Snow, cold and ice storms can create a winter wonderland, but they also can lead to frozen pipes, roof collapses and house fires. Homeowners facing the winter, however, can take a few preventive measures to keep the warmth in and the elements out.

“Winter disasters can cause significant injury to people and damage to homes, so it’s important to know what steps to take before, during and after an event to keep out of harm’s way,” says Steve Johnson, senior vice president of Claims for Assurant Specialty Property. “Winterized homes can help you and your family stay snug and protect you from these dangers of extreme weather.”

As temperatures drop, frozen pipes often burst, leaving homeowners in the cold with a major mess and a hefty price tag. Here are some tips about how to prevent pipes from freezing from the American Red Cross website:

  • Insulate both hot and cold water pipes in unheated areas, such as the basement, attic, garage and under sinks.
  • Remove and drain garden hoses.
  • Leave outside faucets open slightly to allow any leftover water to expand without breaking the pipe.
  • Set home thermostats to a minimum of 55 degrees if away for extended periods.

Faucets that produce only a small amount of water may indicate a frozen pipe, especially if they are near an exterior wall. The Red Cross recommends homeowners defrost pipes by wrapping them in hot towels rather than using open-flame devices, such as a propane heater.

Fires can pose another serious threat in the winter. The U.S. Fire Administration says home fires occur more in the winter months than any other time of the year. While space heaters and fireplaces can keep homes cozy, they should be used with caution. Some helpful tips from the U.S. Fire Administration and, a Department of Homeland Security website, to avoid winter house fires include:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from all heat sources, including fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators, space heaters or candles.
  • Never use an oven to heat a home.
  • Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.   
  • Make certain there is adequate ventilation when using a gas-fueled heater.
  • Ensure fireplace openings are completely covered by a screen to prevent sparks from escaping.
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Place smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every floor of the home and near bedrooms, and replace batteries regularly.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it’s important to consider the exterior of a home, as well as interior living spaces, when it comes to winter safety. Heavy snowfall and ice can strain roofs to the point of collapse. FEMA says residents should evacuate if they notice leaks accompanied by loud cracking or popping sounds, sagging ceilings or sprinkler heads, cracks in interior walls, or doors and windows that cannot be opened or closed. If roofs need to be cleared of snow, the agency recommends hiring professionals.

Because every area of the U.S. experiences severe weather, suggests that families create an emergency plan outlining what to do in case of a crisis. Preparations also should include stocking an emergency kit with heating fuel, clothing, blankets and a weather radio for information, in addition to sand, salt and shovels to clear walkways.