The Waterloo Region is a wonderful place to be in the winter, but the weather can be harsh. Check out our big guide to preventing winter damage so that your enjoyment of the colder months isn't spoiled by expensive home repair headaches or worse...
Buying a Waterloo Region home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll make in your lifetime. Your home is also the place where you’ll make the most memories. But after the paperwork is completed and you’re moved in, the work doesn’t stop there.
Owning a home requires monitoring and periodic maintenance. Storms and other weather conditions can strain your home and cause damage, especially in our sometimes harsh Ontario winters.
Here are some things for new homeowners - and those who have owned their home for years too - to watch out for this winter:
Extreme cold temperatures can cause your pipes to freeze. Luckily, there are some warning signs to watch for. Awareness can help prevent serious damage from occurring.
No running water. Water plays a significant role in our daily lives. If you turn on the faucet for a glass of water or jump in the shower and no water comes out, you may have a problem. Another sign is significantly low water pressure.
The pipes are frosty. There are pipes running in all different directions in your home, so it’s hard to see them all. However, keeping an eye on pipes that are under your sinks can help prevent damage. If those pipes have frost on them, this is a tell-tale sign that you have a problem.
Unusual odors. If you smell a bad or unusual odor coming from a faucet or drain, this may be another warning sign that your pipes are frozen.
Cold water. If you turn on the hot water, but only cold water comes out, that’s also a sign your pipes are frozen. If your pipes aren’t frozen, there may be a problem with your water heater.
What to do if a frozen pipe bursts
Find your main water supply shut-off valve. No matter what the problem, the key to stopping a water leak is to turn off the water to your entire home. To do this, you’ll need to find your shut-off valve. To help you find this more quickly, attaching a shut off tag is a good idea.
Clean up the water right away. If your home has standing water from a burst pipe, cleaning up the water as soon as possible can help prevent further damage. If water sits for a long period of time, there’s a good chance for mold growth.
Remove your personal items. Depending on where the water leak occurs, you may have to quickly remove items from that area. Quickly prioritize what items to remove based on value or sentiment. While many items can be replaced, family heirlooms or pictures can’t.
Call a local plumber. An experienced plumber is trained to find, fix, and replace burst pipes in a timely manner. This isn’t the time to try and do it yourself.
Call a local electrician. Based on how your home is built, it’s possible your circuit breaker box is near water lines. If water damage occurs, call your local electrician to identify and assist in the repairs.
Contact your insurance agent. While an insurance policy can provide coverage for this type of damage, it’s important to talk to your insurance agent to determine the type of coverage you’ve purchased. Not every policy covers everything. Depending on the amount of damage, your insurance company may call in a local restoration company to help.
Preventing your pipes from freezing
Drain your outdoor hose. Always drain water from outdoor hoses when the weather starts to get cold.
Turn off your outdoor spigot’s shut-off valve. While new homes may have freeze resistant water spigots, it’s still a good idea to find the valve in your basement and turn it off.
Add insulation. If water pipes are in an unheated part of your basement or garage, consider adding insulation to prevent them from freezing.
Keep your heat on. Never let your home get below 13C/55F during the winter months. If you’re going to escape the cold by going to a warm climate for a couple of months, consider installing a monitoring system. This type of system will send you a warning if your home goes below a specified temperature. You can then respond by having your neighbour or a family member inspect your home.
There are several things that could damage your roof this winter. High winds can loosen shingles and send them flying. The weight of snow and ice could cause the roof to collapse. Lastly, ice dams can cause water to penetrate your home.
Going on your roof can be dangerous anytime of the year. It’s especially true during the winter months. However, keeping an eye on the roof from the ground can help prevent serious damage from occurring.
It’s important to keep your sidewalks and driveway clear of ice and snow to prevent slip and falls. Unfortunately, shoveling, picking away at ice, and using de-icing products can cause damage, such as chips and cracks. If shoveling becomes overwhelming, consider calling a professional for help.
Like your roof, the weight of snow and ice can cause damage to your deck. If snow begins to build up, it’s a good idea to remove it as quickly as possible. However, don’t use a metal shovel or plastic shovel with a metal edge because they can damage the wood. If that’s all you have, then remove the snow in layers and use a soft bristled push broom or leaf blower to remove the rest.
If you feel a draft in your home, check around your windows. Cold temperatures can cause the caulk to crack. It’s an easy fix that can keep your home warmer this winter and may even improve the look of your windows at the same time.
Gaps in your wood doesn’t necessarily mean damage occurred. Nor does a lot of window condensation means that they are faulty. It often means that your home is extremely dry. Humidity levels in your home during the winter months should be between 30 and 50 percent. There are many benefits to achieving this humidity level, bith fr your home and the family (you) that live in it.
There are a variety of humidifiers that may work for your home. The list below identifies options from most to least expensive.
Central humidifiers. While this is the most expensive type, the benefit is it provides moisture in your entire home. Central humidifiers hook up to your air conditioning or heating system. The remaining humidifiers only work for one room in your home.
