Cold weather precautions urged

With temperatures expected to drop into the teens this week, it’s time to take a break from holiday planning to protect homes against frozen pipes and other cold-weather problems.

“Frozen plumbing that leads to burst pipes can cause several thousand dollars in property damage,” said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service. “If no one is home, the price tag for unchecked flooding can go even higher.”

Winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, the Insurance Information Institute reports. In fact, according to the Insurance Services Office, winter storms accounted for 7.4 percent of catastrophe losses nationwide from 1990 to 2009, or an average of $1.25 billion per year (in 2009 dollars) with the average homeowners insurance claim for water damage and freezing totaling $5,896.

Keep the house warm. Set the thermostat for at least 65 degrees, as the temperature inside the walls, where pipes are located, is substantially colder. A lowered thermostat will not keep the pipes from freezing.
Keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to allow warm air to circulate around pipes (particularly in the kitchen and bathroom).
Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through an unheated or unprotected space. Or, if your house will be unattended for long periods, drain the water system.
Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Ideally, the attic should be five to 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes. You might also consider insulating unfinished rooms such as garages to keep pipes from freezing.
Check pipes. Look closely for cracks and leaks and have pipes repaired immediately. Wrap exposed pipes with heating tape.
Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect against the increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can prevent pipes from bursting.
Learn how to shut off the water to your home. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The more quickly you shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better your chances at minimizing damage.
Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage, and have it repaired immediately. Also, ask about ways to prevent damage from winter storm-related flooding. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other methods can prevent flood damage to your home and belongings.

Fit exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping to slow heat transfer. The more insulation the better. Detach garden hoses from spickets.
Install gutter guards. They prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house.
Seal cracks or holes in outside walls and foundations. Use caulking to protect water pipes. Make sure that skylights and other roof opening have proper weather stripping to keep water out.

If you are going to be away from home for an extended period, take special care. Turn off the water and/or have the water system drained by a professional to protect plumbing. Also, have someone check your home on a regular basis so that any problem can be corrected quickly. Activity at your home can also deter burglars.

Standard homeowners’ policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice damage and wind damage caused by weight of ice or snow.

For more information from the S.C. Insurance News Service.



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