If you live in a climate that includes cold winters, you know the season creates special challenges for homeowners. In this article, we discuss an icy situation.

Ice Dams

An ice dam refers to ice that has formed along a roof's edge. The dam of ice blocks additional water and the pooling water backs up and finds pathways into a home's interior. This water may cause deterioration and decay to interior wood and plaster, drywall or other insulation materials. Once an ice dam has forced paths into a home, the roof becomes more susceptible to future ice dams and water damage.

Too much heat rising from the home to warm the roof is the most frequent cause of ice dams. The process occurs unevenly with the warmer area at the higher part of the roof melting the snow and then the cooler, lower area, particularly the roof edge, permitting the water to refreeze and then accumulate. Inadequate insulation lets too much heat escape into the attic and this creates a warmer roof. Improper ventilation creates moisture and heat buildup due to the lack of air movement.

How To Detect A Problem

Compare the way the snow is melting from the living area of your home with how snow appears on the roof over an unheated area such as a garage or shed. How does any snow coverage on your roof compare with your neighbors' homes? Check for icicles. They can be pretty, but heavy icicle buildup means that interior heat is melting a lot of snow and may contribute to ice dams.

How To Prevent Ice Dams

There are a number of ways to help prevent ice dams:

• Clear excess snow from the roof. However, in order to minimize damage to the roof and roofing, hire a professional to remove the snow.

• Add rubberized or special roofing adhesives to help prevent pooled water on the roof from finding entry into the home's interior.

• Inspect the attic and roof for cracks, holes, or joints that permit warm air to escape to the roof, and seal or repair these areas.

• Add the recommended amount of insulation to the attic and exterior walls of your home to minimize escaping heat (this also reduces your heating costs).

• Reduce your home's thermostat and throw on warmer clothing during extended cold spells.

• Clear your gutters and downspouts so that water is properly shed off your roof.

As always, an insurance professional is a valuable source of safety and insurance information. Don't hesitate to contact an agent to discuss your questions. If you haven't had the chance, please be sure to read parts two and three of "Is Your Home Winter Ready" which discusses other winter concerns.

Creating A Clear Liability

Snow doesn't show favoritism. Instead of conveniently falling onto unused areas, it covers homes, sidewalks and driveways. As a responsible homeowner you should arrange to make travel across your property safe. This calls for clearing your walkways of snow and ice. It is also important to clear your property of items such as rakes, shovels, tools, toys and similar items. Remember that it takes only a small amount of snow to hide items that, during clear conditions, are easily seen and avoided. So take time to move such property and make repairs to uneven or cracked pavement.

Keep in mind that clearing walkways (including stairs) is an invitation for pedestrians to use the path. So, once you clear an area, it has to be kept clear and safe, especially from ice. Also, avoid creating piles of snow that can block either a driver's or a pedestrian's view. Finally, be sure that your property is safe for children who are enjoying winter. Don't allow children to slide around without being aware of pedestrians or motorized traffic and don't let anyone throw snow or ice balls at cars (you could be sued for any accident caused by careless play) related from the use of your property or premises.

Don't forget the inside of your home. Visitors should be kept safe from harm. Be sure to keep interior stairs and floors clear of the watery remains of melted snow. Keep things dry and consider using mats that provide good traction and an area where folks can clear snow and ice from their shoes or boots.

As always, an insurance professional is a valuable source of safety and insurance information. Don't hesitate to contact an agent to discuss your questions. If you haven't had the chance, please be sure to read parts one and three of "Is Your Home Winter Ready" which discusses other winter concerns.

Firing Up A Hearty Loss

Do you own a fireplace, wood-burning stove or portable heater? What about a gas or an electric furnace? If so, you need to take steps to make sure that they are safe and used properly. This should be done well before the arrival of the heating season.

Have your furnace inspected to make sure that it will operate properly in cold weather. Clean filters and vents will go a long way to keep your furnace a source or warmth rather than a cause of a fire loss. An inspection should also make certain that your furnace is not a creating a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup.

Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves should also be inspected and, if necessary, thoroughly cleaned. Creosote, a tar-like byproduct of burning wood, builds up in chimney and stove flues very quickly. Even a single wood-burning season could produce enough buildup to create a fire or severe smoke hazard. Don't do the inspection yourself. It's worth the cost to have a professional inspect and clean your fireplace or stove. Also, make sure that you don't burn softwood or paper. Using anything other than hard woods exposes your fireplace or stove to quicker creosote buildup (softwood) or more intense heat (paper), which could clog or contribute to cracking a flue or liner.

Be very careful with the use of portable heaters. Depending upon the type, they can be prone to malfunction or could be a hazardous source of burns, especially for children. Further, many types can be easily tipped with the combination of heat source and fuels, creating a serious fire hazard.

Finally, make sure you have fire/smoke and carbon monoxide detectors properly installed and in good working order. Test them and put in new batteries. Small expense, big payoff.

As always, insurance professional is a valuable source of safety and insurance information. Don't hesitate to contact an agent to discuss your questions.

Source: ©The Rough Notes Company, Inc.

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