Avoiding Winter Woes

winter woesHere are some tips for homeowners
to keep their homes and families safe
until the spring thaw:

Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety

Whether a new property or resale home, prior to operating any woodburning fireplace or stove for the first time, it is recommended that it be certified as safe by a WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) Technician. Many chimney cleaning companies offer this additional service. Make certain that you receive a WETT Certificate as you may be able to get a discount with your Home Insurer if they receive a copy. Make certain that your home is properly equiped with both Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors on each floor.

Maintain a moderate fire - hot enough to prevent a cool flue liner and creosote buildup (a highly flammable, gummy deposit), but not hot enough to ignite creosote that may already have formed. Avoid smoldering fires; confirm that the fire is out, especially before going to bed or leaving the house. Never burn trash or other highly flammable material that will produce a sudden, hot fire. Burn only seasoned, dry hardwood. Inspect your chimney monthly (even during the season) to check for creosote deposits or other problems. Have your chimney cleaned each year. Only employ professionals to clean your chimney - check with your Better Business Bureau. Use a fireplace screen and/or glass doors to prevent sparks from flying out and igniting carpeting, flooring or furniture. Make sure wood stoves are securely placed on a nonflammable slab, not directly on wood or carpeting. (Check local fire codes, which can be obtained from the town building inspector.) Make children aware of the dangers of fire and fireplaces/wood stoves. Consider using a protective screen around a freestanding wood stove to keep curious children (or pets) away. Place a spark arrester at the top of the chimney - it prevents hot ashes from escaping the chimney, while animals, birds and rainwater are kept out.

Ice Dams/Water Drainage

Develop a "cold roof" by making attic area roof surfaces the same temperature as the exterior surfaces. While this generally requires professional help (particularly in a previously built house), it involves a two-step approach to insulate and ventilate, thereby reducing heated-air contact with the roof surface. This can often be implemented for a modest cost. You should ensure that you have ice and water guard installed under your shingles. You might want to consider metal roofing or eave flashings. These and other smooth surface roofs are a common approach in Canada and other very cold/snowy climates. Such roof materials allow the snow to slide off when there is a relatively steep slope. At low slopes, this is unlikely to reduce the likelihood of ice dams. Make sure gutters are not set too high, since ice-filled gutters force water to back up under the roofing, and can be pulled off or damaged by the ice. Gutter guards, which are actually designed to overlap gutters so that leaves slide off roofs (while the rainwater enters the gutter system), can also be helpful. In some extreme cases, it is better not to use gutters, provided that roof run-off is adequately directly away from the foundation area of the house. If you notice any roof leaks, address them immediately. Waiting too long could mean the difference between hundreds or thousands of dollars of repairs.

Heat Check

Consider installing a setback thermostat to automatically control the heating systems, which will reduce energy costs. Never leave your home (or vacation home) unheated in freezing weather. This can lead to expensive water pipe damage. Change/clean furnace filters to improve efficiency. Space heaters should not be used by flammable materials, including furniture, or left unsupervised. Never dry clothes on or near a space heater to avoid the risk of fire.

Carbon Monoxide

Keep in mind that the many "appliances" that we use during the colder months, like fireplaces and gas space heaters, can emit dangerous carbon monoxide if not properly maintained. Never "warm-up" your car in an attached garage. Carbon monoxide (CO) can accumulate quickly, even with the garage door open, and can seep into the home or car. Install (and regularly test) CO detectors on each level of your home. Be mindful of early warnings of CO poisoning - headaches, nausea, fatigue, etc.


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