The following is a check list to get your home ready for colder/sub-zero outdoor temperatures
exterior hose bibs – do not leave exterior hose bibs remaining charged with water and not drained. Most modern hose bibs are a “frost-free” design which allows water to drain out the section of the hose bib that is not in heated space. From the outside when you are turning off the faucet the actual valve stop is about six inches inside the wall cavity in the heated space. This designed intention is so that the supply line and hose-bib sections that remain charged with water are in heated space, subsequently allowing the section of hose-bib that is not in heated space to drain out eliminating the possibility of freezing. However, improper use of these types up hose-bibs are responsible for many springtime water-escapes. The most common reason for this is that the garden hose is left on over the winter therefore not allowing the “frost free” section of the hose-bib to drain. When the temperatures drop below freezing this section of hose-bib may freeze causing a break. Once the hose-bib is used again water is allowed to run through the broken section of pipe where it can leak, usually going unnoticed for a period because this section of the hose bib that leaks is concealed inside the wall cavity. It is good practice to always check your hose bib when it is being used for the first time after a winter freeze to make sure it has not broken over the winter months, especially if the hose was left attached.
The second way that a frost-free hose bib can freeze is when it is installed incorrectly so that water drains back towards the house as opposed to draining outdoors as it is intended to flow. Most professional plumbers will install a frost-free hose bib correctly, so this scenario is quite uncommon.
underground sprinkler systems – underground sprinkler systems should be blown-out prior to freezing. Common design flaws in systems may not allow all the water to escape. To avoid this scenario your underground sprinkler system supply lines should terminate with a sprinkler head or a removable cap so that all water can be evacuated from the system during blowouts. Always check in the springtime for leaks by assessing the systems zones prior to allowing normal operation.
pond and water features – to ensure not to damage pumps and water lines, pumps should be removed, and water lines should be free of water. Most systems will allow water to drain back into the holding pond and/or ponds or drywells. In some cases, holding ponds or drywells also need to be drained to ensure water lines do not remain charged with water.
fireplaces and wood stoves – chimneys and vents should be check and assessed for proper operation. Chimneys should be cleaned to prevent build up of flammable creosol to avoid the possibility of a chimney fire.
furnace filters and ducting – fall is a suitable time to change your furnace filter and clean your furnace ducting as the system will become essential for heating and will run more efficiently. Occasional duct cleaning is an excellent way in-part to maintain healthy indoor air quality.
baseboard heaters – baseboard heaters under normal operation are self cleaning as they burn off dust which consists of protein matter and cellulosic materials. One of the biggest problems with baseboard heaters is that they are turned off or their use is limited to reduce electrical bills. This is not a good idea because like the placement of heat vents in a forced air heating system, baseboard heaters are placed at cold zones and are intended to keep exterior walls and windows heated so that theses areas do not drop below due point which would cause condensation and will likely lead to unwanted fungi/mould growth. Keeping exterior walls and windows above due point is critical for indoor air quality.
Humidifiers – humidifiers can add humidity to the air during winter months for the occupants’ comfort level. Humidifiers are also used to maintain humidity levels when certain species of Hardwoods are present in home and/or building materials such as hardwood flooring. Humidifiers can be attached directly to the HVAC system, or they can stand alone. It is important to be aware that the improper use of humidifiers can lead to costly problems. Adding humidity to indoor air should be limited so that excess vapor pressure is not forced upon building materials which can cause a multitude of issues including but not limited to unwanted fungi/mould growth, swelling of hydrophilic building materials like hardwood floors, doors, windows and framing etc. Humidifiers typically use honeycomb membranes which will require cleaning and /or replacement periodically, failing to do so can cause unwanted water escapes. Humidifiers should be cleaned and serviced twice a year at minimum.
Attic Spaces – attic spaces are a separate environment from your indoor living space and need to be properly vented to prevent condensation on building materials during the winter months which can result in unwanted mould/fungi growth. Mould/fungi growth in an attic will eventually compromise the structural integrity of roof sheeting and structural framing. Ongoing wetting because of condensation can lead to water damage on finished interior ceilings and compromised attic cellulose insulation. When insulation gets wet insulation “R” values are reduced. Attic spaces should have adequate insulation over top of living spaces but not over soffit air intakes. Attic insulation is essential in colder climates to keep heat inside living space and at the same time limit heat migration into the attic. Soffit intakes should remain open to allow air to enter the attic and exit at the peak vents and/or gable vents. In the winter months air temperatures in the attic should be close to outside air temperature. Condensation occurs in the attic space when air is stagnant or trapped. As the temperatures drop the air cannot hold the same amount of moisture and condensation occurs as the air meets cold surfaces like the roof sheeting. When air is continuously exchanged through adequate venting condensation is eliminated because the air has reached equilibrium with the outdoor environment.
crawl spaces – Heated crawl spaces should be checked for standing water, rodent activity, and debris. Heated crawl spaces are in-part the same environment as living spaces, therefore maintaining clean heated crawl spaces is essential for indoor air quality. Non heated crawl spaces should be vented much like attic spaces to reduce the possibility of condensation which can lead to Mould/fungi growth and compromised insulation components. It is common to see home and Building occupants and owners block crawl space vent site in winter months in and effort to control temperatures and heat loss, however this is best done by increasing the insulation factors at the floor joists etc.
Windows – windows and window frames should be cleaned regularly especially in the winter months to reduce food sources for mould/fungi and bacteria. Modern high quality insulated windows are best in cold climates as they maintain temperatures above dew point. Older windows like aluminum framed and wood framed windows can be very cold allowing window surfaces to drop below dew point. In this case windows that are condensing should be wiped constantly and/or an absorbent media such as a rolled-up towel can be placed in the windowsill as a temporary solution to absorb water therefore keeping moisture from dropping below the windowsill into the building components like drywall, framing and insulation. Like in every case when building materials are continually wet mould/fungi growth will occur.
Doors – adjust doors to close tightly, this will eliminate cold drafts and prevent heat loss. Adding weather stripping and/or adjusting strike plates can achieve this goal.
Rodent Proofing – winter is a time the rodents will want to find warm space. Inspecting building roofs and exterior finishing’s to cover or block entrance points using rodent screens or simply repairing holes. Mice can enter in space the size of a dime. Keep pet foods in secure containers such as plastic totes with lids.
Mark J. Gotro…CEO
AHERA Certified Building Inspector Certification #CABI-12-015
IICRC Applied Microbial Remediation Supervisor – Certification #18597
HCR Master Restoration Specialist
HYDRACLEAN Disaster Restoration Services Ltd.
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