It's 10 degrees outside, you're wearing every layer in your closet, and all you want to do is spend the next several months of winter hunkered down on your couch with a warm cup of tea. But things like frozen pipes and heavy snow can dampen your cozy plans if you don't properly prepare your home for winter.
According to the Information Insurance Institute, severe winter storms cause more than $1 billion in insured losses every year. John Espenschied, owner of Insurance Brokers Group in Chesterfield, MO, says most home insurance claims come during the winter months, including frozen pipes, hail damage, wind damage and snow, and ice damage.
"An average winter home insurance claim is going to be between $5,000 and $7,000. Doing winter preparation will help minimize the probability of having these types of claims and keep you from large rate increases due to claims," says Espenschied.
The good news is that preparing your home for winter isn’t all that hard. All you need is a few hours of time, be somewhat handy,ask for occasional help from professionals and you’ll be ready to hermit next to your fireplace till spring.
Cost of Winter Repairs After Accident vs Cost of Repairing it Before Accident
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When should you start preparing your home for winter?
As soon as the leaves start turning, you know winter is coming. Before the leaves hit the ground, it's time to start thinking about preparing your home for the cold.
"It is the responsibility of the homeowner to reduce risk as much as possible during the winter," explains Mark Southards, general insurance agent with Cape Point Insurance Group in North Carolina.
"If the claims adjuster determines negligence -- especially if it's obvious long-term negligence -- the company may deny a claim. If you neglect to prepare your home for winter and it leads to a claim, it may affect your insurance premium and your insurability by other companies, should you decide to shop for a new insurance company within three years of your claim," says Southards.
There's no harm in starting to prepare earlier rather than later. You definitely want to get moving before winter fully kicks into gear, and getting these preparations done earlier means you won’t have a surprise accident in case winter comes early. You also won't have to battle against the crowds of people who realize they haven't winterized their home once the first cold front hits.
How to prepare the inside of your home
Preparing the inside of your home is just as important as preparing the outside of your home for cold weather. Here are a few things you can do to prepare the inside of your home for winter weather.
Do a maintenance check of your heating and air conditioning unit
If you've been using your air conditioning all summer, you at least know your unit is working, but running your heat involves different parts of the unit. Chances are it's been several months since you've turned your heat on, so giving it a test run is always a good idea.
You should also change your filters, and if it's been a while, have an HVAC professional come check on your furnace and heat pump. A quick maintenance check shouldn't run you more than $100 and some companies will even offer yearly maintenance agreements.
Set your thermostat for when you'll be home
If you don't have a programmable thermostat, now's a great time to invest in one. Programming your heat to be high or low depending on when you're home can save you money on your electric bill. According to NV Energy, an energy company located in Nevada, setting your thermostat to 68 degrees while you're hom, and 58 degrees when you're not is the ideal temperature for efficiency. You never want to let your home dip below 58 degrees or you could risk freezing pipes.
Insulate as much as you can
Insulation makes the winter world go round. Actually it just makes it so you don't go crazy from freezing to death inside your home. Here are a few ways you can insulate your walls, attic, and home in general during the winter.
- Place heavier curtains on your windows
- Weatherstrip your doorways
- Grab some plastic, double-sided tape, and a hairdryer to create a plastic sheeting over non-insulated doors
- Apply weatherstripping or caulk around your windows
- Open your blinds during the day if it's sunny, and close them as soon as it's dark outside
- For a more costly fix, hire a professional to insulate your walls with blown-in foam
- Hire a professional to insulate your attic, especially if it's older
- Keep your chimney damper closed when you’re not using it
- Move items away from your heating vents and furnaces
Check your smoke detectors
Did you know that residential fires increase in the winter? It only makes sense since you're blasting a furnace for most of the season. Make sure your smoke detectors and your carbon monoxide detectors are running.
Look for cracks and leaks in your pipes
Take time to thoroughly check all of your pipes, especially in the attic, garage, and basement for cracks and leaks. Repair any pipes immediately.
Southards explains that the largest cost to insurers during winter months is improperly insulated pipes. "Average claims are approximately $5,000 in damage," he says. "Pipes that freeze and burst during winter months may cause water damage beyond just the damaged pipe, causing the cost of repair to increase.”
Espenschied explains that frozen pipes that burst in a home may not be detected for hours or days if the homeowner is at work or out of town. "Flooding a home with water could easily cause a total loss for a homeowner, requiring a total gut rehab," says Espenchied.
How to prepare the outside of your home for winter
You've got the inside of your home all buttoned up for winter, so now it's time to head outside. After all, the outside of your house is most susceptible to the environmental elements of winter, and there's lots to do to set your home up for winter success.
Clean your gutters
Perhaps the most important part of your house is the roof that's over your head. Not many winter maintenance items require a professional, but when it comes to your roof, you want someone who knows what they're doing.
Hire a professional to come inspect your roof and make sure it's able to handle heavy winter weather. This is something that should be done quite a while before winter starts, because a roof replacement, if necessary, takes time and costs a lot of money. Espenschied explains that snow on the roof can leak through, causing water damage and, eventually, mold.
Trim your trees
Collapsing trees are one of the most costly claims due to winter damage. Even if the tree doesn't collapse, dead branches can be snapped by high winds or heavy snow and cause damage to your home.
Sweep your chimney
You only need a chimney sweep if you use your chimney often. But waiting until right before winter hits is not recommended as you'll get stuck in a long line of people needing the same service as you. It's actually recommended that you get your chimney swept in the spring. If you are an avid fire builder, you want to get your chimney inspected once a year, including a sweep.
Drain and turn off your sprinkler and irrigation system
Not turning your sprinkler system off for winter can result in frozen pipes. Frozen pipes never end well, so it's important to properly shut down your irrigation system for winter. According to Angie's List, the steps to properly turning off your irrigation system include:
Turn off the water supply to the irrigation system for your lawn before freezing temperatures hit.
Turn off any automatic irrigation controllers.
Drain your pipes.
Insulate any backflow preventers or valves that are above ground.
Ready for winter
Don't wait until the last minute to start making these necessary preparations for winter. Whether you choose to go DIY or hire professionals, the responsibility is on you to properly prepare your home for the cold.
Espenscheild reminds us that "even if a home insurance claim is an act of God, insurance companies still consider it when renewal time comes. Two or more claims in five years could jeopardize your ability to keep your current homeowner's insurance policy or find another company willing to take you as a new customer."
Sara East is a freelance writer and content marketing professional based in Reno, NV. She specializes in content on insurance, mortgage, business, and travel.