Evaporators. These larger, free-standing units can resemble an oscillating fan or portable heater.
Steam vaporizers. Since the vaporizer creates steam by heating the water, it can cause burns if it spills, so be especially careful if you have small children.
Ultrasonic humidifiers. These use an ultrasonic vibration to create a cool or warm mist.
Proper Humidity Level
Now that you understand the different types of humidifiers available, it’s important to know the ideal humidity level for your home. A level too high or low could cause problems. Experts recommend a relative humidity level between 30 – 50 percent.
Keeping your home at an ideal humidity level is a good idea for all the following reasons:
Keeps your family healthy. Airborne viruses thrive during the winter because our homes are dry. By adding a humidifier and increasing the humidity level in your home, germs may be reduced.
Improves sleep. Increasing the moisture in your home can soothe your nose and throat tissues. This can help reduce snoring.
Prevents dry skin. A dry home can work against us by withdrawing moisture from our skin. Increasing moisture can prevent this and help our bodies perform at their best.
Prevents damage to your home. If your home is too dry, changes you may experience may include:
Difficulty opening and closing doors
Spaces or cracks in your hardwood floor
Cracks in your furniture
Peeling paint or wallpaper
Prevents static electricity. Static electricity can cause frizzy hair and discomfort for your pets. If static electricity builds up, it can even cause damage to electronic devices.
Could save money on your heating bills. Increased moisture in the air could improve the warmth in your home. This could lead to lower thermostat settings. Common heating mistakes to avoid this winter.
Can relieve allergy symptoms. If you’re an allergy sufferer, increased humidity can help reduce dust mites and other allergens. This too, can help sooth your tissues in nose and throat.
Broken Tree Limbs.
High winds and the weight of ice and snow can damage your trees. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to protect them. However, it’s possible your homeowners insurance policy may provide coverage for them. Talk to your agent to learn more.
If the trees are too big, or too close to your home, call a professional service to have them removed. If you home is damaged, make sure you report it to your insurance company right away. Depending on the damage, a restoration company may be needed.
It's worth noting that if a tree is found to be diseased or damaged, your insurance company may not cover any damage it causes. For this reason, if the trees on your property are larger, or older trees it's a good idea to have them professionally assessed.
Nearly half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February. And if you have an old electrical system, space heaters may tax their capacity. Here are some heating safety tips to prevent your home from catching fire this winter.
General Safety Tips
Follow the three feet rule. Keep flammable materials at least three feet away from fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters.
Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. Consider replacing batteries at least once a year.
Avoid overloading electrical outlets.
Don’t use candles during a power outage. Rely on flashlights instead.
Space Heater Safety Tips
Reading is fundamental. Always read your owner’s manual and look at warning labels.
Directly plug them into a wall outlet. Never plug a space heater into an extension cord or power strip. These alternative electrical sources could overheat and cause a fire. In addition, don’t plug anything else into the wall outlet that is being used by the heater.
Inspect the cord and plug regularly. After removing it from storage, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for broken plugs or frayed cords.
Keep them out of walkways or common areas. Never place a space heater in a doorway or common area like the kitchen.
Keep an eye on young children or pets around space heaters. Both are very inquisitive. Turning your back for a split second could lead to an injury.
Keep them on flat hard surfaces. It’s a good idea to keep them off furniture such as cabinets and tables. In addition, if you have long thick carpet, consider laying down a piece of wood or a flame resistant mat.
When you decide to call it a night, make sure you turn any space heaters off.
Fireplace Safety Tips
Inspect your chimney yearly. Experts recommend you have your chimney inspected each year. How much you use your fireplace will determine if you need a chimney sweep.
Choose the right wood type. You can burn any type of hard or soft wood as long as it’s seasoned. Seasoned wood is wood that’s cut, especially oak (hardwood), and sits idle in a dry environment for a full year. Properly seasoned wood creates hot fires, which produce less creosote resulting in less buildup on your flue and in your chimney.
Use a mesh screen. Have a large screen in place to prevent sparks from landing on the floor.
Doors open or closed? The stage of your fire determines whether the glass doors should remain open or closed. When starting a fire, leave the doors open to allow for proper airflow. If you’re enjoying a fire with family or friends, having the doors open allows you to enjoy the ambiance of the fire. When you leave the room, close the glass doors to keep the fire contained. Always keep a watchful eye.
Keep the area clear. When enjoying a fire, make sure it’s clear of items that could catch fire from a spark.
Safely stack the logs. Remember, this is an indoor fire. Stack logs near the back and only a couple at a time. Roaring fires aren’t meant for indoors.
Store cooled ashes in a metal container. Experts recommend storing cooled ashes at least ten feet from your home and other buildings on your property.
Pellet Stove Safety Tips
Purchase the recommended pellets. Refer to your owner’s manual and purchase the right pellets to ensure your stove runs and operates efficiently.
Being proactive is the best way to prevent damage to your home. Do your research and figure out how you can protect your home from Mother Nature.