Snow can wreak havoc this time of year, causing all kinds of distressing issues if not kept at bay.
Here are some ways to ward off intrusion:
Wind-blown snow can invade a home and settle in out-of-the-way places not often checked. The attic is most vulnerable. Sometimes snow will blow in through a vent — either the roof-type or gable-style in the end walls — and accumulate on top of the insulation. As long as the attic stays cold, that’s not a problem. But as temperatures rise, melting allows water to percolate through the insulation, saturate the sheet rock and stain the ceiling.
These are not usually serious problems. If you do see an isolated, yellowish stain on the ceiling, let it dry out for a week or two, then spray on some primer such as KILZ or Bullseye and repaint it. Colorado’s dry conditions allow the insulation to dry out with little or no effect, but it is worth climbing into the attic sometime to take a look.
The best defense from wind-blown snow in the attic is a cheap furnace filter stapled or taped over the offending vents. It still will allow air to waft back and forth but will keep the snow out.
The crawl space is another susceptible spot. Snow can come in through the most northerly-facing exterior vents. The potential for damage is much less than in an attic, but the presence of snow is an indicator that cold air is blowing through the space. That can lead to frozen pipes and also suck expensive heat from the house. So it’s a good idea to close off all but one or two vents each fall and then reopen in the spring.
Finally, window wells can accumulate drifted snow. It’s not OK to simply let it melt. That would introduce unacceptable amounts of moisture under the foundation. The wet soil then could expand and cause heaving in a concrete basement slab and maybe even the foundation. So this snow must be dug out right away.
The best window well covers include a grate of crisscross metal ribs or wood slats strong enough to walk on, topped with a clear plastic bubble to keep out not only snow but also leaves and trash.
If you have a high-efficiency furnace or water heater, snow buildup can be troublesome. Many of these installations use PVC (white plastic) flue and air intake pipes that run through the side of the house. Trouble is, they are relatively close to the ground. If snow drifts against either of these pipes, the furnace or water heater will go into a fault mode and simply shut down.
Dear Ken: I appreciated your tips last week about septic tanks, but we have another problem with ours. Sometimes the odor is so unpleasant in the yard that we can’t stay outside for long. Is there any way to make it more bearable? — Kerry
Answer: Unlike in the city, where household drainage is sent down the street, septic waste products remain on the property so an odor issue is pretty common. The roof vent pipes are usually the source. It’s easy to extend them higher with a short piece of pipe so the smells get carried away more readily. Use a 45-degree fitting and point the end opposite to the prevailing wind direction.
If you still have a problem, consider a filter system. Simply glue it in place on top of each offending pipe; Google Sweetair for one such system. Before you order and install, however, check with a plumber or septic company to see if they approve.
Dear Ken: The rubber gaskets on our exterior doors have worn out. How can I locate new ones? — Gene
Answer: These come in standard widths and simply snap into the groove on the threshold. Take a piece of the old one and match it up at the hardware store. Macklanburg Duncan (mdbuildingproducts.com) makes a variety of replacement weather-stripping products.
Sometimes exterior doors in older homes sag to such an extent that the door ends up grinding against the gasket, breaking it down in no time. Rather than go through the hassle of resetting the door, check out a vinyl sweep. This is a metal strip with a round vinyl piece that attaches to the inside of the door. It’s vertically adjustable, helping to seal uneven gaps under any sagging door.
Dear Ken: We would like to lay bricks over our cracked patio concrete slab, but we are in the mountains. Do you think it would do OK here and not freeze? — Jeanine
Answer: As long as the patio has some drainage slope built into it, you’ll be fine. That will allow melting snow and rain to seep underneath the bricks and drain away. These sand-bedded surfaces do fine even when it’s quite cold. If embedded water were to freeze, the bricks easily could shift in response to the frost expansion and then settle back down when it’s warm. The sand acts as little ball bearings between the bricks so any stress is easily relieved. I like your idea because it renews an ugly surface without the costly expense of a tear-out.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His call-in radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com