Winter Home Maintenance Tips
David Dorton, our buyers specialist, sat down with home inspector Phil Vandel to discuss winter home maintenance.
Below are some of the key takeaways from their talk. To watch the full conversation, check out the video above.
Walk around your house and write down the obvious things that you see are wrong.
Grab a pen and paper and go outside. Walk around your house and write down any problems you see. It’s okay. No house is perfect!
Look for ground that dips toward your house, bushes that are touching your siding, displaced siding, broken windows, cracks in your foundation, etc. By doing this, you’ll come up with a basic list of items you need to take care of.
Assemble an emergency kit and make a plan of action for extreme circumstances.
We get a lot of ice storms in St Joseph, MO. Instead of waiting until extreme weather hits, take time to prepare yourself.
What are you going to do if you lose power? Will you rely on your fireplace for heat? Should you buy a generator? Do you need to set money aside so you can go get a hotel room in Kansas City?
Write down your plan so that when extreme conditions strike, all you have to do is pull out your plan and follow it.
Look to see if snow is melting on your roof.
When you drive around town after it snows, you’ll notice that some roofs are melting snow off faster than other roofs. This is an indication of poor or inadequate insulation in your attic.
As the heat from your home rises, it escapes through the inadequate insulation and melts the snow on the roof.
Check to see if you have tree limbs overhanging your home.
Most people don’t realize that a half inch of ice can add up to 500lbs to a tree! That’s like having a baby grand piano hanging over your roof!
Even if the limb doesn’t fall on your house, the ice can cause that limb to hang lower. Then as the wind blows, that limb brushes over your shingles and knocks the granules off.
If the weather permits and you have the ability, cut those limbs back so they don’t pose a risk to your house.
Pay attention to where gutters and downspouts flow.
It’s best if you can divert water away from your house by six feet.
During the winter months, you need to watch for downspouts that go across concrete. This can create a severe slip hazard!
Unhook your garden hoses.
After unhooking your hoses, shut off the water lines leading to your exterior spigots, if you can.
It’s also a good idea to store your hoses either inside your house or in your basement so that the rubber doesn’t freeze and crack over time.
Feel for drafts, then seal them.
It’s okay for it to feel cold around your windows. But if you feel air moving, that’s when you should address it. When cold air starts blowing in, that will reduce your heat efficiency.
You can also utilize a home inspector, like Phil, who can use a thermal imaging camera in your house. This device allows you to see exactly where cold air is coming in your home.
Change your furnace filter.
As your filter gets clogged up with dust and dirt, it puts out heat less effectively. So put a new filter in so that warm air can easily flow through and keep your living room nice and toasty!
Have your furnace maintained.
Even in new furnaces, sometimes the condensation lines begin to leak. This can cause corrosion and rusting in the bottom of your furnace. So it’s good if you can catch those problems earlier than later.
Keep your chimney clean.
Even if you burn hot fires, creosote can build up and pose a risk of starting a chimney fire.
A lot of the homes in St Joe are older homes. Some of those old fireplaces were not properly lined. When the mortar degrades, fire can get out into the wall. You don’t even know there’s a problem until the fire truck shows up!
Also, during the non-winter months, animals (birds, bats, wasps, etc.) can form nests in your chimney. That becomes a fire risk as well.
So get your chimney cleaned on a regular basis.
Reverse ceiling fans.
During the summer, you want to push that warm air up and away from you. But in the winter, you want to bring that warm air back down. You can accomplish that by reversing your ceiling fan.
Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
If you don’t have smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in your home, then you should buy some right away!
You can also visit the National Fire Protection Association to see where your smoke alarms should be located.
You can also learn more about carbon monoxide safety here.
If you do have smoke detectors, push the test button to make sure the batteries are still good.
Don’t use extension cords with space heaters.
Simply put, extension cords get extremely hot when plugged into space heaters. This can become a major fire hazard.
Keeping your furnace system operating well should reduce your need to use space heaters altogether. But if you do find that you need or want to use a heater, avoid using an extension cord.
Monitor basement cracks and water intrusion.
You can keep track of cracks in your foundation by using a marker. Over time, you can go back to see if the cracks have extended.
In the wintertime, as the ground freezes and thaws, you may see cracks move and lateral displacement. Sometimes this leads to water coming into your house (which can also lead to molding).
Test for radon.
Radon levels are higher during the wintertime. Radon is a natural gas that comes out of the earth. Typically, it exits the ground and dissipates in the air.
But in the winter, the ground freezes and creates a crust (especially if there is snow and ice on the ground). When that happens, radon gas can’t escape naturally. What happens, then, is that you may see radon levels rise in your house.
Why is that a concern? Radon is the biggest cause of lung cancer, next to smoking, in the US.
Even newer houses can have high levels of radon. Sometimes newly built houses see higher levels because they’ve recently disturbed the soil.
Knowledge is power. Home inspectors offer radon testing services so you can learn if you have high levels of radon. If that's the case, you can implement steps to lower the risk, such as radon mitigation systems.
Properly ventilate and dehumidify to reduce mold.
When winter starts coming to an end, the ground begins to thaw. As this happens, walls will begin to sweat moisture.
If your basement is not properly ventilated, you might start seeing mold appear. Properly ventilating your basement or using a dehumidifier can keep your basement dry and reduce mold.
Keeping You and Your Family Safe
We want you and your family to be safe and healthy. Hopefully you’ve found this resource helpful.
As stated before, knowledge is power. Now that you know more about how to maintain your home during the winter, you can implement some of these ideas in your own household.