Are You Ready for Winter?

Winter may be a warm and cozy season inside your home: decorating for the holidays, entertaining guests, and snuggling on the couch with a good book in front of a warm fire. However, harsh weather can make winter a hazardous time of year.

Over the 20-year period from 1997 to 2016, winter storms caused an estimated $28.2 billion in insured losses in the United States.1 More recently, a series of winter storms that hit the East Coast in the first half of 2018 — including a devastating nor’easter in early March — caused at least 10 deaths and losses of $4 billion, of which less than $3 billion was insured.2–3

Before the cold season arrives, or even if it’s already begun in your part of the country, it would be wise to take some basic maintenance steps to help prepare your home.


Winterizing Checklist

  • Protect your pipes. Set the 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 screen may keep animals, birds, 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 indicators 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 rock salt 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.

A Protective Blanket

Fortunately, standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage (up to policy limits) caused by many major winter-related problems, including burst pipes, ice dams, wind, fire, and falling tree limbs. There is generally a requirement that homeowner’s take reasonable steps to prevent losses such as keeping the house warm and properly maintaining pipes and drains — another reason why winterizing is important.

Standard policies 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 might require an endorsement. Coverage for flooding typically must be obtained separately. This would apply to flooding caused by melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up. (Flooding from burst pipes or from melting snow or rain that enters a home from the roof or gutters would typically be covered under a standard policy.)

Although you cannot control the weather, you can help protect your home and family. Once you've winterized your home, you might feel more at ease when you settle down by the fire with that book.