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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Van Hal, REALTOR

Avoid Winter Home Disasters

Taken from an article by Lacie Johnson, HBA Contributing Writer

There's one thing to keep in mind every winter: "Take care of your home and it will take care of you! Those are the words of Lisa Spriggs at M&J Construction of Moorhead, Inc. By taking proper precautions to make sure your home is maintained during the winter, you can avoid our area's top five problems.

1. Structural Damage

Spriggs says, "If you get more than two feet of snow, it is wise to remove some of it." Removing snow will help prevent structural damage, clogged vents, and the formation of ice dams. Use snow roof rakes to remove the snow when it is fresh and fluffy. Waiting until the snow gets wet and solidifies will make the process more difficult.

Warning: it can be dangerous to climb on the roof. "Hire a licensed contractor to remove snow for you. Having an inexperienced person do it, or hiring an unlicensed contractor, could result in liability issues and damage to the asphalt shingles or damage the pipe jacks, skylights, sun tunnels, and venting," Spriggs says.

It's also important to remove snow from decks. "Remember decks are...probably not as structurally sound as the roof!" she says. She advises homeowners to remove all items from your deck before winter, pound all nail pops for a smooth shoveling experience, and to use a plastic shovel to avoid scratching the surface of deck boards.

2. Ice Dams

If an ice dam begins to form on your roof, take action. Ice dams can occur when there is not enough insulation at the eave or around skylights which can lead to water intrusion and cause leaks in your home.

Components of a roof system such as the decking or wood sheathing underlayment, ice and water barrier, shingles, venting, pipe jacks, skylights, or sun-tunnels should be uncovered at all times.

Source: Lisa Spriggs, M&J Construction of Moorhead

Preventive measures:

  • Remove snow from your roof as much as possible as it is one of the key ingredients in the formation of ice dams.

  • Check the insulation in your attic. If your attic is too warm, the snow on your room will melt and lead to the formation of an ice dam.

  • Install ice and water barriers. There are placed under shingles during installation and help protect the roof from ice and water damage.

  • Place bricks of de-icer salt on your roof. These are applied at problem areas early in the season.

  • Check humidity levels. If they are too high, it can cause ice to build up inside electrical panels. A well-ventilated attic during the winter helps to reduce moisture and keep attics dry.

3. Clogged vents and meters

Furnaces and HVAC systems may not work properly if their exhaust systems become blocked by snow and ice. They may stall or shut down. Blocked sewer vents will trap methane gas that could build up in your home.

In addition to checking roof snow loads, John Gunkelman, Dakota Construction of Fargo, Inc. reminds homeowners to clear the vents located on the sides of the home, too. These include gas pipes, eave vents, and furnace exhausts.

"Use a broom to gently brush the snow away from vents. be aware that wind can cause snow to move around and re-cover the vents, so be sure to check them regularly," he says.

Gas meters are used to measure the volume of fuel gases such as natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas. They are generally located close to the ground on the side or behind a home. If gas meters are blocked by snow or ice, it can prevent them from operating properly, potentially creating a dangerous situation. Here are some tips to make sure your gas meters are clear at all times:

  • Safely remove icicles hanging over your gas meter to prevent them from dripping, breaking off, and possibly blocking the vent on your meter's regulator.

  • Gently push snow away from your gas meter. Do not use a heat source to melt ice or snow on the meter and do not chip or scrape the ice. Doing this can damage or break your gas meter.

  • If using mechanized equipment such as plows or snow blowers, avoid areas where utility equipment may be covered by snow.

4. Slippery Concrete

Concrete can be damaged from all the freeze/thaw cycles in the winter. It is a costly thing to repair. To protect your concrete and prevent damage:

  • Before winter, check for cracks and repair them. Concrete absorbs water and, once it freezes, it expands and creates further cracking and spalling. Apply concrete sealer to provide a barrier against water and de-icing agents.

  • Keep snow shoveled off your concrete as much as possible.

  • Avoid using salt on concrete as it can cause deterioration. Use gravel, sand, or similar material to provide traction when icy.

5. Address Moisture Issues

Gunkelman advises homeowners to monitor the humidity level in their homes. "If you start getting excessive moisture toward the bottom of the window, that's a good indication that you might have too much humidity," he says.

If you notice condensation on your windows, take note of where it appears. Condensation between two window panes is typically caused by a faulty seal. This can be fixed by replacing the insulated glass panel. The most common type of condensation occurs on the inside of the window. This means that there is excessive indoor humidity.

Be aware that activities like cooking, showering, and drying clothes create moisture. Keep bathroom exhaust fans, dryer exhaust, and ducted kitchen exhaust hoods clear from snow to aid in moisture release.

There are many simple ways to reduce indoor humidity, including

  • using a dehumidifier,

  • running your exhaust fans whenever you cook or shower,

  • taking colder and shorter showers,

  • growing plants that absorb humidity,

  • cleaning your heating/cooling system filters, and

  • leaving room doors open to allow good air circulation.

Gunkelman also mentioned that piling snow near a home's foundation can be problematic if the homeowner is already having moisture issues in their basement during the spring melt. Move snow away from the foundation as much as possible.


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