Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

By Heinz Lehman

Winter is just around the corner, and along with the inclement weather comes a host of potential home-related problems. From swollen doors to leaky roofs, the rainy season can become a major expense and a prime source of energy. By preparing ahead, however, you can prevent or alleviate most costly situations. Simple cost-effective steps early in the season can go a long way to ensuring a safe, dry home this winter.

Prepare Your Roof
Your first order of business is to locate a roofer or handyman to check the integrity of your roof. If your roof is only slightly compromised, often a coating of white elastomeric or silver coating can be rolled on to provide a good one – two year stop-gap without significant cost.

Check Outside Walls and Windows– Wood and Stucco
Have your walls checked for cracks in the stucco and siding boards. Cracks in stucco are typically the result of the expansion and contraction of a building, and are caused by earth movement, as well as by heating and cooling from sun and cold. Most cracks will eventually grow to the point of needing repair. Sealing with caulk in the early stages while the crack is still small can delay this costlier problem.

Cracks around windows are often overlooked, yet can quickly become the source of inside or outside leaks. Although it can be difficult to effectively seal these areas, whether in new or old construction, paint-able caulk can be very effective. Pure silicon caulk will also seal, but should never be painted. In any case, the caulk sealers available today have a very good sealing life and are relatively easy to apply.

Waterproof Doors
Outside doors are a significant source of leaks (both air and water) and a prime cause of floor and wall damage. The problem is usually at the bottom of the door or framing where water is able to drip down and run into the house. You can actually check this with a spray bottle or more vigorously with a hose. A word of warning, however – when you check for leaks using water, be sure to keep plenty of towels available.

There are many brands of caulk available for sealing air leaks, so it can be a bit confusing. I typically use DAP Acrylic Latex, Red Devil, or Penoseal brands, all paintable. Caulks come in many colors, from white to translucent, just be sure to look for indoor/outdoor on the label.

Drain Water and Home Heaters
Rust is the enemy of all water heaters. It typically starts inside and eventually causes leaks in the bottom of the heater. To prevent this, drain your water heater at least every several years. I also recommend having the filter replaced every one to two years. Replacement is easy, inexpensive, and carries very little danger. You may also want to consider having the internal heating ducts professionally cleaned, although some experts question as to whether the improvement in air quality is worth the cost.

Check Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors are easy to check, and with the fire hazards of the holidays approaching, are an important safety precaution. While the units are sometimes a nuisance while cooking (and often disabled by tenants and owners), the security of being alerted in case of fire can not be overstated. So that you’ll remember to service the smoke detector, I recommend scheduling a once-a-year change in your calendar on the same date each year.

Purchase the Right Ladder
While not specifically a winter item, ladders are a handy item for winter tasks such as cleaning gutters, trimming trees, and installing holiday lights. My recommendation – don’t buy a cheap ladder. This is an area where it pays to spend the money to find quality, stable equipment. The price difference between a cheap ladder and a better one is not substantial, and with the myriad of ladder-related accidents, is well worth the minor extra cost.

Finding a Handyman
Word of mouth is probably the most effective method of finding home maintenance providers. When talking with contractors or handymen, be sure to ask for a full explanation of the reasons for repairs or services they recommend. Home repair, although tricky for some tasks, is not usually rocket science, and the person you hire should be able to explain the job in terms you can understand.

Finally, you may want to consider doing the job yourself. Most hardware stores carry helpful do-it-yourself manuals that will guide you through the process. A word of caution, however – a job may seem simple in theory but may turn out to be difficult in practice. Learning can be costly, so even if you do plan to complete a project yourself, be sure to ask advice from those you trust.

If you have questions about preparing your home for winter, please feel free to contact Heinz Lehmann at (415) 823-3972 or lehmannheinz@yahoo.com.

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