Ep 11: Getting Ready for Fall and Winter

House At Work Home Repair Clinic

In episode 11, Jim and Peter discuss the different types of maintenance homeowners should undertake in order to get their homes ready for fall and winter.

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Jim Salmon:                      Hello everybody, and welcome to the home improvement capital of the world, the Houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic Podcast. My name is Jim Salmon along with the great Peter Schick. How are you?

Peter Schick :                    Fantastic.

Jim Salmon:                      You know what?

Peter Schick :                    Fantastic.

Jim Salmon:                      Winter is right around the corner.

Peter Schick :                    I hate hearing that.

Jim Salmon:                      Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me.

Peter Schick :                    ‘Cause it’s just getting towards the end of summer right now, and it’s … Right after Labor Day, it’s officially the start of fall. Unofficially, excuse me, and it’s just kind of a downer, especially for us who live so far north, ’cause it’s like, “Oh yeah, here comes the eight month winter.”

Jim Salmon:                      Well I like fall. Fall’s fun, but as a home repair guy, home inspector guy, and you as a real estate person, we all understand the importance of getting your house ready. All of a sudden, if it’s really cold out and the windows are open and all the other stuff you haven’t done … Cost you money to heat your house.

We thought we’d go through some of the winterizing type things that you should do.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, ’cause there’s a lot of things I actually notice is, once you start having the change of the season, this is when people start noticing, “Oh, my furnace isn’t working. Oh, I’m having these issues. Oh, I feel this draft of cold air because my windows aren’t closing completely, or there’s some other issue,” and I think that’s just one of those things that you could easily cut it off at the pass if you know what it is, and thought we should just go over it.

Jim Salmon:                      People are nuts. They’re nitwits, they’re dopes, they’re idiots sometimes, because you’re just pumping heat outside. There are many maintenance checklists that you can follow, and it all starts on the outside of the house, gutter cleaning and maintenance, make sure everything’s free flowing, windows, especially if you have older wood windows, [inaudible 00:02:00], glazing, and …

A lot of times window, the latches don’t work very well so you can’t really get the window nice and tightly closed.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah, exactly, so it doesn’t really matter how well, if it’s multi-panes window or whatever, how well it insulates if it doesn’t close correctly or doesn’t have a good seal, and I think that’s one of those things that you have to take into consideration.

Jim Salmon:                      One of the things too, is that below 32 degrees, things freeze, and especially if you have an outside [inaudible 00:02:30] faucet, many of those now, all the modern ones of course, in the last probably 20 years, have been frost-proof type, but if you have an old one, it’s going to freeze if you don’t shut it off, so you have to deal with that. They make these little cover things …

I never quite was on board with how that all worked, ’cause it’s still zero out, and whatever, but … You have to pay close attention to that.

When you leave your hose attached to the outside faucet, it can’t drain properly, and it freezes and it ruins everything. It just splits the faucet. So never leave your garden hoses attached year round. Of course, unless you’re in Florida, maybe.

Peter Schick :                    Maybe down there you could get away with it.

Jim Salmon:                      Or if you’re listening to the show in Japan, whatever.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Another thing I noticed, especially with the changing of the seasons, is you start seeing the mice and everything. They wanna find a warm place.

Jim Salmon:                      Mice are smarter than people.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah they are.

Jim Salmon:                      They know where they wanna be.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      And they know how to get in there.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Especially if you live in a wooded area or you’re out a little bit, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only time, but they’ll get in. You just can’t stop that.

Peter Schick :                    Like we discussed in our previous episode, the one where we talked about common household pests. This is usually the time where you start to hear about, “Oh, the mice are coming in. Oh, this and that.” It’s usually the mice, that I’ve heard, unless you’ve heard other things. Once it start’s getting cold …

Jim Salmon:                      Chipmunks, squirrels, bats, they all want to be warm, and it’s you versus them a lot of times. Baiting, traps, machine guns … As far as I’m concerned, you’re mowing them down by the thousands, and don’t send me any PETA email, but still.

Peter Schick :                    I’m gonna send you PETA emails now.

Jim Salmon:                      Just the heck of it.

Peter Schick :                    Now I’m gonna do that. I’ll put you on their email list.

Jim Salmon:                      Now do you have a fireplace in your house?

Peter Schick :                    Yes.

Jim Salmon:                      Gas?

Peter Schick :                    No, wood.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh, okay, good. Good for you.

