It’s time to button up your overcoat and "batten down the hatches," so to speak, at home. You can insure a cozy, worry-free winter if you take a few preventative steps to prepare your house for the coming season. Here’s a checklist of home improvement projects that will keep the cold and wet outside while you stay toasty and dry inside.
INSPECT THE ROOF
Some people love the sound of rain, but nobody likes the drip, drip, drip of a leaky roof. So start your fall home inspection from the top, taking a good look at the condition of your roof. Curled, damaged, loose or missing shingles are signs that your roof may be compromised.
"Problems can arise anywhere on the roof, but more often than not, the best areas to check are generally where shingles meet any wall, chimney, skylight, pipe or other flashings," said Jeff Durocher, of Jeff Durocher Roofing in Little Falls.
A loose shingle doesn’t seem like much cause for concern, but it can lead to bigger problems. As Durocher noted, "if it blows off, becomes damaged in a storm or if there is a few feet of snow on the roof, the result can be a serious leak.Sometimes problems won’t be seen until expensive interior damage is already done. This makes what would have typically been a simple maintenance repair job much more invasive, requiring tearing up an area of roofing and removing and replacing rotted wood from scratch."
Before climbing a ladder to check out the conditions on the roof yourself, however, consider that a thorough inspection should really be left to a pro. "Some people may be tempted, but if your shingles are sliding out of place in one area, who is to say others won’t slide out from under your feet when you’re attempting a repair," cautioned Durocher. "Plus sometimes what looks like a small problem, can really be much worse. A professional may notice things that a homeowner cannot."
Although he doesn’t recommend leaving a roof inspection to a do-it-yourselfer, Durocher said you can also check inside your home for telltale signs of trouble. He recommends examining the ceiling for stains. Water stains usually have a dark ring around them and get larger and darker after it rains. Take particular note of what Durocher called "flashing regions," the walls and ceiling around skylights or chimneys.
CLEAN THE GUTTERS
Right now falling leaves, twigs and other wind-blown debris are not just covering your lawn, they are clogging your gutters and drain spouts. Cleaning the gutters is a minor task but it’s of major importance.
Said Tom Stachelrodt of North Jersey Gutter Topper in Ridgewood, "Clogged gutters in the winter prevent rain and melting snow from flowing away from your house, causing snow and ice buildup on your roof and gutters. This extra weight can result in gutters that pull away from or fall off the house. It also causes ice damming, which is a buildup of melting snow and ice that can [leak into] your home."
Clean, unobstructed gutters, on the other hand, head off potential water damage to the roof and also to siding and even your home’s foundation.
Cleaning the gutters yourself is relatively easy. You’ll need a trowel, or work gloves, to scoop out twigs, leaves, dirt or any other bits of things — including insects and other critters that may be nesting in there.
You’ll also need a sturdy ladder. Never stand on the roof and lean over to do the job. That’s dangerous.
Once you’ve cleaned out everything, flush the gutters with water, using a garden hose. Then make sure the downspouts are clear and nothing is lodging inside them.
However, Stachelrodt cautioned, "Cleaning your gutters once or twice a year does not guarantee clean gutters. You should clean them at least six times a year to ensure the flow of water away from the house."
You might consider installing gutter screens or gutter guards. A gutter guard is a product made of aluminum or super-fine mesh screening or perforated metal that goes over the existing gutter or it can be a heavy-duty brush that sits inside the gutter to prevent clogs [resulting] from the buildup of leaves and other debris.
DODGE THE DRAFT
Here’s one way to keep your heating bills low: seal leaks due to cracks around your home’s windows and doors. Weather stripping is an inexpensive solution, but it can deter-iorate, so check it and replace it if necessary.
Caulk is another easy remedy for drafty gaps not only around doors and windows, but for places on an exterior wall where cable, phone, electrical or gas lines enter the house. If there is existing caulk, make sure it isn’t cracked or damaged. If it is, scrape off the old stuff and re-caulk.
Test for drafts in all of these areas on a windy day now, and take appropriate measures before the temperature drops to freezing.
CHECK STAIRS, WALKWAYS, DRIVEWAYS
Chipped stairs and loose railings spell potential disaster, as do damaged walkways and driveways. And the danger is exacerbated when conditions outdoors are slippery and icy. Minor repairs to concrete surfaces are easy, however.
Clean out the crack thoroughly, using a wire brush. Then apply a concrete repair caulk or crack filler, which you can find in any home improvement or hardware store. You can also find patch kits for driveways, working the same way. But leave major repairs to large cracks, stairs and other concrete surfaces to a professional.
Finally, a few last words to the wise from Durocher, "A homeowner should look at their property before the bad winter weather comes and always look as often as possible. There may be problems a professional contractor can correct with simple standard maintenance. Being proactive with your property will go a long way in making sure your home is prepared for the most crucial months of the year."