Ah, the joys of winter. Shoveling the driveway. Foot-tall snowdrifts. Piling enough layers on yourself to give the Michelin man a run for his money. All of them small inconveniences compared to what could await you if you don’t give your house the once-over during these winter months. The harsh elements can wreak havoc on your home, and although most homeowners are aware of that, we’re not sure how to conduct an inventory on our own homes to ward off the possibility of winter-induced damage and subsequent expenses.
Now, before you tell yourself you don’t need to worry about such problems because you live in a warmer climate, wait — even homeowners in such places as Texas or Florida can be affected by these pitfalls. After all, most of the warmest climates are subject to occasional drops in temperature, leaving homeowners vulnerable to such problems as:
Frozen pipes can be a disaster. If they remain unnoticed and ultimately burst, the subsequent damage to your home is enormous. And replacing all carpeting and flooring is just the beginning. To help prevent your pipes from freezing, take the following steps:
- find your water shutoff valve
- insulate and/or heat exposed pipes
- seal leaks of cold air from outside
- disconnect your garden hoses and shut them off from the indoor valve
- protect your water meter from the harsh outside elements
- leave your faucets on a stready stream at temperatures of zero or below
- open any sink cabinet doors that are located adjacent to outside walls
- if you plan to travel and leave your home for any length of time, ask a neighbor to check your house daily to make sure that it’s warm enough to prevent freezing pipes and other hazards.
During particularly cold temperatures, ice can accumulate in roof vent stacks, causing them to clog. Air admittance valves, commonly called AAVs, are vulnerable not only to the elements, but also to homeowner ignorance. Since they remain out of sight, years can pass before the homeowner realizes — either on his own or with the aid of a home inspector — that the vents have popped off the riser due to back pressure after freezing shut and are lying several feet away from the attic vent stack.
Perhaps nothing seems quite as diastrous as a collapsing roof that gives under the weight of excessive snow. And it goes without saying that the financial implications of this disaster are practically an afterthought when compared to the potential danger to your family. Attempting to gage the risk of snow overloading is a difficult diagnosis for a homeowner to make. It’s best to consult the services of a home inspector or engineer, who can spot soft areas or deflection on your rooftop, both of them warning signs of a roof at risk of collapse.
Homeowners in climates where snow melts during the day and then refreezes at night are particularly vulnerable to ice dams. Ice accumulation can cause significant damage to your walls, insulation, ceilings, siding and soffits. Ice also may creep under your shingles and begin to enter your attic, out of your sight and awareness until it’s too late to save your bank account from expensive repairs.
Snow accumulation that melts during the day and refreezes at night can damage walls, ceilings, insulation, siding, and soffits. At the eaves, water and ice work up under shingles and eventually enters the attic. Take these precautions to protect your home from damage:
- make sure you ventilate your roof adequately, allowing sufficient air flow from the soffits to the ridge
- insulate your attic sufficently to keep heat loss to a minimum
- clean leaves and debris from your gutters and downspouts
- keep the snow collecting on your roof to a minimum
- clear excessive buildup of icicles hanging from the sides of your roof
- install de-icing cable, which can help ward off weather-related problems.
The insides of window panes often collect moisture and may damage your woodwork and wallboard. Watch for moisture build-up, and wipe your windowsills frequently.
During the winter months, we keep our homes sealed up tighter than a drum, which prevents any ventilation and increases the risk of higher-than-average carbon monoxide concentrations. CO2 comes from such sources as your water heater, fireplace, gas stove, furnace heat exchanger and/or any appliance in your home that uses oil, gas, or burns wood to operate. Inspect each one of these appliances in your home, and make sure they’re ventilating properly.
Obviously, not all homeowners are well-versed enough in home inspections — no matter how informal — to perform this inventory on their own and judge risks where they are present. So it may be best to recruit the services of a certified home inspector to help you. Just keep your checklist handy, and make sure your home inspector performs every item listed here. The money you spend on a home inspector is indeed far less than the money you’ll spend to rectify any weather-induced headache in your home.