Anyone who has ever shivered while waiting for the furnace repairman to arrive or slogged through a flooded basement can describe all too well what regret feels like: If only you had prepared your home for winter, you could have saved yourself a host of hassle and discomfort—not to mention a wallet full of expense.
Now is the time to make sure you’re not the one shaking your head and handing over your credit card for costly home repairs. These tips will help protect your home from the ravages of rain, snow and ice.
Wage war against water
Water is the most destructive force in the home, says Sid Davis, author of The First-Time Homeowner’s Survival Guide. If you take some of these precautions, he says, "you’ve solved about 90 percent of the problem of water infiltrating the basement and foundation," he says. To protect yourself, he suggests you:
- Clean out your gutters. Clogged gutters cause ice buildup, which can create ice dams that can damage your shingles and lead to costly roof repairs. If you’re in extreme climates, such as the upper Midwest, consider installing heat tape in the gutters. It’s pricey, but it’s less expensive than replacing your roof. "You can have a perfectly operating gutter system, but it’s not going to work if water fills up quickly and freezes," Davis says.
- Inspect your downspouts. Make sure they are in good condition and positioned so that they direct water away from the house.
- Examine your landscaping. On a rainy day, walk around the perimeter of your home and watch how the water flows, Davis suggests. Correct any spots where water is heading toward the foundation, instead of away, by using dirt to redirect water.
- Fine-tune your flashing. Metal or rubber shielding is found around the chimneys, pipes and other objects that protrude from the roof. You’ll know just by looking at it if it needs to be replaced: Metal will rust or corrode; rubber will look old and cracked. "When you get water infiltrating into your decking, underneath your shingles, you’re looking at a tear-off to repair that decking," Davis says. "That’s big bucks."
- Scrutinize your siding. If you have aluminum or vinyl siding, Davis suggests replacing any missing or loose sections. Make sure wood siding is caulked and watertight. Stucco is especially problematic because water that seeps behind it can be very damaging and hard to repair. Davis recommends having a contractor inspect your stucco every five years.
- Don’t forget your faucets. "Turn off the water supply to outdoor faucets," says Mark Frazier, owner of Frazier’s Construction in Norton, Mass. "Otherwise, you risk the pipes freezing and bursting."
Respect your appliances
Arrange for a professional inspection of your furnace if it is more than 5 years old. This thorough inspection will not only save you from chilly nights if the furnace ever breaks but also catch any potential dangers associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Cover central air conditioning units to protect the blades and components from rust.
Peruse your pathways
Grab an asphalt or cement patch kit and fill in any cracks you see on sidewalks, walkways and driveways. This will prevent water from seeping in, freezing and creating larger cracks and potholes. If you have an asphalt driveway that looks gray, cracked and full of fissures, it’s time to get it resealed. Davis recommends doing this every two to three years.
Wooden decks can benefit from an annual water seal. In climates known for their rain, snow and ice, cover the deck with plastic. The same goes for wooden outdoor furniture.
Prepare your fireplace
If your fireplace is more than 10 years old, get it professionally inspected, Davis says. This is especially important if you use your fireplace often because obstructions can cause carbon monoxide to back up into the home. Replace worn-out firebrick liners and metal flues, and inspect the chimney cap to make sure it will keep out rodents.
Improve your insulation
Unless your home is new construction, odds are it can benefit from extra insulation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Inspect the insulation in unheated spaces, such as attics, and in the walls by removing electrical outlet covers. The amount of insulation to add is based on your ZIP code. The Department of Energy’s ZIP-Code Insulation Program web site lets you look up how much insulation you need based on your area.
Grab your caulk gun and seal the spaces around mail chutes, cable and TV lines, and dryer vents.
Add weather-stripping to doors and windows. Also, make sure your windows are locked. "Even the slightest crack can allow in a draft, especially in older windows," warns Frazier. "When windows aren’t latched they lift, causing a draft."
Nip seemingly small problems
Taking care of problems as soon as you discover them can save you from large, costly repairs in the long run. Davis knows someone who took the "I’ll get to it someday" approach to a small, brown water spot on his ceiling. Then one night, his entire dining room ceiling caved in. His rooftop evaporative cooler had been leaking. "He could’ve caught the warning signs and solved the whole problem with 25 bucks, and instead, it’s $2,500," Davis says. "So, be vigilant."
With a little preparation, you and your family can stay warm and safe this winter and every one thereafter.
Credit: Renovate Your World