With wildfires ablaze in the Westand temperatures still warm in most of the country, it’s hard tothink ahead to the deep freezes of winter. But families would bewise to consider how to protect their homes from the winter coldnow – especially if they own large, custom-built homes.

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With frigid temperatures extending far into the Southern statesin the past two winters, the vast majority of homeowners need toappreciate the possibility of significant damage from frozen pipesand ice dams. We had one high-net-worth (HNW) client as far southas Georgia whose home suffered $500,000 in damage from a frozenpipe that burst.

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Related: 6 tips for "winterizing" the home

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Now is the time for families to plan ahead for such risksbecause the best ways to minimize them typically require theservices of a professional contractor. We know from experience thatmisguided attempts to remedy problems at the last moment, such astrying to thaw a frozen pipe with a torch or chipping away at anice dam with a hammer, can lead to disaster. Wealth advisors havean opportunity to raise this issue with their HNW clients and gainincreased loyalty by helping them protect one of their mostvaluable assets.

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Here are steps HNW homeowners should start thinking aboutnow.

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frozen pipes
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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Frozen pipes

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To help prevent frozen pipes, homeowners should properlyinsulate rooms in which pipes might be exposed to cold air, such asthe garage, attic and crawl spaces. Air leaks from the outside nearpipes should be sealed to prevent drafts and keep the warm air in.Insulating the pipes, too, will provide added protection.

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As a second line of defense, an automatic leak detection andwater shutoff system, will help minimize damage from a frozen pipe.These devices also protect against leaks from any type of plumbingor water-based heating system, and may also earn a discount on thehomeowner premium. Remote water sensors can also be placed in thelowest level of the home and near water-using appliances to reducethe impact of a leak. By preventing just one large loss, thesedevices can often pay for themselves because a HNW family may havea home insurance deductible of $2,500 or more. Plus, the familyavoids the inconvenience of repair work that can take months.Homeowners should also consider turning the water off at secondhomes and when they leave their primary home forvacation.

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With water-based heating systems, especially those which mayhave components in outside walls or uninsulated spaces, glycol(antifreeze) can be easily added by the heating contractor togreatly reduce the freezing temperature of the system.

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Two additional systems merit strong consideration: a remotetemperature monitoring system and a standby power generator.Especially in the northernmost latitudes, a heating system failurecan plunge the home into dangerous temperatures in a matter ofhours. If the occupants are away for the day at work or a longweekend, the pipes could freeze. With a remote temperaturemonitoring system, the homeowner receives an alert when thetemperature falls below a certain level, providing a chance to havea neighbor or caretaker check the home and recommend if a heatingservice needs to be called. If a severe winter storm knocks out theutility power to the home, a standby generator will automaticallyactivate and keep the heat working.

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These systems can also earn home insurance premiumcredits.

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ice dam
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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Ice damming

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Icicles hanging off a roof present a quintessential image ofwinter, but they also signal the danger of an ice dam. Families maynot recognize the danger until water starts pouring down the insidewalls, damaging interior finishes, artwork on the walls and nearbyfurniture.

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Ice dams form when heat from inside the home warms the surfaceof the roof and melts the snow on top. The water runs down theslope of the roof until it reaches the roof edge and freezes.Eventually, the ice builds up to form a dam that blocks furthersnowmelt, forming a pool of water that backs up beneath shingles,drips down the walls, and even creeps across ceilings. Retainedmoisture can also lead to mold problems.

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The key to preventing ice dams is to have a professional makesure the attic has sufficient insulation.

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For ventilated attic spaces, the floor of the attic should bethoroughly insulated and access doors and stairs to the atticshould be tightly sealed. Lights in the ceiling directly below theattic should also be properly insulated. Vents from bathroom fansand dryers should not end in the attic. They should pass up throughthe roof or out through side walls, but not directly under eaveswith soffit vents.

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Cathedral ceilings, a popular feature in many high-value homes,pose a particular problem. With the ceiling material naileddirectly to the roof joists, very little space exists forinsulation and ventilation. Heating appliances in attic spaces thatdon’t have insulation between the roof joists can also lead to icedam creation. In both cases, professional help is essential toproperly assess the situation and implement prudent measures tominimize the risk of ice dams.

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Annual cleaning of gutters and installation of products such asgutter screens, heat trace cable, and an ice and water shield canalso help minimize damage from ice dams, but none can beaccomplished at the last moment, when snow begins to fall.

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mansion interior staircase
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(Photo: Thinkstock)

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Planning ahead and getting proper help will maximize theprobability of a safe, worry-free winter.

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Since no preventative measure is perfect, HNW families shouldalso ensure that they have adequate insurance protection. Many HNWfamilies choose standard insurance policies that may only cover thedepreciated value of home contents that are damaged by a frozenpipe leak or ice dam. They may also be more restrictive aboutreplacing high quality materials, such as hand-crafted moldings orunique flooring.

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By contrast, HNW insurance companies generally offer policieswith replacement cost on contents and claims practices that show agreater appreciation for repairing custom-built homes withmaterials of like kind and quality.

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Preparing one’s home for winter might seem like a bigundertaking at first glance, but a conversation with HNW clientsabout the risks for damage will likely save them money in thelong-term, as well as highlight the need for a trusted insuranceprovider that can cover the cost of repairs.

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