Protecting your home and car during a winter storm

Texas’ power outage in early 2021 showed us what can happen when unprepared areas face extreme winter weather—the outage lasted days and impacted millions of people

Driven by major climate change, many parts of the U.S. are experiencing longer, colder, and in some ways, more dangerous winters. While municipalities should take steps towards winterizing and upgrading their grids to prepare for more extreme weather, individuals can also take crucial steps to protect themselves and their property during brutal winter storms.

Branch has all the tips you need to know ahead of a winter storm.

Frequently asked questions about winter storms

  • How do I know if my area will be impacted by a winter storm? 
    Your local authorities will alert you that a winter storm is coming 12–48 hours before it hits in order to give you time to prepare.

  • How can a winter storm damage my home? 
    Extreme cold can lead to frozen pipes, gutter and roof damage, cracked caulk, damaged steps and doorways, and can even cause foundation damage.

  • How can I prevent winter weather from damaging my home? 
    Insulating your home and keeping it properly heated, sealing gaps and cracks, and upgrading old appliances can all help keep your home damage-free. Especially note things that connect to the water system in your home—like washing machines and faucets—as well as temperature-related appliances like heaters, thermostats, refrigerators.

  • How can a winter storm damage my car? 
    Extreme cold can damage your cooling system, wipers, tires, and battery, as well as affecting fluids in your car such as oil, coolant, and wiper fluid.

  • Does home insurance cover winter storm damage? 
    Many issues caused by ice, snow, wind, and freezing temperatures are covered, with a few exceptions. Flood damage (as a result of melted ice or snow) isn’t covered. You may also discover coverage problems if your insurance company finds that you left the house unattended or failed to properly maintain the property.

  • Does my insurance cover storm-related damage to my car? 
    Weather and non-collision coverage usually comes with comprehensive auto insurance, which will cover storm-related damage.

What should I do to prepare for a winter storm?

If you’re in a winter storm-prone area, you can take some extra preventative steps to keep your car and home safe. Winterize your appliances and home as much as possible—getting a professional to audit your home can help—and invest in snow tires, a generator, and some of the tools mentioned in this article. Have a professional inspect your car’s cooling system, tires, and your home’s appliances often to be sure they can handle the cold temperatures.

If you’ve been alerted to an upcoming winter storm, there are some preventative measures you can take to minimize risks to your home and car.

  1. Trim your branches: High winds and accumulated ice from tree branches can lead to damage. We recommend trimming your trees ahead of a storm. Fall is a great time to do this (before the harsh weather arrives).

  2. Insulate your pipes: Frozen or burst pipes are some of the more common damages during a winter storm. Wrapping your pipes, insulating them, exposing them to warm air, and keeping both the cold and hot water on faucets dripping can stop pipes from freezing.

  3. Seal gaps and cracks: To keep your pipes and yourself warm, seal all cracks and gaps in your home with caulk or other forms of weatherstripping. This will also stop melted ice or snow from getting in your home and risking water damage that may not be covered by insurance.

  4. Protect your gutters: Ice dams can build up in your gutters, which can be a physical hazard and could damage your home in various ways. Clear and clean debris in your gutters ahead of time (fall is a great time to do this), apply a de-icing agent, and consider using a heated gutter cable to stop a dam from forming.

  5. Shelter your car: If possible, move your car to a garage. 

  6. Apply a wax sealant: Applying a coat of wax on your car before a storm can help prevent ice, snow, and salt damage to the exterior.

What should I do during a winter storm?

Focus on staying inside if at all possible, keeping warm, and keeping flashlights handy in case you lose power. Cold air should alert you to any leaks or drafts while inside, and should be covered. For under -door gaps, a draft snake can be useful and prevent cold air from running inside.

If you have a ceiling fan, run it backwards at low speeds to circulate warm air within your home. Also, keep an eye on your carbon monoxide detector, be sure it works—carbon monoxide may leak from heating appliances, especially if they’re running at high performance, which can be deadly in a house without exterior circulation.

What should I do after a winter storm?

After the storm subsides, start clearing your roof and car to assess damage and prevent any further damage from occurring.

Begin by clearing snow buildup. Check your windows, doorways, and other gaps to be sure there isn’t snow build up, and clear it out so the melted water can’t damage your foundation.

Next, de-ice your steps and car. Be careful when removing ice from your car or steps—hard-bladed shovels and rock salt could crack concrete during colder temperatures. As for cars, ice melting liquid can be used on top of the car instead of rock salt, as it can be corrosive to the car. You can, however, use rock salt on the roads, your driveway, and under your car. Use an ice scraper to clear snow and ice from your windshield, and don’t use the ice scraper anywhere else. When using de-icing liquid, don’t let melted water sit and pool, or make its way into the car. Don’t use hot water to melt ice, as quick temperature changes may cause glass to shatter.

Insurance covers a lot of damage and problems caused by a winter storm, but we know you’d rather not deal with a claim in the first place. That’s why precautionary measures can save you future time, money, and headaches. In some cases, if you neglect your home and don’t keep it maintained or prepared for cold weather, your insurance company may find there is no coverage for damage, citing negligence. 

Another reason to prep? Your premiums may be lowered if you take the right steps to prevent damage during the winter storm. Check your policy to know what’s covered and what can help lower your premiums. Branch is here to provide the right coverage at the right cost, to give you peace of mind during extreme weather.