Repairing winter damage: inspection tour with notebook is first step

Did the ravages of winter do any damage to your house? Winter weather is hard on a house. Melting snow and ice can loosen and finally pull down the most secure gutters. Galelike winds can methodically unfasten shutters that may have been installed only the previous fall.

Then, as the snow and wind taper off, the warm, early-spring days offer a good chance to spot some of the more apparent winter damage. A more thorough inspection should be launched for the hidden havoc.

You'll need to go about the spring inspection in a systematic, organized manner if you want to achieve the right kind of repair to keep your house neat and trim and to avoid more costly expense later.

As you begin your tour, take along a notebook and pencil, a pair of binoculars, and a ladder. Wear tennis shoes or rubber-soled shoes if you intend to get up on the roof. If you don't want to go that far, a pair of binoculars can show up any broken or cracked roof shingles from the ground. Then call in a professional roofer to repair the damage.

Ice dams are a particular problem in some parts of the country. As the snow melts during the warmer part of the day, water rolls down into the gutter. But then, as the temperature plunges after dark, the water freezes and ice builds up , forcing its way under the shingles.

As the trapped ice melts, the water runs down the inner walls of the house or drips through the ceiling. You may have to do over the ceiling and repaper the walls.

You can think about installing heat cables in the gutters before another winter moves in.

When you're on a ladder to check out the shingles, you might also replace the storm sash. Check the chimney cap for cracks, loose mortar, and loose metal flashing around the area where the chimney brick meets the house gable.

Take a hard look inside the gutters for damage. Clean out any leaves, twigs, and asphaltic roof granules. Remove rust with a wire brush and paint the inside with a special gutter paint. A bituminous roof paint is good. Aluminum, copper , and vinyl gutters do not usually require any protective inside coating.

Use exterior oil-base paint for the downspouts. Gently tap in any protruding gutter nails or refasten the gutter straps and hangers. Check the seams for leaks by running water with a hose through the gutters or simply wait for it to rain. Repair any small holes and leaky seams with fiber-glass patching kits.

Don't allow the water to pour onto the ground by a house wall, or you might have a pool in the basement. Use a splash pan or masonry block that is angled to carry the water away from the foundation.

Next on the list are the attic and overhang louvers. They should be in place and the openings not clogged with dirt or paint.

Now for the last ladder job: Inspect the caulking around all window frames, roof gables, edges, and corners of wood flashing and trim. Put the ladder away and zero in on a ground-level inspection.

Note the condition of the caulking around the plumbing fixtures, basement windows, between the top of the foundation wall and the sill, and any other point that you suspect of letting the cold, outside air into the house or the warm, inside air out.

Other items should include letting the soil slope away from the house foundation for proper drainage. Let your eyesight travel to the driveways, walks, and doorsteps. Any concrete cracks will only get bigger next winter as water gets in, freezes, and expands the crack.

Any of the new tough patching compounds will remedy the problem. Of course, you should reset or level off brick or flagstone walks that have been made irregular by heaving frost and ice.

At this point you should determine whether "to paint or not to paint."

Examine the trim if your house is brick and the siding if not. If you decide to paint, you may want to do only half the house this year and the rest next year.

Wood and asbestos shingles, clapboards, and siding need to be checked or cracks and splits. Brick or stone homes may need some mortar repointing.

Composition cellulose board siding needs paint in good condition the year around.

Always buy top-quality paint and follow the manufacturer's suggestions on the label for the right use. Note how much surface each gallon will cover.

Next, pay attention to the trees and shrubs around the house and in the yard. If any branches touch the house or are within a foot or two of the house, trim them back.

The spring is a good time to check for low spots in the lawn. These areas collect water and can be a breeding spot for mosquitoes. Fill them with sand instead of topsoil. Sand allows the grass to come through, but topsoil will only kill the grass and bring in weed seeds.

You might also want to oil the door hinges and garage-door tracks.

Now move indoors with your pad and pencil. Go into the attic and feel the roof boards for moisture. Poor ventilation will cause condensation on the boards and drips on the insulation below. Look for signs of moisture on the insulation. Also check to see if the insulation has been disturbed to allow gaps for heat to escape.

The basement and furnace need checking, too. Oil the blower motor and change the furnace filter. Then drain a bucket of water from the hot-water tank to get rid of any deposits that can shorten the life of the tank.

It will take you only a few hours on a Saturday to make your inspection. Then you'll h ave all summer to make the repairs.

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