Damage control: 5 problems caused by the wicked winter weather

Consumer Reports News: March 04, 2011 10:54 AM

Old man winter may not be through with us just yet, but in some parts of the country at least, the worst is finally over. Even routine winter weather can take a toll on your home's exterior. The 2010-2011 onslaught was particularly hard on roofs, many of which suffered the one-two punch of precipitous snowfall and prying ice dams. That's why we're putting leaky roofs first on our 2011 Spring Home Exterior Checklist. Here's everything to look for as you take stock of the damage.  

Leaky roofs. Examine the siding under roof eaves, and the ceilings in the rooms below, for water or discoloration, a sign that ice dams may have created leaks along the roof edge. Roof leaks are also common around chimneys, skylights, and other openings. These are easiest to spot in the attic; inspect the rafters for water stains. Patching leaks is best left to professionals. While they’re up on the roof, have them clean leaves from roof valleys. Inspect the roof for cracked, curled, or missing shingles. Ready for a new roof? In Consumer Reports' review of asphalt shingles, thick laminated shingles protected best, though some less-expensive, three tab shingles also performed well.

Clogged gutters. Clear gutters of debris and check them for corrosion, joint separation, and loose fasteners. Flush out downspouts and unclog leader pipes. Leaders should extend at least five feet to direct water away from the foundation. If clogging is extreme, consider installing gutter guards. In Consumer Reports' gutter guard review, many do-it-yourself sytems proved inexpensive and effective. Use Type 1A ladders for safety, and never go beyond the labeled highest step. For projects above 17 feet, you’ll need a conventional extension ladder.  

Hazardous decks. Look for water stains where the deck ties to the house. Ongoing water leakage can lead to wood decay, weakening the deck structure and the house. If you have any doubt about structural integrity, call a pro. Rid decks of moss and mold. Pressure washers are effective, but if you see wood damage, like raised fibers, increase the distance between the spray nozzle and the decking. We recommend electric pressure washers, which are quieter and easier to store and transport than gas-powered models. If your deck is ready for refinishing, check our wood stain ratings to see which formulas hold up best against the elements.  

Faulty foundations. Hairline cracks in foundation walls might be the result of concrete curing or minor settling and aren’t automatically cause for alarm. Mark them with tape and check back in a few months. If they’ve worsened, call a structural engineer. If they’re stable, fill them with an epoxy injection system. Check that the ground around the foundation slopes away from the house (about one inch per foot). Look for pellet-shaped droppings or shed wings from termites. Clear the area of leaves, in which rodents can nest. Fill in holes in siding and foundation walls with expandable foam.

Dirty air conditioners. The build-up of leaves and other debris can impact performance and efficiency. Disconnect electric power to your air conditioner’s outdoor condenser and clear it with a vent brush, power blower, garden hose, or your vacuum cleaner’s brush attachment. Be careful not to bend exposed cooling fins. If your yard has lots of trees and plants, wrap fiberglass mesh around the condenser coil to capture pollen and leaves. Replace the mesh as needed. Don’t allow debris to block airflow. Vacuum grilles and registers inside the home to ensure good airflow. And change your furnace filter. Consumer Reports has recommended 3M’s Filtrete or Utlra Allergen Reduction 1250 furnace filters.

—Daniel DiClerico


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