for Cold Climate Housing and much more

Seasonal Home Improvement Tips

Fall – December

Fall in a cold climate is the time when animals store up food for the winter and grow thick coats, and the humans take in their last harvest, change everything in their clothes closets and shore up their houses for the snow and cold winds. One season at a time is about as far ahead as the animal kingdom thinks, but us humans should be thinking two seasons ahead. That's right, in the fall we need to plan for spring as well as winter.

It is during the first two weeks of the spring thaw that so many of us get water leaking into our basements. And we can't do much about it at that point because even if the snow is gone, the ground is frozen. In fact, it is precisely that frozen ground with water run-off on top of it that is causing the problem. A few weeks later, when the ground has thawed out, the basements tend to dry up. Why? Because the ice in the ground acts like a plug in a drain. The snow starts melting and the water percolates through to the ground, but the water can't percolate into the iced frozen soil. So 100% of the melting snow, as well as any rain, flows with the slope of the land. All too often that means that it flows towards the foundation of the house. After the ground has thawed, the snow run-off is gone and much of the rainwater will percolate directly into the now soft ground, leaving much less water to flow towards the house.

During the spring thaw, you can't do much about the run-off problem, but in the fall you can plan ahead. This is the time to study the slope of the landscaping around your house. Take a thin plastic sheet — like a painter's drop cloth — and spread it out right next to the house. Turn the garden sprinkler on this plastic and see where the water wants to flow. If it flows towards the house now, it will do that under the snow at the end of winter as well. You need to raise the flower beds, pull back the grass and build up the soil under it, or whatever is necessary to get that water just barely flowing around the house, away from the foundation. There are a number of entries about this kind of work in the Search section about "landscaping". Take a few minutes to check this out.

Don't forget that the fall is also the time to prepare the rain gutters. After the last leaves have fallen, you need to do a last good cleaning of the rain gutters, and make sure they are solidly attached to the house so that they will be able to withstand the winter snow. If you don't get the leaves out now, they will create a long lasting icy block preventing the roof drainage system from doing its job when rain or melting snow hits the rain gutters from now until spring. Remember that the downspouts need to head about five feet away from the foundation as well. The primary function of roof drainage systems is to keep water away from the foundations of the house. There are a number of entries about "rain gutters" in the Search section as well.

Now that we have the Spring thaw taken care of, we can turn our attention to getting the house itself ready for winter.

  • - a tune-up for the "furnace";
  • - clean the "chimney" attached to a wood burning appliance;
  • - make sure all "wires" — such as electrical, telephone, cable — are solidly attached to the house;
  • - use binoculars to study your "roof", or hire someone to take a close look to be sure the shingles and the flashing are all in good shape for the winter;
  • - inspect, and replace if necessary, the "caulking" around the windows, doors, any other penetrations. Some siding requires caulking as well;
  • - inspect, and replace if necessary, all "weather-stripping";
  • - and if your "windows" are in really bad shape, you may need to replace them as well;
  • If you follow my weekly preventative maintenance calendar regularly, most of these things will be up to date without your having to undertake any major winterizing efforts.

    Each season has its own beauty, and its own demands. That is why I love living in a region that has four distinct seasons. It is like living in four different places, without having to move.