Winterize before problems befall your abode

Home Work

September 23, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Fall is such a beautiful season: the delightfully cool weather, the gorgeous colors in the turning leaves . . . it's easy to get lulled into thinking it's a time to relax and enjoy nature . . . But you can't relax. Your house needs you especially right now, as it heads into a season of potentially damaging ice and wind and rain and snow. And you need it to be in the best possible condition to reduce winter energy costs. Here are some things you can do now that will help you and your dwelling weather winter's fury.

* Roofs. Repair around chimneys, check caulking and flashing around skylights and plumbing vents to prevent leaks. You may need to repoint the masonry joints in a chimney because missing mortar may cause a roof to leak, even though it isn't part of the roof. Check the top of the chimney; if it was sealed with mortar, the mortar may have cracked or fallen away, and that can cause leaks, too.

* Gutters and downspouts. Clean them out now and once again after the leaves fall. Check where the downspout dumps into the yard and make sure there is no depression that could drain water back into the basement.

* Yard drainage. If your house is relatively new, the builder may have seeded the yard before the dirt settled completely. Fall is a good time for growing grass, so it's a good time to regrade and reseed -- before you develop an ice pond at the front door.

* Foundation. We say it every year, but if summer gardening activity left a depression near the foundation, fill and grade it before it causes a water problem.

* Attic ventilation. You're probably going to still need to vent hot air out of the attic, but as outside temperatures cool, make sure the heat-sensitive switch on your attic fan is operating properly and shuts the fan off. Exhausting the hot air out of the attic in the summer makes your air conditioner work more efficiently, but in the winter, you don't want a rogue exhaust fan sucking warm, moist air out of the living space into the attic to cause condensation problems. Seal around attic stairways and pull-down stair hatches.

* The heating system. Fine tune the heating system now by replacing filters and doing routine oiling, greasing, etc. If you think you need a service call, do it now before service outfits are busy with a rash of calls in November.

* Exterior doors. If you can see light around your doors from the inside, you probably need to replace the weather stripping. Don't neglect the bottom side of the door. You can find door-bottom bumpers and matching thresholds to fit most doors, and they're easy to install.

* Windows. Check them for proper operation. If they are in bad shape, now is the time to replace them. Storm windows are effective only if the primary windows are in good shape, so installing storms over leaky old windows may be less cost effective than buying new ones.

* Exterior painting. You don't want to go through a winter with a bad paint job; water can get in around doors and windows and cause interior damage. This is also a caulking issue, but it's a waste of time and money to caulk over peeling paint. Doing a good paint job is time-consuming, because you have to scrape, remove all loose paint, fill any voids with the appropriate exterior putty (or replace bad wood), prime with oil-based primer, caulk with a good paintable latex caulk, and paint with two coats of good-quality exterior grade acrylic latex paint. (Good quality -- that is, expensive -- paint and caulk will last far longer than the cheap stuff; how often do you want to do this, anyway?)

* Pressure-treated decks and fences. If you didn't treat these surfaces this summer with a wood-conditioner/sealer and UV protectant (fortunately that's all in one can), now is the time to do it. If the wood is already cracked or split from the summer sun and you let it go through the winter like that, it isn't going to look better come spring. Clean the surface first, tighten screws and make any other repairs before sealing.

Your house will reward you for the preventive maintenance. And you can relax all winter.

Home Work appears Saturdays. Randy Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a Sun feature writer.

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