Protecting your home and car from winter weather

December 1, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

GettyImages-1131866274.jpgProtect your home and car against ice and snow 

A colder, snowier, drought-busting winter could be on its way to the Pacific Northwest, says NOAA. Its long-range forecasts show up to a 50% chance of below-normal temperatures combined with above-average precipitation for Washington and parts of Oregon, thanks to a threepeat of the La Nina weather pattern.

Here’s how to help your home and car stay safe in the ice and snow:'

How can I protect my home from ice and snow?

For your pipes:

1.    Disconnect your garden hose and protect the faucet with a foam cover. If it has an indoor valve, turn it off and open the faucet to drain any trapped water before covering. The cover helps ensure water can’t freeze and expand inside the pipe, potentially rupturing it and leading to an inside-the-wall leak when the ice thaws.  

2.    Open under-sink cabinet doors on exterior walls. That will allow heated air from the room to warm vulnerable pipes on extra-cold nights (especially important if you think there’s a chance your exterior walls are under-insulated). If temps are truly frigid, consider turning on the faucet to continually run a very thin stream of cold water. Moving water doesn’t freeze as easily.

3.    Keep the heat on but turn off the main water valve to your house and drain the pipes when you leave on vacation. Shutting off the water minimizes your risk of a leak that could run undiscovered for days, and keeping the heat on discourages dampness that can lead to mold and mildew growth.

4.    Wrap insulation around pipes in unheated spaces (attic, garage) and add extra insulation if needed to attics and crawlspaces where pipes run.

5.    Winterize vacation cabins and unused workshops. That means turning off the main water valve, draining the pipes and pouring a little RV antifreeze in toilet tanks and down sinks (so it stays in the P-trap).

For your heating system:

6.    Get your furnace professionally serviced. Besides possibly heading off a breakdown, furnace professionals also can check for signs of damage or gas leaks. Also, change furnace filters regularly to keep your home smelling fresher and to extend the life of your furnace. A rule of thumb: Change filters monthly during the heating season and quarterly the rest of the year. 

7.    Get your wood-burning chimney professionally cleaned. Do it once a year or, if you burn a lot of wood, after every half cord to prevent build-up of creosote, a flammable by-product of combustion. An annual inspection also can catch maintenance issues like moisture intrusion before it can cause expensive damage.

8.    Clean gas or propane fireplaces at least every two years. Besides checking your pilot light and gas line, your technician will test for the presence of carbon monoxide and examine the vent for bird or rodent activity. Signs you may be overdue for service include soot buildup on the glass or logs, embers that no longer glow or grayish film on your fireplace glass.

9.    Check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. You need one on each level of your home. Here’s advice from the Environmental Protection Agency on where you should install them.

For your roof, basement and foundation:

10.    Clean gutters to prevent ice damming. During rapid snowmelt, plugged gutters could cause water to seep back into the roof (causing leaks) or overflow near the foundation, causing leaks and settling.

11.    Think twice before shoveling snow off your roof. Chances are, it can hold a lot more than you think, and working on a snowy, icy rooftop can lead to dangerous falls. If you rely on solar panels, arrange to have them professionally cleared so you can stay powered up in a snowstorm.

12.    Keep storm sewer grates cleared, especially during rapid snowmelt. It’s not just fall leaves that clog drains! Chunks of ice can dam up a drain, causing trapped meltwater to flood your property.

13.    Make sure your sump pump is working and big enough to do the job. Consider adding a battery backup in case of a power failure and, if your sump pump has an alarm to let you know if it malfunctions, make sure it has fresh batteries. (Not all homes have sump pumps; they’re most common in properties with basements.)

14.    Drain in-ground automated lawn sprinkler systems to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. Follow the draining procedures recommended for your irrigation system. If you’re not sure what type of system you have, hire a sprinkler company to do it and watch so you can DIY next year. Take care if you decide to use compressed air to blow out the lines because too much pressure can damage your system. 

How can I protect my car from ice and snow?

Our holiday travel tips are a great place to start. To those, we’d add:

15.    Park in a garage if you have one. While its temperatures may still dip below freezing, it’s probably at least a few degrees warmer than outside. That may be just enough to preserve battery power, which drops in cold temperatures.

16.    Get your battery tested. If your car has difficulty starting often, ask your mechanic to check your battery strength to determine if it’s time for a replacement. Batteries older than three years are more likely to struggle in cold weather than newer ones. Electric vehicles often have an easier time starting in cold weather because their batteries only need to power a few electronics versus turning over a cold engine.

17.    Replace wiper blades. They’re only good for one year, and here’s how to do it yourself. 

18.    Keep your gas tank full. A full tank helps minimize the chance of condensation forming. Water in your gas tank, whether from condensation or other sources, can cause your car to stall or fail to start.

19.    Check your antifreeze (with a tester available at auto parts stores) to see the temperature at which your protection ends. A 50:50 mixture of antifreeze and water is best, but you may have less than that if you’ve been topping off with plain water.

20.    Get yourself out of an icy jam with materials on hand. Did you know you can unstick a frozen door lock by smearing alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your key? Or that slipping a pair of old socks over your windshield wipers at night can save you from frozen wipers in the morning? Check out these clever wintertime car hacks.   

And now that you’ve shivered your way through those cold-weather tips, here’s something to warm your heart. A noted agricultural weather specialist predicts a very warm summer for the PNW coast, stretching from Seattle to Portland. 


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