As temperatures drop and the weather grows unpredictable, the urgency to winterize your home increases. The colder months can create freezing pipes, hanging gutters, fires and power outages. So, what should you do to prepare for winter? By conducting simple and timely safety measures, such as purchasing extra home insurance coverage, performing energy audits and fixing structural defects, you can ensure your home is ready for the winter months.
What to Expect When Winter Arrives
When searching online, you’ll find different responses to the question, “how can I protect myself in the winter?” Winter weather safety measures and risks vary depending on your state’s climate, living space, lifestyle and household setup. While some tips may be valuable, following generic preparedness plans can yield negligible results.
To properly prepare, assess the risks your household faces. After all, common weather catastrophes during the winter include varying emergencies, from house fires caused by heating equipment to roofs collapsing under snow accumulation.
5 Common Winter Hazards
Familiarize yourself with the most common winter hazards. A disaster prevention strategy has to address a specific issue before you can consider it effective. While universal safety measures keep you safe to an extent, you should tackle particular hazards and risks to ensure your household’s safety during the winter.
Ice dams put the overall structural integrity of your roofing at risk. They could even cause permanent damage to your gutters, drains and shingles if you leave snow and water to build up on the roof and freeze.
Frequently inspect your plumbing system during winter. Frozen pipes are generally more prone to leaks, cracks and ruptures since the ice weakens their overall integrity. Otherwise, the leaking water could cause flooding or electrical shortages.
States with a lot of snowfall often experience winter power outages. Natural elements like strong winds, ice buildups and harsh storms damage power lines. Unfortunately, most modern homes heavily rely on electricity. A power outage could compromise your heating, communication, plumbing and cooking devices.
With people frequently using heating equipment, ice can build up, compromising power lines. Additionally, with homeowners setting up holiday decorations, house fire risk increases. Always check your living space for potentially unaddressed fire hazards.
Unsafe driving conditions
Prepare your vehicle before driving in the winter. Slippery roads, poor visibility and harsh storms create terrible driving conditions. Negligence could lead to traffic accidents.
Top 5 Snowiest Cities in the US
Weather conditions greatly vary across the U.S. The average daily temperature nationwide ranges from 71.5°F to 28.1°F, depending on the state. And as you might have guessed, winters tend to be harsher in colder areas.
If you live in any of the following states, we strongly recommend taking extra measures to combat winter hazards.
Syracuse, New York
With Syracuse nestled just south of Lake Ontario, it experiences one of the harshest winters in the U.S. The city’s snowfall averages 127.8 inches, piling up around 10–11 feet of snow.
Like Syracuse, Erie is near Lake Erie, a large body of water, so it also experiences harsh winters. The city’s annual snowfall averages 104.3 inches.
Rochester, New York
Snowfall averages vary in this part of northwestern New York state. South Rochester only experiences about 70–90 inches of snowfall per year, while east Rochester snowfall averages well over 100–120 inches.
Buffalo, New York
Although Buffalo only experienced 77.2 inches of snowfall in 2021, more recent statistics show that the city is currently averaging 97.4 inches.
How Homeowners Can Prepare for Cold Weather and Storms
Once you understand common winter hazards, you can start planning your winter weather preparedness strategy. This includes preparing your cars for the winter roads, checking your home for structural defects, scheduling medical checkups to minimize the risks of getting sick, evacuating the elderly if needed and reviewing your emergency funds.
1. Winterize your home
Before starting with anything else, it’s essential to winterize your living space. Statistics show that winter storms cause more than a billion dollars worth of yearly insured losses. The damages stem from various issues. To jumpstart your renovations, focus on the most common winter-related complications like ice damming, snow buildups, wind damage, pipe bursts and hail damage.
2. Conduct vehicle and tire maintenance
Ensure your vehicle safety by having a trusted mechanic and tire shop examine your vehicle before winter. During the winter, strong winds and snow buildup create unsafe roads. Statistics show that more than 24% of traffic accidents nationwide occur on slippery winter roads annually.
Your mechanic should suggest ways to winter-proof your car. Although safety measures vary from motorist to motorist, at least expect to shell out for new winter tires and windshield wipers.
3. Protect household members’ health
Schedule an appointment with your family doctor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity in the U.S. peaks during winter months, so you’d do well to safeguard your household against common infections. Otherwise, you and your loved ones might spend the holidays sick and in isolation.
