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Winter Home Maintenance: Tips to Keep Your Property Safe During Cooler Months

Winter is harsh across most of Canada with extreme cold, temperature swings, wind, snow, ice, and thaw and freeze cycles. Your home endures a lot! Winter storms can also result in power outages, flooding, closed transport networks and blocked roads. Geographical locations that normally do not experience such extremes are now seeing these weather effects more frequently.

Examples of winter-related hazards include:

  • Heavy snow or ice accumulation on building roofs, outdoor equipment, power lines, leading to potential collapse.
  • Low temperatures causing freezing of water filled pipes, including process and sprinkler systems.
  • Blocked roof drainage systems and gutters leading to back up of water and subsequent ingress into buildings.
  • Temporary heaters creating potential fire hazards.
  • Heating system failure leading to low temperatures within the property.

In the colder months, many of the home insurance claims that arise are different than they are during the rest of the year. This is partially due to the winter-related hazards above, and due to our changed behaviours. We may travel more (or for longer periods of time), we may entertain guests during the holiday season, and we may utilize that fireplace that goes unused the rest of the year.

Below we have highlighted some maintenance tips to help provide peace of mind during the winter months.

Here are our top winter home maintenance tips for homeowners: 

Hopefully these tips will help keep your home warm and dry this winter.  Below, we’ll go into more detail on each point.

Keep on Top of Snow Removal 

It’s important to stay on top of snow removal for a few reasons: 

  • Prevent slips and falls 
  • Manage meltwater come spring 
  • Reduce the chance of ice dams 

You should remove snow from sidewalks and avoid piling it by your foundation. You may also need to remove snow from your roof if it is heavy or there is an ice dam developing. After shovelling (or snow-blowing) you may want to lay down some grit to give grip to the surface or use an environmentally- and pet-friendly de-icer to get rid of ice. 

Inspect Your Roof and Evaluate Snow Capacity

it is always a good idea to evaluate your roof’s snow capacity. Be prepared to remove excess snow build up during storms if necessary. For a typical house roof, snow removal should occur once 16in or 40cm has accumulated. This number is a guideline only, as ice or wet snow could result in a heavier load.

Inspect roofs for any obvious structural or maintenance issues as repair as needed:

  • Cracked or bent beams, joists or columns.
  • Rusted or deteriorated materials.
  • Cracked or deteriorated roof coverings.
  • Any areas where water is pooling or accumulating.

A leaking roof can cause significant, costly damage to the inside of your home and identifying the source can be very time-consuming. Before freezing temperatures hit, take the time this fall to do a thorough inspection of your roof.

Keep Gutters and Drainage Clear 

Keeping your gutters and drainage systems clear helps them function the way they’re supposed to. A blocked eaves won’t drain properly. Large build-up of granules in your gutters can indicate that your roof’s coating is deteriorating. The water and ice can cause damage to your home. 

Make sure you’re draining water well away from your home and not onto a sidewalk as that can be a fall hazard.  

Knock Snow off Trees 

If there’s a heavy snowfall you may want to knock the snow off your tree branches to prevent them from breaking. This is especially true if we get a wet spring snowfall or significant accumulation.  

Place Mats by Doors 

Place anti-slip mats by entrances to your home to collect moisture, protect your flooring, and prevent slips and falls.  

Check Your Furnace 

Your furnace should ideally be checked before winter to take care of any issues before it gets too cold. But you’ll still want to check your furnace regularly over the cold season to catch problems early, especially if your furnace is older. The last thing you want is a broken furnace during a cold snap! Keep an eye out for: 

  • High carbon monoxide levels 
  • Unexplained high utility bills 
  • Strange noises 
  • Poor temperature control  
  • Pilot flame changes (it should be a steady, bright blue flame) 

All of the above indicate there’s an issue with your furnace.

A furnace can last 15 to 20 years – or even longer with the proper maintenance. A gas furnace should be serviced at least once every three years and air filters changed at least twice a year. Don’t forget to keep vents clear of debris and snow!   

Clean Your Fireplace 

You should clean your fireplace at least once per year – and yes, that includes gas fireplaces, too. Cleaning the fireplace removes all kinds of hazards such as debris and soot, and generally comes with an inspection.

Even if you hardly use your fireplace, critters might (a bird’s nest in a chimney, can be bad for the birds and bad for the homeowner if neither knows what the other is up to). A regular fireplace cleaning can find problems early and help prevent fires.  

Check Fire and Carbon Monoxide Alarms 

It’s important to regularly check your fire alarm and carbon monoxide alarm – and if you don’t have the latter, you should invest in one.  

Test the alarm and if the sound is weak or there is an indicator saying to switch out the batteries, do so. These alarms save lives! 

Prevent Frozen Pipes 

Since water expands nine per cent when it freezes, frozen pipes often lead to burst pipes which can cause significant damage to your home. Luckily, frozen pipes are preventable. It’s important to keep your home heated, seal any cracks or holes, and ensure your pipes are properly insulated.  

If the temperature does drop or your heat goes out, you can prevent frozen pipes by turning faucets to drip or trickle. If you’re very concerned, you can also turn your water off and drain your pipes until the issue is fixed. 

Damage caused by frozen pipes is usually excluded if you have been away from the home for more than a few days, unless you have taken precautionary measures, like maintaining the heat, having someone check on the home, or draining the pipes. 

Stop Cold Air from Entering Your Home 

Ensure all buildings are “weather tight.” Close all windows, doors, vents, etc. and seal any openings in exterior walls, ceilings, roofs, etc. Cold air can contribute to frozen pipes, raise your heating bill, and indicate there’s a hole in your home that can allow water and animals to get through. Check your home for cracks and holes including the foundation, siding, roof, and window and door caulking. You may need to do some basic repairs or call in a professional.  

Keep an Eye Out for Pests 

Pests may try to survive Canada’s harsh winter by finding refuge in your home. Check your attic, garage, and basement for pests. Damage caused by insects, rodents, animals and other pests is not covered by insurance, so it’s important to stay on top of pest management.  

Follow Winter Travel Best Practices

If you’re travelling for more than a few days it is always important to ensure that heating is maintained in your home. If you have an alarm, be sure to arm it while you are away. Also, be sure to have someone you trust visit the home every day or two. In addition to taking care of any pets or watering any plants, they act as a deterrent to burglars, and could notice if the heat fails, or a pipe starts leaking. Make sure to check with your home insurance broker to see how often your insurance provider requires someone to visit your home.

To find out what winter coverages your home insurance policy has or to learn more about how we can help you save on your home insurance, talk to one of our dedicated brokers.

For additional information on how to prevent winter damage, check out the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Ten Tips for Winterizing Your Home.