Making sure your house makes it through winter is pretty straightforward really. Your goal is to keep it dry and keep it warm. So how do you do that? You need to control water and you need to control air.
Keep it dry: Roof, gutters and foundation
Keep water outIt should be obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: Check your roof. It’s the umbrella of your house, and if it’s got a hole in it, water and snow will get inside. Water is the enemy of your home. Have a professional get up on your roof and do a thorough inspection.
Check the condition of the shingles. Check the flashing around all vents and around the chimney. And, if necessary, make any required repairs. Every dollar you spend on keeping your roof in good shape is a lot less than anything you’ll spend repairing water damage that will be caused by a leak.
Keep snow away from your house foundation. You shovel your walk and driveway every time it snows, right? You should also make sure you keep snow away from your house walls. If there’s snow drifting up against the foundation, shovel it away.
Think of your house as a sponge–the concrete, the brick, and the wood–all of it will absorb water and that water will travel inwards and cause trouble. And, when the snow melts in spring, all that water will travel down through the disturbed soil around your house foundation and possibly find its way into your basement
Keep it warm: Heat, Insulate and control air leakage
Check your furnace
The first thing you need to do is start in the basement, with your furnace—the beating heart of your home. In the winter, you want to make sure that your furnace does not ever let you down. Of course, the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to have it checked over by a professional early enough. Do not leave it to the last minute. You don’t want to wake up on a freezing February night to find your furnace has stopped working.
A professional will inspect the fans and motors, and make sure the furnace is working well. He will clean it, but you need to make sure you change the filters regularly—at least as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Carbon MonoxideOf all the dangerous things in your home, your gas furnace is potentially one of the worst. A malfunctioning furnace can kill you. Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer and people die from it every year.
It has no color, and it has no smell. In lower concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause breathing or respiratory problems, convulsions or a coma. High enough concentrations can kill you. In newer houses that are more airtight to save energy, carbon monoxide is a very important issue.
If you have an open fireplace that is not direct-vented, it’s possible, especially in newer, airtight homes, that your house will become depressurized. This might also happen if you have an exhaust fan going above the stove, or a clothes dryer running, and some bathroom fans. If the house is depressurized, it will suck fumes back down the chimney.
Make sure you have a Carbon Monoxide alarm in your home.
Insulate your attic spaceIt’s almost impossible to have too much insulation in your attic. You don’t want to have the insulation touch the underside of the roof, and you must make sure that the vents are all clear and open so the attic remains cold. Apart from that—add more if you don’t have enough insulation.
You do want to make sure your attic is a cold zone—the attic temperature should be the same as the outside air. Keep it well insulated to keep the warm air in your living space. Keep it well ventilated to keep the cold air flowing through your attic to keep your roof uniformly cold. If your roof stays cold, the snow won’t melt and contribute to the ice dam.
Inexpensive Styrofoam baffles can be put in along underside of the roof decking to keep an air passage open from the eaves to the peak. These will help keep the roof sheathing cold and slow down snowmelt.
Control air leakage Caulking and weather stripping are such easy fixes for air leakage that you should take care of it once a year. Every year, do the rounds—check for cracks and gaps around doors and windows, in masonry walls and around wall openings for plumbing and venting and fill the gaps. It’s simple. It saves you money and energy and makes your home a lot more comfortable.
Look for gapsAlthough gaps around windows, doors and in outside walls contribute to air leakage, the biggest holes are usually hidden from view in the attic, crawlspace or basement. Any connection between the heated interior space of the house and the unheated space is a potential leakage site. These can be ductwork and plumbing openings, recessed lighting fixtures and attic access points.
Attached garages are one of the biggest sources of heat loss due to air leakage. Garage doors are big and a lot of air can move by them. In this case, look for ‘tube’ shaped stripping to be installed. The tube forms a seal when it compresses against the floor of the garage.
Both caulking and weather stripping act like a windbreaker you wear on a breezy day. They don’t insulate you from heat loss, like a down parka does, but they do prevent cold air seepage.
Caulking is used in places that don’t move much (like window casings or cracks in siding. Weather stripping is used around moving parts of a window, around exterior doors, and along the bottom of attached garage doors. Look for it in strips.
CaulkingCaulking should be applied wherever two different materials touch—like your brick house and wood window frame. There are many different kinds of caulking, depending on the job you want it to do and you may need several different types for your house depending where they are used. The two main questions you have to ask are: Will it be used inside or outside of the home, and will it be used in a wet area, like a bathroom or kitchen.
Most caulking comes in cartridges, so you’ll need a caulking gun—a Canadian invention, by the way—to install them.
RubberCaulking has to stick to make it work, and porous materials like exterior masonry and cement require special types of caulking. Rubberized caulking would be your best choice for the exterior of your home. Not only does it allow movement—it lasts a long time. They’re also the most water-resistant making them ideal for roof flashing and foundations.
The catch is that butyl rubber products are fairly expensive, messy to apply, and need mineral spirits for clean up.
Silicone Silicone caulking is slightly less expensive than rubber caulk, is non-toxic, and can used for both interior and some exterior work. It adheres especially well to metal, glass and tile, but not to wood or cured silicone so rather than just reapplying silicone over an area, you have to fully clean it first with solvents.
The biggest advantage to silicone caulking is its resistance to UV light. Sun can do a lot of damage to caulking, causing it to shrink and crack—and become useless.
Latex Latex, with its water-base, is undoubtedly the easiest to work with. It adheres well to most building materials, it dries fast, it cleans up with water, and it can be painted.
The drawback is that latex caulking has little movement capability and tends to shrink, harden and break down over time when exposed to UV light.
Spray FoamFor wide cracks—over a half-inch—expanding foam can help fill the area and it has the added benefit of reducing air leakage. For around windows, there are special low expanding foams that fill gaps without putting too much pressure on the window frame.
Caulking and weather stripping don’t cost a lot and install easily. Depending on the scope of the job, you might try being your own contractor. Spend a few dollars to give your house a windbreaker. It’s an inexpensive solution to a drafty and costly problem.