4. Review your finances
Take another look at your emergency finances. Although winter safety measures mitigate risks, you can’t wholly eliminate the possibility of catastrophes and accidents. It’s best to plan for the unexpected by building an emergency fund.
You should generally have enough finances to cover at least four to six months of expenses without working. Also, review your insurance policies. Purchase extra coverage to qualify for claims in case of property damages, road accidents or illnesses.
5. Stock up on emergency supplies
Consider purchasing groceries in bulk. With the holidays fast approaching and snow building up on public roads, going to the supermarket will gradually become more challenging. You’ll have fewer chances to get groceries.
To maximize your winter emergency preparedness, stock up on essentials like toiletries, canned goods, dry grains and batteries. Winter storms can make it impossible to go outside.
How Being Insured Can Protect You Against Winter Damages
How else can you protect your house in the winter? Besides safeguarding your living space against common winter weather risks, we strongly recommend bolstering your homeowners insurance policy. Most comprehensive homeowners insurance policies only cost around $1,500—2,500 per year. Although the premiums might seem steep, note that it’s a fraction of what water and ice-related claims cost. Take this chance to revisit the coverages and limitations of your policy.
Benefits of Homeowners Insurance During Winter Weather
To help you reach an objective, informed decision, it’s essential to understand the benefits of having enough homeowners insurance coverage during the winter.
Coverage for emergencies
Map out your insurance policies so that most winter-related accidents and injuries are covered. Otherwise, your hospital bills could skyrocket to several grand.
Claims for home repairs
If your house gets damaged during a snowstorm, your insurer will likely cover most water and ice-related damages. Make sure to document all the repairs done.
Protection for your finances
It’s good financial foresight to build an emergency fund for your household. However, delay your first withdrawal for as long as you can. If you don’t want your money to run dry quickly, you will do well to rely on insurance plans and policies instead.
Basic insurance plans often have rigid limitations. Fortunately, you can talk to your insurer about boosting your homeowners insurance policy. Make sure to address common winter weather risks.
Limits and Exclusions
Homeowners insurance covers several winter weather risks, but there are limitations. You can’t expect your policy to pay for everything that happens to your household or living space during a winter weather emergency. Familiarize yourself with the limitations. That way, you can draw up alternative solutions.
For instance, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover power outages. If a storm hits your area with a blackout, you’re responsible for whatever damage it does to your home and the appliances inside it. Also, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover rainwater flooding. You likely can’t file a claim unless the water damage stems from a pipe burst.
Review if you have a named or open peril policy. Many named policies have rigid exclusions on wind and hail damage, so you might have to upgrade your coverage.
How to Stay Safe During Extreme Cold Weather
Unless you live in one of the coldest states in the U.S., you likely won’t experience a thunder snowstorm. They only occur a couple of times per year. With that said, you still can’t wholly dismiss the risks, and it would significantly help if you and your loved ones knew what to do during a storm. Remember: Emergencies leave no room for error. Making even a small mistake could lead to grave, possibly fatal, accidents.
- Monitor household members. Watch out for common signs of winter injuries and illnesses. Address the sick promptly.
- Winterize your home. Install insulation, repair ceiling/window drafts, fix roofing damages and clean out the pipes at least a few weeks before winter. Otherwise, you’ll put your house at additional risk.
- Hire a professional to check your heating system. Poorly maintained HVACs are fire hazards, especially if you have various electronic devices like appliances and holiday decor around your living space.
- Travel with a responsible, trustworthy buddy that you can rely on during emergencies, especially during harsh winters. Brief them on your pre-existing medical conditions, so they know what to expect.
- Wear the appropriate winter clothing. Tightly woven scarves, insulated jackets, thick gloves and thick earmuffs will go a long way in keeping you warm.
- Walk and drive slowly. The roads are very slippery during the winter, especially if it snows where you live. Investing in winter tires can help keep you safe on the roads if you have a car. Although they can be pricey, a solid set will last several years.
Recognize Hypothermia Signs
- Back and muscle pain: Shoveling snow for hours on end could take a toll on your back muscles.
- Head injuries: Slip and fall accidents are higher during the wintertime. Watch out for head injuries and concussions since they’re sometimes hard to spot, especially if the injured has a hat.
- Low body temperature: Patients suffering from hypothermia have abnormally low body temperatures, so they’ll feel cold, exhausted and on the brink of collapsing.
- Sudden dizziness: Old, poorly maintained furnaces could leak carbon monoxide, so watch for signs of poisoning like sudden exhaustion, confusion and nausea.
