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Monday, September 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Prepare House For Winter’s Onslaughts

Alan J. Heavens Philadelphia Inquirer

If you prefer spending the weekend watching football till your eyes pop out, read no further.

But if you’d rather spend Super Bowl Sunday in front of the television instead of breaking ice dams on your roof or bailing out your basement, it’s time to get your house ready to survive winter.

Remember the fable of the grasshopper and the ant? The grasshopper listened to 90-day weather forecasts, but the ant trusted his instincts. Thus it was the grasshopper who spent $8,000 on ceiling repairs the following spring, and the ant who partied with his fellow Formicidae on the last Sunday in January.

So take a deep breath, and head for the home center to buy the snow blower that fits your needs. Lay in lots of calcium chloride for melting the ice. Though more expensive than sodium chloride, calcium chloride won’t damage the surface of sidewalks or driveways, or poison nearby trees and shrubs.

Now’s the time to take care of business around the house.

The days are growing shorter and cooler, so take care of outdoor tasks first - painting, scrubbing and waterproofing the deck.

Take note of potentially serious problems that could require the services of experts, such as roof work, chimney pointing, gutter replacement or furnace repairs.

This is the busy season for repair people, and you’ll need to be squeezed into their schedules. In many cases, callers already are being told that they’ll have to wait till spring.

But the typical homeowner can handle many routine maintenance tasks. To get started, consult our checklist, then inspect the house, establish priorities and get to it. Most important, don’t delay. Autumn is disappearing fast.

During years of heavy snowfall, most winter troubles are related to heavy accumulation of ice and snow on roofs, which melt and freeze each day, creating ice dams. These dams result in interior leaks in drywall and plaster ceilings and walls and require costly repair or replacement.

If your roof has a tendency to develop these dams, you might need professional advice to prevent it.

However, many leaks are the result of faulty metal flashing around chimneys and plumbing vent stacks and at the seams of the roof. If these places are readily accessible, the solution is to simply apply roofing cement to the areas where the adhesive that holds the flashing to the surface of the roof has cracked. You’ll need a wide putty or joint-taping knife to apply it. And don’t skimp.

Give the roof a good, thorough inspection, if you can. If there are broken or curled shingles, replace them.

Now inspect the chimney. Make sure the mortar in the joints between the bricks is not loose or missing. When water gets into joints with loose mortar, the action of freezing and thawing can turn the mortar to powder.

If it’s a matter of repairing a few joints, mix some mortar according to the directions on the bag and use a pointing tool - with a flat surface on one end and a point at the other - to repoint the joints. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

If the chimney is unsafe, a professional may be required. That’s also the case if you want to remove the creosote and soot buildup that can cause a fire.

Check to see if the rain gutters have pulled away from the edge of the house or if they are out of alignment. Clean leaves and other debris out of the gutters and repair any holes that have developed in the trough.

If there are any broken gutter brackets, replace them, too.

To keep dirt and leaves from accumulating in the gutters, you might want to install screening or gutter guards.

Make sure downspouts are secure and have no leaks along the way to the ground. Once they are cleaned, fill the gutters with water and check the drainage. If the water drains toward the house, you should adjust the downspouts so it will drain away from the house and use splash guards to ensure that it does.

If there is a tendency toward ice dams, you can correct that by purchasing heater cables designed specifically for roofs. These cables provide enough heat to keep the ice melting and water flowing even after the sun has set and the temperature falls below freezing.

While you are checking roof drainage, examine the foundation for cracks. Basements that are dry 98 percent of the time spring leaks when snow and ice have accumulated around the house and a rapid thaw and heavy rains send meltwater through hitherto innocent cracks, making them worse.

You can seal cracks with masonry caulk, following the directions on the tube. You might have to dig below the site line to find the cracks.

Next on the list

Check the siding, doors and windows. If there is flaking and peeling paint, the area must be scraped, sanded and primed before painting. You can paint only in temperatures exceeding 50 degrees, so don’t wait till Christmas Eve to do this.

Make sure the windows have no cracked or broken panes. To extract a broken pane, remove the putty and glazing points, then have a piece of glass cut to fit, replace the points and reglaze. Also check the rubber seals around the glass of storm doors and windows. If they must be replaced, install weather-stripping rated for exterior use on doors and windows.

Caulk any cracks in wood siding, or where the doors and window frames meet the siding, whether it is wood, vinyl, brick or stone. If mortar needs to be repointed, follow the steps outlined for chimneys.

Now on to the trees. Cut branches and shrubs back from the house. Sometimes evergreen tree branches shield gutters from sunlight in winter, and melting is impeded. It’s wiser to plant leaf-shedding trees around the house for shade in summer and maximum sun in winter.

Tree branches tend to be loaded with ice and snow, and the weak ones snap, often falling onto your roof and house. Those branches, and the ones that might succumb to heavy winds, need to be trimmed.

If shrubs and trees are planted too close to the house, their root systems can grow into cracks in the foundation and undermine it.

Inside the house, the attic and basement are the key areas of concern, once windows and doors have been weather-stripped, fireboxes in wood-burning fireplaces have been cleaned and checked for creosote, and smoke alarms checked.

Up in the attic, ventilation and insulation should act in concert to prevent heat loss while allowing the melting and draining on the roof to go on unimpeded: This will prevent moisture buildup that causes rotting.

You can tell if remedial work is necessary by the condition of the wood sheathing. If it’s rotting and the roof outside is sound, better ventilation is required.

Another major source of winter damage comes from broken water pipes. Most homeowners don’t think to drain the water from pipes that run along cold basement walls. The water freezes, then expands, often when the heat comes back on after a prolonged power outtage, and the pipes break.

Insulate the basement pipes as much as you can, especially on the side that is in contact with cold walls. Even if you do have heat, pipes can freeze if that heat is not kept at least 65 degrees.

That was Saturday. And even though you’re exhausted from all the work, you’ll probably still have enough energy on Sunday to crawl to the chair in front of the television to watch football.

Order a pizza to celebrate. And invite the weatherman.

xxxx Tune up heating system You don’t want the furnace failing in the dead of winter, so have it checked out professionally each summer or autumn. Have it cleaned of soot buildup, especially if you have oil heat, though new furnaces tend to burn cleaner than older ones. Remember: Heat sources such as furnaces and heaters are a major cause of death in the home in winter - not just from toxins but fires and explosions, too - so make sure your heating system is working properly and efficiently.

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