Avoiding an Ice Dam or other loss this Winter?


The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting the likelihood of another winter similar to last year; consistent cold temperatures and lots of snow. Most of us are not ready for the onslaught of snow, ice, and cold temperatures. The victims of last winter’s ice dams, roof leaks, decks that collapsed, or other snow and ice related damage, really don’t want to experience a repeat. The insurance companies will be watching closely for repeating issues. Aside from your aggravation of dealing with the loss, if you have a repeat of ice damming or other claims activity, you will see steep premium increases or possibly the non-renewal of your insurance policy. Now is the time to prepare for winter to avoid winter related losses.


Typically homeowner insurance policies protect against winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice dams, chimney fires, slips and falls, and damage caused by the weight of ice or snow. But you have an obligation to protect against potential losses before they occur, and to minimize the damage after a loss. You can save yourself a huge head ache and probably higher insurance premiums by acting now to head off these winter related damages.


An ice dam is caused by the ice buildup at the lower edge of a sloped roof near the gutter. It commonly starts when ice builds up in a gutter clogged with leaves. When snow builds up on your roof, the interior heat of your home escapes through the attic and melts the snow blanketing the roof surface. As the sun melts the exposed outer layer, more water is generated. Water from the melting snow and ice runs down the roof. If it doesn’t drain properly into your gutter and downspouts, as temperatures fluctuate, it refreezes at the roof’s edge. Over time, ice builds up and blocks water from properly draining off the roof. With no place to drain, the water seeps up and under the roof shingles; lifting them and ultimately seeping into your attic. Once there, it will saturate your insulation and seep to the ceiling and inside walls of your house causing serve damage.


To avert ice damming, (1) Keep your gutters clean so water can drain freely. (2) make sure the roof is in good condition. (3) During the winter, when you have 12 or more inches of snow on your roof, using a roof rake to remove the snow may protect against structural compromise due to the weight of snow and ice. When using a snow rake be careful not to pack the gutter with snow as it will freeze and prevent proper drainage. (4) Consider installing heater cable for the gutter or lower roof surface to prevent ice buildup. (5) Make sure your attic is properly insulated. Insulation experts recommend that you keep your attic well ventilated such that it is no more than 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. The cooler the attic, the less likely snow will melt and refreeze on the roof. Your insulation is designed to keep the heat in the house instead of escaping into the attic and through the roof. Insulation with a rating of R-30 is considered the minimum for an attic.


The bursting of frozen pipes can cause significant damage to a home. Frozen water expands causing the pipe to burst. Pipes located in attics, outside walls, crawl spaces and unheated basements are most susceptible to freezing in cold weather. To prevent bursting pipes take these steps:

  1. Wrap exposed pipes with insulation. The more the better.
  2. Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and in the foundation near water pipes.
  3. Open cabinet doors during very cold periods to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes.
  4. During cold spells, leave faucets on at a slow trickle; use this step especially when the plumbing runs through unheated or exposed areas.


Trees offer a great summer canopy to help keep your home cool. But they also can be a negative in the winter. Leaves in the fall clog your gutters; branches in winter storms may snap falling on your home or power lines; the whole tree may snap and fall during a wind or ice storm–especially if the tree is weakened or diseased from the infestation from Gypsy Moths, Oak Worms, and Winter Moths. Trimming or removing trees now could save you money and aggravation during the cold winter.


Other things you can do to protect your family and home from injury or loss this winter include:

  1. Have your heating system inspected by a certified technician to ensure that it is working properly. Doing so could prevent more costly repairs and some cold nights.
  2. Make sure your wood, coal or pellet stove has been serviced and is ready for the season. Deteriorated gaskets affect efficiency, expose you to carbon monoxide, and can lead to a fire in your home.
  3. Store combustible materials away from furnaces, fireplaces and portable heaters. When not in use these areas become convenient storage areas.
  4. Have your home’s chimney checked, cleaned, and repaired if necessary to minimize fire hazard.
  5. Along with the cleaning of gutters, be sure to direct downspout run off well away from the house. Your foundation will be warmer than the frozen ground outside. This creates a crevice for water to run down against your foundation; often resulting in seepage into your basement.
  6. Repair broken stairs and banisters located outside. People rely on these more than ever when the sidewalks are slippery.
  7. Drain and shut off outside water faucets.
  8. Be sure you have plenty of rock salt, sand, and snow shovels so you can remove snow and ice from your sidewalks and driveway after a winter storm. If you can’t do it, hire someone now before the snow files. Removing the ice and snow will minimize your exposure to slips and falls, as well as preventing liability lawsuits by people who are hurt when they slip and fall on your property.
  9. Replace missing or worn roof shingles.
  10. During the winter keep the temperature inside your home no lower than 60 degrees. This will help prevent freezing pipes in your outside walls while helping to afford more time before your home reaches freezing point if there is a power outage or your heating system fails.