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How to best protect your home from freezing temperatures

Snow blankets a row of homes after a snowstorm in Bellevue, Ky., on Friday.
Jeff Dean
/
NPR
Snow blankets a row of homes after a snowstorm in Bellevue, Ky., on Friday.

If you've recently bought your first home, you may be wondering the best way to take care of your new investment during extreme winter weather. Or maybe you've had your home for some time, and are just looking for some helpful tips to avoid any costly problems that may arise with freezing temperatures.

We spoke with experts to help compile some tips to help get your home through the colder months of the year.

Watch for frozen pipes

One of the biggest worries when temperatures are plummeting is making sure your home's pipes don't burst.

Matthew Hessling, owner of Hessling Plumbing in Hamilton, Ohio, recommends that you first identify problem spots. He suggests looking for sources of cold air that might be coming into exposed portions of your home by walking around the perimeter looking for holes, gaps or cracks in the foundation. And, he says, be sure to look at plumbing fixtures that might be adjacent to an exterior wall, which will be much closer to the cold.

"You're going to want to stop that cold air from getting to those pipes," Hessling says.

Usually, if your home is above 55 degrees most pipes will be fine, but if the inside temperature begins to dip Hessling has a few tips for keeping your pipes from freezing:

  • Insulate exposed pipes to help keep them warm.
  • Leave cabinets open under your sink.
  • Let faucets drip so that water is continuously flowing.
  • How do you know if you have a problem?

    "First thing you'll notice is the fixture will stop working – you'll stop getting water flow to the fixture," Hessling says.

    And if the pipes have burst?

    "You will see water moving," Hessling says. "You will see ice buildup that you will have to trace backwards to find where that water is coming from."

    If you notice water coming from a certain fixture, he says, the easiest way to stop the problem is to shut off the source of water to that fixture and stop using it until a professional can come and fix it. If you have a more serious leak, he recommends knowing in advance where your main water shut-off valve is.

    "That one valve will turn off the water to the entire house and will prevent any catastrophic damage from happening," Hessling says.

    Watch for damage to your roof

    Another potential problem spot to pay attention to is your roof, says Tanner Ziese, the lead inspector for Dwell Inspection Services in Cincinnati.

    "Sometimes ice dams can build up over the shingles and can penetrate the sheathing, which is the wood under the roof's covering," he says.

    This can damage the roof and create another opportunity for water to get into your home. Ziese recommends not climbing out on your roof if you notice this happening because that could be unsafe. He says to call a roofing company to come and chip away the ice if possible. He also recommends paying attention to your attic, if you have safe access, looking for leaks or signs of ice in the wood under your roof.

    "The sooner you catch it the less painful it is," Ziese says.

    Stay safe during a power outage

    Another potential hazard during winter storms is power outages. If your home experiences an outage during a storm, FEMA recommends you first try to trap as much heat in the home as possible by closing blinds and curtains. Close off rooms that you're not using and stuff rags or towels in the door cracks to try to contain as much heat as possible.

    FEMA also warns that house fires in the winter can be common. Make sure to only plug one heating appliance per outlet and keep anything flammable away.

    Never use a generator inside of a home, basement, shed or a garage due to the danger of carbon monoxide. It's important to check carbon monoxide detectors monthly so they're ready for emergencies.

    What to do after the storm is over

    Once the snow begins to melt and the storm is over Ziese recommends doing a thorough inspection of your home, looking for any signs of damage.

    Check all the appliances to make sure everything comes back on if you've experienced a loss of power.

    And if you do have damage to your home, reach out to your insurance company or the appropriate contractors to make sure a little leak doesn't turn into a big problem.

    "Being proactive as soon as it melts can prevent major headaches in the long term," Ziese says.


    We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at lifekit@npr.org. If you love Life Kit and want more, subscribe to our newsletter.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Jeff Dean
    Jeff Dean is the 2021 Military Veterans in Journalism intern for NPR reporting for the Business Desk and Newsdesk teams.