How to Handle Unexpected Damage to Your Home
How do people prepare for harsh winters? Besides safeguarding their living spaces against winter weather risks, they also know how to fix structural damages. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to study carpentry. But it would help if you knew who to call or what services to get if your house gets damaged. If you experience an unexpected home emergency during the winter, there are several steps you can take to quickly stop further damage from occurring.
- Pipe bursts: Once you hear a pipe burst, go straight to the main water supply and turn off the valve. It’s crucial to act quickly to avoid flooding your home.
- Frozen pipes: Turn the faucets on so that water runs through your frozen pipes. To hasten the thawing process, use a hair dryer or heat pad on the blockages in your plumbing system.
- Ice damming: Pour hot water over the snow and ice on your roof. Don ’t let the ice buildup, or it could cause roofing issues, including collapse, if it worsens.
- Snow buildup: Frequently plow your driveway. It’s dangerous to drive and walk on slippery, snow-filled pavements.
What to Do After Winter Weather Passes
Knowing the steps to take after a harsh winter is just as important as understanding what you should not do in the winter. Assess all areas of your life. Regardless of whether an emergency happened, you should take this time to re-evaluate the winter weather preparedness strategy you followed. Strive to create a better one for next year.
Know What to Do After Winter
Tend to your property. Even if your house isn’t severely damaged, prolonged exposure to natural elements like rain, snow, wind and hail still leads to minor complications.
Clear the snow
Shovel the snow in your driveway. Not only does snow buildup make walking challenging, but it also covers up possible structural issues and damages.
Inspect your property
Once your driveway is clear, inspect your property. Check the garden for fallen limbs, climb up on the roof for missing shingles, assess your plumbing system and take note of any unusual defects.
Review your finances
Take a moment to review your finances. Check what damages insurance covers, then assess if you have enough funds to repair the ones that aren’t.
After making a thorough assessment, start working on the repairs. Ensure that your house is in tip-top shape before the new year starts, or else the unaddressed damages might worsen.
Consult your insurer
If you have damage, call your insurer first. Double-check that they’ll cover the damages your house or property sustained over the winter. Otherwise, prepare your emergency funds.
Fix what you can
Start fixing minor issues like shoveling the piles of snow, looking for missing shingles and sweeping fallen leaves.
Contact trusted professionals
Consult with trusted contractors. We suggest interviewing at least three to four professionals before making a decision.
Expert Insight on Maintaining Your Home During Winter Weather
Preparing for winter and its aftermath can be tricky for anyone who has never had to think about it before. We’ve asked a few industry experts for their insight on what to do and how to prepare for the winter.
- What are some ways homeowners can mitigate the risk of winter weather damage on their homes?
- What type of home insurance should homeowners get to prepare for winter?
Co-Founder of SD House Guys
Founder and CEO of Austin Real Estate Brokerage
Founder & CEO of Seniors Life Insurance Finder
Resources for Protecting Your Home from Winter Weather
For more information on how to protect your home from winter weather, we suggest going through the following official resources:
- Carbon Monoxide poisoning signs: Watch out for the most common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Carbon Monoxide poisoning treatment: Familiarize yourself with the first-aid techniques for carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Deal with frozen pipes: Know what to do if your plumbing system freezes.
- Heating system maintenance: Know how to maintain your heating system, as it could present a fire hazard.
- Hypothermia prevention: Understand the causes and signs of hypothermia.
- National weather forecast chart: Get the latest news on national weather updates.
- Prevent winter fires: Understand the most common causes of houses during the wintertime.
- Snowfall amount calculator: Compute the average snowfall in your area.
- Winterize your home: Get firsthand tips from the Insurance Information Institute (iii) on how to combat common winter weather risks.
- Winter storm preparedness: Learn the proper way to survive a winter storm outdoors and indoors.
- Winter storms while driving: Know what to do if you’re caught in a winter storm while driving.
About Nathan Paulus
- Federal Highway Administration. "Snow and Ice." Accessed November 8, 2022.
- Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and renters insurance." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Winter storms." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- Insurance Information Institute. "Protect your home from winter weather." Accessed November 7, 2022.
- National Weather Service. "Erie Normals." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- National Weather Service. "Rochester Climate Narrative." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- National Weather Service. "Buffalo Monthly Snowfall." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- Physical Sciences Laboratory. "Boulder Monthly Means: Snowfall." Accessed November 7, 2022.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Climate Change Indicators: Cold-Related Deaths." Accessed November 6, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Flu Season." Accessed October 24, 2023.