How to ready your home for winter

Use this home maintenance checklist for the cooler months

As we head into winter, we’re reminded of the many ways to prepare—retrieving our heavy coats, bundling up in our favorite sweaters, and breaking out the snow boots. That head-to-toe approach can apply in a holistic way to our homes, too, as we ready our roofs, basements, and much in-between for this season’s weather. Regular home maintenance is wise throughout the year and wherever you live, but perhaps it is most important for those encountering colder winter climates. Here, Berkley One Vice President of Risk Management Amanda McComas sheds light on the steps to help ensure our homes are safe, secure, and ready for whatever winter brings.


Automatic water shut-off valve

According to McComas, one of the very first things homeowners should consider installing, no matter where they live, is an automatic water shut-off valve.

“Water is the leading source of homeowners insurance losses, so this is an incredibly important feature.”

The device can detect leaks and can automatically shut off your water, whether or not you are home—and some options detect temperature, too. “These devices are smart enough to cut off the water supply before it begins pouring into the house, making a major difference,” notes McComas.


Low temperature sensor

If you live in cold-weather climates, another way to avoid water damages is to install a low-temperature sensor, a device that alerts you if your home temperature drops below a certain level—thereby creating a potential scenario for frozen and burst pipes. The devices are typically installed by your alarm company and registered to alert homeowners at a temperature low enough to account for all areas of the home (since, for example, it’s likely colder underneath a sink that’s facing an exterior wall than in a bedroom). Rather than relying entirely on a smart thermostat, tying a device like this to your alarm system serves as an added level of protection. Even better: most insurance carriers provide premium credits for clients who opt for its installation. Berkley One awards clients credits off their annual premium when qualified water shut off devices and permanent back-up generators (see below) are installed.


Permanent back-up generator

While a back-up generator is a smart move any time of year, it’s particularly important during winter months, when loss of power could be much more detrimental than in warmer months. “If you lose power in the summer, you might lose your refrigerator and your air conditioning, but it’s not as damaging to your home as power loss in the winter, when you lose heat and are looking at potentially burst pipes,” notes McComas. Rather than a portable, plug-in generator (which needs to be manually operated by someone onsite), spring for a permanent version, and have it installed by an electrician. When it’s professionally wired, homeowners decide what systems they want it tied to—and it’s advisable to start with the sump pump. “It’s a good idea because if you were to have any groundwater issues and lose power, your sump pump could still function,” says McComas.

“Making these kinds of decisions around the installation could help ensure that your major appliances and heating system are set up accordingly.”


Roof maintenance and ice dams

Roof clean-up and maintenance is important year-round, but it’s an especially notable task at the end of fall, when all of the leaves have fallen from the trees—and when there’s a good chance plenty of them will have landed on your roof or in your gutters, which, if clogged, could lead to water damage.

In colder temperatures, keep an eye out for ice dams—the result of snow buildup on your roof that experiences large fluctuations in temperature, causing water to seep beneath the shingles—and into your home. Some may choose to install heated coils on the roof (when done within a few feet of the eaves, this helps to block ice formation), but the task of regularly removing snow with a snow rake can also be incredibly helpful. Additionally, it’s helpful to know the kind of roof you have, and its condition—which isn’t always an easy thing for a homeowner to discern and can range quite a bit (an asphalt shingle roof typically has a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, while a slate roof could last much longer). Bring in a professional to better understand your roof and its maintenance needs, as this can make a significant difference in countering snow and water damage.


A note on secondary residences

While all of the above also apply to second homes, McComas suggests taking these additional steps as added measures of home maintenance and security:

  • Designate a home caretaker If you are not spending significant periods of time at the house, there is a higher chance of winter-related incidents occurring (you would have a much better chance of stopping a running water situation at your primary residence than at the home you haven’t been to in two weeks). Appoint a caretaker who can check on the property frequently and become a main point of contact in case of emergency. If your home temperature drops below sensor level, the caretaker can be alerted, check the home, and decide what steps must then be taken.


  • Ensure home access If you ever were to have an incident at your home that required emergency responders to enter, it’s vital they would have access by which to do so. If you live in a cold-climate area prone to snow, it’s important that you are scheduling regular snow plowing and removal service on your driveway and walkways. It’s also important that emergency responders have access to a home’s entryway and gate (if applicable). Homeowners can purchase key boxes that use one master key to unlock both the home and gate, and horn door gate access allows entry via the sound and repetition of a vehicle’s horn.


  • Have a plan in place Wherever you live and throughout the year, McComas advises that homeowners have a maintenance plan in place. “If you are scheduling regular maintenance on all of your systems and have reliable contractors who can advise on plumbing, heating, electrical, and so forth, you are already a step ahead in caring for your home before issues arise.” She also notes that if your home system is not reliant on water, simply turning it off can go a long way toward damage prevention.

It also helps to know you have resources you can count on, and at Berkley One, our risk management and claims experts are here to help with proactive advice and risk consulting. 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.