How to Prevent Frozen Pipes and Other Winter Home Damage

Ice dams, Icicles hanging on gutter eaves of thread roof in winter time.jpg

Winter and real estate don’t exactly go hand in hand. Most Canadians, especially homeowners, know firsthand how hard winter can be on a home. Ice, snow, wind, and freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on your property.

Without taking the proper steps to protect your house from the effects of winter, you could be left facing unpleasant and possibly expensive home damages--damages, which may not be covered by your home insurance policy.

Take a look at these how-to’s for preventing damage during the harsh winter months and the thaw that is going to arrive with spring.

How To: Prevent Water Pipes from Freezing

Frozen or burst pipes can be a real headache, and pipes that run along the exterior walls of your house may be exposed to extreme cold temperatures and left vulnerable.

Tips to prevent your pipes from freezing

  • Insulate pipes that run along the exterior wall of your home or are located in unheated areas with insulation sleeves. Look for vulnerable pipes in the basement, attic, garage, and crawl space.
  • Seal air leaks in your home and garage to stop cold air from getting in. Pay special attention to areas around windows and doors, electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes.
  • Going away? Resist the temptation to turn off your heat; keep your house heated while you are gone and as an added precaution, have someone you trust check on your house while you are away.
  • If the weather hits extreme cold temperatures, let water drip slowly from faucets connected to at risk pipes, and open kitchen, bathroom and laundry room cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing.

The first sign of a frozen pipe, is usually little or no water when you open your taps. Should the worst happen and your pipes freeze, call a plumber and make sure you know where your main water shut-off valve is and how it works. If the pipe breaks you will need to immediately shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired.

How To: Prevent Damage Caused by Ice Dams

Ice dams occur when snow and/or ice build-up on your roof preventing water from properly draining. Ice dams can cause water to leak into your roof, tear off gutters and eavestroughs, and loosen shingles.

Tips to prevent ice dams

  • Ensure that the area around your eaves and downspouts is clear of snow and icicles so that water can drain from your roof.
  • If safely possible, clear the edge of your roof of excess snow with a roof rake after any major snowstorm. If you are unable to do it or it doesn’t seem safe, consider hiring a contractor to help.
  • Make sure your attic is well ventilated and insulated.

Ice dams are not generally caused by an old or deteriorated roof; the main culprit of ice dams is typically a poorly or improperly insulated attic. If you notice your home is prone to ice dams it's worth getting it looked at to minimize the risk of damage.

How To: Prevent Flooding from the Spring Thaw

As winter (finally) begins to fade away and the snow starts to melt, it’s vital to keep flood prevention top of mind. Melting snow can cause major water damage.

Tips to prevent spring thaw flooding and damage

  • Clear the snow around the perimeter of your home’s foundation, especially any snow that has piled around your basement windows.
  • Remove obstructions that will prevent melting snow from draining safely away from your house.
  • Install a sewer backwater valve to minimize the chance of water entering the house through your basement floor drain.
  • Clear debris from your gutters and downspouts, and if it’s safe to do so, also from the roadside catchbasins to help water enter the stormsewer.
  • Just to play on the safe side, move valuable items kept in your basement to a higher floor during major thaws.

Have any other tips for preventing winter damage to your home? Be sure to share in the comments.