Winter Maintenance Checklist
In the children’s storybook, “The Three Little Pigs”, the little pigs learned the importance of good home construction and how to protect themselves from the Big Bad Wolf. What isn’t clear is if they were as astute about home maintenance as they were about building.
The truth is that no matter how well a building is built, in the long run, it is only as good as its ongoing maintenance. While it’s true that you may not have any wolves to fend off, Winter can be as ferocious. Wind, rain, snow and ice are a few of the products of Winter that can put a home and its mechanical systems to a test. The good news is that a bit of seasonal maintenance can pay big dividends in savings on costly repairs, lower utility bills and added comfort.
In all of the years (combined) that we have been 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 add up to very costly repairs. Therefore, the first step in getting your home ready for the 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 make a close inspection of your roof with both feet planted firmly on the ground using a pair of binoculars.
When making your roof inspection, pay particular attention to flashings and roof jacks. Roof 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’s the water go once it hits the roof? Hopefully it travels to the lowest point of the roof and into gutters and downspouts and then into a drainage system that transports the water 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 pipe that will carry the water to the curb and into a municipal storm drain system or into non erosive rip rap. 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 which will direct water away from the home. If you do have a sump pump, clean it and check to make sure that it is working properly.
We have reported on many occasions the tremendous dangers involved with a damaged or dirty chimney. The firebox and chimney should be inspected once 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 travel down the flu. Further minimize potential water damage by sealing exterior brick and stone with a high-quality stone and masonry sealer. This will significantly 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 in 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 for your heating maintenance. Checking for a cracked heat exchanger is just one of the many elements of a professional heating maintenance. A cracked heat exchanger can be deadly as it can fill your home with the silent killer – carbon monoxide.
Other furnace “tune up” items include filter replacement, blower compartment and duct cleaning, motor lubrication, fan belt 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. You can use Mac-Vik Plumbing and Heating as your service reference.
Caulking around windows, doors and gaps in siding will not only prevent drafts, it will safeguard siding from water damage. 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, one Winter checklist item with equal importance which 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.