Here on the Peninsula, we are generally pretty fortunate to escape the worst parts of Washington winter. We get a little protection from the mountains – particularly in the rain shadow areas - and the sea and strait provide a little warmth. Still winter brings plenty of concerns for the homeowner and it is unpredictable enough to creep up and bite you before you know it. A few simple steps can help protect your home, your family and your neighbors – not to mention the mailman – from winter hazards.
Your home is exposed to winter hazards at couple of points. Your household plumbing extends about four inches out from your exterior wall in the form of water taps. In our climate, it is easy to ignore these, right up till the time a cold snap freezes the tap or the piping immediately behind it. As the water in the tap or the pipe freezes, it expands and can exert enough force to split the tap or the pipe. Either situation is bad, but having a pipe burst inside your home where it may drain into a crawlspace or other unvisited area is a nightmare.
The dangers of freezing an outdoor tap can be mitigated by using a faucet cover. These are between $2 a $10 at your local hardware store and take a few minutes to install. They could save you an emergency visit from the plumber. Install these in November or early December and keep them on until March.
Another problem that can occur here are ice dams. Days that warm up above freezing and nights that dive below are common enough to make ice dams a real concern. An ice dam forms along your roof edge or in the gutter. Melting snow from the roof reaches the roof edge or gutter and then refreezes. As additional melting occurs on the roof water pools at the ice dam and can find its way into the house. That is, as they say, not a good thing. Once an ice dam has forced paths into a home, the route is opened and becomes more susceptible to future damage. Depending where and how much water can find its way in, a variety of cosmetic and structural problems can ensue.
Watch for icicles forming as an indication water is refreezing at the roof edge and look at your roof when it is snow covered to help understand your situation. Does your roof look like your neighbors? Does it have patches melted away indicating poor insulation? Try to prevent ice dams from forming by clearing your gutters and downspouts before winter so that water is properly shed off your roof. If you see ice dams forming, you can clear excess snow from the roof – though you may want to hire an experienced person to remove the snow in order to minimize damage to the roof and roofing. If ice dam formation becomes a recurring problem, you might consider adding insulation to the attic and exterior walls of your home to minimize escaping heat (this will also reduce your heating costs).
Snow isn’t usually a major problem in the cities and towns on the peninsula – with some exception for the towns along the Hood Canal that get their share. The snow that does fall can create a hazard for you and your neighbors and a liability you don’t need.
Clear your walkways of snow and ice and pickup rakes, shovels, tools, toys and any items that may be hidden under a snowfall. It just takes a bit of snow to hide items that are otherwise easily seen and avoided. Make repairs to uneven or cracked pavement if it looks like these could create hazard if unseen. Maintain interior stairs and floors clear of the watery remains of melted snow and if necessary, use mats to provide good traction and reserve an area where folks can clear snow and ice from their shoes or boots.
Finally, most important is keeping your family safe. If you own a fireplace, wood-burning stove, portable heater, gas or an electric furnace you need to make sure that they are safe and used properly. Check and service any and all heating equipment well before the arrival of the heating season. Clean filters and vents and inspect your furnace to assure it is not a creating a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup.
Inspect fireplaces and wood-burning stoves thoroughly and clean as necessary. Creosote is a tar-like byproduct of burning wood that builds up in chimney and stove flues and can cause chimney fires. Be careful using portable heaters. Not only are they a source of burns for children, but they can be tipped with the combination of heat source and fuels, creating a serious fire hazard. Modern electric heaters generally have automatic shut off when they tip; however, they also draw a lot of current and can overload circuits.
Finally, get good quality fire and smoke detectors and if you have any heating that generates carbon monoxide, get a carbon monoxide detector. They should be properly installed and be in good working order. Test them and put in new batteries. This is a small expense with a big payoff for your family. At Homer Smith Insurance, we want to be your Washington home insurance agent for a good long while. Stay safe!