Ready? or Not! Winterizing Your Home.

18Oct11

I was surprised a few days ago by the very first ice on the windshield of my car.  On my commute into the office from the foothills of the Cascades, I realized I’d been watching winter hit the Pacific Northwest for more than 3-decades as a “Service Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Tech”. During that time I’ve seen many different weather-related calamities hit my customers; sometimes very severely and at great expense. 

 One thing I’ve always seen… whenever homeowners rely on professionals to help manage their properties, the last thing that should occur under ‘their watch’ is unnecessary, avoidable damage and repairs.  That’s why this time of year I strongly recommend that you schedule and execute an Annual Winterization Inspection of any property; residential or commercial.

 First things first. Double-check your insurance paperwork. Make sure you’re covered in at least the following;

  • Wind/windfall damage, fire and flood.
  • Interior flooding from pipes bursting from freeze, appliance failures and sewer back-up.  Accidental damage flooding (overflowing sinks or sudden water pipe breaking) are often covered; but the other items can be specifically excluded.
  • Coverage for any of the above endemic to the structure.  An important consideration due to the growing awareness regarding bacterial contamination due to drain back-ups and mold, from either fresh-water or black water spills/leaks etc.

 Both the exterior and interior of your property need to be inspected completely and systematically.  In this article I’ll provide an Annual Winterization Checklist for the Exterior.

 Grounds & Landscape – Walk the perimeter of the entire property. Look for things that need attention.  Clean, repair, replace, remove, secure, trim, stake, seal as needed.  Pay particular attention to the following:

  • Trees, wires, and limbs next to the structure.  They don’t mix.
  • Anything stored or piled up next to your structure that is flammable or potentially flammable and/or may become a new home for critters.
  • Standing water (that can freeze and cause accidents) and/or un-safe, broken, loose, pot-holed drives, walks, porches, patios.
  • Physically check all outside drains including sidewalks, porches, stair landings, drives, parking lots to ensure they are indeed clean, clear and draining.  An ‘empty’ catch-basin today can be a 6” deep lake in 2 days and nights in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Seasonal Equipment should be serviced and stored properly. 
  • Check your stock of deicer, and any tools you made need for winter-maintenance or emergencies including pumps, drained hoses, electric cords, snow shovels.
  • Double-check invoices for all contracted exterior work to make sure everything seasonally has been done, including landscape prep, irrigation systems drained and backflow devices cared for.

 Structure Exterior –  Begin here, standing back from each side of the structure. Pretend you’re a high wind driving torrents of water. Your goal is to try and sneak into or under the structure and ruin everything.  Where would you succeed?   Inspect carefully, then clean, repair, replace, remove, rake, secure, trim, or seal as needed. 

  • All walking and driving surfaces; sidewalks, porches, drives, parking lots.   If asphalt has cracked badly and needs sealing, a temporary seal may suffice for now to help reduce settling, however sealer on asphalt or roofs usually will not adhere well for long (6 months?)  after about September 1st, due to the cooler temperature of the ground, structure and air.
  • Disconnect all hoses from hose bibs.  Even ‘frost-free’ bibs and hydrants can  freeze if a hose is left connected.  Cover/insulate all bibs that are not truly ‘frost-free’.
  • No pipe susceptible to freezing should be visible through any vent or opening.  If you can see it, the sub-zero winds will certainly find it.
  • No improper gaps/openings in the structure should be allowed to remain un-repaired or un-sealed.
  • Nothing on the structure should be vulnerable to winds; either flapping by high winds or constant rubbing by breezes.  If you can move it; nature will move it against you when allowed.

 Underneath If the structure is built ‘slab on grade’, make sure the foundation drains are working.  If there is a crawl-space, inspect completely. 

  • All cracks and openings must be discovered and sealed.  Rodents can enter slots as slim as a coin.  Make sure all screens and access points are sound and secured.
  • Foundation and crawlspace drains and pumps.  Like the outside drains, inspect and prove these are working. 
  • Piping and electrical… look and listen to everything accessible. 
  • Pests.  Look for any evidence of intrusion or habitation; droppings, smell, damage.
  • Water.   Water is one of the most persistent attackers of any structure; both liquid water and vapor water (humidity).  Any wrong/tell-tale sign of water, leaks, mildew, mold, high water marks etc. must be discovered and rectified. 

 Above The roofing system must be visually checked outside and inside from the attic.  

  • General condition of roof covering
  • Chimneys, skylights, flashings.
  • Gutters ,downspouts, and all their flashings and drains. Downspouts should never be dumping water against the structure; ever.  Direct away as necessary.
  • Wire Masts and anything close or connected to the roof system.

 The next time you find frost on your windshield, I hope you’re ready and safe. Make time to schedule and execute your Annual Winterization Inspection before severe weather causes unnecessary, avoidable damage and repairs.  In my next blog post, I’ll discuss winterizing your home’s interior. Until then, stay warm!

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