Winter Weather Safety at Home and on the Road

By: Lucy Murphy, CISR

Lucy is a licensed property & casualty agent who has been working in the insurance industry for more than 30 years. She has recently earned her CISR designation.

Ice storms. Snow that falls in feet, not inches. Dangerous roads. Sub-zero windchill. Yep, it’s officially winter in New England.

For long-time Massachusetts residents, winter weather safety may seem like common sense. But for those who are new to the area, for first-time homeowners, for seniors who live alone, or any others who just appreciate a timely reminder, we’ve compiled some tips on managing extreme cold. Share this list with your family and neighbors. It might save you from having to submit an insurance claim this season.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

When it gets especially chilly outside:

  • Keep your cabinet doors open, allowing warm  air to circulate around the pipes under your sinks.
  • Remember to keep your garage doors closed.
  • Leave faucets running at a slow drip, which keeps water moving and alleviates pressure buildup.
  • Invest in a backup generator (so you can keep the heat going if and when the power goes out).

If you’re going out of town:

  • Set your thermostat to 65-68 degrees.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Here’s a good primer on how to drain your home’s plumbing system.
  • Enlist the help of a house sitter to check on your home while you’re away. Check out our blog on things to do before vacation to protect your home.
  • If you regularly head south in the winter, invest in a “smart home” device (e.g. the Nest) or wi-fi thermostats. Here’s a quick comparison piece on the best smart home devices of 2018 from PC Mag.

When planning ahead for next year:

  • Insulate your most vulnerable pipes (think attics and crawl spaces) with special foam sleeving.
  • Seal any cracks or holes around your home’s exterior/foundation.
  • Ask your plumber to show you how to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain your outside faucets and purchase insulated faucet covers.

Preventing Snow-Related Accidents

Ice Dams

Ice dams can form whenever your roof is covered with snow, and temperatures are at 32 degrees or below. As the snow on the roof melts (due to warmer daytime temps or heat escaping from the home), water rolls toward the gutters and refreezes along roof edges. The resulting dam prevents water runoff, and may create ceiling leaks or other types of structural damage. Roof rakes are great tools for clearing heavy snow before dams can form… if you are handy and comfortable on a ladder. Otherwise, call on a professional roofer. Here’s more advice on preventing ice dams.

A quick note on icicles: don’t try to knock them down. While hanging icicles may look like an accident waiting to happen, many homeowners have been known to injure themselves (or their gutters) by hammering at hardened ice. Roofing experts also say icicles create a natural drainage path for melting snow to make its way off your roof, which is a good thing.  If you have concerns about icicles that loom over your doorways or have formed into major ice dams, contact a roofing professional. He or she may be able to advise you on preventative steps for next year.

Snow Shoveling

Shoveling snow may seem like more of a household chore than a physical workout, but the truth is that shoveling has been shown to raise heart rates more than jogging on a treadmill. Experts say it is very strenuous on joints and muscles, including the heart. As you shovel, be careful to keep your back straight and “lift with the legs,” versus hunching over. Try to move small chunks of snow instead of large, heavy loads at a time. If you don’t exercise regularly, heading outside for 30 or 40 minutes of intense cardio will be a shock to your system. Winter shoveling, in particular, can be more dangerous than other types of exercise because extreme cold temperatures boost blood pressure, constrict arteries, and may interrupt blood flow. (Even pushing a snow blower in cold temps can be dangerous.) When moving snow, listen to your body, stopping to rest and drink water as needed. If you feel dizzy or nauseous, or experience any other signs of heart attack, head indoors immediately.

De-icing Your Property

After a storm, be proactive about making your property safe for your family and neighbors. In many cases your homeowner’s insurance policy will help you fight or settle claims of slip-and-fall negligence, but there are things you can do to prevent incidents from happening in the first place. First, clear off as much precipitation as possible. (If shoveling is not safe for you, hire a snow management professional.) Next, use rock salt to treat your driveway and walkways according to package instructions (i.e. wearing gloves; applying in a thin, even layer; avoiding plants and lawn; covering pets’ paws on treated areas, etc.). If the temps are expected to dip below 16 degrees, you may need something stronger than salt to prevent wet surfaces from forming ice. Ask your local hardware store employee to advise you.

Winter Weather Driving

We all know we should drive slower and more cautiously when roads are icy. But did you also know:

  • You should maintain at least half a tank of gas in cold weather (not to prevent gas lines from freezing, which may have been a concern for older cars, but to ensure you don’t get stranded).
  • Grime on your headlights reduces their effectiveness by as much as 90%. (Clean your car off completely!)
  • If possible, you should avoid using your parking break in cold, snowy weather.

If you have teen drivers in your household, or if you could use some winter driving advice, review these winter driving tips from AAA. Meanwhile, practice winter weather safety and stay warm this season!