Peter Schick :                    It has that old fashioned feel. I like that smell, especially when it’s a cold day out, you smell the fire burning …

Jim Salmon:                      Just puts you in a good mood.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah it does. It does.

Jim Salmon:                      Unfortunately they all need to be cleaned and maintained properly.

Peter Schick :                    Yeah they do.

Jim Salmon:                      I was in a house this morning, actually, doing a home inspection, and there was a gas log in the fireplace. It was a wood burning fireplace, but they had put a gas log in there, which many people do because they don’t wanna deal with the wood. And I look up in there, and that chimney is loaded with [inaudible 00:04:58].

Well first of all, that’s dumb on a couple of levels, because spend an extra couple hundred bucks, have your chimney cleaned before you put a gas log in there, so then over the next hundred years, all that stuff isn’t falling down in your nice gas log. Chimney fires, if you’ve ever been through a chimney fire, that’s a nasty thing, and they take off like a rocket.

Peter Schick :                    That’s something I really don’t wanna be … Have ever happen to me.

Jim Salmon:                      I remember coming home one night from work, I used to be in the home center business, so I closed the doors at nine o’clock at night and then it takes a half hour to get all the money put away in the safe, and then I’d drive home for an hour.

So I got home one night, I don’t know, eleven o’clock, and the house across the street had flames shooting out of the chimney 20 feet in the air. You know what’s going on [inaudible 00:05:46] banging on the door, chimney fire.

Fire department comes, the second they put water on that, the whole thing just went [inaudible 00:05:54] all the way down. You could see this crack from the top to the bottom. It was amazing.

Peter Schick :                    Oh jeez. That’s one of the things with maintenance with chimneys, especially of those of us who live further up north is the freezing of the water in the [inaudible 00:06:10] and everything starts making those cracks. That just extenuates it even more. That temperature difference, that temperature change, and how much you gotta look out for the smaller version of that, ’cause that’s just yearly maintenance.

Jim Salmon:                      The guys and gals that sell gas logs, gas fireplaces, they tell you that these things are very low maintenance, and they don’t put out any soot. All of those things are not correct. They put out soot, they require yearly maintenance.

We have a gas fireplace, free-standing fireplace in my sun room that’s called the Tree of Life. It has open glass on three sides, so …

Peter Schick :                    Oh, I know the one you’re talking about.

Jim Salmon:                      Beautiful, reflects through the glass in the sun room, so I love it, but it’s on all the time, and so I have it cleaned at least once a year. Sometimes I’ll even clean it in the February area,’cause it’s not going since October.

So anyway, the bottom line is, gas appliances all need to be cleaned and maintained periodically. If you’re in the heating business, you can do your own fireplace. If you’re not, you hire a ton. Fireplace companies can do it, your general heating contractor, a lot of those type folks will do it, and some appliance contractors will clean and maintain a gas log.

And then there’s the goofy stuff. The corn stove, the [crosstalk 00:07:34]

Peter Schick :                    The pellet stove, yeah.

Jim Salmon:                      I’ve had two pellet stoves in my life. Both of them I wanted to drag out into the backyard and shoot with a double barreled shotgun. The first one was horrible. It had to be-

Peter Schick :                    I’ve never worked with a pellet stove, so you need to educate me a little on this.

Jim Salmon:                      What happens, is you buy bags of pellets, and you pour it in this hopper thing, and then there’s this stainless steel auger deal that feeds it into the burning chamber, and you can set it for how much flame you want and whatever you’re supposed to do that. Well they get clogged up, the pellets are very susceptible to moisture, so you have to get good pellets and you have to store it properly, and sometimes the ash will build up in the front and the whole thing just smothers itself and goes out … It’s a mess.

Peter Schick :                    I’m a pretty simple guy, and I don’t understand … What would be the advantage to getting a pellet fireplace over just having a regular wood burning, simple …

Jim Salmon:                      When you get one that works, and works well, they’re wonderful. They put out a ton of heat …

Peter Schick :                    Oh, so they’re more efficient in terms of heat creation.

Jim Salmon:                      Yep. If you buy your pellets right, you buy a pellet, or pellets during the summertime when they’re three bucks a bag instead of five, or whatever they are … But if you get a good pellet stove that works, that only has to be cleaned maybe once a month, it’s a win, and you can vent them anywhere. They vent right out the side wall, usually.

Peter Schick :                    Interesting, okay.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s not without maintenance, but I had two that were horrible. And I think the research and development in the modern ones are a lot better now, and I would hope so.

Peter Schick :                    Nice.

