Clogged gutters can lead to ice dams, moisture problems, leaks and slippery walkways in winter. To avoid these issues, clean them out before the snow flies – or hire someone else to do it.
By Ray Routhier
Winter's coming fast. Do you have your checklist ready?
Every homeowner should have one. There are so many necessary or helpful things to do to one's home in preparation for a long Maine winter that it's really hard to keep all the tasks straight without one.
If you want to make sure your furnace doesn't give out in January, it's a good idea to get a tune-up soon. If you don't want ice dams causing problems with your roof, clean gutters and check your ventilation now. If you use a fireplace or wood stove, clean those flues.
If you have an older home that isn't quite airtight, you'll want to caulk or seal around doors and windows, or put sheets of plastic over windows, to keep cold out and heat in.
Basically, depending on your house, there's a lot you can and should do now. That's why you need a list.
To get you started, we've compiled a checklist of the various areas you should be thinking about when getting ready for winter conditions.
HEAT THINGS UP
Schedule an annual service and tune-up for your boiler, furnace or water heater, says Curry Caputo, president of Sustainable Structures, a construction, renovation and energy auditing company in Hallowell. Caputo says that because heating appliances can sit for six months without use, rust can build up, and other problems can occur.
A full and thorough furnace/boiler service should include cleaning the heat exchanger; testing the flame sensor and combustion; cleaning the oil strainer, blower, blast tube and electrodes; replacing nozzle and oil filters; repairing oil leaks; and testing oil-pump pressure, adjusting the spinner or shutter for minimum smoke.
It's a good idea to get on a schedule for furnace maintenance so you know it's done annually. This usually costs $150 and up for most systems. Even if you can't have one done before the season – heating companies are pretty busy right now – schedule one for as soon as you can this winter.
Like with furnace servicing, it's good to have your fireplace chimney cleaned annually and to keep it on a regular schedule.
Local chimney sweep companies say you should have your chimney inspected annually to check for erosion of the liner and buildup of creosote in the flue. Creosote is created from the gasses given off by flames, and can be flammable. It only takes a fraction of an inch of buildup to create a problem. A chimney cleaning will usually cost less than a furnace tune-up.
Also, in Maine there are a lot of older homes with multiple fireplaces that are no longer in use. Caputo says it's important to seal those up. If there's an interior or exterior damper, close it. If there is no damper, use foam or some other temporary way of sealing the opening.
Clogged gutters can lead to ice dams, moisture problems, leaks and slippery walkways in winter. So you've got to clean them. If you don't hire someone to do it, make sure you do it safely. Power lines, tree limbs and the height of your roof all combine to make gutter cleaning a potentially dangerous job.
Here are some safety tips on gutter cleaning from Maine Coast Construction in Camden:
• Always have a spotter hold the ladder steady, and never stand on the top rung.
• Set up your ladder 1 foot out from the house for every 4 feet of vertical rise. Extend the ladder 3 feet beyond your roof.
• Don't use a metal ladder around anything electrical, including power lines, and don't place the ladder near doorways.
• Always maintain three points of contact while on a ladder. For example: Two feet, one hand.
ICE IS NOT NICE
To prevent ice and melting ice from causing roof problems, including leaks, it's a good idea to inspect your roof before winter, says Tina Gleisner, who runs a website called IceMeltNE.com.
Look for and repair gaps in your roof or around your chimney, including any missing or loose shingles caused by Superstorm Sandy in October. Make sure downspouts are aimed away from the house and are secured to the house, which may mean adding extra nails or screws.
Ice dams often form when heated air escapes into the attic and warms the roof, says Sally Zimmerman, manager of historic preservation services for the preservation group Historic New England. So you might not know this is happening until after the first snowfall.
Zimmerman suggests checking your roof after the first light snowfall or heavy frost. If you do not see an uninterrupted blanket of snow or frost, you might have a problem. Then you should make sure your attic is cold by ensuring it's adequately sealed and insulated. Also, make sure the attic is vented to move warm air outside before it can heat the roof.
DITCH THE DRAFT
To keep heating costs down and prevent damage, you'll want your house sealed up as tight as possible for the winter.
Caputo suggests that you take care of all the little things, like making sure storm windows are down, closed and locked. Remove air conditioners from windows. Install plastic shrink-wrap over older windows. Seal all crawl space or basement vents that lead to your living space.
The Maine State Housing Authority also suggests that a way to keep heat from escaping through an older foundation is to take all your leaf bags after fall cleanup and stack them against the foundation around the house. The authority also recommends using caulk to fill in gaps around doors and windows.
And finally, being safe in your home in winter means being ready for storms. The Greater Portland Board of Realtors recommends preparing an emergency kit containing things that will help you in a power outage, including candles, matches, batteries, flashlights, blankets, a first-aid kit, medication, bottled water and some non-perishable food.
More information on home emergency preparedness can be found at emergency.cdc.gov.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: firstname.lastname@example.orgTweet
The Greater Portland Board of Realtors recommends preparing an emergency kit to keep on hand in winter. Such a kit might include candles and matches, blankets, bottled water, batteries, some non-perishable food and first-aid supplies.
Local chimney sweep companies advise homeowners to remember to schedule inspections annually.