FARGO — It's no secret that winters here can be brutal.
Freezing temperatures and icy roads create safety issues for both people and cars, but have you ever stopped to think about the impact this subzero wonderland we call home can have on our homes?
From a constant battering of snow and ice to beam-shuddering freezing winds, our houses take a beating to keep us safe and warm from the perils of winter in the Upper Midwest.
The least we can do is return the favor. Properly winterizing a home is essential to avoiding higher costs with repairs down the road — and winterizing can be easy.
Even at the end of January, there's still plenty of winter left — but don't fret. There are a few things that can be done to ensure our homes stay safe until spring.
Winter is the season of fires — both intentional and unintentional. It's the time of year when furnaces are on full-bore and the fireplace is rolling through logs like it's a lumberjack competition.
Both are related to two of the most important things people need to be concerned about at home each winter: carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that's often undetected, and fires.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning every year. Beyond that, emergency rooms and hospitals see more than 20,000 and 4,000 visits related to carbon monoxide poisoning each year, respectively.
That's a big deal for something we can't even see.
Brady Sexton, owner of Red River Home Inspectors, agrees and encourages homeowners who use fuel oil or natural gas to install and regularly check carbon monoxide detectors.
"If you have any fuel-burning appliances in your home, you need a carbon monoxide detector," Sexton says. "A lot of homes we see don't have carbon monoxide detectors and they do have either gas or fuel oil for heat."
Sexton says keeping tabs on the status of a home's smoke detectors is another crucial part of keeping homes safe.
"Smoke detectors are a big deal," Sexton says. "You've got to test them regularly. They have a 10-year lifespan so you want to make sure you have them up to date, make sure there's batteries in them, make sure they're working."
Even smaller, portable heaters can pose safety hazards, he says.
"Space heaters. Don't burn space heaters on extension cords," Sexton says. "Space heaters are going to use a little more electricity and any time you use an extension cord on something that uses higher amounts of electricity, you have a higher risk of fire because the insulation on the extension cord might not be adequate to run that size of appliance."
Frozen pipes can also become an issue, something Tony Gray, a service manager for Home Heating and Plumbing in Fargo, wants people to know.
"If you notice your pipes are frozen, try to get heat on them as soon as possible," Gray says. "If it's a problem area, you may want to keep a cabinet door open, use a fan to keep heat blowing into the area or even have water run at a trickle (out of the faucet)."
Additionally, Gray encourages homeowners to change out or clean their furnace filter on both gas and electric furnaces, as well as getting them serviced beginning as early as the first part of September.
"As it gets colder, the schedules start getting full," he says.
And if the heat goes out?
"Try to get some temporary heat going in the house and get a hold of your service company," Gray says.
The exterior of the house is where the real winter weather tips shine.
With the roof and siding bearing the brunt of the elements, it's important to take extra care when preparing a home for winter.
"Ice dams are something we see a lot of," Sexton says. "Ice dams are where the heated warm portion of the roof will melt the snow on the roof and it runs down the roof. Then, as it meets the eaves, it's not above the heated space. It freezes and creates big icicles on the side of the roof. So what happens with those is water will back up as it melts and it can get in the wall of the house, which can cause mold and other problems later on."
He says to prevent ice dams from forming, raking the snow off the roof can make a huge difference. There are also products homeowners can buy that will help take down or melt ice dams after they've formed.
Sewer vents and gas meters should also be kept free of snow and ice, as blocking them may have destructive consequences.
"Keep your gas meter clear of snow," Sexton says. "The gas meter vent on the outside of the house needs to be clear, but there's also a shut-off on the gas meter, in case of a fire, that should be accessible so you have a clear path for your gas meter."
He says sewer vents can freeze over in the winter, causing sewer gas to enter the building, so that's another thing to watch.
Road safety should also be taken into consideration if something does go wrong at home.
"It is important to take extra precautions in the winter," Gray says. "Due to the weather conditions, roads may become impassible and a technician may not be able to get to you."