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Introduction to winter weather profile of Washington State
Washington State winter weather changes drastically across the mountains from rainy and mild Seattle to cold and dry Spokane. Regardless of where you are in the state, these winters can often take a toll on a building’s exterior, leading to deterioration over time. There are a number of ways ranging in price and scope that homeowners can alleviate the effects of winter on their building exterior. In this article we briefly review some “do-it-yourself” ways of ensuring that your exterior is ready for the winter ahead.
Limiting uncontrolled air leakage across the envelope is an effective way of controlling heat loss and mitigating condensation damage. Gaskets and seals around doors and windows should be reviewed for discontinuities as well as wear and tear. A good way to check for a bad gasket is by placing a dollar bill in between the door and frame and closing the door; if when closed, the bill falls or is easily removed then the gasket is not well compressed and letting air through. Attic hatches that open to vented attics are often forgotten; check these for missing or faulty gaskets. The cost of replacing faulty gaskets may be well worth the savings from reduced heat loss. It is also important to make sure that exhaust vents are unblocked and working properly as they will take on an increased role of both expelling stale humid air and bringing in fresh air.
Rain Water Management
Checking that existing rainwater management systems in your building are properly functioning is an important step in winterizing an exterior. When checking, ensure that draining mechanisms such as overflow and roof drains, scuppers, gutters and downspouts are all clear of debris and free to drain. Downspouts should direct rainwater away from the building foundation. In addition, check that finished grade generally slopes away from the building to avoid pooling water directly against the building. Sometimes, fall leaves or landscaping build up of dirt will cause parts of the building cladding to extend below finished grade: ideally grade should be separated from the cladding termination by at least 6 inches. Remove dirt or excessive organic matter to create this separation.
Another item that should be considered is the condition of sealant around windows, and wall penetrations. Sealant should be continuous without cracks. If failed sealant is found, consider replacement to limit rainwater migration past the cladding. For buildings with below grade spaces, winter is often the best time to survey for cracks and active water leakage. Active leaks can be sealed with epoxy injections.
Particularly in Western Washington where extended cold periods are less frequent, the risk of frozen pipes tends to increase when the temperature remains below freezing. Homeowners can reduce this risk by draining pipes such as lawn sprinklers. For pipes that can’t be drained, insulating them from exterior conditions is another option – a hose bib pipe cover is a good example of this. For the extra cold nights it may be possible for interior pipes, especially those exposed to vented crawl spaces, to burst as a result of freeze dams. Homeowners should realize this risk and mitigate it by maintaining an interior house temperature of above 65F. Another way to avoid bursting pipes due to freezing is to leave the tap running slightly on extra cold nights.
Maintain your heating system. One “do it yourself” task is to check and change air filters. Consult the manual for your heating system and ensure that it is functional. A well functioning heating system will determine the comfort levels within your home. Along with maintaining the heating system, it is a good idea to understand where your system is injecting warmth into your building and avoid blocking these sources with furniture or other objects.
To avoid possible condensation problems, carefully consider the placement of items adjacent to any exterior walls. For example, stacking boxes or other large objects adjacent to an exterior wall will insulate that wall from interior heat, essentially moving the dew point of the wall to the interior and increasing the risk of condensation. This is similar for areas like living rooms where a couch may be placed near a wall. Try to leave gaps between items and exterior walls to allow air movement so that the walls maintain interior temperatures.
By Ed Segat