Home maintenance tips for winter weather
The most wonderful time of the year?
- Winter weather can seriously damage roofs, gutters, windows, and just about any other part of your home.
- It is crucial to winter-proof your home ahead of time.
- Know what to do in an emergency. If you’re unwell yourself, you can’t possibly weatherproof your home to the extent necessary.
People have always thought of winter as a time of marvels. An anonymous Old English poet writes of ice thus:
There was a wonder on the wave: water turned to bone.
Plush snow, scintillating ice, poetry, the sense of togetherness characteristic of the season’s many major holidays: Winter is truly a wonderland. Until it isn’t.
Homeowners know that winter weather can be disastrous. Come first frost, you and your home may find yourselves up against:
- Heavy winds, which can lift shingles from roofs, and blow items into, or even through, windows.
- Snow, which is inconvenient at best. Heavy snow drifts can barricade families inside their homes amid dwindling supplies.
- Ice can work its way into trees, expanding and causing them to fracture and collapse onto your home.
The estimable Bob Vila warns homeowners to expect, specifically, caulk cracking, potential chimney collapse, and scraping and chipping damage to driveways and steps incurred during bouts of shoveling.
Simply put, winter can be hell on your homestead. But it doesn’t have to be.
What to do?
Let’s go over what you can do to reduce potential winter weather disaster.
Prepare ahead of time
As the old cliché goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So you’ll want to winter-proof your home well in advance. Be sure to:
- Prune trees so branches don’t fall, or trunks split and topple over, onto your home.
- Protect pipe systems by letting a thin thread of water run out of faucets when the temperature drops below freezing. Winter piping insulation is also available.
- Clean out gutters so heavy ice dams don’t accumulate and pull them down off your house. Try adding de-icing agent to your gutters, just as you would to your car windshield.
- Install soffit vents to ventilate your attic. This will help keep out the heat and humidity generated by cooking and showering. If left unventilated, you may find your attic overtaken by troublesome black mold and general structural rot come spring.
- Keep driveways ice- and snow-free to limit potential slip-and-fall incidents and the attendant liability therefrom.
Don’t ignore the basics
On one level, preparing for winter looks a lot like preparing for severe weather of any type.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds homeowners to replace smoke alarm batteries regularly. Fires can occur in the home no matter the temperature outside.
Be sure to have at least one carbon monoxide detector in the home. Winter home preparation is likely to have you busy re-caulking windows, insulating exterior water lines, and installing storm windows; by the end of it all, you may find yourself so thoroughly sealed in that your home no longer ventilates deadly gas properly.
As you would under disaster conditions of any type, make sure to keep a generous cache of flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable food items, and heavy coats and blankets within easy reach. And have a battery-powered radio (and replacement batteries) nearby so you don’t miss important weather updates.
Generators are another story. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cautions homeowners that generators present risks in terms of:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
All of which can cause serious home damage. That isn’t to say you should avoid generators altogether. Just make sure you know how to use a generator safely before expecting to rely on one during an emergency.
Become weather literate
Know exactly what you’re in for. Ready.gov, the U.S. government’s official disaster preparedness information website, offers these definitions:
- Freezing rain is just what it sounds like. It turns to ice on roads, in gutters, and between shingles. Sleet is what you get when rain freezes just before it hits the ground.
- Flurries are light dustings of snow that aren’t necessarily dangerous in and of themselves, although they may presage heavier conditions, including potentially damaging lake effect snows in cities around the Great Lakes.
- A blizzard happens when heavy snow meets strong winds, resulting in low visibility and snow pile-up. The blizzard of December 2022 killed more than 60 people nationwide—at least 38 of those in and around Buffalo, NY.
- Before venturing outside, note the wind chill. This describes how cold it feels Wind chill is often a better measure of how dangerous the circumambient temperature is than a technical thermometer reading.
Any of these weather events can cause both superficial and deep structural damage to your home—not to mention your car, your yard, and your family.
Know what to do in an emergency
Only a healthy homeowner can properly winterproof a home. You’ll want to be aware of a couple of common cold weather health conditions: Hypothermia and frostbite. The American Red Cross offers succinct tips on treating both. But let’s discuss these dangerous and common conditions, and how to treat them, in a little more detail.
Hypothermia is characterized by a dangerous, potentially deadly drop in body temperature from an average 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) and lower. According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 700 and 1,500 people in the United States die from hypothermia annually.
Initial symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, fatigue, and excessive urination; from there, symptoms can progress to include hallucinations, cardiac arrest, coma, and ultimately death once body temperature drops below 82.4 F (28 C). Counterintuitively, the steady reduction, then the cessation, of shivering is a symptom of worsening hypothermia.
To avoid hypothermia, be sure to wear adequately warm clothing that covers your entire body. Eat warm food and drink warm liquids when you can, and head for a heated shelter as soon as you start feeling ill.
Frostbite happens when skin is exposed to sub-freezing temperatures (anything below 32 F, or 0 C). It most commonly afflicts fingers, toes, ears, and noses—and can occur even if those parts are covered by warm clothing. Frostbite can set in within just 30 minutes of exposure to wind chills of -15 F (-26 C).
According to the Cleveland Clinic, frostbite occurs in three stages:
- Cold, sore and painful (Frostnip)
- Pins and needles (Surface frostbite)
- Numbness (Deep frostbite)
Frostbitten appendages initially appear red; severely frostbitten areas may turn black and develop a hard, numb carapace, which often requires amputation.
Treat frostbite by running affected areas under warm—not hot—water, or by applying a warm wet compress.
Arrowhead is right there with you
Arrowhead is here to help you through the winter. Follow our tips to get the best out of this wondrous time of year.