Winterization: Preparing For Cold Weather
Fall is one of the best and most important seasons of the year to perform an array of preventive home maintenance. Being prepared for cold, rainy weather can save big buck on major repairs that can easily be avoided with a little home TLC. What’s more, most preventive maintenance tasks will improve comfort, lower utility costs and save energy.
One of the best places to begin preparing your home for cold weather is on the roof. A roof leak is not only annoying, it can be the cause of significant damage to ceilings, walls, siding and flooring. Don’t wait for winter rains to act as the source to test for water leaks. By that time it is neither safe nor practical and damage will probably already have occurred. Instead, use a garden hose along with a helper to investigate potential problems now.
Begin at the low point of the roof and work your way up to the ridge. Stay within about a four-foot wide section at a time. Your helper should be in the attic with a flashlight keeping an eye out for uninvited water. Pay special attention to problem areas such as metal flashing around chimneys and wall-to-roof connections, valleys and plumbing vents. Crack, split and damaged or missing shingles should be replaced. If you are afraid of heights, use a pair of binoculars to make an “close up” inspection from the ground.
If your home doesn’t have rain gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, make sure that they are clean and leak free. Use a gutter scoop to remove debris that has become gutter mulch. If you have weeds growing in your gutters you can be sure they need cleaning. Once the majority of the debris has been removed, flush the gutters and downspouts using a garden hose with a jet spray nozzle. A plumbers snake can be used to clear an obstruction in a downspout.
Unfortunately, having clean gutters and downspouts are not enough. The water captured by these devices is frequently discharged at the base of the foundation. Yikes! This can result in a variety of problems that range from a damp and musty crawl space to a leaking or flooded basement. At a minimum, downspout water should be diverted at least three feet away from the foundation. At best, all downspouts should drain into solid underground drainage pipe that discharge into a municipal storm drain or other collection system. Moreover, ground surrounding the foundation should be graded so as to carry water away from the foundation.
Due to the fact that the rate of house fires increases significantly in the winter, making sure that the fireplace is in tip-top shape is of prime importance. Start by sealing the chimney brick and mortar. This will prevent them from absorbing water, which can turn mortar to powder after repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
Without proper protection, rain, snow and animals and birds can make their way into the chimney. A combination chimney cap/spark arrestor will prevent unwanted entry and prevent ashes and flying embers from causing a disastrous roof fire. And speaking of fires, don’t burn one in your fireplace until you have had it checked out by a qualified technician such as a chimney sweep. Cracked or missing bricks, a damaged flu pipe, deteriorating mortar and a buildup of creosote are signs of an accident waiting to happen. Use refractory (heat resistant) mortar to repair cracks in the firebox.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an uninsulated attic – or one that is poorly insulated – is one of the greatest sources of energy loss in a home. A well-insulated attic has other benefits too. It can improve personal comfort, lower your utility bill and even prevent ice dams from occurring on your roof. If attic insulation is compacted it is sometimes best to remove it and start from scratch. When installing new insulation, be careful not to block the eave vents. The free flow of air will keep the underside of the roof cool, which is the key to preventing ice dams.
Keep your eye peeled for cracked window glass and broken seals on storm windows. Most handy homeowners can do single pane window replacement, whereas insulated panels almost always require a professional. Be sure to check window warranties. Some manufacturers offer generous repair/replacement programs for failed seals. Your storm window manufacturer or installing dealer should be able to help with material and/or advise on how to solve a failed seal.
Already rotten wood will only get worse during winter. Scrape, sand, patch and prime to keep siding, windows, doors, thresholds and trim protected. A thorough cleaning and a fresh coat of paint can be reserved as a spring project.
Eliminate draft-producing gaps around doors by adding or adjusting weather-stripping. Don’t forget that most exterior doors are equipped with an adjustable door bottom with a vinyl strip. The door bottom may need to be adjusted of the vinyl strip replaced for an airtight seal.
Use high quality caulk to repair cracks in concrete and asphalt. Make sure that the cracks are clean and dry before making repairs. If you live in a very cold climate, be sure to shut off and drain outdoor faucets or insulate them. And don’t forget to clear storm drains.
Have a basement? Keep in mind that pipes exposed to the cold can freeze and burst. Insulating them with a prefabricated neoprene pipe wrap and some duct tape can prevent this. The pipe wrap can be purchased in various widths to fit virtually any pipe.
And last, but certainly not least is the most obvious which is often overlooked – the home heating system. It should be inspected for safety and serviced to ensure that it is operating at peak efficiency. Most utility companies will make a no-charge safety inspection. However, you may want to consider enlisting a service professional who will clean (including filter replacement), lubricate and make necessary adjustments.