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10 ways winter weather can damage your home

Winter weather in Canada can be unpredictable to say the least. In some areas, it’s not unusual to see extreme cold, freezing rain, snow squalls, windstorms, and a sunny day above zero degrees all in the same week. Unfortunately, drastic changes in weather and temperature can damage your home, so it’s important to take some precautionary measures to protect it. Here are 10 common issues to watch out for this winter, plus tips to avoid damage to your home:

  1. Roof leaks. 
    During the winter, poor insulation and ventilation in your roof can allow warm air to rise from the heated areas of your home and melt any snow that has built up on your roof. The melted snow can then drip down to the colder edge of the roof and refreeze, creating an ice dam. If an ice dam is left untreated, melting snow will continue to build up behind it. Since the middle of the roof is warmer, the melted snow won’t refreeze, and the remaining water can slowly seep under your shingles, causing leaks in your roof. To try to catch leaks caused by ice dams early (or prevent them altogether), you or a paid professional should inspect your roof annually for signs of damage.
  2. Fallen gutters. 
    Ice dams can cause more than just leaks in your roof. In fact, heavy ice dams that build up along the edge of your roof can also pull down your gutters — even if they’re brand new. To prevent ice dams from building up and resting heavily on your gutters, consider installing electric heating cables or heat tape on the cold areas of your roof where you typically see ice starting to form.
  3. Peeling exterior paint. 
    If you’ve recently painted your house’s wood siding, you may want to save any paint you have leftover for touch-ups in the spring. In areas with extreme temperature changes, tiny cracks can allow moisture from rain, ice, and snow to get between the paint and siding, potentially causing the paint to peel. Luckily, repainting your siding should seal the holes and protect your siding for another winter.
  4. Siding damage. 
    In the case of painted wood siding, moisture buildup between the paint and the siding can cause the wood to rot. And vinyl siding isn’t completely safe, either — winter storms that come with hail or high winds can knock over trees, which can also crack your siding. If your wood or vinyl siding is damaged, you’ll need to replace the affected panels to prevent moisture from seeping into your home.
  5. Pulled caulking. 
    Drastic changes in temperature during the winter don’t just damage exterior paint — they can also cause caulking to pull away from your windows, leaving gaps that let warm air out and cold air in. To avoid sending your furnace into overdrive and paying a hefty heating bill, inspect your windows once or twice a year and patch any cracks or gaps with fresh caulking.
  6. Mould growth. 
    Thanks to melting snow, ice, and warm indoor temperatures, winter creates favourable conditions for mould growth. In areas like your attic, where warm air rises to meet the much colder roof, condensation can form on exposed wood and allow mould to grow. If you’ve recently sealed your windows, condensation that collects on the window can also contribute to mould growth along the base of the window and the wall. Proper insulation and ventilation are critical to stopping mould growth in its tracks.
  7. Foundation cracks. 
    Over time, cracks in your home’s foundation can develop as it settles into the ground. During the winter, water can enter the small cracks in your foundation, causing them to expand more with each refreeze, which can eventually lead to costly repairs. To avoid more extensive and expensive damage, be sure to inspect your foundation every spring and seal any cracks you find.
  8. Driveway cracks. 
    An asphalt driveway is prone to the same issue as your home’s foundation — water that collects in small cracks in the asphalt can freeze and expand, creating a maze of potholes in your driveway. To keep your asphalt driveway in tip-top shape, consider sealing cracks and holes with tar when the weather warms up.
  9. Sump pump failure. 
    If you live in a rural area or a region prone to flooding, you likely have a sump pump in your house. A sump pump picks up water from your basement and pumps it away from your home’s foundation, usually into a drainage ditch or a storm sewer system, in the event of a flood. During the winter, your sump pump discharge hose — which is outside your home and sometimes above ground — can freeze, making it unusable in the event of a flood. Consider buying an extra discharge hose to have as a backup in case your existing hose is frozen or damaged. It’s also important to note that your sump pump relies on electricity to work. In the event of a weather-related power outage, having a battery backup system or generator in place can give you peace of mind that everything is running smoothly.
  10. Frozen pipes. 
    Water pipes in your basement, attic, or other colder areas of your home are also susceptible to freezing in the winter. When water freezes and expands inside a pipe, it can cause small leaks at the pipe’s joint or create a much larger crack along the pipe. When the water thaws, it can burst the pipe and spill directly into your home. It’s easy to winterize exposed pipes by lining the outside with heating tape. You can also prevent pipes from freezing by keeping your thermostat at a consistent temperature day and night. And if you’ll be away from home for an extended period during the winter, you should shut off your water and drain your pipes to prevent them from freezing and bursting while you’re away.

While most home insurance policies exclude damage caused by regular wear and tear and maintenance issues, there are certain cases where your home insurance may have your back in the event of a winter mishap. Contact your licensed insurance broker to find out how your own policy may or may not respond if your home is damaged in the winter.

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