For many in the year of COVID, it was a long, cold winter. But if you own a home, you found yourself quarantined inside a warm and safe sanctuary and were comfortably protected by the elements.
The same can’t be said of your home’s exterior, which stood naked against the full wrath of Jack Frost and Mother Nature, and will again in several months. Before the snow returns, take a closer look around your property; you’ll likely find fresh flaws since your last inspection — from damaged gutters to loose siding to missing roof shingles.
“Winter can really take a toll on a home, exposing any weaknesses and potentially being the first domino of bad events to come,” says Kamil Gondek, co-founder of Gutter Pros in Chicago. “During the colder months, for example, water melts and freezes constantly, getting into crevices, which can wreak havoc.”
Inspecting your property before and after winter is crucial to make sure there are no issues and, if there are, fix them as soon as possible.
Case in point: Gutters can fill with snow and ice, causing them to sag, separate or come apart at the corners, resulting in leakage, water damage to roofs, ceilings and walls, and erosion and cracks in your foundation — not to mention basement flooding. What’s more, leaves and debris can accumulate in gutters and downspouts, preventing proper drainage when rain, snow and sleet arrive.
The fix? Climb a ladder (if you are capable and the roof isn’t too high up) and clean out, fix or refasten your gutters. Make sure the downspouts are properly connected, as well.
“But ensure you are following the proper slope or pitch of the gutter toward the downspout. If it’s placed too high, water can pool, and trapped debris can start to grow mold,” cautions Eamon Lynch, director of warranty service for Power Home Remodeling, based in the Philadelphia region.
If you experienced ice dams that resulted in water damage to your home, hire a roofer to install an ice-and-water shield membrane beneath the first few feet of shingles toward your roof’s edge to prevent further occurrences. This expert can also repair or replace any loose or missing shingles you notice, as well.
Inspect your siding for signs of damage.
Don’t be surprised if you discover siding or flashing that has become detached or needs replacing, too.
“Consistent, heavy snow can lead to warping, dry rot and paint peeling on wood siding,” says Rachel Devitt, spokesperson for Duuo, a Toronto-based insurance company.
Try swapping out any damaged pieces with new ones that match if you can find them. If you cannot fasten the piece securely, check to see if the materials underneath are compromised and need to be replaced.
“For instance, you may have a rotted fascia board, which would be akin to screwing something into cardboard,” says Lynch.
Additionally, look around your exterior thoroughly for cracks, crevices and entry points where insects and critters may find entry.
“Check for any soft spots in the wood, loose or missing soffit pieces, flashing or shingles, as well as any construction gaps. Also, ensure your AC condenser line is not clogged and tree branches are trimmed, so they don’t touch your shingles. Garage sweeps and door seals are also very important to check, as a gap provides entry for many pests,” recommends Adrienne Vosseler, wildlife specialist for Chicago-headquartered Critter Control. “Unsealed roof returns, gable vents, crawl space vents, and ridge vents provide other easy access points for animals, too. Animal-proof materials like galvanized steel and cement can be used to make repairs.”
Take time to look carefully around your home’s foundation for warning signs, as well.
“Any cracks you notice are a potential sign of air leakage and a possible unstable foundation, which can be a major safety hazard,” Lynch says. “Pull away branches and shrubbery that may be obscuring your view.”
Small cracks can be patched by a handy homeowner using repair kit materials, but larger cracks should be evaluated and filled by a professional.
Caulking leaks in gutters and around windows will save you money in the long run.
Next, assess your front porch and/or deck for wear and tear.
“Long-term exposure to snow, ice and cold weather could lead to mildew, warping and splitting,” says Slingo, who recommends using appropriate filler material to plug gaps and cracks, replacing rotted or compromised planks and boards, and sanding and restaining/repainting wood materials.
If you have a basement, you might have window wells that need to be cleaned out.
“After removing any debris, clean the window and well thoroughly and reseal any gaps with caulk,” suggests Lynch.
Despite your best DIY intentions, know your limitations and avoid taking unnecessary chances.
“If you don’t feel safe, don’t risk it, especially when ice, snow, roofs and tall heights are involved. Hire a professional who has the expertise and special equipment to get the job done without risk to you,” Slingo advises.