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5 ways to protect your home from winter storms

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As much of the U.S. faces a major winter storm system this weekend, experts are reminding those getting winter storm warnings or advisories to stay off the roads and adequately prepare their homes in case of frigid temperatures, snow and power outages.

The combination of this weather with what's expected to be a busy holiday travel weekend makes it an ideal time to run through a quick checklist to ensure your home remains protected. 

Here's a list of tips to protect your home from hazardous winter weather.

Tips to protect your home this winter

Here are five ways to prepare for the elements — both inside and out:

  1. Protect your pipes
  2. Seal up any leaks or drafts
  3. Get your furnace and chimney inspected
  4. Keep floors covered
  5. Remove low-hanging or dead tree branches

Protect your pipes

Frozen pipes can cost homeowners a lot of money: the average claim reported to State Farm for frozen pipe damage was just over $20,000 in 2022, the insurer said. If you're planning to be away from home for several days, be sure to adjust your thermostat to prevent pipes from freezing. 

"We recommend leaving your thermostat to 65 degrees, no lower than that," Jose Salas, a spokesperson for Denver Water, previously told CBS News Colorado. He also recommends insulating water pipes that may become too cold, turning off outdoor faucets, and disconnecting hoses. 

Try to identify pipes that are at higher risk of freezing — those near outer walls, attics or other areas in the house with poor insulation — and ensure they're covered, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency outlined in its Winter Weather Preparedness Guide.

If you think a pipe has already frozen, turn off your water — knowing where to locate your shut-off valve is key — and thaw the pipe as soon as possible. Don't hesitate to call a plumber for help.

Seal up any leaks or drafts

Cracks in your window frames, walls and doors are bad news for both your safety and energy bill in cold weather. 

"Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply. Insulate walls, attics, doors, and windows," the weather service says.

Caulk, foam and weatherstripping can help seal up doors and windows. Bubble wrap can also be used to insulate any windows that won't be opened during winter. 

The weather service also recommends installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic to help prepare for a storm.

Get your furnace and chimney inspected

A roaring fireplace may be one of the coziest parts of winter, but chimneys should be inspected and cleaned by a professional each year. A blocked chimney or flue can cause a house fire or put occupants at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning

Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector that is working, and have your furnace inspected annually, advises the Houston Office of Emergency Management.

And be aware that using your fireplace might not be a great option for efficiently warming your home. "Rethink your fireplace. Although a crackling fire in the fireplace can make a room appear to be warm and cozy, fireplaces are often a deterrent to energy efficiency because a lot of the heated air escapes up the chimney," states Alabama Power. The utility also says to close the flue when you're not using the fireplace. 

Keep floors covered

Bare floors without adequate insulation can cause your home to lose heat. Adding rugs or installing carpet will help keep your house — and feet — warmer.

Remove low-hanging or dead tree branches

Storms can take down entire trees, potentially causing damage to your home or power lines. The weight of snow and ice can also snap low-hanging or dead branches. 

The North Carolina Forest Service recommends proper maintenance and pruning of trees around your home, removing "dead, dying, diseased, damaged and decayed" branches as necessary ahead of anticipated winter storms or extreme weather to help prevent property damage or injury.

Always be prepared

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends stocking up on items such as battery-powered flashlights or lanterns, extra blankets and plenty of food at home to weather a storm.

Should you end up snowed in at your home, especially if you lose power or heat, the Red Cross recommends that residents have ample heating fuel on hand, and be prepared to evacuate and seek emergency shelter if necessary.

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