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Steps homeowners can take to avoid winter property damage

In the aftermath of the late October snow and wind storm, a Methuen house has a lot of tree branches down in the front yard.
In the aftermath of the late October snow and wind storm, a Methuen house has a lot of tree branches down in the front yard. Credit: Globe Staff Photo/Jim Davis

For homeowners, winter – with its cold, snow and ice – offers endless possibilities for damage and disaster. Whether it’s freezing pipes, leaking roofs, or some unimagined mishap, bad weather brings an increased risk of problems. There are, however, ways to prepare for winter’s worst, and making the right moves as soon as possible can help stave off disaster down the road.

Jim Hyatt, vice president for personal lines for Arbella Insurance, has seen every manner of problem that can be caused by winter weather, and he has some advice as to what you can still do to protect your home as we head even deeper into the season.

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Worry about your roof

Hyatt said that the first thing every homeowner should worry about is his or roof. Heavy snowfall plus varying temperatures can create ice dams, he explains, which can lead to leaks and roof damage.

“If a homeowner has a lot of snow on the roof and the temp goes from freezing to above freezing, snow melts, then freezes, forming dams. Every time you go through this, water and ice pull at the shingles and water gets inside your roof. This can cause plaster and other problems,” Hyatt said. “A couple of years ago when we had 81 inches of snow there were an astronomical number of ice dams.”

Preventing ice dams is relatively simply according to Hyatt. The solution is simply keeping your gutters clean. Unfortunately, if your gutters were not cleaned during the fall, Hyatt suggests that you leave the task to a professional due to the danger of using a ladder on frozen or snow-covered ground.

Beware of fire

For many homeowners one of the joys of winter is sitting by a roaring fire. Fireplaces are another potential danger, but taking the proper steps before lighting up can greatly mitigate the danger.

“We recommend having your chimney cleaned once a year,” Hyatt said. “That has to be done by a professional.”

Hyatt also recommends having a spark arrester installed on your chimney. Spark arresters not only keep animals from entering your home, they also stop sparks – which can ignite leaves or pine needles on your roof – from escaping your chimney.

In addition to having your chimney serviced yearly, Hyatt also suggests that anyone with an oil-fired furnace have that looked at by a professional once a year as well. Candles also present another often overlooked fire danger.

“We recommend that people be very safe with candles. Use candleholders and place candles away from pets and children” Hyatt said.

Protect your pipes

One of the most common problems caused by freezing temperatures is frozen pipes. This can be a particular problem for people who leave their homes during the winter.

“Even if you leave your house it’s important to leave the heat on in the house at 65, Hyatt said. “You should – if you are away – open the cupboards up under the sinks to make sure the heat gets in.”

Trim your trees

Though it’s too late to do this for the current winter, one of the key fixes to put on your calendar for next year is making sure you take care of any trees on your property.

“The weight of snow and ice make it more likely that a dead or untrimmed tree can fall down in heavy wind,” Hyatt said. “We recommend having an arborist look at your trees once a year because seemingly healthy trees can have termite or other damage.”

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