When homeowners fail to winterize their home, frost, snow and ice can wreak havoc both inside and outside the home. If you are performing inspections during the winter season, you’ll want to pay special attention to the ways freeze damage manifests in homes.
You are already familiar with basic concerns like unscrewing garden hoses and protecting outside faucets and indoor faucets near an outside wall, but cold weather can affect many parts of the house, so winter inspections require some seasonal checks.
As you follow the ASHI Standard of Practice, pay special attention to places where freeze damage can weaken the structure, create unsafe findings and produce potential hazards in the home. Conditions can change dramatically in cold weather, so you’ll be looking for special winter findings you may not notice during the rest of the year. Your professional eye will notice what the homeowner overlooks.
Frozen gutters and downspouts can pull away or crack, leaking water onto the foundation. Water that leaks and freezes in small foundation cracks can expand those cracks and weaken the structure, especially during cyclical freeze or thaw conditions.
Snow can put heavy pressure on sump pump drains, causing disastrous water backup. Check sump pump drains for any clogs. Recommend cleaning any blocked drains.
Temperature fluctuations, like those resulting from a freeze followed by sunshine, can crack exterior paint. These cracks allow moisture to enter the siding with resultant damage. Recommend touchup sanding and painting for any exterior paint cracks.
Cold temperatures and snow can weaken mortar. Significant moisture seepage causes the mortar to disintegrate and crumble. Cement steps and brick facings are especially vulnerable. Check mortar for any damage. Recommend immediate repairs to prevent further damage.
Chimneys are built to withstand intense heat, but often not exposure to cold temperatures. Fluctuating temperatures on sunny days followed by freezing temperatures cause bricks and cinder blocks to expand in warmth and contract in the cold. Any moisture trapped can cause cracks, potentially leading to bricks falling off or the degradation of the entire chimney. Check for any signs of cracks. Recommend repair of damaged bricks.
Any time there’s a hole in the roof, you know there’s a potential problem. Chimney flashings exposed to temperature changes and moisture can separate and allow moisture under the roof. Check for a proper seal. Recommend repair to avoid water damage.
A poorly insulated or ventilated house will melt snow. The snow will freeze once it hits the exterior wall or overhang, creating ice dams that block water. Icicles may look pretty, but they can cause water damage to walls and soffits because any additional melting ice or snow has nowhere to go but into the house. Recommend keeping upper stories at cooler temperatures to minimize melting and freezing cycles.
Snow-Laden Tree Branches
At any time of the year, you want to inspect for potential damage from trees and branches close to the house. In winter, snow-laden branches can break and fall on the house, which might cause minor or major damage.
Pooling Water on Roof
Water can pool on the roof. With no place to go, it can back up the roof shingles and seep into the attic. Along the way, it can damage roof sheathing, insulation and even sheetrock walls. Flat, mansard and butterfly roofs are most prone, but water pooling can occur on any roof in heavy snow conditions. Check attic spaces for any signs of water seepage. Recommend repair of any water-damaged surfaces.
Winter weather can eat away at door frames, causing the wood to become soft. These soft spots can turn to wood rot and possible termite infestations in the spring. Check door- frame wood for soft spots. Recommend filling any soft spots with epoxy wood filler.
Although you might think of mold conditions as a summer problem, mold and mildew can accumulate without adequate ventilation. Check walls for any signs of mold. Examine ventilation systems for adequate airflow.
Interior Plumbing Pipes
Exposed exterior pipes are a source for bursting in freezing weather and interior pipes without adequate insulation can burst as well, causing costly water damage. Check exterior plumbing in basement and attic spaces for exposed pipes. Recommend sealing off drafty areas with insulation, heat tape or heat cables to keep pipes warm so water will continue to flow.
Grout can be a cold-weather casualty. It can peel away from the surfaces it is meant to seal. Over time, it can lead to mold issues and degradation of plaster, drywall and wood framing. If you notice peeled grout, check for water damage. Recommend resealing grout and repair of any further damage from a neglected seal.
In cold weather conditions, internal plaster can suffer from indoor temperature changes. When humidity drops and air becomes cool and dry, plaster can shrink and crack, sometimes right before your eyes. If you notice signs of cracking, recommend keeping the home at a consistent temperature to minimize further cracking.
A buildup of snow and ice can trigger an HVAC emergency shutdown. For homes in cold weather areas, recommend protection with a housing for the unit to protect it from snow and ice accumulation.
Rodents and other creatures like to stay warm and dry in the winter, too. A crumbling chimney or a chimney cap knocked off by snow are entry points for those creatures to find that shelter. They can chew through insulation, causing the home to feel cold from the loss. And, they can remove enough insulation to cause once-covered pipes to freeze and burst. Check for any signs of rodents or rodent damage. Recommend pest intervention and any needed repairs.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Winter Damage
Know the winter trouble spots, and pay special attention to the potential damage that freezing and snow can bring. Your clients will be grateful for your special attention to these areas of the home inspection during cold weather. Every time you provide a solution to a problem, you build client trust.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of ASHI. The information contained in the article is general and readers should always independently verify for accuracy, completeness and reliability.