If the sun is shining as you read this, enjoy the blue sky while you have it: The wet and windy season is upon us, and it’s time to get your home ready for the onslaught.
The Seattle area might not get the prolonged, extreme cold or blizzards experienced in other parts of the country, but we’re hardly free from weather danger — especially that which rain brings.
From a home-maintenance standpoint, water is this region’s biggest winter-weather worry, according to Amy Ecklund, owner of AmyWorks, a home remodeling and maintenance company based in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Ecklund says water can damage your home in myriad ways, such as overflowing your gutters, which can cause rotting in the roof area; saturating the soil around your home, which can lead to basement flooding; and freezing inside pipes, which can cause them to burst.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep all that moisture at bay.
First and foremost: Clear out your gutters, which are crucial for proper drainage. “That’s a big one for our wet conditions here,” says Taylor Parrish, owner of Greenwood-based Best Coast Maintenance.
Needles from our plentiful evergreen trees are big contributors to clogged gutters, Parrish says, along with leaves, branches and all manner of other detritus.
Gutter cleaning — or any task that’s done on the roof or more than 6 feet off the ground — is something to consider hiring a professional to take care of. However, if your gutters are on the low side, you can climb a ladder to clean them yourself. Parrish recommends using an extendable pole, if necessary.
Another vital task is making sure the downspouts that descend from your gutters are clear and directing rainwater well away from your home’s foundation.
When downspouts don’t drain properly, “it backs up into those gutters,” says Ecklund.
Furthermore, if downspouts deposit large amounts of water near your home’s foundation, the hydrostatic pressure can push water through the floor of your basement and lead to flooding.
Check the bottom of the downspouts. Do they end next to your house, dumping rainwater near your foundation, or do they channel the water away? If it’s the former, you’ll want to help your downspouts direct the water elsewhere by installing splash blocks below your downspouts. These troughs will carry water away from your home, and installation can be done as a DIY project.
“Ideally, if you can, you want to get the water 6 to 10 feet away” from the house, Parrish says, adding that directing water away is “the No. 1 thing to keep your basement from flooding.”
It’s also worth inspecting the roof and taking care of any issues before the rains hit in earnest.
“Anytime you get a roof leak, it gets exponentially more expensive, really fast,” Parrish says.
A leaky roof can cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in a single night, he says, and if you discover a leak during a rainstorm, you might not be able to hire someone to take care of it for a day or two.
“It’s so much more economical to take care of it before it’s a big issue,” Parrish says.
Brace for the cold
The Seattle area might not get as many big freezes as elsewhere, but it can still see runs of very chilly days. So it’s worth taking steps to keep yourself warm this winter. Start by getting your furnace inspected and, if need be, serviced.
“It’s a great time to do that now,” Parrish says. “It you wait, you may not be able to get someone to come out that day.”
If your furnace has a filter, it should be replaced regularly, which most homeowners can easily handle themselves, Ecklund says.
Help keep your pipes from freezing by placing foam insulators over any outdoor spigots. “It’s a simple $5 solution that you can do yourself,” Parrish says.
Making sure that your windows are properly caulked is another important task to keep your home warm and draft-free, Ecklund says.
To find out whether you have any indoor drafts, Ecklund advises lighting a stick of incense on a day when there’s a bit of a breeze outside. Hold the incense stick in front of windows or other spots that could have a draft, and watch what happens to the smoke it gives off. If it goes straight up, all is well. If the smoke blows around, that’s an indication that you’ve got a draft.
“It’ll either be sucked out to the outside, or it’ll be blown back into the house. Any sort of movement with that smoke is going to show that you have a draft,” Ecklund says.
Before the next windstorm, make sure to tie down or bring inside anything that might blow away. Ecklund says that things that are meant to be outside, such as a picnic table or barbecue, can probably stay there, but they should be covered securely. Bring in any cushions from your outdoor furniture, then cover the furniture itself.
Parrish notes, though, that our soggy weather can lead to mildew and permanent staining on some objects left in the yard, such as umbrellas. “If they stay in the folded position all winter” — outside, “they’re just going to be all mildewy and gross” in the spring.
Make sure to store birdseed or any other edibles inside, Parrish says, to avoid encouraging rats and other critters to nosh on them or, even worse, to move in.
“A rat only requires an opening the size of your thumb to get in,” Ecklund says.
Take a trip around your home to see whether there are any spots that rats (or other critters seeking shelter) might find inviting.
“Really take a look at the openings you have on your house,” Ecklund says. “Sometimes you have holes up along the eaves of the roof.”
Parrish advises to also pay close attention as well to spots close to the ground where rats could get in. If you find an opening, cover it with wire mesh and staple it in place. The goal is to make sure there are “no open holes that anything can crawl into,” he says.