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Protect your home from cold-weather disasters when leaving town

home water damage
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Holiday cheer was put on ice for one Virginia family when they returned home from an extended Christmas vacation to find multi-floor water damage from a burst pipe in the attic.

Ann Hardee, a Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. field claims manager, recalled a stream of water flowing outside from under that customer’s front door had turned to ice in the 2018 incident.

“In this case, they turned the thermostat down to 55 degrees while they went out of town for a three-week Christmas holiday, but we had a cold snap right after Christmas,” Hardee said. “It was cold as the dickens!”

As in many newer homes, the hot water tank was located in the attic. A pipe leading to the tank had frozen and burst in the cold snap, causing extensive water damage on the second and first floors, resulting in $100,000 in losses.

“We had to gut that house back to the stud walls,” Hardee said. “And everything had to be removed from the house. It was catastrophic, to say the least.”

Even with the thermostat set in the 50s and sink cabinets left open, pipes in the attic can still freeze. Hot water tanks often are installed in attics to enhance the square footage of living spaces.

“We handle many claims related to losses caused by hot water heaters in the attic,” Hardee said. “And those claims are more frequent during a warm winter when temperatures suddenly drop down to the 20s.”

Inhabitants of newly constructed homes should be aware of this possibility, she said, and take precautions. Bump the thermostat into the 60s, and have a neighbor, friend or family member periodically check on the house. The same goes for secondary homes that are inhabited sporadically.

“Major losses can happen overnight,” Hardee added. “Have somebody come by and check things out.”

VFBMIC’s property experts also recommend letting faucets drip during extreme cold and insulating pipes that are most susceptible to freezing, such as those running along exterior walls. Inspect and replace weather stripping, if necessary, and caulk around windows and doors to ensure your home’s interior stays cozy when temperatures plummet.

If a snowstorm hits, use a snow rake to promptly remove accumulated snow to prevent roof damage. In addition, take steps to prevent ice dams—thick ridges of ice that build up along a roof edge and prevent melting snow from draining.

Finally, perform routine roof maintenance throughout the year, inspecting and repairing any damage to fortify your home against winter-weather disasters and extend the life of your roof.


augusta free press
augusta free press