Getting Your Old San Francisco House Ready for Winter

October 30, 2008

Is Your Home Ready for Winter?

“Winter? What winter?” you might be thinking if you are a transplant from somewhere it snows. In such places, winterizing a home includes specialized activities such as insulating pipes, sealing up windows or putting on storm windows and the like.

When you are enjoying the sunshine from April through October, it can be easy to forget the harsh weather your home is subjected to between November and March. This weather features sheets of the biggest enemy of your home’s long-term health: water. When water infiltrates your home it can cause minor issues such as stains or peeling paint, but the real problems are foundation deterioration and dry-rot. Dry-rot is a fungus that deteriorates wood which thrives when there are alternating conditions of wet and dry. Our winter weather, where we have alternating driving rain and sunshine is ideal to foster dry-rot. Foundation deterioration can occur when there is a leaking roof. You might think that the most dramatic effects of a leaking roof would be higher up in the house, like damaging the ceiling of the top floor. But what ultimately happens is that the water trickles down through the house and reaches the cement (or brick and mortar) that is holding up the entire house. The lime in concrete and mortar is water-soluble, so it’s important to keep water from running over or consistently sitting on your foundation.

To protect your home from water this year, take a hard look at places water might be getting in and take action! Start with the south or south-west facing side of the house as that side takes the brunt of our weather – the hardest rain and the hottest sun come from this direction so deterioration often happens first here.

Many times the problems you will find are not hard or expensive to fix. For example, a common place I see untreated leaks is around windows. Often a small leak at the outer top of a window frame (which will show up under the window as staining or peeling paint) can be fixed with new window flashing on the outside of the frame and a bit of caulk. This is not an expensive repair and making it now can save a bundle in the long run. Other things to check:

  • Wooden back stairs – are they in need of stain or paint? Are there places where water collects and stands?
  • Front entry stairs or stoop – do the steps and railings need caulk at the joints and/or paint?
  • Basement – Does it smell damp? If your home is adequately protected from the elements, it should smell dry. Where is the water getting in? If it’s not obvious, it may be coming from the roof and you should contact a roofing contractor.
  • Exterior Paint – is it in good shape or could it use some touch ups? Many leaks come from the joints of the exterior siding which are re-caulked when the exterior is re-painted. Even if you are not ready to repaint, applying some caulk now to obvious voids can make future repairs less costly.

Other San Francisco winterizing projects include cleaning the ducts for your central heat system (I bet you haven’t used it in a while) and your chimney flue if you are lucky enough to have a wood-burning fireplace.

Most of the problems I have mentioned, above, can either be addressed by a roofing contractor or a handyman. Long-term, one of the best things you can do for your home is to develop a relationship with reliable home-repair specialists because it makes it easy for you to take care of routine maintenance. If you need help finding the right resource for your winterizing projects, don’t hesitate ask me.

(This article by ME will also be printed in the November issue of The Castro Courier.)