GETTING YOUR HOME READY FOR WINTER
You can’t fool Mother Nature. Often, the very best you can do is to learn to get along with her. If you understand her, you know that getting your home ready for winter is essential to avoiding her wrath descending upon you and your home this winter.
Mother Nature has certain laws of science that you can count on. The most important one in home maintenance is “water goes downhill.” It can start at your roof and go to your bedroom ceiling or it can start at the rear patio and land up in your basement, but water will go downhill.
Mother Nature has a plan that is a very good plan for the most part. Wood and leaves and other materials decay over the winter to make food for beautiful renewed growth in spring. New trees and plants grow in the decayed material. Mold and wood destroying insects have a major part in this process and they use moisture in the decaying materials as the signal to go to work. It’s a great recycling plan when it is the dead tree in the woods, but not so good for a homeowner when the wet wood is a part of their home or the leaves are a slippery surface where someone falls.
Last year was mild and may have lulled all of us into complacency, but think back to the two prior years. Homes that had snow, ice or freezing problems and didn’t have the causes corrected, can have those problems happen again.
EXTERIOR WINTER PREPARATION
Take a look up and check the attachment of your main electrical line and exterior lights. Power lines that are loose where they attach to the home are more likely to leave you without power in a winter storm. It’s often best to avoid the unplanned candlelight dinner. Loose and fallen lines are also a serious electrical hazard.
It is also a great time to check railings and the condition and attachment of steps at the home. Grabbing a loose railing to stop a winter fall could cause more injury than no railing at all. Many people do not look down and notice loose or poorly attached steps, but they can be the cause of a debilitating back injury.
Remove garden hoses from outside spigots. When a hose that is connected to spigot freezes, it can burst pipes inside of a home. Just picture the mess that a hose running into your basement full force can create. That’s what a broken pipe can do.
The one thing that is expected in every “Get Ready for Winter” article is a simple, “clean your gutters” paragraph and picture. If you have a Gutter Guard type system, you may believe that the gutter problem is solved. Sales brochures can be as accurate as a political ad. Though debris takes longer to accumulate, leaves and dirt can still block a gutter with a cover system.
Even clean gutters can cause basement water problems when the drain pipes are ending too close to the house, are broken or blocked. Downspout drains that worked last year could be blocked this year. Tree roots, dirt, collapse or blockage by dead animals is some of the causes for the problems.
Many basement leaks, insect infestations and mold conditions occur where water is leaking in the openings between porches, driveways, patios sidewalks and other solid surfaces and house walls. Include looking at those cracks and openings in a fall walk around your home. Caulking those openings can stop water leaks. Many expensive interior French drains systems could have been avoided with a case of high quality caulking or some gutter drainage pipe. There is nothing like a leaking basement to remind you of the time you left your gym clothes in the locker over the weekend.
Sweep the leaves from your wood and concrete surfaces. The acid and pigments in leaves will stain concrete with nasty looking black marks. Leaf fungus and mold cause wood to decay. Your deck, porch, windows or other exposed wood will be attacked by the same molds and moss as digests a dead log in the woods. Sealing wood and concrete before winter is a good idea.
Look for water stains at exterior walls. These openings can occur in every type of siding. Wood, vinyl, aluminum, stucco or brick can all leak. Water penetrating behind the exterior finish can result in serious damage to the structure or the interior walls. Water can penetrate behind window and door trims. You really do not want the expense of replacing rotted windows and doors.
EXTERIOR FALL CHECKLIST
· Check attachment of electrical lines and fixtures
· Check attachment of railings and steps
· Remove your garden hose from the spigot
· Clean and cover air conditioner compressors
· Check gutters and drains
· Caulk where sidewalks, porches and driveway meet house walls
· Clean leaves from walkways and wood surfaces
· Check siding
INTERIOR WINTER PREPARATION
Have your furnace checked. Most furnace company service calls do not include checking the flue and checking all of the gas lines. Have these checked. The small additional expense may save your life.
Clean your dryer exhaust vent pipe and hood. Blocked dryer vents are a significant cause of home fires. An additional problem caused by blocked electric dryer vents in newer models is that lint covered electric elements are burning out, resulting in hundreds of dollars in repair expense to replace them.
Freeze alarms are available for homes. They can call your cell phone if your house is near freezing temperatures. This “ET Call Home” feature allows you time to arrange for heat before extensive freezing damage can occur. These are great for snow birds, winter vacationers or homeowners with crawl spaces that can freeze.
Clean the fireplace and make needed repairs before you use it this season. Hire a chimney sweep that will check your flue with a camera after the flue is cleaned. Cost for both services is usually under $150.00. The goal is for the fire to only stay in the fireplace and chimney.
Buy two “compression type” water valves and a pipe cutter. Your best buddy can’t fix a leak without parts. If you have the parts to cap a damaged line, the water can be turned back on to the other areas of your home. A compression valve is installed by tightening the nut on the valve instead of soldering. If a pipe freezes, the pipe cutter is used to cut the pipe where it is not frozen. Install valves to temporarily seal the broken pipe. Make sure to purchase valves that match the type and size plumbing in the home.
Reduce drafts into the home. Install foam covers under outlets and switches and consider interior storm panels to improve comfort and reduce the moisture condensing in the walls.
Add a carbon monoxide detector that includes a digital readout in addition to an alarm. The models that only make a sound at high carbon monoxide levels may not go off until it is too late. Digital readouts can alert homeowners at a lower level of carbon monoxide. Replace any detector over 10 years old.
INTERIOR FALL CHECKLIST
· Have furnace checked
· Clean clothes dryer exhaust
· Purchase a freeze alarm
· Clean & check fireplace
· Purchase valves for plumbing
· Reduce drafts
· Add a digital readout carbon monoxide detector