Fluffy snow and sparkling icicles may make for a winter wonderland, but they can also bring on drafts, fallen tree limbs and worse (hello, ice dams). Avoid spending your holidays handling winter-related disasters with a bit of preventative maintenance — we spoke with experts to get the lowdown on the best ways to prevent ice dams, frozen pipes and other winter woes.
Tasks to Check Off Your List in an Hour or Less
Protect entryway flooring. With tracked-in snow, ice, road salt and sand, entryway floors can really take a beating in the winter. Increase the longevity of your flooring by using floor mats both inside and outside each entrance to your home. Provide a boot scraper or brush outside for removing excess snow, and a waterproof tray inside for placing wet shoes and boots.
Check your emergency supplies. With winter storms comes more potential for power outages — be prepared with fresh bottled water, shelf-stable foods, flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies and a hand-crank radio and smartphone charger.
Check batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly. This is especially important during winter, when we keep windows closed and use wood-burning stoves and fireplaces more often. Make sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in each bedroom, on each floor of the house and in the kitchen. Check detectors monthly and change batteries as needed.
Tackle These To-Dos Over a Weekend
Stay ahead of ice dams. Ice dams form because the edges of a home’s roof are colder than the upper regions (where more insulation is below), causing ice to form around the eaves. Snow melts above, and the melted snow backs up behind a “dam” of ice, potentially causing leaks and permanent damage to the roof and home — if you’ve ever experienced an ice dam on your roofline, you know what a nightmare it can be. We spoke with Gerry Dunleavy, owner of Gerry Dunleavy Construction in Winchester, Massachusetts, to find out how to prevent ice dams from forming, and what to do if you notice one getting started. (Hint: Prevention is far easier than treatment!)
Before winter weather sets in:
- Remove debris from gutters — water can back up, causing leaks and ice dams or damage to your roof and siding.
- Inspect and upgrade attic insulation and ventilation.
- Purchase a roof rake.
- Remove snow as quickly as possible from the roof after storms. Use your roof rake to regularly remove it (or hire someone to do this for you).
What to do if you notice the beginnings of an ice dam:
- Carefully remove snow and ice if possible without damaging roof and gutters.
- If you have heat cables, turn them on. Heat cables cannot prevent or fully remove ice dams, but can melt enough of the ice to create a channel for water to flow out, preventing some damage.
Keep an eye on trees. Big snowfalls can settle onto tree limbs, making them heavy and more prone to breaking — which can be especially dangerous if a tree is within reach of your house. Ease the burden on your trees by brushing off snow after each snowfall, using a broom to extend your reach. Don’t shake the tree to remove snow, since this can cause brittle limbs to break. Proper tree maintenance in the fall, paired with regular snow removal, should help prevent breakage — but if a limb does fall during winter, have it removed as soon as weather permits.