7 Ways You Might Be Seriously Damaging Your Home in Winter
January 27, 2016
As temperatures dip, how you do household tasks — and the kinds you do — have to change in ways you probably don’t realize. “Doing basic chores the right way can save you thousands of dollars down the road,” says Brian Peppel, co-founder of HandyGuys.com. Here are the mistakes you’re likely making and the solutions to avoid coughing up dough for a pro later.
Mistake 1: Not keeping pipes warm.
If no water flows from your faucet on a frosty morning, you may have a frozen pipe. “It often occurs if there’s a pipe that’s on an exterior wall in the kitchen, against an unheated crawlspace or exposed to cold air through cracks and holes,” says Jodi Marks, licensed contractor and author of Fix it in a Flash. Expanding ice causes the pipes to split and leak when the ice melts.
Solution: During long cold snaps, open those cabinets a crack to let warmer indoor air reach the pipes. Or slip foam insulation sleeves, found at home stores, over pipes that you can access. If a pipe is frozen, open the faucet and direct a hairdryer toward the icy section. Heat until there’s a steady flow of water, says Marks.
Mistake 2: Letting gutter downspouts empty right next to the house.
“Water that dumps near your foundation can seep into your basement or crawlspace,” says Peppel. And that can cause structural damage to the house. Signs your house already has this problem: a musty smell in your basement, a white powdery substance on basement walls (from minerals leaching out of the concrete as the water comes through) and damp carpet or drywall in a finished basement.
Solution: Clean gutters and downspouts in the fall so water flows where it’s supposed to. Add a length of downspout or a splash block so that water from your gutters is directed at least four to six feet away from your foundation. Also, rake mulch so that it slopes down and away from the house and foundation instead of letting it direct water toward the house.
Mistake 3: Letting window wells fill with snow.
Properly constructed window wells allow for drainage away from the house. But if your window well has leaves, debris or snow, melting snow can leak through the window into your home, says Peppel.
Solution: Clean your window wells out each fall, and shovel out snow so it doesn’t pile up. Or invest in an inexpensive plastic window well cover that keeps leaves, snow and even animals out of the space year-round, suggests Peppel.
Mistake 4: Not shutting off outside faucets.
The faucets you use to water plants or wash your car can freeze if you don’t shut the water to them. By spring, you may have leaks because the pressure from expanding ice can crack the pipes, says Marks.
Solution: Look for the water shutoff valve, usually a brass, lever-style handle located in your basement or crawlspace near the faucet. Turn it until it doesn’t move, about 90 degrees. Open the faucet outside until remaining water drips out. Some faucets have an indoor drain (capped by a small cover); let water out of there too. To further protect against freezing, place plastic or foam faucet covers on outdoor faucets, says Marks.
Mistake 5: Burning unseasoned wood in your fireplace.
Wood that hasn’t been properly seasoned or dried will smoke heavily when you try to light it. “Moisture cools the fire so that more gases condense in your fireplace,” says John Crouch, director of public affairs with the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. That extra creosote buildup can cause chimney fires.
Solution: Burn only wood that’s completely dry and not freshly cut; you should see lots of cracks at the ends of split lots. While seasoned hardwoods such as oak or apple burn best, it’s fine to burn soft woods such as pine or fir if they’re completely dry. Or use fabricated woodwax firelogs.
Mistake 6: Using harsh de-icing products on your driveway and walks.
“Some de-icing chemicals can attack the cement paste which bonds concrete together,” says Patrick Reardon, executive director of the Portland Cement Association, Northeast Region. “You’ll see flaking as the concrete disintegrates.”
Solution: “Ideally, don’t use de-icers on concrete and masonry,” says Reardon. “Sprinkling sand is adequate most of the time.” Look for play sand or traction sand, which contains more grit, at home stores. It’s also gentler on pet’s paws and plants. Every few years, use a concrete sealer to extend the lifespan of your drive and walks. If you absolutely must de-ice, choose the least damaging products: sodium chloride (rock salt) or calcium chloride. And use sparingly, advises Reardon.
Mistake 7: Using a metal snow shovel.
“Even one with a metal edge can deposit tiny metal filings on the surface of your drive or walks,” says Reardon. Over time, these metal pieces can rust and mar the appearance of the concrete. Stamped concrete (which has an embossed pattern on the surface) or colored concrete (which is designed to look like brickwork or stone) also scratches easily when using metal or metal-edged shovels.
Solution: Use a plastic snow shovel to prevent dinging and scratching your drive and walks. On stamped or colored concrete, use sand, not chemical de-icers, for traction. If you hire someone to plow, ask if they could use a rubber-tipped blade instead of metal.