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10 steps to winter proof your home -- and avoid a home insurance claim

By Barbara Marquand on November 24th, 2013

You can't avoid blustery weather if you live in a snowy climate, but you can prevent winter-related damage to your home this year.

Although standard home insurance covers such damage as burst pipes and collapsed roofs, the fallout can still be expensive. You have to pay the deductible if you file a claim, and, if you enjoy a claim-free discount, you'll pay higher home insurance rates next time the policy is renewed.

Winter storms are the third largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Here are 10 steps from III to defend your home against the season's toughest blows.

1. Clear the gutters.

Remove leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts to prevent "ice damming." Water can't drain properly when the gutters are jammed. Ice forms and blocks melting snow from running off the roof, causing water to seep under shingles and into the house.

Install gutter guards, which prevent debris from entering gutters in the first place.

2. Trim trees.

Remove dead and weak branches to prevent them from breaking off in a storm and falling on the house, car or passersby.

3. Make the entry safe.

Broken steps and wobbly banisters are dangerous enough in the best conditions, let alone when they're slick with snow and ice. Make repairs to ensure a safe entry for you and your guests.

4. Seal cracks and holes.

Check the weather-stripping around roof openings, such as skylights, and seal any cracks in the outside walls or foundation.

5. Insulate.

If the attic isn't properly insulated, too much heat escapes through the roof. Snow melts quickly, then refreezes, causing more snow and ice to build up. The problem could result in leaks or even a collapsed roof.

Insulation in the basement and crawl spaces prevents pipes from freezing.

6. Protect the pipes.

Check your pipes and get them repaired if you spot any leaks. Wrap exposed pipes, and install an emergency pressure release valve, which can prevent pipes from bursting.

7. Know how to turn the water off.

The day a pipe bursts is not the day to learn where the water shut-off valve is located. The sooner you turn off the water, the less damage you'll face. Find the valve, and practice turning the water off now so you know what to do in an emergency.

8. Get the heating system serviced.

Your furnace should be inspected and serviced every year. Ditto for boilers, wood stoves and fireplaces. Home heating equipment was the second leading cause of home fire deaths from 2007 to 2011, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

9. Check smoke alarms.

Install new batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms if you haven't done so already this fall. More home fires start in the winter months than in other seasons.

10. Keep the house warm.

The III recommends keeping your home at least 65 degrees to prevent pipes from freezing. The temperature inside the walls where the pipes are located is considerably cooler than in the living spaces.

Going out of town this winter? Turn the water off if you'll be gone for an extended period, and ask a friend or neighbor to check on the house periodically so any problems that crop up can be fixed quickly.

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