Prepare Your Home to Withstand Wintry Weather

Extreme cold waves and winter storms caused a record $15.5 billion in insured property losses in 2021, the most recent year for which full data is available. The most expensive storm in U.S. history impacted a massive swath of the nation, but it took the greatest toll, by far, on Texas.1

What can you expect from the winter of 2022–2023? No one knows for sure, but forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center reported that La Nina conditions are ongoing and likely to last through a third winter in a row. La Nina, which is a natural climate pattern associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures across the Pacific Ocean near the equator, tends to result in a warmer and drier winter across the southern tier of the United States and a colder, wetter winter in the North. Starting in December, wetter- and colder-than-normal conditions are forecasted for the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest. 2

Last year’s forecast was similar, and regardless of predictions, record losses suffered in 2021 showed that brutal weather could blow into almost any part of the country. Wherever you live, it would be wise to do some maintenance to help prepare your home for winter.

Winterizing Checklist

  • Protect your pipes. Set your home’s thermostat at a minimum of 65 degrees to ensure that temperatures inside the walls stay warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing. Install a pressure-release valve in the plumbing system to keep pipes from bursting in freezing temperatures. Most important, know how to shut off your water; quick action could reduce the amount of damage if your pipes do freeze.
  • Add insulation. A well-insulated attic will help keep warm air from escaping through the roof, which can cause a dangerous cycle in which ice or snow melts and refreezes, potentially leading to ice dams or even a roof collapse. Adding insulation to basements, crawl spaces, and unfinished garages also makes it less likely that pipes will freeze and burst.
  • Heed fire safety. Have furnaces, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected and cleaned to help prevent fires; installing a chimney cap may keep animals, birds, water, or debris from entering your chimney. Wood stoves and space heaters should also be checked for defects. Make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working, and keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Maintain walkways. Repair broken sidewalks, steps, and banisters, and install new handrails where appropriate. Removing snow is hard work, but it’s essential for safety. Have a snow shovel and ice melt on hand so walkways and steps remain clear and dry.
  • Trim trees. Remove dead branches to reduce the risk that ice, snow, or wind will cause them to break and fall. Heavy tree limbs could cause significant damage to your roof or car; even worse, they could injure someone on your property.
  • Clear gutters. Remove all debris and muck from the gutters to help prevent ice dams, which can cause water to seep into the house. You might even consider adding gutter guards to block leaves from entering gutters in the first place.

Check Your Coverage

Fortunately, standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage (up to policy limits) caused by many major winter-related problems, including burst pipes, ice dams, wind, and fire. They also help provide coverage for liability claims resulting from personal injuries suffered by others on your property.

However, a standard policy by itself might be insufficient for your needs. Insurance for sewer backups may be included in some policies or available as an endorsement. Coverage for flooding typically must be obtained separately. If you have questions about your coverage, contact your insurance agent.