If you’re a homeowner, you may be surprised to learn that the bulk of water damage to a home isn’t due to natural disasters or flooding. It’s actually due to unchecked plumbing issues that lurk on the property — things like slow leaks, corroded pipes, and degraded valves and supply lines. Even your water make-up can be a culprit.
Fortunately, many of these issues are preventable with some basic, proactive home maintenance.
Do you want to reduce the chances of water damage in your house? Here are some home maintenance tips that Travelers risk control specialists recommend:
Preparing your home for winter is an important annual ritual for homeowners. For instance, did you know that adding insulation in your attic before winter arrives can help prevent ice dams this winter? And do not forget that tuning up your heating system now can help prevent more costly emergency repairs at the height of a storm, when it can be difficult to find supplies and licensed contractors. The following winter maintenance tips can help you prepare your home to withstand another cold season.
Your Heating System
Before you give your heating system a workout this winter, take the time for preventive maintenance. It may help extend the life of your system and identify potential problems
- Have your furnace or boiler checked and serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year, preferably before the heating season begins.
- Clean or replace the furnace filter on forced hot air systems.
- Have your chimney checked and serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year. Pay particular attention to having creosote buildup removed from chimneys servicing woodstoves and fireplaces.
- Have your fuel tanks filled and keep an eye on levels throughout the winter.
- Set your heat no lower than 55 degrees as the temperature inside the walls where water piping is located is colder than the living spaces; open doors to unoccupied rooms to keep an even temperature throughout the house.
- Maintain your wood-burning or pellet stoves according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Is your insulation prepared to protect you from the cold? As an important line of defense from winter’s gusty winds and freezing temperatures, it is worth taking time to inspect and upgrade insulation and weather stripping before the season starts.
- Add extra insulation in the attic to help guard against ice dams. If too much heat escapes into the attic, it can warm the ice and snow on the roof. When it refreezes, it can cause an ice dam, which can lead to water damage inside your home or possibly even a roof collapse.
- Add weather stripping around doors and caulk windows to guard against drafts and heat loss.
- Remove screens from windows and install storm windows, if appropriate.
Freezing temperatures can be especially damaging to your home’s water piping. Make sure your pipes are adequately prepared to withstand a cold snap and remember to take extra precautions if you are going to be leaving your home, including shutting off your water.
- Check for water leaks and fix problems immediately; wrap water piping in UL-Listed heat tape and insulate if it is exposed in unheated areas such as garages, crawl spaces or attics. Use only thermostatically-controlled heat tape if your water piping is plastic, and follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.
- Learn how to shut off your water and know where your pipes are located in case they do freeze; you may be able to prevent water damage.
Your Winter Safety Measures
As you prepare for winter, following are some further safety measures that are especially important during the cold season.
- Trim trees and remove dead branches so they do not damage your home or injure someone if they fall because of ice, snow or wind.
- Keep gutters clear of leaves, sticks and other debris to help ensure melting snow can drain properly. Make sure downspouts direct water away from the foundation.
- Repair steps and handrails to make them safer in the ice and snow.
- Check smoke detectors, fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace batteries to ensure they are operating properly.
Your Key Supplies and Equipment
The first storm of the year can come sooner than you think. Stock up early and get key equipment, like snow blowers and generators, in good working condition long before you need them, so you can be prepared to enjoy what the season has to offer.
- Make sure you have snow shovels and a roof rake on hand. Stock your ice melting compound to melt ice on walkways.
- Have your snow blower and generator serviced and any necessary repairs made.
- Keep fuel for snow blowers and generators in approved safety containers and away from heat or flame-producing devices. Do not store fuel in your basement.
Cooking is a common cause of home structure fires and home fireelated injuries. Whether preparing for a family dinner or making a quick snack, practicing safe cooking behaviors can help keep you and your family safe.
- Never leave your range or cooktop unattended while cooking. If you have to leave the room, turn your range or cooktop off.
- Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves. Loose clothing can hang down onto hot surfaces and can catch fire if it comes in contact with a gas flame or electric burner.
- Keep your cooking area clean and free of combustible materials. Food wrappers, oven mitts or other materials left on or near the stove may catch fire.
- Be sure to clean up any spilled or splattered grease. Built-up grease can catch fire in the oven or on the cooktop.
- Keep a fire extinguisher readily available. Having an extinguisher nearby is important, but you also need to have the correct type of extinguisher and know how to properly use it.
- Never throw hot grease in the garbage as it can ignite combustible materials. Be sure to let grease cool and consider disposing it in an old can, such as a metal coffee can.
- Do not store food or other items in your oven. It can be easy to forget there is an item in your oven, and this could catch fire while preheating.
What to Do If a Cooking Fire Flares Up
By exercising caution in your kitchen, you can help reduce the risk of a kitchen fire. But if a fire does flare up, you need to be prepared.
- Your safety comes first. If you cannot safely extinguish the fire, leave the scene, call 911 for help, and let the fire department control the fire.
- If a small fire flares up and you are going to try to extinguish it, call 911 for help first. A fire may grow out of control more quickly than you anticipate. It is safer to have help already on the way.
- Smother a grease fire – never throw water on a grease fire. The water can be super-heated and change to steam, and can cause severe burns. Also, it can cause oil to splash up and spread the fire. If a grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by sliding the lid – while wearing an oven mitt – over the pan. If safe to do so, turn off the heat source. Do not move the pan; keep the lid on until the fire is out and the pan is completely cool.
- If a fire starts in your oven, keep the door closed and turn off the heat source. Keeping the door closed will help smother the flames. Do not open the door until the flames are completely out.
- If a fire starts in your microwave, turn off the microwave and do not open it until the fire is completely out. Unplug the microwave only if you can safely do so.
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