House Proud – Winter Prep

During a torrential rainstorm, I ventured outside to investigate the cause of our overflowing rain gutter. I discovered that a very small but mighty tree had sprouted up and was creating a blockage that sent a waterfall over the side of the house, where it was making a small lake on the lawn. 

The eaves are cleaned out faithfully every spring and fall, so we’re talking about a pretty fast-growing tree. Once the sky dried up, my Mr. Fix-It scooped out the tree and the mud in which it grew. And while he was at it, he had a look at the rest of the eavestroughs and ejected twigs, leaves and other flotsam that comes with living amongst huge pine and fruit trees. Cleaning muck from cold metal isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but it’s one of those jobs that has to be done regularly or you run the risk of bigger and more expensive problems in the future.

My old friend and home expert Michael Hammar believed that every fall a homeowner should take a stroll around his property and get a good view of the house from all sides. Inspect everything from the basement windows to the roof and take note of things like loose or missing shingles, loose bricks or siding and problems including missing weatherstripping around windows and doors. Check fences, if you have them, and the structure and security of the garage or shed. If you discover a few areas that need work, you can prioritize what should be done before winter completely sets in and what can wait until there’s warmer weather. Every home has an issue or two and Michael always believed that the ostrich method of maintenance was a prescription for disaster.

In other words, look for trouble before it finds you. Don’t wait until a ceiling caves in before you call a roofer. Another potential problem you can spot on a walk-around is exterior deterioration of the chimney. Inside, a wood-burning fireplace requires cleaning and some maintenance – but there’s nothing like the smell and warmth of the hearth on a cold winter’s night to make it all worth it. If you’ve just moved in, a fireplace needs an inspection by a professional to make sure it’s safe before you ever flick a flame on a piece of wood. Not doing so can be dangerous: soot builds up on the inside of the chimney and it can catch fire from the flame below. A gas fireplace also sometimes requires a tune-up. If it’s slow to ignite, makes odd noises, smells unusual or gives you any other cause for concern, it’s time to call a professional.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a potentially deadly, silent threat. If you have a fireplace, a carbon monoxide detector is a must because the poisonous gas is odourless. Federal government statistics show hundreds of people die every winter because of carbon monoxide leaks and they literally never knew what hit them.

Pests ranging in size from small-and-flying to large-and-furry can work their way into cracks and crevices in the bricks. I once had a colony of wasps invade my home from the chimney after – you guessed it – skipping an annual inspection. These unwanted guests flooded my living room without notice on a warm day and gave me quite a scare. An inspector would have found their nest and saved me from fleeing my home like I was running from hungry predators.

You never know what you might spot while doing an annual autumn walk-around of your home. I hope you find that everything’s in tip-top shape and you’re ready for winter. But if not, perhaps you’ll spot a small issue before it becomes a major one.