Our homes get extra cozy in winter, but they're also in extra danger of cold-weather mishaps. One minute you're snuggled by the fireplace, and the next you could be dealing with a frightening chimney blaze.
The good news is there are steps you can take -- from cleaning out gutters to buying the right firewood -- that will ensure your home stays safe this winter. Take precautions against these mishaps now, and you'll be ready to snuggle the season away.
When water freezes in your pipes, pressure builds up between the ice blockage and the faucet -- and this puts the pipe in danger of bursting. To relieve pressure, let your faucet drip just a little throughout the night or day when cold temperatures hit. Make sure exposed pipes are covered in insulation or sleeves, and fill in any cracks or holes in the walls to keep your pipes (and yourself!) safe from cold air. Taking time to seal drafty windows before a storm will also keep your home cozy warm.
Before a big snow, mark out flower beds and shrubbery with stakes, so you won't shovel over prized areas of your yard. Serious snow haters can apply a liquid magnesium chloride concoction to yards before bad weather -- they're said to keep snow and ice buildup at bay. Keep salt or sand at the ready to provide traction on icy stairs and walkways, and invest in a shovel that won't cause injuries after repeated work (offset handles will reduce back strain, for instance).
When you use your fireplace, an icky substance called creosote builds up in the chimney. Over time, the flammable buildup can become thick enough to cause a dangerous chimney fire. To make sure your chimney is in the clear, have a certified chimney sweep inspect it annually, and prevent buildup by burning dry, seasoned wood (the fresh stuff has a high moisture content) and giving your fire plenty of air (no fireplace doors or glass covers, please!).
Wires and cables are one of the leading causes of house fires, and these fires occur more often in winter, according to a 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association. Check your lamp and appliance wires for cracks or frayed ends, as these can be fire culprits. Pinching wires across walls or running them under carpets with extension cords can damage wires and lead to sparks -- consider having an electrician add outlets instead, so you can use shorter cords. Have your wire setup checked if you've recently remodeled or purchased your home, to make sure it's safe.
Thoroughly clean your gutters to prevent clogging that allows ice and snow to pile up and seep through your roof. Also keep your roof one consistent, cold temperature -- spots where indoor heat leaks out can cause snow to melt rapidly and then re-freeze into nasty ice dams when it reaches the colder edges. Keep your roof cold by insulating attic floors so heat won't escape upward through the attic. Installing a ridge vent may help too -- it will let cool air flow under the entire roof.