Which Parts of Your Home Are Most Susceptible to Winter Storm Damage?
Winter weather can take a heavy toll on your home, so it's best to be prepared.
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Winter weather damages homes every year. The Insurance Information Institute reports that winter storms caused $2.1 billion in insured losses in 2019, with wind, hail, water and freezing issues leading the list on homeowners’ claims. You know that nasty weather is coming, so take action before the first flakes fall.
Outdoor plumbing is vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures. Your outdoor faucets, connected to a water supply within the home, can freeze up and cause pipes to burst. That leads to flooding and other serious damage, explains Jake Romano, a professional plumber with John the Plumber.
However, there are easy ways to prevent frozen pipes. “Shut off the interior water valve for your outdoor faucets, disconnect your hose, drain it and store it somewhere safe,” Romano says. “Then open your outdoor spigot to drain the water in the line.”
Romano also suggests using hose bib covers to prevent outdoor faucets from freezing. Outdoor faucets or pipes that crack will need to be repaired or replaced. Consider replacing with a frost-proof outdoor faucet.
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Frigid temperatures can also damage your indoor plumbing system and leave you with frozen pipes within walls. Some homes are more susceptible than others, with water supply lines or drain pipes in vulnerable, unheated areas like exterior walls, the attic and the basement.
“Look in your basement, crawl space, garage and attic for exposed pipes,” Romano says. “You can insulate them with pipe insulation or newspapers, and heating cables added to your waterlines provide additional protection.”
Waterline heaters have thermostats that will trigger the heat when it becomes too cold. Aside from that, be mindful of the temperatures outside. When it’s freezing, crank up the heat, open the cupboards with pipes inside them and let your water taps drip slightly. Any pipes that do crack will need to be repaired or replaced.
Note: Turn off the water to your home when you go on vacation or leave for an extended period of time to avoid costly damage should a pipe burst and go unnoticed while you’re gone.
Windows and Doors
Winter weather can cause caulk around the windows and doors to dry up, crack and pull away, leading to openings that let cold air in and warm air out. “This happens a lot in the South where the caulk dries not so much as the result of winter but mainly due to dry weather,” says James Surrey, founder of Review Home Warranties. “Cold and dry air is the perfect recipe for this to occur,”
If you feel air drafts around closed windows and doors, check and seal any cracks and holes with caulk. Surrey says you can also prevent interior caulk from drying out by setting up a central humidifier in your home and keeping the humidity between 30 and 50 percent.
Gutters and Downspouts
Gutters clogged with leaves and other debris allow snow and water to accumulate, which can cause ice dams. If water can’t drain out, ice and snow collects and icicles form.
Icicles add weight and stress your gutters. That’s why Warren Braithwaite, CEO of J Baron Construction, says homeowners need to not only clean gutters before winter, but make sure the gutters themselves are tightly secured. Even homes in southern states that see more rain than snow in the winter are prone to damage if gutters are not properly cleaned in the fall. Braithwaite says gutters damaged by winter weather will need repair or replacement in the spring.
Roofs bear the brunt of harsh winter weather no matter where you live. Heavy snow on the roof, along with ice, strong winds, hail and rain, can cause problems, since damaged and missing shingles lead to leaks. Braithwaite says that before winter weather—with all different types of winter storm names—arrives, give your roof a good once-over and replace any missing or cracked shingles. Address damaged shingles and leaks promptly.
“Also, look at areas such as the vents or gaps in the roof and the materials surrounding them to make sure there are no holes or cracks,” he says. “It’s vital to remove any detritus (this can include moss or plants) to avoid absorbing unwanted dampness, which can lead to further issues down the road, such as leaks.”
Driveways and Sidewalks
Keep an eye on the concrete walkways and steps right outside your house. Besides wear and tear caused by weather, many homeowners use salt-based products and deicers on their concrete walkways and steps. Jonathan Faccone, a real estate developer and founder of Halo Homebuyers, says that can be problematic.
“It can cause surface discoloration, can put undue stress on the concrete’s pores and even corrode the rebar underneath the surface,” he says. “In order to keep your concrete surfaces looking good for years to come, stay on top of shoveling to keep ice to a minimum.”
Stay ahead of the snow and ice by trying pickle brine as substitutes for corrosive salt and deicers. Concrete caulk can help repair any concrete that cracks following the winter months.
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Decks and Porches
Heavy rain that pummels the South and snow that sits for months in the North can torture wooden decks, causing them to rot.
“Winter in the South, here in Georgia, it rains a lot more and because it’s colder, it stays wet longer which really causes lasting damage to the wood,” says Rick Lopes, owner of Handyman Connection of Alpharetta. “The best prevention for this is to make sure your wood has been treated before the weather gets too cold and rainy. Any holes and cracks in painting jobs should be taken care of before the winter, because those will offer an entrance for the moisture to get inside the wood and rot it.”
Shoveling a deck can also do more harm than good, since it can strip away paint. Rotting wood can make a deck structurally unsound, so you’ll have to inspect and repair your deck to address it.
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Winter weather conditions take a toll on the exterior of a house, resulting in peeling paint. If not repaired, that allows moisture to infiltrate your siding, leading to rot. The paint on your home is one of the most important maintenance items to consider, says Matt Kunz, president of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company.
As part of your annual home winterization process, he says, “Inspect your home for any peeling or blistering and paint that you can almost see through or that appears chalky. Inspect for any bare surfaces exposed to the elements, and at a minimum apply a primer coat.”
Repainting your exterior before winter will prevent these problems. In addition, hail or fallen tree limbs can damage siding by denting aluminum or cracking vinyl. Damaged siding should be repaired or replaced in a timely fashion, as the exterior is the home’s first line of defense against the wrath of winter weather.
During the winter, those bitter Arctic blasts cause the ground to freeze. When it unfreezes, and as the cycle repeats. The expansion and contraction of the soil as it freezes and thaws can result in shifting ground under your foundation, which can cause cracks and other damage.
It’s worth noting that not all foundation cracks are the same. There are different types that can mean different things, so it’s important to know the difference. Vertical cracks are a common occurrence for most homes, resulting from the compression and tension on the concrete as a house settles. However, ice can cause cracks to expand as it thaws and refreezes, so it’s important to know when and how to fix cracks in your foundation.