February 3, 2020

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Your home is where you make your memories. It is also someplace that shelters you from the elements. Just like your home protects you, you need to take measures to protect it. As the cold air starts its descent upon us and winter starts to make its presence known, it’s important to know what you need to do to keep your home safe throughout the season. Here are five big damages that extreme cold weather can cause and how they can be prevented.

1. Electrical damage

Electric systems see significant use in extreme cold as space heaters get fired up to keep the house warm. Space heaters require a significant amount of energy, creating a strain on your home’s electrical system. This becomes especially problematic if your home’s electric system or any of the heating equipment (space heaters, electric blankets, etc.) is outdated. Additionally, while this is a fire hazard, it can also permanently damage your electrical system. To prevent this damage, make sure all heaters are being used properly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Before the cold weather truly settles in, you may want to consider upgrading your electrical system.

2. Stress on your roof

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Your roof takes the brunt of snow and ice during the winter months. It takes abuse from the freezing temperatures, condensation, ice dams, heavy snow, ice, and wind. All of these factors put stress on your roof and can cause significant damage. You may experience leaks or loose or damaged shingles. There are measures you can take to prevent damage to your roof during the winter.

As the seasons change from fall to winter, make sure your gutters and downspouts are cleared of all debris. This will help minimize ice dams and help give the water a place to go as the snow and ice melt. You may also want to consider installing heat cables to prevent ice dams and protect your roof. Once the cold weather moves in, remove any icicles right away and fix shingles as soon as possible to minimize any damage.

3. Poor performing windows & doors

With extreme cold outside and warm and toasty insides, your windows and doors suffer from temperature fluctuations. These fluctuations damage the caulking on widows, allowing the cold air to seep in. If you notice your heating bill seems too high or you notice a draft, be sure to check the caulking around your windows. When extreme cold hits, these temperature fluctuations that damage caulking are unavoidable. However, it’s a relatively easy fix to reapply caulk to any cracks or around the entire window. This is best done before it gets cold or once the temperatures have begun to warm back up to make sure the caulk cures correctly.

Doors should also be carefully looked at for damage to the door frame. Harsh winter conditions can lead to wood rot and can be an open invitation to termites as the temperatures begin to rise in the spring. Once it begins to warm up repair any damage with wood epoxy. If the damage is extensive, think about replacing the entire door frame.

If you make these changes and you are still experiencing a cold draft, ensure your weatherstripping is in good condition. If you notice any damage, simply replace it and you should notice the draft disappear.

4. Freezing and damaged pipes

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When the extreme cold hits, your pipes should be one of your first concerns. Pipes that freeze are at risk of bursting, which can result in major damage to your home. Your number one goal should be to prevent the pipes from freezing in the first place. This includes pipes inside and outside of the home.

Before the cold weather hits, take the time to insulate any exposed pipes. This can be done using foam pipe insulation or with heat tape. All hoses should be drained and disconnected, and if possible, water should be turned off for any outside faucets. If you have a sprinkler system, make sure it is turned off and fully drained. This can be done by blowing compressed air through the lines.

You also want to take preventative measures to make sure the pipes don’t freeze inside as well. This can be as simple as opening cabinet doors under sinks on extra cold nights to allow the warm air from your home to keep them from freezing. Also, keeping the faucet turned on to a drip will prevent freezing. Always be sure to take extra precautions with pipes that are located along uninsulated exterior walls, as these pipes are at a much higher risk of freezing.

If your pipes do freeze but have not burst, take action right away. Open the faucet to allow water to move out of the pipe. Then, with a space heater, hairdryer, etc., warm the pipes to thaw them. 

5. Damage to steps & driveways

Whenever snow and ice are in the forecast, homeowners are quick to take measures to keep their driveways, sidewalks, and steps clear. This can mean putting down an ice repellent beforehand, using a de-icing agent after the storm is over, and some good old-fashioned manual labor-shoveling. The problem is that many of the chemicals used in these repellents and de-icing agents can cause damage to driveways and steps. This coupled with the impact of your shovel can result in cracks, chips, and loose bricks come springtime. You can prevent this damage by using de-icing agents that are free of any harsh chemicals such as Safe Paw Ice Melter, Snow Joe Melt-2-Go, or Morton Safe-T-Pet (all of which are also safe for pets) and by using a rubber bladed shovel. Or, you can simply avoid the hassle altogether and hire a snow removal professional to take care of it for you.

Be Proactive

Your home goes through a lot when it comes to extreme cold weather. Dealing with the damage in the aftermath can be a complete headache and may end up costing you significantly. This damage can be minimized by taking proactive measures. The best time to start planning how to protect your home from the harsh cold is in late fall, before winter has gotten a chance to settle in; but, if suddenly you find yourself in a polar vortex, you should still aim to take as many preventative measures as possible to keep your home in tip-top shape. 

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Cristina Miguélez, Guest Poster

Cristina is Remodeling Specialist at Fixr.com, a website that connects consumers with service professionals in their area and estimates the cost for remodeling projects. She writes about home improvement tips and tricks to help homeowners make better home remodeling decisions.