SEATTLE – Recent high winds and snow in the passes reminds us that winter weather is just weeks away. PEMCO’s damage-prevention experts offer this list of DIY and hire-it-done tips to help you protect your home before our Northwest weather dishes out its worst:
- Clean your gutters. Clogged, overflowing gutters are worse than none at all, leading to wet basements, leaks, rot, and the whopping repair bills that go with them. Clean gutters twice a year (spring and fall) and check them even if you have leaf deflectors. Here’s how:
Check for missing or curled shingles and weak spots (invitations to leaking) while you’re cleaning those gutters. For flat roofs, clear leaves and needles from drains.
Stow and protect your yard-care equipment. Remove dirt and clippings to prevent corrosion, and store your equipment under cover. Also, consider adding a fuel stabilizer before you send your gas mower, blower, trimmer, or chainsaw into hibernation. Fuel that sits unused in equipment can degrade, leading to carburetor damage and a hard start in the spring. Follow manufacturers’ instructions and run the equipment for a bit to circulate the stabilizer. Storing equipment with a full, treated tank also minimizes condensation.
Stack wood at least 10 feet from the house. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, make that at least 30 feet and uphill from your home. Wood stacked against your house acts like kindling for a house fire (when it’s not helping to rot your siding), plus it looks like a welcome mat to bugs and critters. Keep your stack under five feet tall so it won’t topple over. Cover with a tarp – damp wood produces more creosote when it burns, boosting your risk of a chimney fire.
Take a peek at your trees. Look for splits and signs of disease, rot, or instability. Lop off dead or rotting branches that could break and damage your home or a neighbor’s. Consult a landscaper or arborist if you think a tree might be at risk for blowing down in a windstorm.
Plug drafts around windows and doors. Caulk is cheap! Silicone is best outdoors, since it repels the elements. Fabric draft stoppers work great under doors and still allow them to open and close.
Stock up on winter essentials. De-icer (for melting sidewalks and stairs), snow shovels, tire chains, and emergency kits sell out quickly once the first flake hits the Double Doppler.
Tune up your furnace or heat pump. An inspection now could uncover fixable problems and save you from suffering during a cold snap, when furnace-repair services book up fast.
Clean your chimney. This is a job for the pros – and an important one. About half of all house fires start with a wood-burning appliance, and of those, four in 10 involve the chimney, gas vent, or flue. You’ll want to hire a professional who’s a member of the Washington State Chimney Sweep Guild or Oregon Chimney Sweeps Association.
- First, if you’re unsteady on a ladder or squeamish about heights, hire a professional to do this (and any other roof work). It’s not worth risking injury.
- Using a steady ladder, rubber gloves, collection bucket, and scooper, remove leaves and other debris. Resist temptation to use a leaf blower (it can throw you off balance atop the ladder). And never lean the ladder against your gutter or downspout or hold on to them for support (they can break and send you tumbling). Ditto for leaning out beyond the ladder’s rails. To minimize risks of slipping, don’t clean gutters in the rain.
- Loosen caked-on gunk with the hose after you’ve plugged the downspout with a rag. Once you’re finished, uncork the downspout and watch to make sure it drains. If it doesn’t, try breaking the clog with a gentle spray. Or if it’s really tough, use a plumber’s snake. If the plug is in the elbow, you may need to unscrew it to clean it or disconnect it if it flows to an underground pipe.
- Aim downspouts away from your home to keep your foundation drier.
You also can cut your fire risk by burning smart:
If you burn more than half a cord of wood a year, you should have your chimney and fireplace or woodstove inspected and cleaned annually.
- Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
- Burn wood as completely as possible.
- Don’t burn wood overnight.
- Don’t burn garbage, gift wrapping, plastics, treated wood, particle board, and many types of plywood. All contribute to excess creosote buildup.
And when Jack Frost is in the forecast …
Prevent damage from frozen pipes. Cover outdoor faucets with foam protectors and wrap any exposed pipes in the garage, crawlspace, attic, or laundry room. If they’re near a power source, consider using a UL-approved heat cable (follow manufacturer's directions).
During cold snaps, open cabinet doors under sinks along exterior walls (the room’s warm air helps keep pipes from freezing) and run a slow trickle of water overnight, since water moving through the pipes discourages freezing. When choosing your “dripper,” pick the faucet farthest from the point where water enters your home. That will keep water moving through the whole system.
For unheated, vacant buildings, turn off the main shutoff valve, water heater, and other water-using appliances. Open faucets to drain pipes and irrigation systems. Flush the toilet to drain the tank (don’t worry about water left in the bowl).
About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat, and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold to consumers by the method they choose – phone, local community agents, or online. PEMCO ranks “Highest in Customer Satisfaction among Auto Insurers in the Northwest Region” according to J.D. Power. For more information, visit www.pemco.com.