Winter can be brutal, especially in places like the Northeast and upper Midwest. Heavy snow, damaged roofs, busted rain gutters, and burst pipes are just some of the awful things that can ruin your winter holidays. But it’s summer – what can you do about that now?
The short answer? Plenty. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Summer and early fall are the perfect times to winter-proof your home because no matter where you are, chances are good that the weather will be warm and relatively dry at least some of the time. And if you plan to get up on the roof to install heat cable or clean out your gutters, you don’t want to be up there when it’s cold, wet, and snowy. Just to be clear, DIY-er doesn’t stand for Do It Yourself in the ER.
We talked with the experts here at Heat Cable.com, and they shared some of their top tips for getting your home ship shape for winter.
Fix damaged areas of the roof. Now is the time to take a good look at your roof and replace any missing or damaged shingles. Also check for eroded flashing around the skylights, vent pipes, and chimney. Consider sealing your roof joints with roofing cement. Check the interior ceilings and the attic, as well, for any leaks or other damage.
Make sure downspouts are unclogged and extend at least five feet away from the house. For every 10 inches of snow, you’re looking at about one inch of water when it melts. So if a storm drops a couple of feet of snow on your roof, you are going to have about two to three inches of water settling around the base of your home if it’s not drained off properly. That much water has to go somewhere, and the likeliest place is straight down to your foundation, causing dangerous settling and cracks.
Install heat cables to prevent ice dams. An ice dam is an accumulation of ice that forms along the ridge of your roof, preventing melting snow from draining through your gutters and away from your home. It is a common occurrence in areas with heavy snowfall, mainly because of the varying surface temperatures on your roof and clogged gutters.
Surface temperatures are naturally warmer farther up the roof because of the insulation in your attic. As the snow melts off of those areas, water pools at the edge of the roof and refreezes above your eaves where there’s no insulation. Ice dams can cause leaks in your roof, damaging walls and insulation, and water from melting icicles will erode the paint on your siding and soffit, as well.
An excellent way to prevent an ice dam formation on your roof is to install heat trace cable along your eaves, allowing the area to remain warm. In addition, clean your gutters regularly to keep them clear of leaves, twigs, and other debris that could cause a blockage. If you’re unsure on how to correctly install heat cable or other home heating elements, check out the How To section of HeatCable.com for plenty of videos and tips.
Seal joints and cracks in the concrete around your house. When water gets into a crack in the concrete and then freezes, it will expand the crack as it melts. This goes for the empty spaces between your concrete and your home, as well. Cracks and spaces, if left untreated, may continue to expand and could lead to serious foundation issues. Besides, there’s nothing quite as unsightly as a large crack extending through the middle of your beautiful stamped concrete patio, or your front steps separated from the rest of your house by what looks like a mini San Andreas Fault.
These are easy fixes, though. For narrow gaps and cracks, you can use caulking to keep the moisture out. Wider gaps, generally more than a quarter-inch, will require using a foam backer rod to support the caulk.
Protect your plumbing, inside and out. An excellent option to protect vulnerable pipes, such as those in your crawl space or garage, is to install heat cable or wrap them in heat tape. Pipe heating elements are equipped with a thermostat that turns the heat on and off as needed to prevent freezing.
Check for areas where cold air can get inside the house, such as rim joints, cracks, and around the holes where pipes or wires pass through an exterior wall. These are key areas where you can add insulation or seal the drafts with caulk or expandable foam. Doing this should not only reduce the potential for pipes freezing in the colder areas of your home, it may lower your heating bill, too.
If the outside temperature drops considerably below freezing, you will probably want to let your interior faucets run at a trickle and leave open the cabinet under the kitchen sink if it’s located on an exterior wall.
Finally, for the outdoor plumbing, try to blow out your sprinkler system and turn it all the way off well before the first deep freeze. At the same time, remove your garden hoses and put them away for the winter. Then shut off and drain the outdoor faucets by leaving the bleeder cap open. Once all the water drains out, position an insulated cover over the hose bib to keep it from freezing and possibly damaging the faucet.
Protecting your home from severe winter weather is a good idea any time of the year, but especially when it’s not snowing. Trust us, these jobs are much easier (and considerably less dangerous) when you’re not cold, wet, and miserable. For more ideas on dealing with snow and ice, or if you have questions about heat cable installation or similar issues, go to HeatCable.com.