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6 ways to protect your home and finances from winter storms

By: Kimberly Lankford

Now is the perfect time to take steps that can help protect your home and your finances from expensive damage caused by winter storms.

1. Keep your pipes warm when the weather gets cold. Water damage accounts for a large portion of property damage insurance claims, and is often caused by frozen pipes bursting in the winter. Wrapping attic, basement and crawl-space pipes in insulation can help. Also open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warm air to flow around the pipes, and let water drip slowly from the faucets.

2. Install leak detection devices. Even a small leak can cause expensive damage if it remains undetected for a while. You can install a low-cost leak detector near pipes or sinks that sounds an alarm or sends an alert to your smartphone if it detects moisture or a big change in the amount of water used in your home (which could signal a possible leak). Some devices automatically shut off the water supply if it detects unusually high water flow (from burst pipes, for example), which can be especially helpful for snowbirds who leave their northern home empty for months in the cold weather. Your insurer may even give you a discount for installing an automatic leak detection device.

3. Protect against ice dams. Another potentially expensive cause of damage is from ice dams, which can happen when heat from inside your house causes water to melt in the middle of your roof and then refreeze near the edges, creating a dam that can lead to leaks in your roof and damage to your ceiling and walls. Icicles hanging from your roof are a clue that you might have ice dams building up under your roof. To avoid ice dams, keep you attic no more than 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Open a window or vent in the attic to keep it cold, and seal holes from light fixtures and ceiling fans to prevent warm air from escaping into your attic.

4. Check your roof and windows. Before it snows, inspect your roof for any damage or worn shingles that can cause leaks. Clean gutters and downspouts for clogs that can cause water damage to interior walls, and install weather stripping to seal drafty windows and doors and prevent water from coming into your house.

5. Trim trees. High winds, snowstorms and ice can cause branches to break and fall, causing expensive damage to your home or property. Homeowners insurance may cover limited damage from fallen trees, and may not pay to remove the tree or branches, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. This is a good time to remove dead limbs or large overhanging branches that can snap and damage your house or the power lines.

6. Give your homeowners insurance a checkup. Make sure you have the right amount of coverage, and let your insurance company know about any major home improvements. Find out about any gaps. For example, many policies don’t automatically provide sewage back-up coverage, which can happen when snow melt and heavy rains overburden the storm-water system or your sump pump stops working. You may be able to add $10,000 to $20,000 in sewage back-up coverage for about $100 per year; ask your insurance agent or company about your options. Also make sure you have enough cash in an emergency fund to cover your deductible if you do have a claim. And now is a good time to go through your home with your smartphone and make a video of every room, opening closets and drawers, which can give you a head start on claim filing if any of your property is damaged.

For more advice about protecting your home from winter storms and other disasters, see the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes’ site and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s site.

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