Unless you live in Southern California (or South Texas), you’re undoubtedly familiar with the seasonal wardrobe shuffle. When the post-Labor Day temperature drop sets in, we swap our shorts and t-shirts for something a little warmer and more likely to hide the stains of your favorite autumn flavored morning pick-me-up.
It would be really helpful if your house could also don a hearty parka in preparation for winter conditions, but since REI doesn’t sell coats large enough cover your castle, it’s up to you to make the necessary winter home preparations.
Let’s break this subject down into two categories: remediation and prevention.
Water and ice is perhaps the most insidious problem for the average homeowner, and the chief cause preventable cold weather damage. Ground level and subsurface leaks, broken pipes, roof leaks, and water intrusion present costly headaches that can often be prevented. Here’s a checklist to get you started:
1) Check all surfaces that come in contact with the ground. This is especially true for those that are wood (e.g. wooden siding and wood substrates beneath thresholds), including elevated walls that rest on concrete, as water has a way of finding its way into the most unexpected places. Inspect rock and masonry for cracks at ground level, and look for separation when masonry meets concrete.
In homes with a basement or crawlspace, have a look at any evidence of water intrusion from cracks, ventilation grates, and windows. If you notice any potential entry points for water, seal accordingly and check with your local hardware store for help in finding the right product for the job.
2) Inspect your trim for damage that could allow for water. Wooden trim is a common entry point for water, leading to damaged trim or water leaking into your home via loosened nails and wood rot. If you see cracks or notice any gaps between trim and walls, seal them and touch them up with paint where necessary.
3) Inspect all pipes that are exposed to temperature extremes. Look for fittings and valves that have a leak or look a little questionable, and if you see any, call in a plumber. While I’m the DIY type, some things are worth paying a certified professional to tackle.
4) Take a good look at your roof. Trust me on this. While hail accounts for much of the impetus behind roof inspections, loose flashing, degraded seals, and damage from high winds, extreme heat, and contact with vegetation play a considerable role in exposing your home to costly roof leaks.
Also, have a look at your soffits, fascia, and roof vents for any areas of separation or exposed underlayment, as these areas present not only opportunity for water to enter, but also to travel horizontally, exposing more areas to water damage. If you’re comfortable with getting up there yourself, give it a look and make an inspection checklist. If not, call a qualified roofer to have a look and let you know if you have any problems.
5) Inspect the structural integrity of walls and overhead structures. Snow, ice, and high winds can be the straw on the camel’s back for many structures, so keep the following in mind when looking around:
- Walls with structural problems or crumbling mortar;
- Overhead structures such as awnings and porch roofs that are separating from the main structure or have failing supports; and
- Look for signs of stress (cracks, bowing, shifting) and separation (loose nails) in roof rafters and collar beams.
A quick survey of major structures usually gives you some idea of the general condition, and if you notice anything that looks a little fishy, call in a well-rated general contractor to have a look. Even if nothing is found to be defective, having peace of mind is amazing when the weather starts getting sketchy!
Let’s be honest with each other – while hindsight might be 20/20, prevention is so much sweeter than “a lesson learned.” While there is an element of prevention wrapped up in remediation section (fixing problems and damage before they become bigger issues), prevention in the truest sense of the word involves proactively addressing potential problem areas before they ever become a problem.
1) Apply caulk as needed. This includes areas around the inside of window and door frames, and anywhere air and water may seep through. Do the same on the outside of windows and doors with weather resistant silicone sealant. Do not use roofing tar as it tends to break down with exposure to UV.
2) Check/change your HVAC air filters. Pro Tip: there’s probably one in your furnace you might be forgetting. A dirty filter can make your air conditioner and furnace work much harder than it needs to, leading to breakdowns.
3) Get in the habit of semi-annual HVAC tune-ups. Just like your car, the best way to prevent breakdowns and poor performance is with periodic check-ups and tune-ups. We signed on to an annual service contract with a local HVAC company that inspects and tunes our AC in the spring and our furnace in the fall, helping to stave off problems when the conditions get, well, unfriendly outside.
4) Look for minor cracks outside on exterior features and seal them appropriately. Small cracks allow water to enter and freeze, making a small crack a much larger one. No matter what’s cracked or split, there’s a sealant specifically designed for the job, so check with your local hardware store for the product that will best suit the problem.
5) Repaint problem areas. Chipped paint may not be an immediate issue, but paint is a protective barrier for the stuff underneath, and at a very minimum a small section of chipped paint is likely to get larger if left untreated through the winter. So, save yourself some future grief and grab your brush!
6) Cover your exposed pipes. When the weather gets a bit chilly, use pipe covers on all of your exterior hose valves as exposed pipes can freeze and burst when frost conditions arrive. These covers are only a few dollars, which is a whole lot cheaper than an emergency call to a plumber!
7) Trim your trees.Ice- and snow-covered tree limbs could break and make an unwanted entry through your roof, windows, and cars. Call in an arborist to assess the situation and perform preventative trimming. You don’t want to cut back your tree limbs with the ice and snow on them.
8) Gather our emergency supplies. This gear should be accessible in any emergency (power outage, furnace failure, etc.), so if your flashlights are buried in the junk drawer, move them to somewhere you’ll be able to find them if the power goes out in the middle of the night. It should also include stocking wood in advance (if you have a fireplace) and keeping a bunch of single use hand-warmers in an emergence kit.
Last but not least, dust off your autumn and winter home decorations, because preparing your home for the colder months isn’t all about what might go wrong, it’s also about celebrating everything good during the holiday season. A little bit of cheer goes a long way when the temperature drops to “frozen nose hair” levels!