Winter weather poses a lot of risk for homeowners. Snow, water, ice, and even just the cold itself can cause property damage. And to make things worse, some of that damage isn't covered by a typical homeowners' insurance policy.

With that in mind, here are five tips for protecting your home from winter weather risks and advice for ensuring that any potential damage is covered by your insurance.

1. Be Ready for Snow Damage

A heavy snowfall might leave a beautiful blanket of snow in the backyard, but it could also damage your home.

The heavy weight of the snow covering your roof is the big worry here. Make sure you get up there (safely and carefully, of course!) and shovel off the now before your roof even has a chance to groan under its weight.

Check your home insurance policy. Make sure it provides coverage for weight of ice, snow, and sleet. Otherwise, your insurer might not pay up when you submit your claim for a damaged roof.

If your roof does end up getting damaged due to snow, take out the camera and snap plenty of photos to show the damage. Submitting these to the insurance company will make a stronger case for your claim. Also, stay on top of fixing minor damage and preventing further damage from occurring. If your damaged roof lets snow in and you don't bother shovelling it out the door, your insurer might not provide you coverage for the water damage it will cause when it melts (for related reading, see 5 Water Damage Home Insurance Scenarios: Are You Covered?).

2. Watch for Falling Trees

It's not just your roof that could collapse under heavy snow and ice; nearby trees could also crack and fall. Even if they don't hit your house or your car on their way down, clearing them away can be a real hassle.

Dead trees are a hazard and they should be removed from your property before winter sets in. Healthy ones shouldn't be neglected, either. Trim them to make sure none of the overhanging branches would pose a threat if they snapped off (even if they hang over the sidewalk). And don't neglect those that could damage your neighbor's property. If a tree on your property falls and damages theirs, chances are they will file a claim with their insurer, which may, in turn, seek compensation from your insurance provider.

Check your policy for this one, too. Don't expect your insurance provider to pay for the cleanup following a tree falling unless the terms of your contract specify they will. Even if they do cover it, pay attention to the details of the coverage. Many insurers won't cover tree damage if the tree is in poor condition or hasn't been trimmed as needed.

3. Protect Your Pipes

Burst pipes are a sure-fire way to ruin anyone's holiday, so take a few key steps to make sure it doesn't happen to you.

If you can, wrap your water pipes with insulation sleeves to prevent them from freezing and bursting.

It's also a good idea to keep a slow trickle of water constantly flowing through faucets connected to your main water pipes. This helps release the pressure that ice can produce, which may lead to bursting. Let hot water trickle through, since the toilet will typically release cold water pressure.

4. Protect Your Interior Walls

If ice dams on your roof, snow could melt out of your gutters and seep through the roof, soaking into your walls. Obviously, any damage to the interior of your walls will be difficult and costly to repair, so take the following steps to prevent this from happening:

  • Make sure that your attic is ventilated
  • Insulate your attic floor to prevent heat from rising too much
  • Consider installing a water-repellent membrane underneath your roof covering

Taking these steps comes at some expense, but preventing major damage more than makes up for the cost.

If something happens to your interior walls during the winter months, call your insurance provider to find out what is covered and what is not.

5. Don't Overload Your Circuits

Our circuits often work extra hard during the winter. Portable heaters, electric blankets, and other items designed to keep us warm start populating the outlets. We spend more time indoors running appliances and using electronic devices. And then of course there are the electric lights and other plugged-in decorations we string everywhere in December.

But we should be cautious about overloading our circuits with all these extra decorations and devices. Doing so can lead to blown fuses, which can be dangerous and start a fire.

This is especially true when you're not at home. We all want our house to look lit up and majestic even when we're out somewhere, but if a fire breaks out while no one is there to grab the fire extinguisher, it can get out of hand very quickly. So consider unplugging anything inessential when you're stepping out, and speak with your insurance provider to find out whether you're covered for fire damage (and under what conditions).

Conclusion: Know Your Policy

Before all the cold weather hits, make sure you know exactly what your policy covers. As an extra precaution, have a professional inspect your home and carry out any recommended maintenance before the winter weather strikes. Then you'll be able to sit back and enjoy the hot chocolate, knowing that you're protected.

(Make sure you're safe when you're away from home, too. See How to Make an Effective Winter Survival Kit for Your Car for advice.)