Winter maintenance tips
Think ahead and take steps to get your home ready for winter weather.
Inside the home
Have your furnace or boiler checked and serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year, preferably before the heating season begins.
Clean or replace the furnace filter, if necessary.
Have your fuel tanks filled and keep an eye on levels throughout the winter.
Set your heat no lower than 55 degrees – the temperature inside the walls where water piping is located is colder than the living spaces; open doors to unoccupied rooms to keep an even temperature throughout the house.
Maintain your wood-burning or pellet stoves according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Have your chimney checked and serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year to guard against chimney fires.
Check smoke detectors, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries to ensure they are operating properly.
Check for water leaks and fix problems immediately; wrap water piping in UL-Listed heat tape and insulate if it is exposed in unheated areas such as garages, crawl spaces or attics. Use only thermostatically controlled heat tape if your water piping is plastic and follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.
Add extra insulation in the attic to guard against ice dams. If too much heat escapes into the attic, it can warm the ice and snow on the roof. When it refreezes, it can cause an ice dam, which can lead to water damage inside your home or possibly even a roof collapse.
Learn how to shut off your water and know where your pipes are located in case they do freeze; you may be able to prevent water damage.
Add weather stripping around doors and caulk windows to guard against drafts and heat loss.
Remove screens from windows, and install storm windows.
Outside the house
Trim trees and remove dead branches so they do not damage your home or injure someone if they fall because of ice, snow or wind.
Keep gutters clear of leaves, sticks and other debris to ensure melting snow can drain properly. Make sure downspouts direct water away from the foundation.
Repair steps and handrails to make them safer in the ice and snow.
Make sure you have snow shovels and a roof rake on hand.
Have your snow blower serviced and any necessary repairs made.
Stock your ice melting compound to melt ice on walkways.
Have your generator serviced if you have one.
Keep fuel for snow blowers and generators in approved safety containers and away from heat or flame producing devices.
Tips to help remove an ice dam from your roof:
An ice dam has the potential to cause serious damage to both your roof and the inside of your home. It is important to take steps to help protect your home from the risks associated with ice dams.
What is an ice dam?
An ice dam can form when water from melting snow re-freezes at the edge of your roofline. Without roof snow removal, the ice dam may grow large enough to prevent water from draining off the roof. The water can then back up underneath the roof shingles and make its way inside your home.
Immediate steps you can take:
Remove snow from your roof after every storm. Use a roof rake to clear the first three to four feet of snow from your roof immediately after each winter storm to prevent ice dams from forming. While the amount of snow and ice that your roof can handle may vary depending on a number of factors such as the roof type, age and condition of the structure, a good rule of thumb is if there is more than a foot of heavy, wet snow and ice on your roof, you should try to have it removed.
Clear downspouts. An easy way to help snow and ice drain off your roof is to make sure the area around your downspouts is clear. This will make it possible for your gutters to drain when snow does melt. It will also help prevent flooding when the snow and ice melts.
Ultimately, the best prevention for ice dams is to eliminate the conditions that make it possible for them to form in the first place.
Insulate your attic. Make sure your attic is well insulated to help prevent the melting-and-freezing cycle that causes ice dams to form. Check and seal places where warm air could leak from your house to the attic, including vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches and light fixtures.
Install a water-repellant membrane. When replacing a roof, make sure to install a water membrane underneath the shingles. This acts as an extra barrier that helps prevent water from seeping inside the building.
Removing ice dams:
Just because an ice dam is present does not necessarily mean water has penetrated the roof membrane. However, it is always best to remove ice dams before they have the opportunity to cause damage. To determine if you have damage, look for water stains or moisture in the attic or around the tops of exterior walls on the top floor.
If you can reach the roof safely, try to knock the ice dam off with a roof rake, or cut a channel through the ice to allow standing water to drain. If you cannot reach the roof safely, consider hiring a contractor to remove it.
Another method is to fill a nylon stocking with calcium chloride ice melt and place it vertically across the ice dam so that it melts a channel through the dam. If you try this method, make sure you can safely position the ice melt on your roof, and make sure to use calcium chloride, not rock salt. Rock salt will damage your roof. Also be aware that shrubbery and plantings near the gutter or downspout may be damaged.
Look carefully at large icicles. If the icicles are confined to the gutters and there is no water trapped behind them, this does not indicate the presence of an ice dam. However, large icicles can pose a danger to people when they fall off. Try to safely knock the icicles off from the ground, making sure not to stand directly beneath them. If you cannot reach them safely from the ground, consider hiring a contractor to help.
Generally speaking, property owners are responsible for the cost of preventive maintenance. However, each claim is unique, and coverage and claim decisions always require an expert analysis by a licensed Claim professional. Keep in mind that the cost of snow removal is likely to be considerably less than the cost of roof damage or interior property damage caused by water leaks.