As the temps drop you will want to make sure all the items that are usually sitting outside are picked up and stored where they will be out of the weather. Reel up the hoses (carefully “walk” them to drain all water out before you wind them up) and store them where they cannot freeze. Nozzles, sprinklers and any other hose fixtures should be placed in a bin or box to keep them together for next Spring.
Hose bibs (spigots) should be turned off inside and fully drained. While there are “extended sillcock types, and anti-siphon models, most homes have standard ones that can easily freeze and will burst if the temps drop enough and there is any residual water left in them.
Turning off the valve inside is not enough to adequately protect them however. You must go back outside and open the exterior faucet enough to drain the water that remains in the pipe. If the pipe travels uphill inside, there may be a small cap on the shut off valve that should be opened to allow the water out. Using a cup or a small plastic container should be enough to catch the water when the cap is removed. Place the cap back on carefully and do not lose the little rubber gasket that helps it stay sealed. Unscrewing the cap may require a pliers but do not over-tighten when replacing, as you can strip the threads.
Gutters are an important system that helps catch water from the roof and brings it safely to the grade by draining them through leaders. Leaders either dump the water into underground drains or onto the ground near the foundation.
While the preferred method is underground drains leading away from the home, these can be vulnerable to damage over time (crushing, clogging, etc.) The life of a leader drain can ultimately be extended if you are careful to keep leaves, debris and rodents out of the piping. So starting at the top, install some type of gutter mesh in the leader outlet on the gutter that keeps bigger debris out and clean these frequently. Screw together leader fittings so they do not come apart. And, if you have transitional fittings (that is: rectangular to round fittings leading to the drains, fill any gaps that rodents can wiggle into with expanding foam.
If you have drains simply draining onto the ground near the foundation, you really should make sure the water is routed at least three or four feet away from the home to avoid pooling and wet foundation walls. If the pitch away from the home is negative or garden beds, shrubs and trees are too close… water may find its way back into the home.
While most homes have some form of waterproofing on the exterior of the foundation, this can deteriorate over time and water may enter. Older stone foundations are very vulnerable to some leaching and ongoing leaks.
Keeping the gutter system clean and flowing properly will also reduce the risk of ice forming in the gutters and the weight of the ice helping to separate the gutters from the building. Adding additional gutter support on older units may reduce the chance of gutters pulling off the home or sagging in Winter.
While we are talking about gutters… there is a whole array of gutter covers, mesh material, gutter systems and new technology designed to keep leaves and debris out of the troughs. Most are engineered and well thought out. Some are simple and others can be expensive and a big production to install. My experience has led to the conclusion that most, at best, are only partially successful and that you really need to look at your specific location and look at what debris ends up in the actual gutters. Pine needles (as an example), will clog up almost any system. Do the research, before you install a system that makes it even harder to clean when it is in place.
Examine your gutter & leader system in a heavy rain to see if it is truly controlling the water, and don’t be surprised in a heavy rain if gutters overflow. Nothing is perfect.
While I’m on the thought… remember most air conditioners are installed on grade close to the home and just below the drip line of those very same gutters. In wet wintery months debris, water, icicles and snow can pummel the a/c condenser units. I always recommend covering the tops of these with a slab of plywood cut to the shape of the a/c unit, then covered with a small drop cloth that is weatherproof. Tie the cover with string or secure it with a bungee cord so it cannot blow off. Cover only the top eight inches of the unit to keep debris out and protect it from falling branches. Make sure you turn off the power to each unit to avoid it powering on by the thermostat. Most people are not aware that running an air conditioner in Winter can easily break it. Never run central a/c units when it is below 65 degrees F.
If you have a party and the home is too warm, open a window!
Most A/C disconnect switches are simply a throw handle or a circuit breaker located very close to the exterior unit. Move the switch to off, the breaker to off, or if there is a small “t” shaped handle in the box pull it towards you then turn it upside down and re-install it in the “off” position. Do not do this in damp or rainy conditions to avoid any potential shock. If you are beyond your scope, stop and let a more skilled person do this.
A word- Heat pumps look exactly like Air Conditioners. Heat pumps provide heat in winter and are not winterized as discussed above. Covering a heat pump can ruin it, service people will make fun of you and significant others will roll their eyes at your lack of knowledge if you mess up. So don’t cover heat pumps.
Landscapers and garden centers will tell you to wrap up some exterior shrubs and to protect vulnerable trees with burlap or to spray them with sprays that limit wind burn and deterioration. Discuss this with them. Add support stakes on thinner trees and shrubs and tie up trees that are apt to split from snow loading Arborvitae are one species known to split and become snow damaged.
Obviously put away all the deck furniture, umbrellas, umbrella stands, bug zappers, loose lighting, fire pits and accessories that you do not plan to use in Winter. Sheds can be a wonderful way to store seasonal stuff without having to lug them down to the basement, or fill the garage. But be careful to bring in any liquids that can freeze from unheated storage areas. Liquid based pesticides and pool chemicals can burst and cause a haz-mat situation that could poison you.
Think about the tools and garden utensils you will need for the season and organize your shed or garage so you can easily get to the snow shovels, ice melt and such. Grass rakes and mowers can be stored away now.
Mowers, weed-wackers, and other fall equipment should be drained of gasoline or a gas stabilizer added so they will work well when you once again need them. Lubricating blades are also a good idea. But keep a chain saw ready for the storm and a sharpened chain in case a tree limb falls.
Snow throwers and plows should be lubricated, gassed up and placed in easy to manipulate areas as you may have trouble getting them out of a shed or garage when you need them.
Okay so easy stuff:
If you have “triple track” combination storm windows… the outermost track is for the upper window then the lower window. If this order is backwards, it will leak.
Did you know that even the best window will not give you a tight weather seal if you do not latch it? Make sure all windows are fully latched and tight to the weatherstripping.
Remove window a/c units- they will let cold air and water in regardless of how well you insulate or wrap them. Get them carefully out of the window and placed in a clean dry spot for next Summer. Remove all screws and attachment hardware and store them in a plastic bag with the portable a/c unit.
Built-in or “wall a/c units” should be fitted with a waterproof cover outside and insulated with spray foam anywhere where breezes get in.
Many of us have front and rear doors that have an adjustable threshold. Look at the base of your entryway (the strip when the door is open, for four or five captive screws). If they are visible (sometimes hidden by packing tape), to be removed after installation). If there is a draft detected under the door you can unscrew the screws a turn or two and raise the threshold to compress the hard gasket on the bottom of the door. In Summer, you would do the opposite if the door is hard to open or close.
These tips & Winter seasonal ideas are provided to you by:
Stonehollow Fine Home Inspections, The New England School of Home Inspection & “Around the House with Steve Gladstone”, Sat Mornings 8-10 am at www.wgch.com