2009-02-07 / News

Tips to protect your home from freezing weather

COLUMBUS - Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Groundhog Day, so legend says we have six more weeks of winter.

Late winter often poses some of the harshest climate conditions of the season and homeowners need to be primed for sub-freezing temperatures. According to a recent Angie's List (www. angieslist.com) member poll, one-third of the respondents who live in cold weather areas do not prepare their homes for the winter season.

"Freezing temperatures, snow and ice often result in complications for unprepared homeowners," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer ratings on local service companies. "The late winter season is a good time to once again reevaluate your home's ability to weather the weather. A little preventative maintenance is far more cost-effective than an emergency service call."

Angie's List went to its highly rated service companies in heating, plumbing, deck and balcony maintenance, and gutter cleaning to get the scoop on protecting your home from the freezing temperatures and snow.

"Our service providers recommend home owners develop a relationship with a contractor they trust and together build a preventative maintenance plan," Hicks said. "As one of our experts said, your home's mechanical system is the equivalent of its heart, arteries and veins, so it's important to take advantage of tune-ups, maintenance agreements and routine inspections. Stop any problems when symptoms begin to show, not when there is a catastrophic failure."

Plumbing & Heating

• Locate the shut-off valve for each outside water spigot, turn each off and disconnect the hoses. There is typically a small bleed cap on the valve and it should be opened while the outside spigot is opened in order to drain any residual water to protect the spigot and piping from freezing.

• Boiler and furnace manufacturers suggest annual inspections and cleaning of heating equipment. Check furnace filters monthly and replace as needed. Have a professional inspect flue vents and chimney for obstructions.

• For homeowners who will not be at their home during the winter, be certain to keep the thermostat at a comfortable level. If the temperature falls below freezing, cold can overcome the home's heating system, even if it's set at a temperature clearly above freezing. The damage done to a frozen home can be devastating. Radiators crack, piping bursts, hard wood floors buckle, drywall, wallpaper and paint fall off and crumble, plumbing fixtures, boilers and water heaters break. For a few extra dollars in heating costs, homeowners can save many thousands in damages and lost personal property.

• Most heating systems shut off during a power outage. If the outage is prolonged, drain the home and heating system of all water, shut off the water supply and pour non-toxic glycol-type products into drain traps to prevent freezing. Keep pipes and the water heater as warm as possible by insulating them to help avoid freezing conditions. Affordable installation kits are available at most hardware stores.

* Homeowners can save 10 percent or more on their energy bills by reducing air leaks in the home. Check for drafts around windows and doors, looking carefully at the bottom of your door. Regular use can take a toll on the sweep, which can lead to air leaks. Keep caulk on hand to repair any leaks. Consider getting an energy audit.

Decks & Balconies

• Keep balconies and decks free of debris, snow and ice to prevent a possible collapse under the weight of the snow. An Angie's List member in New York recently shared a story about a relative who had a balcony that accumulated heavy amounts of snow. Minutes after shoveling the snow into a pile in a corner and stepping back into the house, the balcony collapsed under the weight of the snow. Fortunately, no one was injured.

• Protect wood structures by sealing them yearly with a reliable product. Wood structures without protection can end up swelling, contracting and cracking because of water damage, which could create a considerable safety hazard.

• Never try to scrape snow or ice from a deck or balcony with picks, spades or metal snow shovels. To remove ice, gently walk across it until the ice breaks apart, then gently shovel it off with a heavy broom or a plastic shovel. Do not use salt or an icemelting product on a wood deck, as these products could ruin the finish.

• Rotting support beams, posts and joists are a major safety concern, along with loose handrails. Have your balcony or deck inspected annually to be sure its' structural integrity has not been compromised. Homeowners with a structurally deficient deck should never try to remove snow or ice themselves, and instead contact a professional.

Gutters

• During the winter months, homeowners should regularly visually inspect gutters and downspouts. Look for leaking or sagging gutters, loose or damaged fasteners, and streaking in front or back of the gutter (commonly referred to as "Tiger Striping"). After assessing the condition of your gutters, determine if this is a project you can handle yourself or if it's best to contact a qualified contractor. Cleaning out gutters can be dangerous, especially during inclement weather.

• As one service provider advised: have your gutters and downspouts cleaned before winter, during winter after winter. Gutters cluttered with debris fill faster with water and ice and weighted down gutters can collapse, causing property or personal damage. Gutters can also overflow with ice and snow, leading to ice damming. This can lead to water being trapped on the roof, forced under shingles and up the roof line. The results are generally wet interior walls and carpets.

• Be sure gutter miter seams, the corner seam where gutters bend, are caulked properly. Miter seams not caulked can eventually lead to the gutter board or soffits rotting out. Pay special attention to drips from seams occurring over walkways, or leaks that may be causing harm to the adjoining wood fascia. These should be repaired.

• There are ice and water barriers available, as well as electrical heat tape systems that can help protect gutters from ice buildup.

• 1,080 Angie's List members took our poll. Responses are representative of Angie's List members, but not the general public.

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