° C, allow your faucets to run at a bare trickle overnight. The convective action of the water movement will keep pipes from freezing.
- Arrange to Have Someone Check Your Home While on Vacation: If you plan to go on vacation during the winter, arrange to have a family member, friend, or neighbor check your home regularly. They should enter your home at least once a day to ensure there are no problems.
- Check on Elderly Family and Neighbors: Check that your elderly family members and neighbors have properly winterized their homes, especially if they live alone or have chronic illnesses.
Professional Fire Damage and Water Damage Restoration Services
If you have a fire or water event, Restoration Local is here to restore your properly. We’re the #1 network for restoration contractors. We have an experienced company near you for that provides winter-related fire, smoke, water, mold cleanup and restoration services. Choose a local restoration company from our directory or call 1-888-443-3110 now for 24-hour emergency service, 30-minute response, and free, no-obligation estimate on all services.