Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Winterizing 101

Buildings are built.  Buildings are used.  Buildings are replaced.  This is the predominant societal perception of houses.  Yet repairing a house makes them sustainable, something worthy of passing off to the next generation.  As homeowners, we are left with the responsibility of discovering the problem, figuring out how to fix it ourselves or finding the professional to do it right.  Sounds straightforward, yet it can quickly get complicated when expectations are not met, the work is done wrong, and frustrations mount.

The common expectation is for your house to be “maintenance free” (where parts are replaced when they fail) rather than repaired.  However, this is in conflict with natural wear and material lifecycles.  A whole house is often not considered comprehensively, and thus you may find yourself completing band-aids to save money, do what seems easier, or allow the wrong operator behind the tool.

Providing guidance to homeowners is an important one, one that I take with great humility.  I have spent the last 20 plus years learning from buildings, as well as the best—and worst—craftspeople and mechanics.  This experience allows me to understand how buildings evolve, to interpret what I see, and most importantly, develop treatment solutions for buildings and people.

My training and experience is primarily with historic buildings, defined as structures built over 50 years ago.  Yet the biggest lesson I have learned is standing houses have no idea if they are historic or not.   Houses are each unique and the same; they evolve, they wear and parts fail.   Even the simplest decisions effect future interventions and ultimately cost and effort.

The goal is not to make everyone an expert, but rather empower them with straightforward money saving and house saving solutions for the home.  I seek to provide homeowners with the how to’s of Do-It-Yourself repairs and, often more importantly, how to communicate your needs and wants to those you hire.  Too often I see what poor craft, inappropriate use of materials and technology, and poor decisions can do to a building.  The greatest test for a building is time, where completed work becomes the litmus test of best practices and materials.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions and provide input.  This column will cover field observations, home repair solutions and cost saving tips for homeowners.

Fall & Winter House Preparations

This week provides 12 helpful tips you can easily complete, yet are often overlooked and inexpensive, to prepare your home to shift seasons from fall to winter.


Gutters and Drainage

Water management is an essential factor in a house’s health and longevity.  The simplest task undone can be the most damaging.  It only takes about 5-10 years for wood building elements to rot.  So it is in your building’s and your wallet’s best interest to keep a building dry.

  1. Clean out gutter debris.
  2. Downspout design and placement- Clean downspouts. Extend downspouts out so the water falls gently and naturally away from the foundation.  The ground pitching away from the house is essential.
  3. Dry basements- A factor in wet basements can poor water management from the roof and ground. Dry out the basement using either an air conditioner or dehumidifier.  Direct water can be mitigated with interior perimeter drains.

Site Preparation

  1. Outdoor furniture- Wood furniture should be cleaned and a wood preservative applied, not a sealant. Cover furniture to protect from harmful UV rays and extreme temperature changes.
  2. Grill- Put it away or cover it. Disconnect the propane, check the valve for leaks and store it safely in an area with good ventilation.
  3. Trees and shrubs- Keep trees and shrubs 18 inches away from the house to keep it dry.  You should be able to walk around the house unobstructed. Tree limbs should be at least 10 feet from a house (squirrel jumping distance). Remove accumulated organic material, such as leaves or mulch.  The ideal foundation height from grade, or exposed masonry, is about 18 inches from grade.

Energy Efficiency and Air Infiltration

  1. Windows and doors- Windows and doors can be a significant contributor to air loss.  Close storms, install gaskets on doors and cover that exterior basement door with a heavy blanket.  Heavy curtains can help too.
  2. Walls and floors- A good trick is to fill large interior gaps with backer rod. Use a throw rug over drafty floors.

Heating and Ventilation

  1. Flues- Clean your flue annually. Switching furnaces from oil to natural gas or propane can cause a chemical reaction with the creosote lining the chimney flue and erode the mortar.  Stainless steel liners can be installed.

10. Appliances (furnace, hot water heaters, stoves)- Check to ensure a proper seal on flues.  An air-tight house can trap dangerous carbon monoxide.

11. House Moisture- Use the bathroom and stove exhaust fans.  Be sure they are venting outside, not into an attic. More than 99% of the water used to water plants eventually enters the air. Just by breathing and perspiring, a typical family adds about 3 gallons of water per day to their indoor air. Unvented appliances, such as natural gas, propane or kerosene stoves and space heaters can add 5-15 gallons of vapor per day. Condensation on windows is caused by elevated relative humidity and cold against warm surfaces.  Ideal relative winter relative humidity is 30-50%, and 40-60% in the summer.  Control humidity and air infiltration.


Driveways and walkways

12. Lay salts or alternative ice melting agents prior to an ice or snow events.  Remember, salt and pets do not mix.  Develop a good place for snow mounds.  Periods of prolonged snow, melting and then ice can make pathways and driveways smaller and smaller. Get a good ergonomically designed shovel.

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