Winter storm guide

Use these tips to help you prepare for ice, snow, freezing temperatures and other winter weather

When the temperatures drop and winter weather sets in, there are additional challenges that your home may face, including freezing pipes, ice dams and loss of power. Here’s the good news: there are a number of proactive (and simple!) steps you can take when it’s cold outside to help maintain your home’s integrity and prevent water damage.


What can I do to help prevent damage from frozen pipes before winter weather arrives?


Seal all cracks, holes, windows, doors and other openings on exterior walls with caulk or insulation. Also, insulate and seal attic penetrations such as partition walls, vents and plumbing stacks to help lessen the amount of cold air that reaches the interior of your home. Lastly, turn off the water to outside fixtures such as garden hoses, irrigation systems and any outdoor showers, so that no standing water is within your pipes.


What areas of my home should I pay attention to?


Bathrooms on the outside edges of your home can have plumbing that is more susceptible to the cold, as well as exposed pipes in exterior walls, basements, crawl spaces and attics. Insulate pipes most vulnerable to freezing by using a pipe insulation. Keep in mind that a local plumber or handyman can easily install properly fitting insulating sleeves to these exposed pieces.


Is there anything I should do when temperatures get extremely cold?


When extreme cold happens, it’s best to let all faucets drip to help prevent freezing of the water inside the pipe, and to relieve pressure buildup in the pipes between the ice blockage and the faucet. Leaving cabinet doors open can also allow the heat within the rest of your home to help pipes located in bathrooms or the kitchen from freezing.


What if I’m away during the winter months, or when a winter storm occurs?


Keep your thermostat set at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit while you are away to help guard against freezing of pipes. Additionally, consider installing a temperature monitoring system which can warn you and your alarm company if your home’s temperature dips below a pre-determined number. These low temperature sensors are most effective when paired with a whole house leak detection system. Smart home devices and emergency water shutoff devices are also excellent ways to check on the integrity of your home from anywhere while you are away.


What do I do if my pipes freeze?


If water flow coming from a faucet is slower than usual, you may have a frozen pipe. If you suspect a frozen pipe, contact a licensed plumber or water mitigation company who can recommend some of the safest ways to thaw pipes for your particular situation and home. After that, check all other faucets in your home to see whether you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

If you have identified the frozen pipe and called a licensed plumber, you can use a hair dryer to try to warm up the pipe. Be sure to start from the faucet and work your way down the pipe to heat up as much area as possible. Starting at the faucet is important, because if you start on the other end, you can build up more pressure and possibly cause the pipe to burst. Heating pads, UL-tested space heaters and even water-soaked towels can be wrapped around the pipe to aid in its thawing.


What are ice dams?


An ice dam is a thick ridge of solid ice that builds up along the eaves of your house or in your gutter after a period of heavy snow. If there are issues with your home’s insulation or ventilation, your attic may become too warm. This causes the shingles on your roof to heat, melting the bottom layer of snow on your roof and causing the water to run down to the eaves. Once it reaches them, the cold air outside can cause the water to freeze again, eventually creating an ice dam that can allow meltwater to back up into your home.


Is there anything I can do to help prevent an ice dam?


The prevention of an ice dam begins before the weather even gets cold. A well-insulated attic will help keep your home’s heat within your living area, which could subsequently melt the snow on your roof from inside the attic. Spray-foam insulation provides an air-tight seal that can insulate your home better than traditional fiberglass or cellulose insulation. Adding heat cables to the exterior edges of your roof or in your gutters can help prevent the accumulation of frozen ice at the edges of your roof and in the gutters themselves. These heat cables heat the ice, so that a path is created for the water to flow to a proper drainage system. To learn even more on preventing ice dams, check out our blog post on the topic.


I use my fireplace a lot during the winter. What do I need to know about fireplace safety?


Your fireplace should have an annual inspection and cleaning by a professional. Regular cleaning will keep your fireplace free of debris that could obstruct the smoke from backing into your home. When you use your fireplace, it is important to remember to always close your screens while also leaving any glass doors open. We also recommend that you never leave your fire unattended and make sure that the fire is completely out before closing the damper.


Is it safe to use a space heater?


These appliances can be an affordable option to heat smaller spaces, but they are also one of the leading sources of house fires during the winter months. It’s very important to purchase products that have been UL-tested and have an automatic shut-off feature. They should be kept at least 36 inches from combustible surfaces such as your bed, furniture or wall coverings, and the heater itself should never be kept unattended.


What can I do if I’m worried about power loss?


A permanent back-up generator restores electricity to your home during a power outage. A generator can keep power flowing to your home’s critical heating systems, which is very important in helping to keep your family and property safe during cold weather.


Should I have a winter storm plan in place for my family?


Absolutely. In addition to using alternative heat sources safely, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) recommends obtaining a NOAA Weather Radio to stay abreast of current weather conditions and having an Emergency Preparedness Kit with three days of food, water, prescription medicines and other supplies ready. You can read their recommendations on building an emergency kit here.


What about driving after a winter storm?


It’s best to avoid driving in icy or snowy conditions whenever possible. But when you must drive, maintaining traction and tire grip are key to safe winter driving because they reduce the chances of losing control of your vehicle in snow and icy conditions. While driving safely in winter takes practice, there are things you can do to prepare ahead of time. Nothing has as much impact on performance in adverse conditions as your tires, and our Vice President of Product Marcus Maingot lent his auto expertise to a blog post on what to do to check your tires for winter. A few other tips: Don’t forget to check your windshield wipers and fluid to make sure they are working and not frozen, and keep an emergency kit in your car, too, with things like a thermal blanket, a backup battery or charger for your phone, and a battery jump device for your car.


At Berkley One, our risk management and claims experts are here to help. We also offer access to our PlusOneSM Service Network, a team of fully vetted and insured contractors and service providers at your fingertips who can help with proactive installations or repairs. To learn more, contact us here.