We’ve had a tremendous early season snowfall amount thus far this winter. Powder hounds and the ski resorts are all celebrating their good fortune. But our harsh winter conditions can wreak havoc on our homes. Here are some excellent tips and things to consider, whether a second home owner here or a full-timer.

• Crushed or buried chimneys and vents (furnaces, water heaters, wall heaters, fireplaces).This can cause a backup of exhaust into the structure and result in carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year, people die from this problem – a tragic, and completely avoidable scenario. If you can’t personally dig out your vents and inspect your chimney cap, hire someone — the cost will be worth it! Make sure the direct vents on the sides of your house are above the snow level also–these can easily be encapsulated and cause havoc. One year, more than 20 people were sent to the hospital when these vents backed up at a commercial lodge here at Tahoe.

• Leaking gas lines or gas meters due to an overload of snow. Houses can blow up during the winter from compromised gas piping or meters that leak. Make sure you have an approved shed over your meter and dig out your gas meter and propane tank if you have one.If you smell any gas odor, call 911 and vacate the area.

• Dropped power lines. The heavy snow can pull down the electrical power lines and riser to your house. High winds can also blow trees through power lines. Live power lines on the ground are a definite hazard. Always assume they are charged and keep people away from them. Call 911 and report the hazard. Don’t assume someone else has already called the hazard in – better too many calls of a dangerous situation, than too few.

• Frozen pipes. While not necessarily a “hazard,” when the pipes thaw, it can sure wreak havoc with your property, especially if you aren’t there to catch it early and turn the water off. If you leave your house for any length of time (i.e. second homeowners), turn off your water. Make sure you know where your water main shut-off valve is located, and ensure it works — old ones don’t always shut off entirely and water can continue to flow. Keep some heat on in your house if you don’t turn off your water and remember, not all heaters work when the power is off. 

• Slippery roads. If you have old bald tires, or worn out, studded tires, get some new treads, or use your chains. 4WD drive is not a panacea – you still must drive defensively and slowly enough to deal with any situation that might arise. Black ice is a deadly hazard on our roads and very hard to see, so drive assuming it is there and you won’t be taken by surprise.

• The mounds of snow can bury your address — and if you need help, authorities can’t help you if they can’t find you. Please make sure your house numbers aren’t buried and are easily visible from behind the tall berms of snow.  And if you do have to call 911, please let the dispatcher know which fire district you’re in — it will help immensely!

Adhering to these easy tips can make your winter season much more enjoyable and allow you more free time to be out in it having fun!