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Can't Drink it Nor Wear it

What Homeowners Need to Know to Protect their Home from Cold Weather

By Mike Gulla, Director of Underwriting atHippo Insurance

As the days get shorter and temperatures begin to cool, it’s time to start thinking about performing seasonal maintenance on your home. Homeowners caught unaware by quickly changing weather and sudden frigid temperatures (particularly in cooler climates), might face unexpected repairs and aggravation.

Get your head in the gutter

With a wet season approaching, clean gutters are vital to ensuring not only the health of exterior surfaces around your home but even your foundation walls. Clogs in your gutters can result in immeasurable damage over time, especially during heavy rainfalls.

  • Clean the Gutters: Take care in using a ladder to reach your gutter. Using gloves, pull any debris from your gutters by hand and use a wire brush to clean out heavy accumulation. It’s always smart to rinse your gutters out after cleaning to remove remaining leaves or dirt.
  • Repair Damage: If you come across tears or holes in your gutter, you’ll need to patch those up to ensure proper drainage. From the hardware store, purchase an appropriate amount of sheet metal, snips, roofing cement, a putty knife and gutter caulk. Locate the hole in your gutter and cut a piece of the sheet metal large enough to fit over the hole. Spread roofing cement around the edges of the hole, then bend the sheet metal and press into the roofing cement. Add a coat of additional cement if necessary and let dry. If you come across any gaps in your gutters, seal those up with gutter caulk.
  • Repair or Install Downspouts: For more adventurous homeowners, you can even replace broken or damaged sections of your downspout. You’ll need to use a hacksaw and cut out a new section of downspout, ensuring you cut a square. File down the edges, then secure the section you’ve cut using U-shaped brackets and screws, then seal the seam with gutter caulk.

Check doors, windows and the attic

Air leaks from doors and windows — or a lack of insulation resulting in drafts from the attic — will not only make for a much colder house but can drastically increase your monthly heating bill. Thankfully, it is a fairly simple process to check and repair leaks. While the Department of Energy suggests a more thorough energy audit of your home by hiring a professional to perform a blower door test, there are several ways you can check for leaks yourself.

  • Windows: You’ll want to check your windows from both the inside and the outside of your home. If you’ve already planned to check your rain gutters, you might anticipate checking any elevated windows in your home when you’re also clearing gutters. From the outside, perform a detailed visual inspection. Look for any cracks in the caulking or gaps between the window and the frame. If you have an older home, you may have single-paned windows. If so, ensure the glazing, which holds each individual piece of glass in place, remains sealed tight against water and air. After you’ve identified leaks around your windows, apply a new layer of exterior-grade caulking to seal shut any gaps or cracks that would allow air or water into your home.
  • Doors: Just like windows, you’ll need to check the caulking around your door frame, inspecting for gaps and cracks. From inside your home, inspect the threshold beneath each door and look for daylight or other indicators that the gap between the bottom of the door and the threshold is too large. You may need new weather stripping or you may need to adjust the threshold to properly seal the gaps around the doors. Also, inspect the kickplate and seal on external facing doors. These can weather in summer heat and moisture, resulting in cracks and rot that will allow cooler air flow into your home as fall sets in.
  • Attic: There are a number of ways to prepare your attic for the upcoming season. Check your insulation for discoloration, matting or dampness as this could be an indication of a roof leak or condensation problem. Also, if you notice dusty or dirty insulation, it might indicate an air leak where heated air from within the home is seeping up through the attic. Repair leaks into the attic (check openings around pipes, wires, phone lines and cables) with caulk or expanding foam. Any white discoloration in your rafters near ventilation could also be the result of a roof leak or condensation issue.
  • Vents: It’s smart for bathroom and other ventilation exhaust fans to exit through the roof or the side of the house. Vents that exhaust directly into the attic can cause mold and mildew to grow in cooler weather.
  • Chimneys: Make sure chimneys are serviced and cleaned of any soot buildup. This protects against fire and carbon monoxide in the home.

Clean and well-lighted walkways

With days getting shorter and light fading earlier in the day, another excellent way to prepare for fall is to care for the paths and walkways around your home.

  • Sidewalks and Driveway: Check for cracks. If you live in an area where temperatures drop below freezing, even minor cracks can allow water to seep in and freeze, creating a much larger problem. You might consider resealing your driveway if there’s major damage. For minor cracks, insert crack filler and use a putty knife to smooth out the filler. In the winter months, keep the driveway and walkways clear of snow and ice.
  • Illumination: Always keep the paths and walkways leading up to your home well lighted for both safety and security. Use exterior-grade fixtures like low-voltage or solar landscape lighting and place them along the walkways. Homeowners should also consider illuminating steps, landscaping features, stonewalls and even trees. 
  • Motion-Sensor Floodlights: Even if you’ve installed walkway lighting, it may not always be turned on. Particularly with wet or frozen walkways, a motion-sensor light can be a great help to guests or visitors or on those nights when you have to drag the trash can to the curb.

Plan against any early winter freezes 

Burst water pipes due to freezing can leave you, your family and your home in a state of crisis. When water freezes in your pipes, it expands and that expansion can cause a rupture. Typically, the rupture doesn’t occur at the point in the pipe where it’s frozen but between the freeze and the faucet, bursting where the pressure has increased.

If you live in an area not prone to freezing weather, frozen water pipes in your home may sound like a strange concept. Be warned, however, even one freeze can result in repairs that can cost a small fortune. Some simple preventative measures can not only save you a lot of money, but the headache of winter season repairs.

  • Insulation: An obvious sign of diminished insulation — particularly in exterior walls — is mold. Not only is it important to insulate your home but you must insulate your pipes in crawl spaces and in your attic. You can use heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to wrap pipes. Follow manufacturers’ instructions for installation and use, and ensure you only use the products as intended regarding indoors or outdoors. It’s always best to use independently tested products by companies such as Johns Manville’s Industrial Insulation Group.
  • Seal air leaks: Air leaks that allow cold air to flow inside the house can lead to frozen pipes. Even small leaks can have a major impact. Check areas where there are installations of washer/dryer vents, electrical wiring, jacks, cables and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to patch up any gaps. Also, apply weather stripping and caulk around crawl space doors and basement windows.
  • Disconnect hoses: Before the frigid temperatures of winter set it, disconnect all outdoor garden hoses and, if you’re able, use the indoor valve to shut off water to pipes that lead to outdoor spigots.
  • Set your thermostat: Even if you’re accustomed to turning your heat down at night, try to keep a slightly elevated ambient temperature during the day and night. Major drops in temperature overnight could result in frozen pipes.

A little preparation goes a long way

This type of seasonal maintenance can save both on energy costs and expensive repairs down the road. If you’re not quite comfortable checking your house for leaks or damage, consider requesting a free energy audit from your local utility company. Other inspections and minor repairs to gutters, doors, windows and even installation of lighting can be fairly inexpensive. Find a trusted, local contractor to come out and provide an estimate.

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