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The Top Home Safety Tips For Winter

Hanna KielarDecember 13, 2019

Extreme cold temperatures in winter can wreak havoc on your home if you're not prepared. Severe damage to roofs, gutters and pipes can cost thousands of dollars in repair fees, so plan before a storm hits by following these winter home safety tips.

How Do I Prepare My Home For Extreme Cold Weather?

When it comes to rough winter conditions, home preparation is essential. A house is a large investment, so you want to make sure that you keep safety top of mind. Start with small precautions like using GFCI outlets to prevent electrical fires, weather stripping (such as vinyl or metal) air leaks around windows and doors and installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Use Approved Heating Sources

The most important aspect of winter safety is to keep your home warm. A simple way to prepare is to use an approved heating source. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, heating equipment is the number one cause of fires in U.S. homes, with over 50,000 incidents reported. Use heat sources such as furnaces or space heaters instead of stoves or fireplaces. If not ventilated properly, the fumes from stoves and fireplaces can become dangerous. Use space heaters that have safety features like automatic shut-offs, which turn off when tipped over. There are many different pros and cons when it comes to heating, so make sure you read about electric, gas, and other fireplace options.

Replace Batteries In Detectors

The second thing you can do to ensure home safety is to replace batteries in smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide poisoning is most common during the colder months, especially between November and February, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Common side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and consult with a medical professional quickly if you or a loved one begin to show similar symptoms.

Avoid Heating Your Car Inside

It might be tempting to avoid scraping snow off your windows, but it's best to heat your car outside of your garage. This is especially true if you have an attached garage. The fumes from your car include carbon monoxide. The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics reports over 400 annual fatal incidents due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Instead, park and heat your car outside your garage. Make sure that the garage door is shut to prevent the fumes from seeping inside. If you're worried about how to handle snow, make sure you check out these five hacks for snow removal to get you through winter.

Leave Your Heat On

If you plan on leaving your home for an extended time, keep your home heated to avoid frozen pipes. Bay Area resident Riley Adams recalls a time when he returned to his Pennsylvanian home after a long holiday. "After returning from a 3-week break between semesters during the holiday break, my roommates and I noticed we had neglected to leave the heater running in our absence. My space heater displayed a 32-degree temperature reading – inside!" Luckily for Adams, now a senior financial analyst for Google and part-time blogger at Young And The Invested, there was no lasting damage to the home. "From that point onward, I always make it a point to set the thermostat at an appropriate temperature, both during warm and cold months, while we are away." According to Energy.gov, you should aim to keep your home between 50 – 55 degrees if you plan on leaving for a holiday or vacation.

Check Your Insulation

Insulation is imperative when it comes to winter home safety. If a home lacks proper insulation, more heat escapes, leading to a colder interior and an increased potential for property damage. Problematic areas such as attics, basements, and even air leaks around doors and windows should be checked before harsh winter weather begins. Try renting out or purchasing a thermal camera to see problem areas within your home that are losing heat. This can help you identify spots that may need repair or cracks that need caulking to keep warm air inside.

Clean Out Gutters

Gutters filled with debris from leaves or dirt can cause a build-up and result in ice dams or even roof damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. Kyle Kroeger, a blogger at Financial Wolves, realized that avoiding this task can inflict some serious damage on your bank account. "Clean your gutters during the fall. Even if fall is short and the weather is nasty, you need to clean them as fast as possible ... before snow happens. I ignored [this], which resulted in significant damage to my gutters." After a torrential downpour in the spring, Kroeger's damaged gutters from winter couldn't keep up. "We had massive rainfall that flooded our basement. This resulted in over $5,000 of service." Kroeger learned that removing debris and snow from gutters can feel like a pain, but it's well worth your time. You can read more about how to clean your gutters with this helpful article.

Check Your Pipes

It's best to check your pipes before the weather dips below freezing to avoid costly repairs. In regions that experience frigid temperatures, water inside pipes can freeze over, which can cause them to burst. Not only is this inconvenient for you, but it's also highly expensive. According to Home Guide, the average cost of repairing burst pipes ranges between $400 – $1,500, but in some cases, the fees can be much higher. One family experienced a significant financial setback because of home damage due to burst pipes. "In 2014, the weather broke records in Tennessee. We experienced 0-degree weather for about 30 days. Our pipes burst in two spots and caused $8,000 in damage," says Laura Coleman, a financial counselor for families seeking adoption. Coleman says that this situation put a strain on their family's finances. If you're looking for ways to help your finances, read more about the six sustainability hacks to save you money this winter.

Shut It Off

One way to avoid pipes bursting is to shut off any water valves on the inside of your home that lead to exterior faucets.

Allow Your Faucet To Drip

When the temperatures outside are well below freezing, a small amount of running water can actually prevent frozen pipes.

Consider Insulated Pipes

In harsh winter conditions, paying extra for insulated pipes may good investment. The garage, attic, and basement have a higher potential for frozen pipes more than interior spaces since they are generally closer to your home heating source.

How Do You Prepare For Harsh Winters?

Make sure to have a winter home safety checklist when preparing your home for harsh weather conditions. Running through these procedures can help you prevent expensive home repairs during and after winter. You can easily create an action plan for home safety before the bitter weather starts.

Have A Home Heating Inspection

A heating inspection can help you avoid unnecessary cold nights if your heating source breaks down. Replacing your furnace filter once a month can improve your furnace's ability to run smoothly. A heating and cooling inspector can also make sure that your ventilation system is set up correctly and that your ducts are optimized for the winter season.

Clean Your Chimney

A build-up of debris such as leaves, pinecones, and even animals can increase the chances of fire spreading to other areas in your home, including your attic. If you're not keen on sweeping your chimney, you can hire a professional. According to Angie's List, the average cost of a chimney cleaning is $125 – $250.

Repair Leaks

Walk through your home and check for leaks or cracks that need repairing, especially when it comes to roofs and windows. This can help you avoid water damage after heavy rain or snowfall. Purchase weatherstripping materials that fit your needs at a local hardware store.

Use A Humidifier

Most furnaces don't come equipped with a whole-house humidifier, which helps level out moisture in the air. Because of this, it's often that the air inside your home is much drier, resulting in you feeling stuffy or having a dry throat. Small humidifiers can provide you with the right level of humidity all through the winter. But you'll need to make sure you replace the filter every few months to avoid mold. Don't forget to bulk up on hand soap since wintertime is a prime time season for colds and flu.

Pack A Winter Safety Kit

Having a backup winter safety kit can help you and your family stay warm in case of power failure. This can be placed in your garage or car for safekeeping. Make sure that your kit is kept dry and away from excessive moisture. Pack the following items to use in the event of an emergency during winter.

●      Warm clothing and blankets

●      Clean drinking water

●      Flashlight and backup batteries

●      Battery-operated generator

●      Battery-operated phone charger

●      Nonperishable foods

●      Battery-operated carbon monoxide detector

Conclusion

While winter comes with many perks, like holiday gingerbread lattes, it's not without its faults. Consider using these safety tips when you prepare for winter.

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Rocket Companies focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.