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10 steps to winter-proof your home

By Barbara Marquand on February 20th, 2013

You can't do anything to prevent bad weather this winter, but you can take steps to prevent unnecessary damage to your home.

Winter storms caused $2 billion in insured losses in 2011, according to global insurance company Munich Re. Home insurance covers most winter-related damage, but you can save yourself time and the cost of your deductible by avoiding catastrophe in the first place.

Here are 10 steps for winter-proofing your home from the Insurance Information Institute:

1. Clean out gutters. Remove debris so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This prevents "ice-damming," which can lead to water seeping into the house. Better yet, install gutter guards to prevent leaves and sticks from entering the gutters in the first place.

2. Trim trees. Remove weak and dead branches to prevent them from breaking and falling on your home, car or people.

3. Repair steps and handrails. A broken step or handrail combined with icy weather could cause someone to take a nasty spill.

4. Seal the exterior. Make sure cracks and holes in outside walls are sealed to prevent snowmelt from seeping into the house. Check the weather stripping around skylights and other roof openings.

5. Keep the house warm. Keep the house at least 65 degrees so pipes inside the walls - where the temperature is substantially lower - don't freeze.

6. Get the heating system checked. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced once a year.

7. Install an emergency pressure relief valve. The valve prevents pipes from bursting if pressure increases. You should also know where the pipes are located and how to turn off the water in case of an emergency. The quicker you turn off the water when a problem occurs, the less damage your home and belongings will suffer.

8. Make sure smoke alarms work. Test them, and put in fresh batteries, if you haven't already done so this fall. Firefighters recommend changing batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when you change the clocks back to standard time. Changing the batteries at least once a year is the easiest way to prevent deaths and injuries.

9. Add insulation. Good insulation in the basement and crawl spaces helps keep pipes from freezing. Insulation in the attic prevents too much heat from escaping through the roof. Besides wasting energy, heat escape causes water and ice to melt. The water then refreezes, causing more ice to build up, which can lead to roof collapse.

10. Take special care on vacation. Shut off the water to prevent pipes from bursting, and ask someone to check on the house regularly so any problems that occur can be addressed immediately.

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