Winter Is Coming — Is Your Home Ready?

Winter storms and cold waves caused $4.2 billion in property damage in 2018, with only $3 billion of these losses covered by insurance. Extreme winter weather was the fourth costliest type of natural catastrophe, after tropical cyclones, wildfires, and severe thunderstorms.1

What can you expect from the winter of 2019–2020? No one knows for sure, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts another warmer-than-average winter across most of the nation. The only exception is the Upper Midwest (specifically the Northern Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and western Great Lakes) which have an “equal chance” of warmer, average, or colder temperatures. These hearty regions are no stranger to cold weather, and residents endured an especially harsh winter last year. The NOAA outlook also predicts a wetter-than-average winter across a wide northern swath of the country from Montana to New York, along with Alaska and Hawaii.2

Of course, a long-range forecast can only consider broad trends, and brutal weather might 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.

IMAGE opf Boston historical street covered in snow

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.
  • Consider 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. Consider adding gutter guards to block leaves from entering gutters in the first place.

Consider 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.