Winterizing Your Home

Things homeowners ought to do for their own good

Get rid of the hidden humidifier

Believe me when I tell you: You don't need a pool of funk-infested water in your heat-and-air ducts. Well, a whole lot of you have one. I'm talking about whole-house humidifiers. Hardly a day goes by that I don't find a long-neglected humidifier stuck in somebody's heat-and-air system. Usually, the wet guts of the things are hidden in the ducts, where I can't get to them. But every now and then, when I find an accessible one, I pop the cover off and look inside. Usually, I see slimy green and black goop, the kind of otherworldly mess you'd see growing in an abandoned aquarium, or a stagnant pool of swamp water. I don't know exactly what the goop is, but it looks like stuff that would make me sick if I sprayed it up my nose every day. If you've got a dirty humidifier running, that's exactly what you're doing.

If you've got a humidifier in your ductwork, I say get rid of it. If you must humidify, get freestanding units, and leave them out where you'll see them, clean them, and change their water.

Make friends with your gutter guy

Get your gutters cleaned twice a year. If they're loose, get them nailed or strapped back into place. If the downspouts don't take water away from the foundation walls, put extension pipes on the downspouts.

I've seen leaky, overflowing gutters and downspouts damage wood siding and trim, cause leaks in walls, and make foundation walls buckle. A hundred-dollar gutter-cleaning job could save you thousands of dollars.

Make friends with your heat-and-air guy

You should get your HVAC equipment cleaned and serviced twice a year-just before the heating season, and just before the cooling season. Preventive maintenance is cheaper than letting things break. Also, well-maintained equipment usually lasts longer.

Get a carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide can make you sick, or kill you.

I see a whole lot of houses that could have carbon monoxide problems. Among the things that can load up a house with carbon monoxide: "Vent-free" gas logs, bad gas furnace and water heater vents, gas clothes dryers, and freestanding kerosene heaters. Heck, even a gas range or a poorly-tended wood fire can spew carbon monoxide.

Just about every working day, I find myself in a house with those dang vent-free gas logs. It's not a bit unusual for me to find something wrong with furnace and water heater venting. For instance, in older houses, a lot of gas furnaces and water heaters are vented up old masonry chimneys that are full of leaves, twigs, and dead birds. That's a pretty effective way to keep carbon monoxide from getting out through the chimney.

Every house ought to have at least one carbon monoxide detector on each floor, and one in the general area of any major gas-burning appliance. If you don't have carbon monoxide detectors, get them. They start at about $30, and go up to around $70 or so.

Go easy on the sealants

Quit slathering water repellents on your wood deck. From everything I've seen, your typical pressure-treated pine deck is going to turn to splinters after about 15-20 years, whether you seal it or not. For the cost of 15 years' worth of sealant, you could turn the deck into a nice screen porch, with a roof and everything. Do that, and the deck will last as long as you do.

For crying out loud, quit spraying sealant on your exposed-aggregate driveways and walkways. It won't make 'em last a day longer, and it makes 'em slick. Besides that, it just looks peculiar. Driveways aren't supposed to look like patent leather.

Finally, don't waste your time caulking cracks in the concrete drives and walkways. It doesn't help anything, and it might just make things worse.

If you're buying a new brick house, get a brick inspection

I've offered to buy 'em beer, I've offered to put their pictures in the paper, if only they'd do the brick veneer right. So far, no local builders have come close to installing brick veneer the right way. It's not as if the right way is a secret. Brick veneer installation has been richly detailed in the building code books for at least the last 10 years. There are even pictures, in case the installers can't read. The details are important, because bad installations leak. Leaks cause rot, feed toxic mold colonies, make termites happy, and generally make trouble.

New-house buyers, listen to me: A code-compliant brick installation doesn't make a house special, it makes a house just barely legal. A house that complies with the code minimum isn't an A-plus house, it's a D-minus house. A non-compliant house is just plain bootleg. That's an F.

I say don't close on a new brick house until you know the brick veneer is installed the right way. If that means hiring a brick consultant, an engineer, an architect, or even a humble home inspector to watch over the brick job, do it. If you don't, there's virtually no chance of getting the job done right.