Ugh, ice and snow! You might react to winter weather changes with some predictable grumbling, but your house has different ways of expressing itself. Unfortunately, some of those expressions could result in ice damage  that could’ve been prevented. Here are some tips that can help homeowners avoid ice damage and protect their homes this winter and prevent minor trouble spots from becoming major repairs .
"Wintertime in cooler regions presents a unique set of issues in the home that are not apparent during the summer," says Bob Didier, vice chair of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s marketing and communications committee. "Homeowners should inspect and repair both interior and exterior areas of their homes to minimize damage."
Exterior Winter Maintenance
Clean Gutters. Keeping gutters clean  goes a long way towards preventing ice damage at home. By clearing leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, melting snow and ice can flow freely. Blockages in gutters and drain spouts can result in ice damming , or internal water problems causing water to drip from the ceiling  and walls and cause costly damage. Blockages also run the risk of damage to exterior painted surfaces  and the development of dangerous ice patches on walkways underneath overhangs.
Extend Drain Spouts. Avoid ice damage by extending rain spouts should face away from your home--ideally, projecting water five feet away from the home's foundation.
Trim Trees. Safety is an important issue for you and others walking near your property during the winter months. Trim trees  and remove dead branches that can become weak from ice and snow buildup, possibly damaging your home or car, or injuring passersby.
Make Steps Safe. Make repairs to faulty steps and handrails in front of your home to prevent injury from slipping on ice.
Seal Cracks. Inspect your home for cracks or holes in outside walls and foundations . Make necessary repairs to prevent ice damage.
Protect Pipes. Use caulking to protect water pipes  from ice damage.
Seal Roof Openings. Make sure that skylights and other roof openings  have proper weather stripping to prevent snow melt from seeping in and causing water damage.
Interior Winter Maintenance
Frozen Pipe Prevention. Check your water pipes for cracks and leaks and have them repaired immediately. Wrap exposed pipes with heating tape to keep them from freezing. The temperature inside the walls, where pipes are located, is substantially colder and can fall victim to freezing. Even if you want to keep your heat bill low when you're not at home, it's best to keep your thermostat at a minimum of 65 degrees to avoid freezing.
Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system as an added protection against freezing pipes. The valve helps lessens pressure caused by freezing pipes  and reduces chance of pipes bursting. If you're concerned about your pipes freezing, learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence--the faster you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the more chance you have to prevent pipes from bursting.
Enough Insulation. Make sure your attics, basements and crawl spaces are adequately insulated  and well-ventilated. Look for signs of moisture or surface discoloration. Under-insulating results in escaped heat that melts ice and snow on the roof. Water then refreezes, causing more snow and ice to build up resulting in a collapsed roof or ice damming.
Ideally, the attic  should be five to ten degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will help keep the heat from melting snow. Insulation also helps protect pipes from freezing as well.
Fire Safety. Check to see that your smoke and fire alarms  are working properly and service your heating systems annually. Residential fires increase in the winter, so it is important to protect your family with working alarm systems and heating systems.
Keeping the Heat In
In addition to protecting your home, here are some tips to maximize heat this winter:
Homeowners may consider repairing minor damages themselves, but they should first check to see if any products installed in the home are covered under the manufacturer's warranty. This may be the case in relatively new homes or those that have undergone recent renovations. Many manufacturers will not honor warranties  if amateur repairs have been attempted. For repairs that are beyond the homeowner's skill level, a qualified contractor  should be consulted.
With a little preventive maintenance now, you can avoid costly ice damage to your home this winter.