With frigid temperatures, violent winds and driving snowstorms gripping parts of the East and Midwest, many Americans are doing all they can to stay warm and keep the cold weather from damaging their homes.

The Associated Press reported Jan. 15 that Maine Gov. John Baldacci declared a civil emergency throughout the state as temperatures plummeted well below zero, dipping to 31 below in some areas.

Blizzard-like conditions ravaged parts of Minnesota and Michigan near the Great Lakes area with up to 11 inches of snow falling in Wisconsin late last week.

In Whitefield, N.H., the mercury plunged to 35 degrees below zero. And in Watertown, N.Y., the temperature with wind chill dipped to minus 46.

Earlier this month, Oregon and Washington were hit by freezing rain and snowstorms, blamed for three deaths, halting traffic on major roadways, and power loss to more than 130,000 residents, the American Red Cross reports.

Homes are also taking their fair share of the weather-related damage, primarily frozen pipes and flooding.

"We're pretty much working around the clock," Paul Ehrlich, owner of A&L Plumbing, told the Metrowest, Massachusetts-based Daily News Tribune in a Jan. 14 article. "We have had a couple houses frozen solid and I just got a call on a house that will be a complete loss."

Another plumbing service manager, Roger Moore, told the Tribune he had received more than 350 pages from customers desperate for help.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Information Institute (III) says the severe cold weather with snowfalls interspersed with periods of melting and freezing, can inflict considerable damage on your home.

The III offers the following tips for keeping cold weather-related damage -- and potential insurance claims -- to a minimum:

  • Keep sidewalks and the entrance to your house free from snow and ice.
  • Check your gutter downspouts for ice dams. Make sure leaves aren't clogging your gutters -- melting snow and ice needs to flow freely. Ice dams can cause water to build up and eventually seep into your house.
  • Keep your house heated to at least 65 degrees. If it's below 65 inside, it won't keep the inside walls -- where pipes are located -- warm enough.
  • Know where your main water shutoff is in case an emergency arises.
  • Let hot and cold faucets drip slowly to prevent your pipes from freezing.
  • Make sure all hoses are disconnected from outside spigots.
  • If your garage is attached to your house, keep the garage doors closed -- the door leading to the house is probably not as insulated as an exterior door.
  • Watch for ice forming on tree limbs. Dead or damaged branches could break and fall.
  • Close the flue in your fireplace when not in use.
  • If you'll be leaving your house for an extended period of time, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house. If pipes freeze or water leaks, attend to it quickly to minimize damage.

    "When you get 20-year lows, like we'll get in the next few days, you have to heat the houses," Ashland Fire Lt. David Iarussi told the Daily News Tribune. "Don't try to save a dollar on oil because you're going to cost yourself hundreds of thousands in water damage."

    If you pipes do freeze, the III says to thaw them immediately or call a plumber to help you. If your pipes burst, turn off the water and clean up spills to prevent additional damage.

    You should also call your insurance agent or company as soon as you can and make temporary repairs to protect from further damage. Remove any carpet or furniture in the path of seepage.

    Also, the III says you should make a list of damaged items. And save receipts for what you spend, including living expenses if you're not able to stay in your house while repairs are under way.

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