Follow this checklist to guard against water damage this winter.
With winter comes cold, wet weather and a rising risk of water damage to your home. Though there’s no way to guard against every problem, you can take steps to save yourself—and your possessions—from getting soaked. If your home has a weakness, water will find it. Your job is to fix it first. Here’s how.
Prevent pipe problems Broken and frozen pipes are the No. 2 cause of home insurance claims in the United States. (Hurricanes have the dubious distinction of topping the list.) Guard against these problems by insulating all exposed pipes and setting your thermostat no lower than 55 degrees when you’re away. Also, make sure you know how to turn off your main water line quickly if necessary.
Get the gunk out Clogged gutters and downspouts allow water to pool where it shouldn’t, leading to leaky roofs, cracked foundations, and other costly damage. Clean them every fall and spring. If you have a sump pump, make sure it too is clear of debris and in good working order.
Seal the perimeter Inspect caulking around doors, windows, and chimneys. Look for cracks in your walls and stains on your ceilings. Discolored paint may be a sign that your roof is leaking.
Upgrade laundry hoses A burst washing-machine hose can flood a room fast. To stay ahead of the problem, replace rubber hoses every three years, or swap them for sturdier steel-reinforced hoses, which cost less than $15—a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Keep ice at bay When snow melts and then refreezes on your roof, the resulting ice dams weaken the roof ’s structure and pose a serious danger to anyone walking under the eaves when the ice eventually falls. Ice damming can be caused by a poorly insulated or improperly ventilated attic—which a licensed contractor can help you fix.
Confirm your coverage It pays to know your policy’s limits. If you live in a storm-prone area, you may need to consider special coverage for damage caused by rising floodwaters. To find the coverage that’s best for your needs, speak with your homeowners or renters insurance agent.
Illustration by Ron Chan 
This article was first published in November 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.