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How to keep your home and sidewalks safe in the winter

No matter how much we hope, wish and pray otherwise, it’s inevitable – winter is coming. In the Maritimes, storm season has started with rain, but the white stuff will follow. In central Canada, the leaves are turning and falling, a sure sign of colder weather to come. And in Saskatchewan, snow has already fallen, so there’s proof that we can’t hold off the cold forever.

Our ability to withstand the frigid weather, accompanied by ice and snow, has contributed to the national character, molding us into hardy, resilient individuals, while our capacity for making the most of the cold has brought us joy in the shape of such sports like hockey, curling and ice skating.

When the weather is turning colder, and the leaves are starting to fall, it’s time to start preparing for winter. What can you do to “winterize” your home? Here are tips to help you keep warm and safe:


How to winterize your home

Check your fireplaces

Family with red socks on in front of a fireplace

Consider capping the top of the chimney to keep out rodents and birds. Arrange to have the chimney cleaned to remove soot and creosote. Make sure the damper opens and closes properly.

We may sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but, in truth, open fires indoors are a hazard, given the possibility that they may spread and become uncontrollable.

Make sure the flue is open for proper venting when you build a fire in the fireplace and place a screen around the fireplace to keep sparks from flying. Burn hardwoods, such as maple or oak, that don’t create as much ash as softer woods; avoid burning paper, cardboard or trash for the same reason.

Chimney maintenance and cleaning

A fire in the fireplace helps to brighten a room in the winter dark and warm its occupants. However, if you don’t ensure your chimney is well maintained, you could have problems. A chimney that hasn’t been cleaned before seasonal fires are lit may mean smoke that wafts back into the house, creating a breathing hazard.

In addition, an unclean chimney will have creosote – the sticky residue from burning wood — built up inside, which can potentially lead to a chimney fire. In addition, chimneys can become home to leaves and birds’ nests, causing dangerous blockages that can lead to smoke and fire.

Also, be sure that your flue closes tightly when the fireplace isn’t in use, or you may feel unpleasant drafts that cause your furnace to work harder.

Check your roof, gutters, and downspouts

Winter weather can play havoc with roofs. Constant battering by the elements can cause decay in the supports, the shingles and the insulation, leading to leaks. Ice dams can also result in leaky roofs.

Especially on pitched roofs, falling snow can slide down the slope of the roof and accumulate at the edges, causing icicles or blockages to form on the eaves. This accumulation prevents moisture from running off the roof properly and it may leak into the attic.

Replace worn shingles or tiles. Check flashing to make sure water can’t enter the home. Clean out the gutters with a scraper or spatula, and rinse with a hose. Consider installing leaf guards or adding extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from the home.

How to prevent frozen pipes

Indoors or outdoors, your pipes are vulnerable when the temperature dips too low. Water freezes in the pipes, and its indoors or outdoors, your pipes are vulnerable when the temperature dips too low. Water freezes in the pipes, and its expansion may cause the pipes to burst, leaving you to clean up the mess.

Rather than waiting for trouble to find you, track down any pipes that may be exposed to cold air, especially those in the basement or attic, and wrap them with insulation. If a pipe does freeze, take action: open the tap fully and use a hairdryer to warm the pipe. Work your way along it and you’ll find the frozen spot; when you melt the ice, water will gush from your tap.

If you have water pipes running through unheated areas of the house, wrap them with foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation. Shut off the water to your hose bibs with a turnoff valve inside your house, and drain the lines.

How to winterize windows

Person works on windows on exterior of a house
  • Check your windows. Replace old or inefficient ones to prevent heat from escaping, or seal drafty windows with clear plastic. Hanging thermal curtains can also help to prevent drafts.
  • Install your storm windows to add an extra layer of insulation, or consider coating your windows with clear film that helps keep out the cold but not the light.
  • Keep the curtains and blinds open during the day to let sunlight warm the rooms; close them at dark to keep the heat from escaping the room.
  • Fix the cracks. Ten per cent of home air leaks occur around your windows. Prevent leakage by applying weather stripping and caulking or getting an insulation kit; your energy bill will also thank you.
  • Remove air-conditioners that are set in windows so that you can close windows tightly.
  • If drafts come in under the doors, use rubber strips to prevent them.

