5 Temporary Fixes When You Need a Major Winter Home Repair
Avoid a bigger disaster when faced with freezing pipes, a broken window, power outage or roof leak.
A broken window should be addressed as soon as possible to ensure the outside elements don’t make your house too cold.(Getty Images)
There’s no such thing as a convenient time for something to break in your home. But winter is particularly risky because the loss of heat in your home or water damage can quickly escalate, which is why it's important to act fast to avoid further harm to your house and a hefty price tag to fix it.
Depending on the amount of damage to your home and the type of repair needed, you may choose to pay for a professional repair out of pocket or file a homeowners insurance claim. But before you're able to schedule a fix, you need to make sure the damage doesn't get worse.
Here’s how you can make a temporary fix when you need a major repair:
Frozen or Burst Pipes
Whatever the cause of frozen plumbing, a burst pipe is one of the worst-case-scenario problems to avoid. When pipes get too cold and the water inside freezes, the expansion of the freezing water can cause the pipe to burst, which could lead to excessive water damage in your home.
Here’s what you can do to avoid as much damage as possible in the event of a freezing or burst pipe:
- Be sure you and everyone in your home knows the location of the main water valve, which can shut off water to your entire house. If a pipe bursts or you're worried it's imminent, "the first thing you should do is turn the water off to the property," says Rick McCathron, head of insurance for Hippo Insurance.
- Alternatively, if you’ve lost heat to your home and are worried about freezing pipes, turn on all faucets to a light trickle because it’s harder for running water to freeze. “That’s only if you can’t find the shut-off valve,” McCathron says.
- Consider investing in a leak detection and emergency water shut-off system, which can notify you when there’s a sudden loss of water pressure in the pipes. “That turns the water off immediately and could in some cases prevent millions of dollars of loss,” says Jason Metzger, senior vice president and head of risk management at PURE Insurance. These systems vary in complexity and scope and can cost as little as $460 or as much as $3,000.
- If a pipe bursts, once you've shut off the water, “then I would immediately contact your insurance company,” McCathron says. Your insurance company will likely have professional companies it teams up with to restore your home and repair the water damage and plumbing.
Whether it’s from a break-in, a rock that was thrown from the snowblower or an accident inside the house, a broken window should be addressed immediately. In winter, there’s an added level of urgency to ensure sudden exposure to outside elements doesn’t make your house too cold.
But with broken glass involved, take precaution. “Make sure you’re safe and can repair it in a safe fashion,” McCathron says, adding you want to be sure there’s no glass left on the floor or outside that someone could accidentally step on.
Here’s what you can do to temporarily cover your broken window:
- If possible to do so safely, remove remaining glass shards. Wear thick gloves to protect your hands and goggles or safety glasses to protect your eyes.
- If there’s cracked glass you don’t feel comfortable removing, duct tape over the crack to keep the glass from falling.
- Tape a plastic sheet or garbage bag to cover the window. To help insulate your house from the cold weather, multiple layers or bubble wrap can help.
- Consider securing plywood to the window for additional security. Drill into the studs to keep the plywood in place.
- Thoroughly sweep and clean the area around the window until no glass remains.
- Make sure your furnace is on to keep the house at a relatively warm temperature. It may result in a higher utility bill, but it’s better than your broken window causing more significant cold-weather problems inside.
Furnace Breaks Down
When you lose your source of heat, there’s little you can do but call for a repair and work to keep your home warm enough while you wait for the professional.
If your furnace is still under warranty, either from a recent installation or as part of the home warranty, the cost of the repair should be covered. If not and you need to replace your older unit, be ready to pay – natural gas furnaces, the most common type in the U.S., typically cost between $2,250 and $3,800 including installation, according to the home services website Angie’s List.
If you find yourself suddenly without heat, here’s what you should do:
- Check to see if you smell gas. If so, there may be a natural gas leak. Leave your house immediately and call either 911 or your natural gas provider's emergency hotline, which is typically listed on the company website, to report the leak.
- If there is no gas leak, call an emergency heating and ventilation technician as soon as possible. HVAC specialists are busy during the coldest days of the year because heating problems are common, so you may not get your heat back on right away.
- If you have a fireplace, turn it on to keep part of the house warm.
- Keep an eye on the interior temperature of your house. If you’re worried about freezing pipes, take appropriate action.
- Space heaters can help keep a room warm but keep them away from walls or furniture and never leave them unattended.
- If it’s too cold, leave the house until the HVAC repair can arrive. Take proper precautions with the plumbing, such as turning off the water main and emptying the pipes before you leave.
When the power goes out, you’re typically not the only house in your neighborhood affected. Common causes of power outages are wind, lightning, falling trees or branches, construction work that strikes an underground cable or even animals that disturb a wire or transformer.
As soon as you lose power, call your local electric utility company to report the outage. The company may be able to send a crew to your street immediately to work on the issue, but if there’s a storm or widespread outage, you may find yourself waiting hours or days for the electricity to come back on.
Keeping your house warm is important, but doing so safely is a must to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning or an accidental fire. The Department of Homeland Security’s emergency preparedness campaign, called Ready, warns against using generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills indoors. They should also be more than 20 feet from your windows to keep exhaust from creeping inside. Additionally, Ready advises against using a gas stove to try to heat your house.
Here are a few things you can do in the event of a power outage in winter:
- Keep flashlights and spare batteries in a place that’s easy to find in the dark.
- Avoid opening the fridge or freezer as much as possible to keep food at the right temperature.
- If you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace, keep it going to provide additional heat, but always be present to tend to the fire.
- If the power isn’t expected to come back on for some time, or you’re in the midst of a deep freeze, consider turning your main water valve off and flushing the pipes to keep plumbing from bursting.
- For your health and safety, inquire with friends, relatives or nearby hotels that have power and heat.
A leak in the roof may seem like the least urgent of the major repairs on the list, but it’s certainly no issue to ignore. Water coming in from the roof, when unaddressed, can lead to further problems.
Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR, a Birmingham, Michigan-based disaster recovery and property restoration company, explains that ice dams on your roof are a leading cause of leaks. “These are formed by snow and ice buildup on roofs and in gutters, which back up the natural flow of water off the roof and can cause structure damage, as well as leaks for water damage in your home,” he says.
The biggest struggle with a roof leak in winter is it may be days or weeks before a professional can safely get on your house to make the repair. Still, McCathron notes, that doesn’t mean you should delay in contacting a professional. Every time it snows or rains, the leak will just get worse.
Here’s what you should do if you discover a leak:
- Place a bucket under the leak to collect water and avoid damage to your floor.
- If the paint or drywall on your ceiling is bubbling full of water, poke a hole in it to let the water drain in the bucket.
- Don’t go on your roof.
- When the weather is clear, use a long-handled rake or pole while standing on the ground to try to remove as much snow from the leaking area as possible.
- Direct a fan at wet spots inside your home. If moisture sits, it only takes about 24 hours for mold to start growing.
- Contact a professional roofing company to examine the damage and schedule the repair for when weather allows.
- For interior damage, you may need to call a handyman or general repair company. While you wait for the roof to be fixed on the outside, a professional may be able to reduce the chances of further damage from the inside as well.