The season of sweaters, apple picking, and pumpkin spice lattes is here, and that means winter is just a breeze behind. And unfortunately, winter brings with it bad weather and harsh conditions that can severely damage your house… and your insurance costs.
Keep your home, family, and insurance covered this winter by taking a few precautionary steps in the fall.
Fall Insurance Problems
You’ve heard of spring cleaning—when your entire house gets a good cleanse after a tough winter. But what about protecting your house before that tough winter even hits?
Winter tends to have the highest number of insurance claims due to unforeseen acts of God and torrential blizzard storms. Ice, sleet, hail, snow, and freezing conditions can harm your house in exorbitant ways. For example, the average winter claim costs for a tree collapse is $6,000, for hail damage $10,000, and for frozen pipes bursting $18,000.
But maintaining your home in the autumn can help defend against these storms down the line… and, in turn, protect from tremendous insurance claims or out-of-pocket costs associated with that winter damage. Plus—the better protected your house, the better protected the family that lives inside. Furthermore, a few maintenance efforts can help extend the overall value and life of your house in the long run.
We call this period “fall prep.” Following a comprehensive fall prep checklist will safeguard you from the hazardous, expensive nip of Jack Frost. See ours below!
The Fall Home Prep Checklist
1. Take an inventory.
Have you made any large or significant purchases in the past year… or since you’ve updated your home inventory? If homeowners’ Contents Coverage doesn’t include all of your assets, those items won’t be covered in the case of an unfortunate incident. Autumn is a great time to talk to your insurance agent about updating your home inventory list to ensure you’re insured for the blustery winter days.
Outside The House
2. Clean the gutters and downspouts.
Your gutters are there to divert water away from your roof and home, saving from leaks and floods. When gutters are clogged, they can’t do their job properly. Thus, water (like melted snow and ice) can leak into your lower level or puddle on the roof, causing severe water damage. This also makes your gutters and exterior more prone to rust and corrosion.
Clean out your gutters while it’s cool and breezy this fall. Then, use mesh guards in the gutters to help maintain the flow of water while retaining winter leaves and debris from further clogging.
3. Seal doors and windows.
Check to see if there are any gaps and cracks around your house:
- Window frame
- Electrical outlets
- Phone lines
- Heating and cooling units
- Corners of siding
- Drain pipes in bathrooms and kitchens
Any cracks, especially around doors and windows, can increase your energy costs drastically. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy stated that gaps account for at least 10% of the American homeowner’s heating bill. In addition, gaps can unbalance your heating and cooling, so filling these cracks can help better regulate your house’s temperature.
To determine if cracks are dangerous: Inside your house, hold a candle near any window and door cracks. If the flame flickers, air is coming in (and going out). That means it’s time to reseal. Weather-stripping and caulking are the most cost-effective ways to fill in any cracks and create an airtight seal. You can learn how to DIY caulk with this helpful video from Today’s Homeowner.
4. Repair driveway and steps.
Driveway and porch steps tend to see the most wear in the winter, so it’s important to update them in the fall. Because of uneven areas, slippery ice, and loose railings, these are also the areas where trips and slips are most common … and thus where you are most liable. Avoid having to use your personal liability insurance by securing railings, filling in any cracks larger than 1/8 inch wide, and repaving paths.
5. Repair roof.
Have a professional inspect your roof for damaged shingles, corrosion, or leaky vents. Even one weak spot in your roof can create immense damage and leaks under the weight of snow and ice.
6. Prep outdoor irrigation systems.
If you don’t fully drain your outdoor faucets, the water can freeze and cause the pipes to burst. Fully drain these systems by running the water until the pipes are empty. Turn them off and lock them into place.
7. Trim trees and bushes.
Remove dead, diseased, low-hanging, and overgrown branches. Any unhealthy or extra “fat” on your plants could come flying off in a storm, thus damaging your house or injuring those inside.
8. Rake leaves.
Wet or snow-covered leaves compact on the winter ground, which suffocates the grass below. This can lead to insect, disease, and drainage problems. Be sure to rake or blow leaves off the lawn throughout the autumn season, so your lawn is bare and aerated for the first frost.
Pro-Tip: Leaves are a great source of organic matter. Shred them in a mulching mower to create a “fertilizer” that can work as a winter blanket on elevated gardens and flower areas.
9. Fertilize lawn.
Be sure to fertilize your lawn with eco-friendly nutrients this fall. Pre-winter fertilization will help maintain the integrity of your plants’ roots, which will help grass grow better, faster, and greener in the spring. After you fertilize, don’t forget to turn off your sprinkler system.
10. Paint your house.
Fall is the best time to paint the exterior of your house. It’s cool with low humidity, which is ideal for paint settling without bubbles or cracks.
11. Stow your machines.
Make sure your mower is clean and has no gas before putting in the shed, garage, or storage. Turn off outdoor water and stow hoses away from winter elements.
Inside The House
12. Replace furnace filters.
Make sure your heating system works before the big storm hits. Have a licensed heating contractor inspect and service your gas heater and furnace. Make sure he checks for potential carbon monoxide leaks as well. He may recommend that you replace your HVAC filters as well.
13. Clean fireplaces.
Get rid of soot and creosote buildup to prevent fires and improve airflow. You might want to hire a chimney sweep, who will inspect for buildup, check for deposits, and help clear out any other critters that may have made a home in the chimney.
14. Keep out critters.
Speaking of animals, winter is the time you’ll start finding little friends who are looking to escape the cold. Keep them out of your attic, basement, and kitchen by closing off all entryways, setting iron mesh barriers, and deterring with peppermint. It might also be a good time to call in an exterminator to help close off all entry points and potential problems before the animals find a home in your home.
15. Check gas and fire stoves.
Gas leaks are a safety and finance issue. Gas leaks mean that your stove and furnace have to work harder, costing you money and energy. In addition, gas is highly flammable and toxic in high amounts. Be sure to check your gas stoves for leaks or breaks. In addition, check wood stoves for corrosion and cracks to avoid potential fires.
16. Check humidifier.
The dry air that accompanies winter can harm your health and your floors and walls. Your humidifier helps prevent your house from drying out. Be sure to change your humidifier filters to keep the machine working properly this winter.
17. Check your emergency securities.
Ensure you won’t have any problems by having updated, working CO monitors, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fire escape plans, first aid kits, and stockpiled foods.
Some homeowners’ policies will even offer a discount if you have these safety precautions in place. Talk to your insurance agent about finding the right safeguards for your home and policy.
The Bottom Line
Prep your house for winter to save energy, money, and insurance costs. With the right fall maintenance, your house and family will stay safe no matter what Mother Nature has in store this winter. Stay safe and warm!