Check your heating and furnances

  • Check your furnace. Turn it on to make sure it’s working properly. This is a good time to contact a professional to get it cleaned and tuned. Filters should be changed often during the winter, as dirty filters reduce air flow and can cause fires. And if your furnace is more than ten years old, you may want to consider upgrading to a new energy-efficient model.
  • Reduce the temperature when you leave the house and when you go to bed to save on heating costs. You can save up to three per cent on your heating bill for every degree you lower the temperature over time. It will also help reduce greenhouse gases.
  • Install an app that allows you to control the temperature of your home from your mobile device or buy a programmable thermostat. And place your thermostat where it won’t be affected by light, drafts, etc.
  • Make sure all vents and baseboard heaters are clean so air can circulate efficiently.
  • Insulate places where heat is lost easily, such as attics, basements and crawl spaces. If insulation anywhere is less than 20-centimetres thick, it’s time to add some.
  • Close closet doors; there is no need to heat storage space, unless it contains pipes.
  • If you use space heaters, clean them prior to winter usage. Dust and debris that build up on your heating coils could cause a fire.

Other tips for keeping your home safe

Check for other leaks

An easy way to find out where heat is leaking out, and cold is seeping in, is to walk around inside your house on a windy day, with a lit incense stick. Hold it near the usual “leaky” areas, such as window and door frames, and electrical outlets. When you find the leaks, you may want to install weather stripping, or caulking to seal the gaps. Foam insulators can be installed behind light switches and electrical outlets.

Check your ducts

Homes with central heating can lose heated air before it reaches the vents if the ductwork is not properly connected or insulated, especially if it has to pass through any unheated spaces. And remember to have the ducts cleaned every few years to get rid of built up dust and hair.

Check your ceiling fans

For winter, reverse any ceiling fans, so they’re blowing warm air downwards. And close your closet doors. Keeping them closed means you’re not heating any unnecessary space.

Check your foundation

Rake away any debris, and seal up cracks or other entry points for water or mice.

Keeping your sidewalks safe

People clearing the sidewalks of ice and snow in a city

With the holiday season fast approach, we all tend to have more visitors than usual. Have you considered what might happen if one of them were to slip on your icy step? If a visitor injures themselves on your property, you could be on the receiving end of a law suit. It’s so important to make sure your sidewalks, steps, and anywhere else visitors may walk, are kept clean, well lit, and clear of anything anyone might slip on or trip over.

Don’t people need to watch out for themselves?

If someone comes onto your property, it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re not at risk of being injured. Even if you haven’t actually invited them onto your property, you still must take all reasonable precautions to ensure there are no hazards present. For instance, if you’ve dug a huge hole in your back yard in preparation for a new pool next spring, and don’t fence it off, put up warning signs, or take whatever other steps are necessary, you could be found negligent if someone cuts across your yard at night, and falls in the hole.

De-icing your driveways and walkways

Eavestroughs aren’t the only place where ice can accumulate and cause winter problems. Sidewalks and driveways freeze over quickly when snow and sleet falls.

Many municipalities have bylaws that require you to shovel your sidewalks within hours after a snowfall to prevent others from slipping and injuring themselves, but even without that incentive, keep your own family safe by clearing your driveway and walkways.

Salt, sand and kitty litter can help to melt precipitation and/or offer some extra traction to pedestrians. If you’re worried about falling on someone else’s property, add some winter cleats to your wardrobe.

Does my home insurance cover this?

Most home insurance policies are packaged to include protection for damage to your property, as well as liability insurance. Liability insurance is designed to protect you if you are sued as a result of unintentional bodily injury or property damage arising out of your ownership, use or occupancy of your premises.

In other words, if someone slips on your icy sidewalk, and you are sued, your insurance policy will cover your defense costs, and will pay up to the coverage limit (usually starts at $1 million) if you’re found liable for the unintentional bodily injury. It’s important to make sure that any rental or vacation properties you own also have liability insurance.

So remember, keep your walks clear of ice and snow this winter! And make sure you have enough liability insurance, just in case. To learn more about winterizing your home or to double-check your coverage, contact Square One at 1.855.331.6933.

Winterize your house

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Protect your family

Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month.

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