Jim Salmon:                      But I was scared to death of them and I’ll never have another one, so …

Peter Schick :                    I almost feel like I’m making it too complicated if I get a pellet one. It’s like, “You know what? This thing burns wood, it works, and I know what is, and I don’t need to go buy this pellet of wood. I got a backyard that has some of it in it,” so there you go. I just try to keep it as simple as possible.

Jim Salmon:                      We were talking this morning about, or this afternoon or tonight or whatever day it is … We’re talking about how to prepare your house for winter. Now if we were in the spring, we’re talking about what damage happened to the top of the chimney over the winter time.

Peter Schick :                    The expansion of water [crosstalk 00:09:55]

Jim Salmon:                      Pu that on the list, too. If you haven’t checked your chimney, the top of the outside part of the chimney this year since last winter, check it now, because winter time can really accelerate frost damage, especially if you have lots of cracks in your chimney crown, and bricks that are loose and that kind of stuff.

Peter Schick :                    Just generally it’s gonna extenuate any sort of damage that’s already there. Whether it’s for your asphalt if there’s already smaller cracks, you can guess if you don’t have it sealed or something else, there’s probably gonna be larger cracks by the end of winter.

Jim Salmon:                      Absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    That’s one of those things that you wanna take care of before it starts getting too cold, and usually this time here up in New York state, that’s the time to really deal with it.

Jim Salmon:                      A lot of people have what are called foundation vents. They might have a crawl space that’s not an every day accessible area, and they have these little vents in there, and you loosen the screw and you can open or close the vent.

Peter Schick :                    Yep.

Jim Salmon:                      Well, leaving the vent open in the winter time is not sound thinking, so pay attention to that, make sure they’re closed. A lot of people don’t even operate those things, they’ve been closed for years, they didn’t even know that they could be opened. Any time you’re letting zero degree air into your crawl space area where there’s pipes and whatever, it’s not a good thing.

Peter Schick :                    Not good, yeah. Not good at all.

Jim Salmon:                      Stay out of that.

Then there’s the whole list of maintenance things to get ready to fight the bad weather. Snow plows, lubricating this, putting new gas in there, new spark plugs, all that, get all the equipment ready.

Every year I buy a new metal … I spend like 30 bucks on it, a new metal snow shovel. Now we have snow here, and if you’re listening to this podcast-

Peter Schick :                    I got one of those big … It’s like a silver, it’s like aluminum, it’s like the huge shovel. I’ve had that for a while, I have two of them now, but I’ve been thinking about actually upgrading to a snow blower, actually getting a snow blower.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh I think you should.

Peter Schick :                    I think right now is the time to do it. It’s still August. I think you could probably get a decent price. If there’s a blackout, you don’t wanna buy a generator when there’s a blackout when everybody’s trying to get them. You wanna get it before it actually happens, and have it ready to go.

Jim Salmon:                      Good point.

Now those of you that, maybe you live in the northeast where it’s a little cooler and you have a summer home in Utah or Florida …

Peter Schick :                    We have a lot of snow birds up here.

Jim Salmon:                      You’re somewhat transient, you spend the beautiful summers up here on the finger lakes and then you head down there where you don’t have to deal with snow, and you have a house here that, okay, do I heat my house or do I not? Maybe I’m gone five months, do I heat it?

Well if you have a house that was built, say, after the 1950’s where it’s pretty much exclusively drywall … Drywall doesn’t like temperatures below 55. Lot of cracking takes place when it gets cold like that. If you have fine furniture and baby grand pianos … Cold weather takes its toll on some of that stuff.

Peter Schick :                    You also have to take into consideration how warmer you’re gonna keep it. Are you gonna keep it at 45, are you gonna keep it in the 60’s, there’s obvious concerns with that in terms of utility bill …

Jim Salmon:                      My opinion is 55 degrees. I think that’s a good …

There are some houses where they’re older or they’re all wood inside, a log home, that people say, “You know what? I’m not gonna heat my house. I’m going away for five months. I’m going to hire a plumber and have it all winterized, and then I’ll give the plumber the key, and I’ll call him two weeks before I’m coming back, have him fire everything back up …”

The only risk on that, is … Some things don’t like cold temperatures, like we said, but it is … You can’t do that if you have a hydranic heating system. You have a boiler system, you can’t do that. Full of water, so you need to keep that up and running.

Anybody that goes away for the winter should somehow try to figure out how to keep their house looking like somebody’s there.

