Owning a home is a great accomplishment; especially in today’s market. However, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll eventually reach your “forever home” or “dream home” too! Loving where you live is a true gift and once you start planting roots, you’ll want to ensure your dream home stays in tip top shape for years to come. One way of doing that is by maintaining its architectural and structural integrity.

Unfortunately, winter weather patterns have other ideas and since 2021, a large section of the United States and Canada have been under intense freezing temperatures. That’s because the polar vortex is happening more frequently and going further south. Instead of worrying about harsh winters only in northern states, today’s homeowners need to stay vigilant in more regions.

Here are some tips for you to follow to minimize the negative effects of these recurring polar freezes on your beloved home.

1. Prevent Frozen Pipes and Fixtures

We all know to winterize our lawns and sprinklers, but during a polar vortex, temperatures go much lower than normal. This can even pose problems to the pipes inside your home too.

To prevent interior pipes from freezing in these extremely cold temperatures, let your faucets drip where pipes are exposed to exterior walls. While the majority of your home has interior space to help insulate it, sinks, toilets, and showers on exterior walls are mere inches from the below zero wind. That means they will be impacted by the weather differently than normal.

In some cases, a corner bathroom may be exposed on two sides, so it’s getting double the chill.

You can use a space heater to warm these rooms or fixtures as needed. Don’t forget to open the cabinet doors so the warm air can reach the pipes under the counter. Just don’t leave the space heater unattended or on while you sleep, as they can become fire hazards.

2. Go Easy On Your Furnace

Effective temperature management is key to a cozy and safe home during winter. While it sounds nice to crank the heat up to 75°F, try to maintain your thermostat around 68°F when you’re at home and not lower than 60°F when away. Yes, you’ll have to layer or bundle under a blanket, but this is a good balance that prevents pipes from freezing while optimizing heating efficiency. If you go too warm, there’s a chance you (and others doing the same) could overload the system. We don’t want that, especially in a polar vortex, as 60°F to 68°F is a whole lot better than no functioning heat at all thanks to a downed grid.

You probably already have one, but if you don’t, it’s time to invest in a smart thermostat. Most of these can offer enhanced control and may even help reduce heating costs over time with advanced monitoring. They also come with handy features, such as humidity gauges, which is a great segue into our next tip.

3. Manage Your Home’s Interior Humidity

High indoor humidity during winter can lead to condensation and ice formation on the inside of your windows, potentially causing water damage when it melts. This happens because the outside of your window is well below freezing and the inside, rich in humidity, is much warmer. That moisture in the air clings to the windows and freezes. When it thaws, it’ll run down and pool on your window sills, walls, and baseboards.

By keeping indoor humidity below 10% during cold spells, you’ll hedge your bets against this happening. This means if you have a whole-home humidifier you need to reduce it or turn it off. If you live in a place that’s traditionally too humid, you may need a dehumidifier to accomplish this. Either way, if you notice interior freezing it’s a humidity issue.

4. Be Cautious of Ice Dams

Ice dams form when heat escapes from your home into the attic through “attic bypasses” (ie: recessed lighting, ceiling fans, exhaust fans, etc). This leaking unnaturally warms the attic, which then warms the surface of the roof. That warming thaws the closest layer of snow that trickles beneath as snowmelt where it refreezes at the roof’s edge. The edges stay frozen much longer since they have no insulation and are completely exposed. In a matter of hours, evening comes and temperatures plummet again, solidifying the ice dam so it can repeat the same cycle tomorrow.

To avoid this, try to patch or insulate any bypasses letting air into the attic. You can also regularly clear snow from your roof using a specific roof rake or roof broom made to prevent these dams. While you can prevent one from forming, these tools are not capable of removing an ice dam that’s already formed. However, even removing snow that’s on top of an ice dam is better than nothing, as it reduces the volume of snow that can melt to create even more ice. If you really find yourself in a pickle, you’ll have to call a professional ice dam company that can provide 100% steam ice dam removal. Steam is a great option because it thaws the downspouts and gutters, while gently removing the ice dam from your dream home. This ensures you don’t sustain damaged shingles and are able to put this ice dam and polar vortex behind you!

5. Carbon Monoxide and Fire Safety

Increased use of heating devices in plunging temperatures raises the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. This is because people break out their old space heater, try to make an old wood burning stove fire up again, or are forced to use a gas generator when the power goes out. Whatever the reason, these sources can produce carbon monoxide quickly if it doesn’t have an easy path outside.

Before you do anything, make sure chimneys and exhaust vents are clear of snow and ice, as they can become covered or completely frozen in these conditions. Also, install carbon monoxide detectors in key areas of your home such as each bedroom, primary living areas (not the kitchen), and hallways.

You should also keep a fire extinguisher readily available, and use space heaters cautiously, maintaining a safe distance from flammable materials.

6. Preparing for Power Loss

Winter storms often lead to power outages. Keep headlamps, extra batteries, and LED camping lanterns for hands-free lighting. Prepare an emergency bag with essentials like warm clothing and medications. Non-perishable food and water are both essential. These kits can be indispensable during extended power outages or if you’re unable to leave your home.

When the power’s out, your phone will eventually die. Stay informed with the latest weather reports and advisories by having a battery operated AM/FM analog radio. Not only can they provide valuable information during the storm, but they can provide a lot of comfort and entertainment if the outage lasts really long.

Next Steps

Owning your dream home is a joy, but maintaining it through winter’s challenges is a responsibility. By following these steps, you not only increase your safety but also protect the integrity and warmth of your home. It’s better to be over-prepared and have peace of mind, especially when your dream home experiences the next polar vortex.