Winter doesn't officially start until Dec. 21, 2019, yet much of the U.S. has already experienced below-freezing temperatures, snowstorms, and icy conditions. For homeowners in cold climates, preparing their homes for the winter is an annual ritual that can help prevent costly damage and insurance claims.

To help homeowners ready their property for the coming season, Travelers offers a few tips on how to winterize every part of the home.

Prepare heating systems

Before winter:

  • Check the furnace or boiler and have it serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year.
  • Clean or replace the furnace filter on forced hot air systems.
  • Check the chimney and have serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year. Make sure to remove creosote buildup from chimneys that are connected to woodstoves and fireplaces.

During winter:

  • Have fuel tanks filled and maintained throughout the season.
  • Do not set the heater lower than 55 degrees, as the temperature inside the walls where water piping is located is colder than in living spaces. Also, keep doors open within the house to maintain an even temperature throughout.
  • Service wood-burning or pellet stoves according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Inspect insulation

  • When too much heat escapes into the attic, it can warm ice and snow on the roof, which creates an ice dam when it refreezes. Ice dams can cause expensive damage or even a roof collapse. Guard against them by installing extra insulation in the attic.
  • Prevent drafts and heat loss by adding weather stripping around doors and caulking windows.
  • Install storm windows, if appropriate.

Check utilities

  • Check for water leaks and make repairs, if needed. If a water pipe is exposed in an unheated area, such as a garage or crawl space, wrap the pipe in UL-listed heat tape; use only thermostatically-controlled heat tape on plastic piping.
  • Learn where water pipes are located and know how to shut off the water supply in the event of an emergency to prevent damage.

Home winter safety tips

In addition to the steps laid out above, there are additional home maintenance measures that are important for safety during the cold season.

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Heather A. Turner

Heather A. Turner is the managing editor of ALM's NU Property & Casualty Group. She can be reached at [email protected].