Peter Schick :                    I agree. [crosstalk 00:14:04]

For security purposes, too. Not only for that, but, yeah, you don’t wanna be an easy target.

Jim Salmon:                      I think they have all these fancy new, and the technology changes about every week, all these fancy new alarm systems, and devices that’ll call your cell phone …

Peter Schick :                    If somebody’s at the door, or something like that, but that also means you need to keep the power on there. There are some secondary considerations for that, ’cause a lot of those are operating on the internet, you need to have that going the entire time, which means now you have to pay the bill for that, which means now you gotta have another thing running, and so there’s other considerations for those different security systems. You do have smart homes out there.

Jim Salmon:                      If you have an older furnace and you go away in the winter time, it’s imperative that you have a heating contractor come and do normal maintenance on it several weeks before you leave. I can’t tell you how many times people will hire somebody come and clean it, the next day they leave for Florida, something went wrong, and next thing you know the furnace is off.

Peter Schick :                    And now pipes are bursting.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, and those scenarios are not good.

Peter Schick :                    No, they’re not.

Jim Salmon:                      You should always turn the water off, drain everything down if you don’t need water supply. Like I said, if you have a hot water boiler, you can’t do that, but if you have a regular forced air heating system, then you just shut the water off and daring it down.

Chances are, if all the heat went off in your house, chances are that the incoming water service, which is down eight feet in the ground coming into your basement would not freeze, unless it got over the top crazy with …

One of the worse things that can happen to people is you go away to Florida, you come back, and there was a squirrel in your house, and it lived there, five months it lived there. It found the walnuts in the-

Peter Schick :                    In the kitchen pantry.

Jim Salmon:                      In your baking cabinet. It’s horrible.

Peter Schick :                    That would not be a surprise. You’d come home, okay, back up here [crosstalk 00:16:11] opened your cabinet, and a squirrel’s [crosstalk 00:16:14]

Jim Salmon:                      They took your five thousand dollar couch that you love, and they ripped all the stuffing out of it to make nests.

Peter Schick :                    Did this happen to you or did you hear about it?

Jim Salmon:                      No, this is the things that I’ve actually witnessed in my life.

Make your house unattractive to pests. You shouldn’t …

I was in a house this morning that the dampers been open. The people have lived there for 14 years. It’s a gas log fireplace since day one, and the dampers, you never shut-

Peter Schick :                    Oh, they kept it open.

Jim Salmon:                      Open all the time. And I’m thinking to myself, “14 heating seasons here in this part of New York state,” the furnaces are on from, what, October first let’s say, through the middle of April, right? Or maybe the end of April. So all the money that was pumped up that chimney with a forced air furnace because we just didn’t know that the damper was open.

Peter Schick :                    Yep, just little things like that add up over time.

Jim Salmon:                      Have a contingency plan for your house when you’re gone. The best thing to have, if you have a family member or a good trusted friend or neighbor that can go in once a week and just check stuff.

Peter Schick :                    I agree with that. You need that just to keep ahead of things, ’cause if you don’t, and you do say you have a pipe burst, or there is some critter in there, you could head it off at the pass before it could start becoming a real major issue.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, absolutely.

Peter Schick :                    That’s how I’d deal with it. I don’t have the privilege of being able to go down to Florida like a lot of other people do, but that’s how I would work [crosstalk 00:17:47]

Jim Salmon:                      Well you’re still young, you’re working on that.

Peter Schick :                    I’ll get there one of these days.

Jim Salmon:                      My wife and I are going to Hawaii coming up here in the next couple of months, and we’re going to Kauai.

Peter Schick :                    Where’s that?

Jim Salmon:                      I think it’s the big island.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, okay.

Jim Salmon:                      Kauai, whichever one that is.

Peter Schick :                    Kauai, maybe a place on the big island, maybe its own.

Jim Salmon:                      It’s 85 every day, that’s a win. By the time we go, it’ll be cold here, and all I’m gonna do is just sleep and take it all in. I can’t wait. I get yelled at by my wife all the time because I’ll walk into a place and I’m immediately looking up and she’ll yell at me, “Stop inspecting, we’re not inspecting.”

Peter Schick :                    You gotta turn it off, Jim.

You gotta take your mind off it and enjoy that beer on the beach.

Jim Salmon:                      That’s exactly right.

I am in the process of … Every other year or so, we go away for a couple weeks, but that’s usually about all. But still, there’s a lot going on at home.

Peter Schick :                    Who looks after your dogs when you do that?

Jim Salmon:                      Well, with have family members that move right in.

