Buying a home is the largest investment most Americans make. And smart homeowners know that maintaining that home in good shape protects their investment and enhances the enjoyment of their home. Home maintenance, however, covers an extensive range of activities that include inside and outside tasks.
Some of the maintenance tasks are performed monthly, some seasonally, and some annually. Rather than try to cover everything in this December Report, the emphasis will be on tasks that are specific to our winter months – because cold winter weather can generate some unusual problems. By knowing what to look for, and taking preventative maintenance steps now, you increase your odds of protecting your home from damage, and your family from danger.
Let’s start with a look at some home maintenance tasks that are specific to problems that can occur in cold, snowy conditions.
When we get a big snow:
• The accumulation of carbon monoxide within a home can have a deadly result. So after a heavy snow with blowing winds, check all exterior vents to make sure snow hasn’t accumulated, blocking any direct vent exhaust locations for the furnace, water heater or clothes dryer.
• Ice and snow accumulating on tree branches can be beautiful, but this can also be dangerous if the branches break under the weight. Keep an eye on any trees that branch out over the house, walkway, power lines or street. Take a photo for reference and arrange to have the branches cut that appear to be dangerously weighted down with snow or ice. If you observe a dangerous situation involving power lines, contact your power company immediately.
• Remove snow buildup in gutters. Use a long handled rake made for snow removal to remove built up snow. This will prevent ice dams and reduce stress on the roof due to excess weight. Ice dams form when snow melts during the day, flows under the shingles and refreezes at night. If this happens repeatedly, water can enter the attic and damage the roof, ceiling and walls.
When the snow is melting:
Because we get so little rain here in the Front Range, melting snow provides our best opportunity to check how well our gutters are working. On one of our beautiful sunny days when the snow is rapidly melting off the roof, do the following:
• Make sure the water is not coming down behind the gutters and that the gutters are properly sloped toward the downspouts.
• Check to make sure the downspouts are discharging water well away from the foundation.
Problems in the garage:
Electric garage door openers are delicate things when not in a heated environment. Here are some tips to keep the garage area working smoothly throughout the winter.
• If the garage door sticks to the floor, spray the rubber at the bottom of the door with WD40, the next time you raise the door.
• You can also help maintain the proper function of your garage door by lubricating the important parts: the rollers and spring system. Use motor oil, such as 10W30. Apply a small amount on each metal part and wipe off any excess with a rag. Do not grease the rails.
• If it gets cold enough, the motor for your automatic garage door system can be adversely effected and run noticeably slower than usual. Some automatic garage openers are not designed for temperatures below the freezing level, which could damage them if too extreme. Many garage door openers have a torque setting on them that you can adjust. If you notice that your garage door is opening slowly, adjust the torque setting in small increments until you notice the door opening at or near its usual pace.
General interior winter tasks:
• If you have electric baseboard heat, vacuum the electric elements monthly.
• Check and clean or replace furnace air filters each month during the heating season.
• Adjust your vents by opening those near the floor and closing those near the ceiling for better air circulation during the winter months.
• Check your carbon monoxide plug-in units monthly.
• If you have a wood-burning fireplace, once a year have the chimney cleaned and checked by a chimney cleaning professional.
Importance of humidifiers on our health and home in winter:
Humidifiers are an important element in keeping our dry Colorado air from hurting our health and our homes. An excellent resource for information on humidifiers and their health benefits can be found at: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/humidifiers/HQ00076
A humidification system can easily be added to your heating/cooling system to distribute the proper humidity level evenly throughout your home. But even if all you do is to install a small room humidifier in the bedroom, you’re helping your body fight the adverse effects of Colorado’s extremely dry winter air.
• Proper maintenance comes in the form of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting humidifier tanks and filters to prevent bacterial and mold growth.
• If you have a humidifier system attached to your furnace, these systems work overtime in the cold winter months. Check the filter to see if it needs replacing or cleaning.
If we get a freezing spell:
Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture. If you don’t already know where the main water shutoff is located in your home, find it now—before a problem arises. Learn how it works in case you have to use it.
Here are some simple tips to keep a freezing spell from freezing your water pipes:
• Open the hot and cold faucets enough to let them drip slowly. Allowing water to move within the pipes will prevent freezing.
• Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
• If you’ll be going away during the winter months, don’t set your heat any lower than 55 degrees.
• Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink.
• If your pipes do freeze, thaw them slowly by directing the warm air from an electric hair dryer onto the pipes.
Unique problems to watch out for in winter weather:
Ice Dams: An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on the roof and blocks the path of melting ice and snow. An ice dam can cause extensive roof, wall and ceiling damage. One of the best web sites for explaining what causes ice dams, the dangers and solutions, can be found at: https://home-partners.com/articles/ice-damsquick-fixes-cure Suggestion: take a photograph of the problem. If you don’t get around to fixing the problem until spring, you’ve got a record of exactly where it occurred and the severity of the problem.
Frost inside the window: If frost appears around a window, the window is out of adjustment, a seal is broken or worn, or there is an air leak. Start by checking that the window is completely shut and locked. If it is, seal, weather-strip or caulk around the window.
Excessive condensation on your windows: If you’re getting excessive condensation, you may have the humidity level set too high. During the heating season, when the outside air temperature is below 15 degrees, the relative humidity should not exceed 30%. In very cold weather, the humidity will need to fall below 30% to prevent condensation or frost. For a number of solutions to this problem, visit: https://www.stanekwindows.com/17-windowcondensation-solutions.aspx
Condensation between window panes: If the fog you see appears between the double pane, you most likely have a broken seal. First check to see if your windows are still under warranty. If not, you have a few choices for fixing this problem—but most likely the best solution will be to replace the glass. For a detailed look at this issue, visit: https://www.stanekwindows.com/17-windowcondensation-solutions.aspx
Here are a few additional basic maintenance tips to consider:
• Have an inspection and tune-up conducted on your heating system.
• Hot air rises, so reverse ceiling fans to push hot air back down into your room.
• Check to make sure you have disconnected all hoses from outdoor faucets. If your faucets aren’t frost-proof, turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.
• Test your sump pump. Slowly pour several gallons of water into the sump pit to see whether the pump turns on. This should be done every few months, but especially before our heavy snow period begins.
• Stock your ice melting compound to melt ice on walkways.