Stormproof your home before the next round of strong weather
Small things gone unnoticed or unrepaired can lead to big problems once the weather turns. Here are 8 stormproof ideas to avoid major home damage.
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It's mid-autumn, which means that the season of Atlantic nor'easters and Midwest blizzards is almost under way.
No sweat, you say: I've already cleaned the gutters and tossed more insulation into the attic.
Those are solid steps toward basic winterization. But have you truly stormproofed your home?
We asked the experts to identify the easily overlooked issues that, when left unaddressed, cause major headaches once Old Man Winter rambles down the block. Here are their eight heavy-weather tips:
Don't let the small stuff go
The first thing you want to do this weekend is slowly walk around the outside of your home, keeping an eye out for anything amiss. "'Walk the line' — that's the old Johnny Cash line," says Ezra Malernee, an 18-year home inspector and owner of Ezra Malernee & Associates in Canton, Ohio.
You're looking for anything as simple as storm windows that haven't yet been put in place, to shrubs that have been allowed to grow in front of south-facing windows, which will block out much-welcome sunlight during the winter. But you're also looking for small damage that needs repair.
Researchers at Florida International University's International Hurricane Research Center found that even a few missing or loose roof shingles severely compromised the integrity of the whole house when winds reached 125 mph. Granted, those are hurricane-force blows. But "there are things that can fail at lower wind speed that are workmanship-only" related, says Professor Arindam Gan Chowdhury, director of the Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research at the center. Researchers have seen shingles and tiles dislodge at winds of 80 mph if there is shoddy construction — and the bad workmanship wasn't evident prior to the simulated storm, Chowdhury says. And even a few shingles ripped away during a heavy storm can lead to serious water damage.
Time was, if you had some moisture weeping or water leaking around a window, the wood framing and sheathing around it “could take some yearly winter-time wetting and, combined with summer-time drying, survive it," says Jim Carlson, principal consultant/technical director for Building Envelope Technology & Research, a Seattle company that designs and troubleshoots roofs, wall cladding and waterproofing for everything from private homes to schools and resorts. But today's lesser-quality buildings don't ventilate nearly as well, says Carlson. "Since things are built more air- and weather-tight, there isn't that same drying that used to occur during the summer months."
Translation: Once water gets in through a gap around a window or door, for example, that water doesn't leave. It just wreaks havoc.
How bad can it get? Carlson recalls a homeowner not long ago in the neighborhood of West Seattle who took good care of his home — it was repainted, the balcony deck waterproofed. But there was a window that wasn't properly flashed and sealed, and water had gotten inside. "They had no idea that water was migrating inside, causing relatively major structural degradation and decay," Carlson says. As a result, one whole end of the deck and a wall will have to be dismantled and completely rebuilt with new wood and sheathing. "We've seen these incidences cost $20,000 to $50,000 in roof repair,” and wall-repair work cost $10,000 to "well over $100,000 on single-family, moderately priced houses.”
Also, look closely at the wall siding. "You're looking for places that wind can drive the precipitation into the wall" and where that moisture can migrate down into the wall cavity, Carlson says, "but also where water droplets can be drawn back into the adjacent balcony, deck, roof or wall by capillary action." Make sure that everything is properly flashed and sealed, and that the flashings are intact with overlaps sealed so that during wind-driven rain, water can't migrate into the wall cavity.
Leaks aren't always where they appear, either. Evidence of one sometimes pops up 20 or 30 feet from the actual leak, says Leslie Segrete, a home-improvement expert who also is editor-at-large for Country Home magazine and co-host of the syndicated radio show "The Money Pit." If you suspect a leak, and can do the following test safely, train a garden hose on the suspected hole and see where water emerges, Segrete says. For covering the openings, she recommends a durable flashing like those made by Grace Construction Products — elasticized membranes that will "heal" around staples or nails and make a tight, waterproof seal.
Hit the roof
The roof is a major point of vulnerability for a home. During your fall inspection, or when you're on a ladder cleaning your gutters, take a close look around. Pay particular attention to the following:
- Faulty flashing: Make sure all flashings around such roof penetrations as skylights and chimneys are in place, says roof expert Carlson.
- Damaged or missing shingles: A few missing shingles, as the hurricane center found, can quickly expose a home to water and wind damage. Water that gets under the roof shingles can quickly migrate down into the walls, creating all sorts of problems including leaks or flooding, mold, structural damage and damage to furniture.
- Granules in your gutters: When composition roofing (the roofing many Americans have) gets old it crumbles, and a buildup of granules is a telltale sign, says Don Vandervort, a home-repair expert and founder of HomeTips.com.
- Clogged roof vents:If those vents are blocked by bird nests or bee hives, for example, condensation builds up during the winter and mold develops, says Tony Tilenni, owner of Superior Home Inspections in Tallmadge, Ohio, and current president of the Ohio chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors. "I've seen a lot of attics that have mold problems on their roof decking — that's the wood under the shingles — and caused thousands of dollars in damage or cleanup, or both."
Whether you want to tackle home-roofing repairs depends on how handy you are, how extensive the repairs are, and how steep your roof is, Vandervort says. And remember, even a seemingly intact roof can cause big problems if it was constructed or repaired with shoddy workmanship, as the hurricane center found.