In many parts of the northern U.S., a forecast for a winter storm is standard course for the season. It’s only when the car can’t make it down the driveway anymore that it’s time to consider the weather bad. For people in other regions, the first hint of snow in the forecast can cause them to rush to the grocery store for bread and milk before a snowflake even falls.

Whether you’ve got snowshoes or don’t even own a pair of winter boots, your home should be ready for a storm. Follow these recommendations to prepare your home for winter weather and reduce the chances of damage to your home or yourself in snowy conditions.

[Read: How to Guard Against 9 Winter Home Hazards.]

Take a look at your roof. A big cause for concern when a winter storm comes is the potential for water damage. A leaky roof in the middle of winter can be difficult to fix, and with snow piled on top for much of the season, you may not notice until days, weeks or even months after damage has begun.

Before snow is even in the forecast, do a ground-level inspection of your roof, says Peter Horch, owner of Horch Roofing in Warren, Maine. If you see broken shingles or prolonged wet spots that may indicate a leak beneath, be proactive and contact a roofer immediately to ensure any repairs are made before winter wind and snow damage can make it worse.

“If anything looks out of order, call a professional,” Horch says. He stresses you shouldn’t get on the roof yourself for a closer inspection, and especially not if the weather is cold and there’s the potential for ice. Professional roofers will be able to take the right precautions, and if the weather isn’t favorable, they can do as much work as possible without getting on the roof to avoid injury.

Have your heater checked. It’s a key step to prepare your home for colder weather, but if you haven’t had your heating system serviced in a year, it’s best to make an appointment for routine maintenance before a big storm.

“There’s nothing worse than having your heater go out. Have that preventative maintenance done ahead of time,” says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, a national home improvement company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A malfunctioning heater during a blizzard can lead to frozen pipes, an increased chance of carbon monoxide poisoning and an all-around frigid home. Routine maintenance will ensure your system is running smoothly and reduce your chances for problems during the most inconvenient times.

[See: Is Your Home Alone for the Holidays? How to Keep Your House Bandit-Free.]

Own a shovel. It’s almost too obvious, but after the grocery stores experience a run on milk and bread, the home improvement stores typically see their stock of shovels go fast. When a winter weather forecast comes in, get to the store quickly or you may be left with a shovel that's not up to the job of clearing snow. You may not live in an area that sees enough snowfall to warrant a snowblower or ride-on snowplow, but even if you do, a shovel is necessary backup in case there are technical difficulties with the more high-tech gadgets.

Have the shovel at the ready inside your home before a winter storm hits. If it’s a blizzard, getting into a detached garage or shed can prove troublesome once a couple feet of snow have piled up.

Be prepared for slippery surfaces. The most immediate problem you’ll face once a winter storm hits is how to get out and clear pathways without taking a spill. It’s important to know the difference between materials that will create traction on ice or snow and those that will help melt it. Steve Greenwald, president of Gaia Enterprises, which makes no-slip product Traction Magic and ice melter Safe Paw, notes it’s important to understand how people slip before determining the best way to combat it.

“Ice is slippery, because on any sheet of ice at any temperature there’s something called free water – there’s a layer of water that’s unperceivable, but that’s what you initially slip on,” Greenwald says.

When you need to get outside and begin snow removal during or right after a heavy storm, a no-slip product can help keep you upright. “You need something that grips the ice,” Greenwald says, noting Traction Magic’s usefulness in those situations. EcoTraction is a similar product aimed at reducing the slipperiness of winter surfaces.

Other quick alternatives if you’re unable to buy a product specifically designed for winter weather scenarios include cat litter and sand, though Greenwald notes they don’t necessarily have the same long-lasting effect as a manufactured product. Road salt is another popular option, but it best serves as a snow and ice melter, and in temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit is largely ineffective.

[See: 10 Ways to Save Energy and Reduce Utility Bills at Home.]

Keep an eye on your plumbing. Freezing pipes are a big concern in cold weather, and a deep freeze or heavy winter storm could be the conditions to put just a little too much stress on your plumbing.

You can take a couple simple precautions such as insulating exposed pipes and opening the cabinets in your kitchen, which will help the warm air inside the home stay close to the pipes in the walls. Turning on your faucets so there’s a slow drip will also help keep your pipes from freezing and bursting.

If during a winter storm you do see signs of pipes freezing in your basement or at exterior faucets, Sassano says you can use a hairdryer to try to warm them up, blowing warm air along the pipe to reverse any freezing already taking place.

“That’s about the limit I would say a homeowner do,” Sassano says, noting you should stay away from a blowtorch or anything that gets much hotter because it could cause more harm than good.

Tags: real estate, housing, home improvements, weather


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

Recommended Articles

What Is a BPO in Real Estate?

Devon Thorsby | March 20, 2019

Here's what to know about a broker price opinion, how it's calculated and if you should get one.

Are You Ready To Buy a Home?

Wendy Arriz | March 19, 2019

For the millennial generation, homeownership can still be intimidating. Here's what you should consider before making an offer.

Decorate Your Apartment on the Cheap

Devon Thorsby | March 15, 2019

A short lease doesn't mean you can't make your apartment feel like home.

What Data Points Tell You About Housing

Dima Williams | March 14, 2019

From home prices and sales to construction and mortgage rates, these are the real estate gauges to watch.

The Best Places to Live in California

Devon Thorsby | March 13, 2019

See how 12 metro areas in California compare to each other.

Finding the Wow Factor in a Home

Steven Gottlieb | March 12, 2019

Which special qualities in a home will have you making an offer, and why you may need to compromise on other details to get them.

Design Trends to Look Out for in 2019

Devon Thorsby | March 8, 2019

Which decor fads are on their way in, and which ones should you ditch in the coming year?

Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019

Devon Thorsby | March 7, 2019

Housing markets may not be as hot as previous years, but selling now could be your best bet.

Best Places to Live in South Carolina

Devon Thorsby | March 6, 2019

See how the largest metro areas in the Palmetto State measure up.

Finding Comparable Neighborhoods

Lisa Larson | March 5, 2019

It's possible to find a neighborhood that checks off your wish list without breaking your budget.

How Companies Change a Housing Market

Sally Forster Jones | March 4, 2019

New office campuses bring soaring prices and low housing inventory, but that's just the start.

Difference Between Real Estate Titles

Devon Thorsby | March 1, 2019

How to decipher a real estate pro's title – and decide whether it makes a difference when hiring one.

The Best Places to Live Near the Beach

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 28, 2019

Find out which places offer the most access to the ocean, sand and sunshine.

Red Flags to Help You Spot a Rental Scam

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 22, 2019

Avoid falling victim to online rental scams by knowing the most common tricks.

How Do I Find My Property Lines?

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 21, 2019

The best ways for homeowners to determine the exact boundaries of the lot their house sits on.

4 Home Devices Your Dog Needs

Sally Forster Jones | Feb. 21, 2019

Take advantage of new technologies you can incorporate into your home to benefit your family’s furry friends.

What to Know: Tenant Rights in Texas

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 15, 2019

Here's how renters in Texas fare when facing a dispute with their landlord.

Measuring Your Home's Square Footage

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 13, 2019

Know exactly how big your house is, and maximize the way you use it.

5 Travel-Inspired Home Decorating Ideas

Sally Forster Jones | Feb. 12, 2019

Transform your home's interior with a few simple projects that highlight the time you've spent in other parts of the world.

What to Know About a Pending Home Sale

Devon Thorsby | Feb. 8, 2019

As the buyer, seller or interested outside party, here's what you need to do while a real estate deal is pending.