6 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Winter Ice Storms

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Summer clothes may still be hanging in your closet, but it’s not too early to start thinking about preparing your home for the first winter storm. Snow and ice can wreak havoc on backyards, roofs and pipes, and can create slippery situations that can cause injuries to you and your guests. Read on for six ways to hold Jack Frost at bay this winter.

1.) Prevent Ice Dams on Roofs and Gutters

Icicles on Roof
To prevent ice from causing damage to your roof, make sure to properly insulate your attic, and consider installing deicing cables. Photo via Jonathan Zander/Wikimedia Commons.

Homeowners in cold climates need to be aware of “ice dams” and how to prevent them. Ice dams occur when snow gathers on your roof, and then starts to melt at the top due to the heating inside your home. The snow slides down your roof until the point where your roof is 32 degrees or under, and then refreezes. This creates a barrier of ice that traps water on the top of your roof. That water can find its way between shingles and seams in your roof, creating cracks that allow water to seep into your home. Gutters on the roof can exacerbate the problem, because they aren’t as affected by your home’s heat. Leaves and debris that have collected in the gutters can trap ice, so it’s important to clean them before winter.

To prevent ice dams, homeowners have a few options. They can rake the roof after major snowstorms that leave more than six inches of ice, or pay a company to remove the ice for them. Attics that aren’t properly insulated release a lot of heat, so to get at the root of the problem, homeowners should make sure that their attic is properly insulated and ventilated. Another option is to install deicing cables on your roof, which are essentially heated wires that melt the snow. You can have the cables professionally installed, or purchase a DIY kit at a hardware store.

2.) Winterize Pipes & Sprinklers

Unplug hose from spigot
Before the first big freeze, make sure to unplug your garden hose from the spigot.

If you own a vacation home that’s going to be vacant in the winter, it’s important to winterize it before you leave. Most plumbing vendors offer this service. They’ll shut off the water, drain all pipes, sinks and toilets, and add anti-freeze. Another option is to leave a small trickle of water running, which creates a constant flow of water that will prevent the pipes from freezing. Just be sure that the drains are clear, otherwise you’ll end up with a flooded mess!

Another option is to leave the heat on at a very low setting, so it doesn’t get below freezing in your house. Take a look at your water and electricity bills to determine which option is cheaper. Either way, these preventative measures will ensure that you don’t spend thousands fixing broken pipes and water damage!

If you plan to stay in your home, you should wrap your pipes to prevent them from freezing, especially in unused areas like crawlspaces and attics. There are a variety of products to do the job, including foam rubber sleeves, fiberglass insulation, and heating tape. You’ll also want to seal any leaks in your home that let cold air in, like a drafty window or gap in the wall.

If you live in a climate where the frost gets deep into the ground, you’ll need to winterize your sprinkler system as well. Each system varies, but most offer the ability to drain water from the pipes manually, using a valve, or through an automatic controller. You can also blow out the pipes using compressed air, but it’s best to leave that to the professionals.

One more note: before the first freeze, you should bring in your garden hose, or at least make sure it’s detached from the spigot. Many spigots are designed so they don’t freeze, but you have to disconnect the hose, or ice can form in the hose and break the spigot.

3.) Use Salt or Pellets on Steps and Walkways

Shovel snow from walkway
Prevent an icy stoop by shoveling snow off of it right after a storm, before the snow has a chance to melt and turn into ice. Photo via USAF/Wikimedia Commons.

When a major storm is predicted, it’s a good idea to put salt, sand or deicing pellets on your outdoor stairs and walkways to prevent ice from forming. But note that some cities have outlawed salt, because the runoff can damage wildlife, so be sure to first check the regulations in your area. Another way to prevent an icy stoop is to shovel snow off of it right after a storm, before the snow has a chance to melt and turn into ice.

4.) Use a Snow Melting System on Your Driveway

Snow melting systems can save you the time and effort it takes to shovel your driveway after each storm.
Snow melting systems can save you the time and effort it takes to shovel your driveway after each storm. Photo via Scott Catron/Wikimedia Commons.

If you are laying down a new driveway, or replacing an old one, you can install a snow melting system underneath. These systems use embedded electric cables or hydronic tubing to heat up the driveway and melt the ice. Some systems have timers, while others are activated when the temperature reaches a certain point. Your utility bills will increase slightly with this option, but it will save you time and effort shoveling the driveway, and can prevent injuries from slipping on the ice.

5.) Cover Plants and Flowers

Covering garden beds in mulch can prevent plant roots from freezing during the winter. Photo via Dvortygirl/Wikimedia Commons.

Covering up plants and flowers before winter sets in can protect them from wind damage and help prevent the roots from freezing. You can use Styrofoam cone insulators, blankets, tarps or burlap, which can typically be found in garden centers and hardware stores. Laying down mulch (ground up leaves or bark) can also act as an insulator. Before the ground freezes, make sure to give your plants and flowers lots of water. You should unwrap the plants in spring, but don’t do it too early, or a late spring frost could damage your plants.

6.) Insulate Your Garage

If you have expensive appliances or spend time on hobbies in the garage, you should consider insulating the walls to protect it from freezing.

Not all garages are finished with drywall and insulation, which means the temperature can drop below freezing. If you use the garage as a laundry room, storage or work space, you’ll want to keep it warm. The best way to prevent your garage from freezing is to finish it with insulation and drywall, which isn’t is for everyone; depending on your level of construction expertise, you may want to hire a contractor to complete the job.

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Redfin Agent - Chicago

Real estate is my life's passion. I have been negotiating real estate since 1993, and I bring to the table a wealth of experience that helps me provide my clients with the highest level of customer service. Prior to joining Redfin, I owned my own real estate company and negotiated both residential and commercial real estate. I learned to be very articulate and detailed in my analyses — great skills to have when I work with clients to sell their homes. With each and every client, I commit to understanding their selling goals, and make sure they have all the information they need to make the best decisions. I fight for every dollar on my clients’ behalf, and ensure that they are 100% satisfied with the sale of their home.

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