Protecting Your Home This Winter

Winter weather is upon us! There are many steps to winterizing your home, but what should you do if the cold weather has arrived and you didn't finish your list before temperatures dropped? The following list includes quick tips and safety items to complete ASAP, to ensure your property remains safe so you can enjoy the holiday season!

Fire Prevention: One of the most important things you can do during the winter months, when you are running heating systems, is to make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order. For more information read our smoke alarm safety tips.

If you are not able to get a professional to inspect your fireplace/chimney in time, do take these steps before using it to warm your home: Make sure your fireplace chimney is free of bird nests or small animals. Check chimney draft (making sure the chimney will draw up the fire and smoke properly) with several sheets of rolled up newspaper. With the fireplace damper in the open position, light the newspaper in the fireplace. The smoke should rise up the chimney. If it doesn't, you have an obstruction and need to call a professional in to clean the chimney of creosote and ash, and possible debris. While you are inspecting your fireplace, inspect the fire brick. Open mortar joints should be repaired immediately to prevent a fire from spreading into the stud wall.

Inspecting your wood burning stove should include checking for cracks in stovepipes attached to wood stoves (which can release toxic fumes into your home), and checking for corrosion, holes or loose joints, throughout the heating season. You should also clean the stovepipe, look for signs of deterioration or looseness, and then replace the stovepipe if necessary. Additional items to look for include corrosion (rusting) and cracks in the stove's body or legs, and making sure required wall protection is installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. Always make sure your stove sits on an approved floor material, and fence off the stove while it is operating if you have pets or small children.

Gas heaters should be inspected as well: First, shut off the heater. Then check the air-shutter openings and exhaust vents for dirt and dust, and vacuum the air passages to the burner. It is also important to clean the burner of lint and dirt. Make sure to check the owner's manual for any other needed maintenance.

Prevent Water Damage: If temperatures are expected to drop below freezing, a few important steps can help avoid a costly problem that can occur if pipes freeze and burst. Turn your thermostat to at least 68 degrees, close any windows near exposed pipes, open the cabinet doors that house any pipes to allow the warm air to circulate around them, and allow a faucet to drip slowly with lukewarm water.

If a pipe freezes you can thaw it by heating water on the stove, soaking towels in the hot water, and wrapping them around the pipes. You can also use a hair dryer, but never do this if there is standing water nearby, as it can cause electric shock or death. Always start thawing a pipe nearest to the faucet and make sure that the faucet is turned on so that water can drip out when it starts to melt.

If a pipe bursts, acting quickly is essential. First, shut off the main water valve to your home. Secondly, call a plumber immediately. Make sure you have the number of a reputable plumber on hand before you need it. Minimize the damage by removing as much water as possible.

Outdoors: Make sure your gutters are free of dirt and debris, check the roof for missing or damaged shingles, and check flashing around chimneys and other roof projections for leaks. This can be dangerous work, so please use caution. Always wear non-skid shoes and make sure someone else is home in case you suffer a slip or fall.

Check your walkways, steps and handrails, to make sure they are in good condition. When ice forms, slips and falls may occur more frequently, and making sure there are no other hazards can help keep family members and visitors safe. Purchase sand, salt or non-clumping cat litter to place on walkways and steps to avoid falls when ice is present.