Summer is way behind us. So goes the way water plays a role in our lives. Instead of longing to get to the beach, lake or pool, us folks in the Northeast have to bundle up and prepare for the icy battle to protect our homes against snow drifts, slippery sidewalks and ice damming.
Just like the old adage says: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. So what is the secret to shoring up your home before freezing temperatures and snowfall take a toll on your association? Kurt Christensen of Kondo Kare LLC in Tinton Falls, New Jersey shared some tips with us on getting through the winter season with minimal property damage.
Common Problems and Warning Signs
What are some common maintenance problems that associations might have during the winter? “Ice,” according to Christensen, can be a major problem. “You need to keep the steps, sidewalk and streets clear of ice. Ice damming is something that comes up frequently. By keeping your gutters clean and your attic properly vented, you can avoid some of those issues,” he said.
What are the warning signs of these problems that managers and boards should be on the lookout for? “You should always have a scheduled set of items on a checklist that you go through every year listing problem areas,” Christensen said. He recommended starting with clearing out fall debris. “If you have any drains that are in either the ground, like a channel drain, or your curb-side drains, make sure they are not full of leaves from the fall. Make sure all your gutters have been cleaned. That’s a few things I would look out for,” he continued.
When we asked what would we notice if there is a problem, Christensen explained a common problem that can require quite a fix. “Ice damming is when the snow accumulates on the roof and it freezes in the gutters. It slowly penetrates through the shingles as it melts and causes a roof leak into the house. The main cause of that is improper ventilation in the attic. You have to make sure that your insulation isn’t tucked into the eave all the way. There should baffles that allow air to flow through there,” he said.
Christensen mentioned again how a good walking tour of the association and thorough cleaning can prevent a frozen mess down the road. “Keeping the gutters clear helps. If I were walking around a property with water issues I would look on any hilly area or anywhere you see some water dripping out of a sidewalk or off of a lawn where there was a spring or a pipe that might be broken. Anywhere you see any dampness or water I would investigate that, and have the issue corrected. If your sprinkler lines haven’t been blown out, I would definitely want to have the lines all cleaned out and emptied so they don’t freeze,” he said.
If I’m looking up at my roof and I see a lot of icicles hanging from the gutter, is that a problem? “It can be,” said Christensen. “I would have the maintenance team or your snow removal people knock the icicles down. Once the roofs are clear, I would have the shingles, gutters and attics inspected and checked for the proper ventilation.”
What if I see my gutter is full of ice and it backs up onto the roof. Is that a problem? “That’s ice-damming,” he cautioned. “As the sun hits the roof during the day the lower bottom of the ice that’s up there will start to melt. But if it can’t drain properly off the roof or gutter, it’s going to back up under the shingles and get in and cause leaks in the interior.”
So what should you do if you find such a leak? “There are underlayments you can use. If you are doing a roofing project take a six-foot area, from the edge of the roof up. There are membranes you can use to put on the roof that help prevent water from backing up into the house. Having membrane underneath the shingles help avoid some of those leaks.”
Are there any signs regarding windows and doors that indicate that you could have a maintenance problem? “It’s tough to tell. You may see some moisture in between the window panes,” Christensen said. “But that’s an indication of a compromised window seal if you have double-glass windows. There’s nothing I’m aware of that you can do to correct that, short of replacing the windows. A good maintenance tip is to caulk around all windows and doors to make sure that they are not drafty.”
Christensen also noted that snow drifts against the side of a building can have serious consequences. “One thing that we have seen that can be dangerous is with a lot of the new, high-efficiency furnaces is that they are not vented through the roof. They just vent straight out through the foundation or through the lower portion of the building envelope. They can get covered and blocked with snow. You can get carbon monoxide back into the house. If you have any kind of exhaust pipes or venting that is along the building you want to make sure that is clear all the time. Plus it’s not good to have the snow up against the building to begin with. It can start to melt and leak back into the house. It’s always good to keep it as clear as possible,” he said.
How difficult is it to fix ice-damming if you have it? “It’s expensive,” said Christensen, “above and beyond the cost of fixing the interior of the unit. You have to remove shingles and to get the ice out of the gutters is very difficult. There’s no good way to get it out of them. You can damage the gutters very easily. You work on the roof itself to try and take preventive action. You’ve got to open it up, make sure the attic is properly vented and install that membrane along the edges of the roof so that water can’t get up under there.”
Preventative Measures for Homeowners
Is there anything residents should be doing on their own to prevent or address these issues? “Each association has its own bylaws about whose responsibility the attics are. If the attic is your responsibility, make sure it is properly insulated and vented. That would prevent some of that ice-damming,” Christensen said.
Any other tips for our readers? “Have ice-melter available to all your homeowners. Have your furnace serviced at the beginning of the winter season to make sure your furnace is working in good order. Drain the hose bibs if you have an exterior faucet. Disconnect the hoses. There is a bleeder valve to drain them on the water lines inside for the outside faucets. Make sure the windows are closed securely and caulked so they aren’t drafty,” said Christensen.
For communities in the Northeast where there are snow birds, Christensen recommended that when they leave they can turn the temperature down, but not below 55 or 60 degrees. They may want to leave kitchen sink cabinet doors and bathroom vanity doors open so some warm air can flow through those areas. “Make sure to shut off the main water line. If you can’t shut off the main water feed, at least shut off the line for the washer.. Make sure the fireplace damper is closed,” Christensen said.
Finally, as with most tasks these days, there’s an app for that! According to Christensen “There are water detectors you can buy now. They are an alarm system. They sense water. They send you messages to your phone that there is some kind of problem if you do have a pipe leak. There are some features you can build in to try to protect yourself.”