Brrr … it’s cold outside! And that can make you want to stay home, right?

But whether you’re hosting a gathering or people are just passing by, it’s important to realize that you, as a homeowner, are liable for many accidents that could happen on your property. That’s why it’s smart to do everything you can to prevent winter hazards.

Here are 5 habits that can help keep winter hazards at bay.

1. Light the path to your door brightly

One of the biggest bummers of winter is how short the days are, and that means darkness falls fast. Whether you’re expecting visitors or have the good fortune of a cookie-selling scout approaching your front door, make sure your walks are clear of trip hazards, like bikes, toys, or cords. Yes, we know — you’ve told your kids a million times to put away their stuff already, but it doesn’t hurt to do a once-over every afternoon to make sure there aren’t any wayward items lurking in the dark. And of course, make sure your porch lights are working (they can help deter burglars too!).

2. Shovel your sidewalks, driveways, and steps

When the snow is coming down thick and fast, it’s tempting to just watch it from your window and then wait for it melt. Problem is that people are still going to be out and about, trekking on your sidewalk and possibly even coming to your front door (a big shout-out to all the mail couriers out there!). If someone slips and falls, you are most likely liable, so stay a step ahead by keeping your sidewalks, walkways, and driveways shoveled. And take special care against black ice by using either salt as a de-icer or sand for better traction.

3. Clean snow and icicles from your roof

Icicles may look picturesque ringing your roof, but you want to avoid a hurtling spear. There are several different ways to do this (from using a specially designed rake to using deicer), but the important thing is to get rid of them since the presence of icicles can often lead to ice dams, which occur when ice builds up around your roof. They can do extreme damage to your gutters and shingles and can ultimately cause water damage in your home.

4. Make sure your trees are healthy

When a heavy tree limb falls, it can be a catastrophe so regularly inspect your trees for signs of hazards, such as dead wood, cracks, and “cankers” (dead areas of bark on a tree’s branch or trunk). Any of these may indicate a diseased tree that could potentially cause a limb to come hurtling down.

5. Don’t let a guest drink and drive

When you and your guests are sitting in front of a cozy fire sipping away, remember to be cognizant of who’ll be driving home later on. Many states have something called a “social hosting” law, which means you could be liable if someone drinks in your home and later causes a drunk driving accident.

Of course, much more is at stake than just a homeowner’s claim. Many states prosecute this behavior. If you’re the host, make sure you offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and call a cab for anyone who should not be behind the wheel.

Safe and smart | Home and garden


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.