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Column

How homeowners can avoid costly weather damage

Winter weather is wreaking havoc on Chicago homes this year. Storms and temperature swings can cause costly damage – from bursting pipes to collapsed roofs and much more.

Here are some steps you should take to protect your property and avoid expensive insurance claims:

Frozen pipes can cause more than $5,000 in water damage, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. But costs vary.

When water expands and freezes, it can put pressure on pipes. If there are cracks, your house could quickly fill with water unless you take these steps:

Find your water shut-off valve: If a pipe bursts, the sooner you shut off the water the better.  

Let faucets drip: This will keep your pipes from freezing. Single-lever faucets should be set in the center so that both hot and cold water can drip.

Buy heater tape: Wrap heater tape around pipes or let it run the length of them. Consider using UL-approved heat tape with a built-in thermostat.

Invest in a smart water leak and freeze detector: Smart home devices can prevent pipes from leaking and freezing. Hippo offers every customer a free Roost water leak and freeze detector, but there are several other good options on the market.

Insulate pipes: Wrap pipes in foam rubber and secure the insulation with tape. Make sure the foam stays dry.  

Leave on the heat: Even when you’re not home, you can set your thermostat to a lower temperature to make sure your house doesn’t freeze.

Rain, snow and ice can wreak havoc on your rooftop. In freezing temperatures, ice dams can form when heat rises and melt the ice and snow on your roof. Water can drip down, refreeze and create dams that block drains and weaken your roof, putting it at risk of collapsing.

Snow and hail can drive moisture beneath shingles. If your roof begins to leak, remove snow and tack a tarp over the damaged area until you can get it repaired. You should also consider these preventative measures:

Insulate your attic: Check parts of your attic that may be lacking insulation like areas around pipes, vents, lighting fixtures and chimneys.

Make sure your attic is ventilated: This will allow cool air to move through your attic while insulation seals the heat within your home.

Check the roof flashing: Make sure that it’s in good condition and can prevent water penetration.

Trim trees and dead branches: This will prevent limbs from falling and crashing through your roof on a windy or stormy day.  

Keeping your gutters clear throughout the winter also is important. Leaves, pine needles and other debris can clog gutters and prevent water from flowing away from your house. During a heavy rainstorm, water can pool around the foundation of your home. If it seeps through any cracks, it can cause flooding.

You should clean your gutters and downspouts and repair holes in them. Leaks can potentially damage the siding and structure of your home.

Make sure your furnace is in good condition. That way, you won’t have to wait for someone to come and fix it in the middle of a bad snowstorm.

Furnace repairs cost nearly $300, on average. Dust, ignition failure and oil burner problems are all signs that your furnace may need to be inspected.

Looking at your chimney is another task to complete. Make sure there is nothing clogging the flue. Remove soot and debris to prevent fires and prolong the life of your chimney.

Have a professional inspect the following parts of your chimney and look for cracks, loose bricks and missing mortar joints: the smoke chamber, flue liner, damper, firebox and chimney cap (if one is in place). Repairs should be done immediately.

The National Fire Prevention Association recommends getting your chimney inspected once a year and swept, if necessary. This can remove creosote that can build up over time. Creosote is highly flammable and can cause chimney fires.

• Mike Gulla is director of underwriting at Hippo Insurance, an insurtech company that’s reimagining home insurance through the lens of homeowners – building policies with more comprehensive coverage for at up to 25 percent less than competitors.

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