As the snow falls outside my office for the first time this year, I realize that my busy season is just beginning. Winter in Michigan brings with it ice dams, structural collapses, house fires and frozen pipes. As a structural estimator/project manager for a restoration co. I see first hand the damage they all cause and stress it inflicts on the home owners. Fortunately there are several precautions that you as a home owner can take to reduce the possibility of suffering from winters’ wrath.
Have your furnace checked and cleaned by a licensed heating contractor. They will change the filters and ensure the unit is operating safely. They may even recommend having the duct work cleaned which will help the unit operate more efficiently and discharge cleaner, healthier warm air. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and ensure they are operating properly. If they aren’t, replace them immediately. If you have a fireplace or wood burner that you use regularly, have it professionally checked and cleaned. Creosote build up and malfunctioning dampers are a leading cause of house fires from wood burning units.
Frozen pipes can usually be avoided by ensuring there is proper insulation around the foundation of your home or cottage. Fill voids in basement or crawlspace walls with spray foam insulation. Install additional fiberglass insulation as necessary to protect the underside areas of your home. Insulation is fairly inexpensive compared to the cost repairing the damage caused by frozen pipes.
Ice dams, water backing up under the shingles and into your home, are another major cause of damage during the winter months. Improper installation of or insufficient amounts of insulation combined with inadequate ventilation of the attic space in your home is the leading cause of ice dam formation. Heat from your interior living space rises through the ceiling and into the attic. The warmer air in the attic causes the snow on the roof to melt. As the melt water runs down your roof and reaches the eaves, which are outside the exterior walls, it cools rapidly and turns into ice. As the process repeats itself, the ice build up becomes so large that the water has no place to go and begins backing up under the shingles and eventually into your home. It is nearly impossible to completely prevent an ice dam but there are thing you can do to lessen the severity. Contact a local builder or insulation contractor to inspect the attic and ensure there is sufficient insulation and ventilation. Use a roof rake to keep snow off the eaves of your roof as much as possible. Snow acts as an insulator and can prevent any ice that does build up from melting. Roof rakes are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at any local home improvement store. Purchase one early because as the snow begins to pile up they fly off the store shelves.