Peter Schick :                    Oh, okay.

Jim Salmon:                      And they stay there the whole time we’re there.

Peter Schick :                    We do a similar thing with us, ’cause that’s the main consideration is the pets. If we’re traveling somewhere like upstate New York or somewhere we’re driving, we’ll bring them along with. They’re fun to have along with. But if it’s, we’re flying somewhere, I’m not gonna deal with that. The dogs don’t wanna deal with being in a kennel in a plane and all that craziness. We’re gonna have friends or family come over, they stay at the place, and they walk the animals, and they pretty much have free rein in our house.

Jim Salmon:                      We have a rather unique ranch in western New York, you’ve been there. Everybody wants to go there and stay, so we don’t have a problem finding somebody to watch the place while we’re gone, so it’s all good.

I’ve always been a big advocate and really appreciated old cobblestone homes, and those of you that might be listening to this and as we discussed, prepping your house for fall and winter, is if you have a stone foundation, there’s lots of mortar joints there, a lot more than a concrete block or a board wall would be, and chunks of missing mortar, wind can blow all that way through that foundation all the way to the basement.

Peter Schick :                    The expansion of the ice would be the thing that really worries me with that, ’cause once you start getting a little crack, it’s gonna get bigger. You’re gonna have to take a look at that before it starts getting cold. You gotta put the mortar on that, let it dry, and take care of that before water has a chance to freeze, so you gotta do it while it’s still warm out.

Jim Salmon:                      My house is 150 something years old, and every year I have what I call a pointing party, and I get a few of my buddies over and we just go at it, mix up a bunch of mortar, and maybe we’ll do the front of the house this year and the next side …

Peter Schick :                    And you point out the different cracks, like, “Oh, heres an issue,” boom, take care of it.

Jim Salmon:                      I use it as an excuse to justify buying new tools, because …

Peter Schick :                    Or having a few beers with your buddies.

Jim Salmon:                      Oh yeah, that too. That goes without saying. But being able to buy new 20 volt ion technology [inaudible 00:21:15] cordless angle grinders, and [inaudible 00:21:18] and all that stuff, is wonderful. Well honey, I gotta have this.

Peter Schick :                    It’s funny, ’cause I actually used … I was tearing out a bathroom, and it had the surround was all … Beneath the tile, it had a bunch, it was concrete, so I was like, “Well how am I gonna get this?”

I got exactly that. I got the grinder to be able to help get that out with a diamond blade, and I was like, “yep, well, got another excuse to get another tool here.”

Jim Salmon:                      Especially if you’re into the whole do it yourself thing, and you flip houses and you’re in real estate, so you’re fairly handy, probably, is to get as many of the fun tools that make that job easier.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly, and you just acquire it over time. [inaudible 00:22:03] hold that in their back pocket, “Now I’m gonna use that grinder, I’m definitely gonna use it in the future. When? I don’t know, we’ll see.”

Jim Salmon:                      If you are unfortunate enough to have supply plumbing, and even some drain plumbing in an outside wall, that’s usually a mistake, and it’s …

Peter Schick :                    I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that with a washer that had the supply lines coming from the outside wall.

Jim Salmon:                      Frozen stiff.

Peter Schick :                    And it gets frozen. I have seen that time and time again.

Jim Salmon:                      Back in the day, well, what would the day be, back in the early 80’s, when we first bought our house, we’d just scraped up enough money just to buy the house, and it was, nowadays the trucks I buy are more than we paid for that house, but we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any resources …

Peter Schick :                    You were gonna make it work.

Jim Salmon:                      Yeah, it was all different. But, I managed to scrape up enough money to buy a few tools and just start in mass and what I needed to put things together to make it happen, and then next thing you know, come down the line, I got people come over to borrow whatever they want ’cause they know I got it.

Peter Schick :                    Exactly. And you mass it over time, definitely.

Jim Salmon:                      I think if you’re going away for the winter, or just staying home but wanna prep your house, I think we pretty well covered all of that.

Peter Schick :                    Definitely have.

Jim Salmon:                      We do encourage emails here at the houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic website, or podcast. So Peter’s gonna tell you what the email address is, if you’d like to make a suggestion, or a suggestion for a show, or a specific question.

Peter Schick :                    You can contact us at contactus, yeah that’s repetitive.

Jim Salmon:                      I love it.

Peter Schick : [email protected]

Jim Salmon:                      Alright folks, have a great time. Keep your house safe, and we’ll see you down the line for the next houseatwork.com podcast.

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