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.
A renovation project for each season
Homeownership comes with a never-ending list of home improvement projects, and being able to time them right can be tricky. Ultimately, the best time for a home improvement project is when you have the time. But if you’re eager to plan projects to set yourself up for success, consider which season has the right weather patterns, minimizes future maintenance issues and makes it easiest to hire professionals. Read on for the best time of year for 12 home improvement projects.Interior paint
Best time of year: Winter
The benefit of painting inside is that you have air conditioning and heating. “We paint interiors all year-round because of that climate control,” says Tina Nokes, co-owner of Five Star Painting in Loudoun County, Virginia, which is a part of Neighborly, a network of home service providers. Your biggest concern when it comes to a quality indoor paint job is humidity – so if you’re in the middle of a humid summer, it’ll take longer for a room to dry and it will dry unevenly. If you’re worried about humidity levels inside, paint your interior rooms during the winter, when the air is driest.Electrical updates
(Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)
Best time of year: Winter
Electrical work can happen just about any time of year, unless it’s during rain or a thunderstorm, for obvious safety reasons, explains Dennis Burke, owner of Mr. Electric of Southeast New Hampshire, which is also a Neighborly company. What truly makes winter a winner for electrical updates is that you’ll be avoiding the bulk of competing homeowners. Burke says late spring and early summer see a big influx of requests from clients, as well as late summer as people go on vacation. “Labor Day to Thanksgiving is also really busy,” he says.Building a deck
Building a deck
Best time of year: Winter
An outdoor project like a backyard deck seems like a natural undertaking for summer, but it’s actually just the opposite. Deck builders and contractors report that pressure-treated wood, which is best for building a deck, stabilizes best when humidity is low. Additionally, the increased sun exposure in summer can cause the surface of a deck to crack, and cloudier winter days help avoid early damage. If you live in a particularly cold climate, aim for early winter to avoid the bulk of snowfall and temperatures that are too cold for contractors to work outside.Full-room remodel
Best time of year: Winter or spring
Remodeling or updating a well-loved room in your home can happen any time of year, but it’s best to be proactive and avoid higher labor costs or jampacked contractor schedules during the summer months. HomeAdvisor reports that July is the busiest month for bathroom remodel requests, with 48 percent of homeowners indicating they’re ready to hire and start work immediately. Avoid the rush by scheduling your remodel earlier in the year.Cleaning out gutters
Cleaning out gutters
Best time of year: Early spring and fall
The gutters along your roofline collect leaves, twigs and other debris over time. When they get too full, the drains can clog and cause water to sit along the edges of the roof and get inside the house or continue to weigh down the gutters. Avoid any problems by cleaning out your gutters in the fall, when leaves are most likely to make their way in, and again in early spring so the path for water is clear before April showers roll in. If you're not comfortable on a ladder or you have a high roofline, consider hiring professional help that will take proper safety precautions.New floors
Best time of year: Spring or fall
The best time to install wood flooring is during parts of the year with the least extreme conditions. In spring and fall, you'll avoid peak humidity and dry air, both of which can cause problems like bowing and warped wood or cracking in too-dry conditions. Plus, you can open windows to ventilate the smell of wood stain or carpet adhesive, and you’re least likely to have the heat or air cranking in spring and fall.Updating a deck or fence
Updating a deck or fence
Best time of year: Spring, summer or fall
The wood on a deck may fare better in winter, but staining a deck or painting a fence often requires additional weather consideration. “Decks and fences are a little more finicky (than painting a house exterior). We need it to be even warmer, around 40 to 50 degrees,” Nokes says. A good deck staining or painting company will recommend a timeline specific to temperatures where you live to avoid an incomplete, delayed or flawed project.Exterior paint
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
New paint will freshen up the look of your exterior walls, and painting is a doable project for a decent chunk of the year. Temperatures have to stay above 35 degrees for exterior painting, so in the early days of spring and late days of fall, weather-dependent work may be delayed if temperatures drop. For this reason, Nokes keeps clients on a watch list: “If we get a warm snap, I’ll call them right away,” she says.Home addition
Best time of year: Late spring, summer, early fall
For outdoor work, it’s best to avoid the seasons that will bring inclement weather and delay the project. Plan for the project to begin after the chance of snow in your region has passed, and shoot for a completion date before the frost returns in the fall to reduce the chances of delays. But be sure to schedule all professionals well in advance. In fact, Burke says a month to two months’ advance notice is often needed for electricians to complete an estimate, plan a contract and schedule work.Roof repair and replacement
Roof repair and replacement
Best time of year: Summer, early fall
It’s a given that you don’t want people working on your roof in icy or wet conditions. As a result, the best time of year for roof repair or replacement is also when the professionals are busiest. Be sure to plan roof replacement a month or two in advance to avoid having to wait with possible leaks causing damage to the inside of your home.HVAC care
Best time of year: Early fall
Any repairs to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system should be done as soon as you notice an issue, but if you’re planning to do routine maintenance, schedule a professional long before you’ll need to turn on the heat. That way, any potential problems that could leave you without heat are found and fixed before the first cold nights of the season. The same goes for air conditioning in the late spring and summer.New appliances
Best time of year: Fall
Consumers can expect everything from washing machines and oven ranges to refrigerators to sport discounts leading up to the holidays. Even if you’re not updating your kitchen until May (and your home can accommodate an extra oven or fridge for five months), keep an eye out for deals. Stores that sell appliances like Sears, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known to regularly offer holiday weekend deals.Read More
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.