In the years that we have spent in the construction business, we have found that water is the single greatest threat to a home. Whether it be from a leaking shower, a broken pipe or poor drainage, water damage can result in costly repairs. So, the first step in getting your home ready for winter is to protect it from water damage.
What is the condition of the roof? Missing shingles, cracks or worn spots are a sure sign of a potential roof leak. If you’re skittish about heights, you can, with binoculars, make a close inspection of your roof with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
When making your inspection, pay particular attention to flashings and roof jacks. Jacks are the metal and rubber cone-shaped structures that surround plumbing pipes and other elements that exit the roof. The metal can, over time, become corroded and the rubber gaskets can become brittle resulting in leaks. Also, metal flashings at valleys, chimneys and wall-to-roof connections should also be checked and repaired.
Where does the water go once it hits the roof? Ideally it travels to the lowest point of the roof and into gutters and downspouts and then into a drainage system that transports it away from the home. If you don’t have gutters and downspouts, install them. If you do, make sure that they are clean. Downspouts should not be allowed to discharge water next to the house. This can cause everything from cracks over windows and doors to rotted floor framing.
The best, most permanent method of dealing with this condition is to install solid drain pipes that will carry the water to the curb and into a municipal storm drain system or into non-erosive riprap. The water can also be collected into a sump and discharged using a sump pump. If time or money won’t allow for this method now, temporary downspout extension devices can be installed that will direct water away from the home. If you do have a sump pump, clean it and check to be sure that it is working properly.
We have reported before about the dangers associated with a damaged or dirty chimney. The firebox and chimney should be inspected annually and cleaned as needed. One good rule of thumb is to clean the chimney after each cord of wood is burned. Also, make sure that birds have not made a nest atop the flue. The spark arrester and chimney cap should be in good condition. The former prevents a potential roof fire while the latter prohibits water from traveling down the flue. Further minimize potential water damage by sealing exterior brick and stone with a high-quality stone and masonry sealer. This will help to prevent damage from freeze and thaw cycles.
If you are heating your home with something more than a fireplace or wood stove, such as a furnace or boiler, you will want to ensure that it is operating in safe and peak operating condition. Although many local utility companies will make a no-charge annual safety check of your heating system, we suggest that you enlist the services of a qualified heating professional. Checking for a cracked heat exchanger is just one of the many elements of a professional checkup. A cracked heat exchanger can be deadly as it can fill your home with the silent killer - carbon monoxide.
Other furnace tune-ups include filter replacement, blower compartment and duct cleaning, motor lubrication, fanbelt adjustment or replacement and burner cleaning and adjustment. Many local heating professionals offer annual service contracts which typically include two visits per year; one for heating and one for cooling.
Caulking around windows, doors and gaps in siding not only will prevent drafts, but will safeguard siding from water damage, as well. Siding exposed due to peeling paint should be scraped, filled and spot-primed. A more thorough preparation and painting can be done in the spring.
Finally, a winter item that is often overlooked is a bad-weather supply kit. The kit should include a battery-operated radio to monitor news and weather reports, extra batteries, a flashlight with extra batteries, cat litter for traction, shovels for snow and picks for ice.