3 ways Old Man Winter can rob you

Rob Sabo | Improvement Center Columnist | November 20, 2012

With Old Man Winter getting ready to grasp your home in his icy grip for the next six months, it's important to inspect your home and take steps to winterize it while the sun still shines. Failure to do so could cost you much more money over time than what you might spend now to prepare your home for cold weather. For some, these winterization steps are jobs you can handle yourself; for others, it might be best to call in a contractor.

Here are the three most crucial areas you need to inspect and protect:

1. Wood siding

If you have areas of your home with peeling paint, it's imperative that you get the trim, fascia and siding covered with paint before the winter freeze sets in.

Pete Peterson, counter salesman for Reno Paint Mart of Nevada, cautions homeowners about letting wood go exposed for another season before repainting.

"Wood acts like a wick, and water vapor travels through the wood," Peterson says. "It will form ice crystals and separate the paint from the wood."

Fascia and trim usually look more weathered than painted siding because water vapor has seeped into the wood's pores and forced off the paint. Water vapor also can come in through the roof sheathing and damage the paint on fascia boards that butt the roof sheathing, Peterson cautions. Left untreated, the water-soaked wood eventually suffers from dry rot and needs to be replaced.

Strip peeling paint with a scraper or power washer and paint your house before the temperature drops drastically. Cold weather significantly lengthens the paint's curing and drying time, and if the paint doesn't sufficiently cure due to cold weather, the water in the paint can freeze and separate from the solids in the paint. Even brands of exterior paint designed for colder-weather applications need to be applied while temperatures are warm enough to allow the paint to properly cure.

"The lower the temperature, the lower the (curing) action is, and at a certain point it stops curing," Peterson says. "If the water in the paint freezes it is ruined."

Lastly, be sure to watch for rain or snow in the days prior to painting. If the outside air is too humid, it too can prevent the paint form properly curing.

"Like anything else there is a range paint performs in," Peterson says.

2. Roof and gutters

Inspecting your roof is a crucial step if you live in an area where snow builds up in the winter. Leaves and branches that stack up in valleys and crooks of the roofline hinder proper snowmelt. You also want to ensure your gutters and downspouts are free of fall debris such as leaves and branches that can inhibit their efficiency. Check the clampings on your gutters to make sure they aren't rusted or broken. The strain of weighted gutters can damage the whole system if you have loose or bad connections to the house.

Ice dams are another common wintertime problem. Snowmelt pooling at the gutters can cause an ice dam and force water up under your shingles or tiles when it re-freezes at night. Ice dams also are caused by heat escaping from the eaves of your home and melting snow at the lower edges of the roofline, so make sure the vents in soffits are clear and that all gable vents are open.

Lastly, check all penetrations in the roofline for signs of loose or cracked caulking or damaged flashing and replace as necessary.

3. Heating system

Your heater is your lifeline to a cozy winter. Changing or cleaning the filter for the HVAC system is an obvious first step. Second, change out an old mercury-style thermostat for a newer digital model that has programmable features. You can save a great deal of money over time by having the thermostat programmed to shut off while you are away. Lastly, have a licensed HVAC technician inspect the system for air leaks and also to clean the duct work. Consider having the technician wrap the ductwork with insulation to increase the system's efficiency.

Following these three steps can help you beat Old Man Winter and prevent expensive home repairs down the road.