Getting your home season-ready this fall will keep it from degrading in the months to come
BY SHANNON MONEO
Greater Victoria may not endure the winter blows felt in places like Regina or Edmonton, yet as the season turns, homeowners should be ready for relentless rain or a one-foot snowfall. With the cost of homeownership only growing in the capital city, nurturing that investment — through all seasons — will also grow your capital.
Now is the time of year to plan what to prioritize when it comes to winterizing your home and protecting your assets for the months ahead. From the obvious flags like checking pipes, sleuthing out drafts and making energy-efficient modifications, to the more obscure obstacles like the risks of surrounding vegetation, it’s an important time to listen to the advice of experts and those who have experienced challenges first-hand.
Expect the Unexpected
Nina Moroso and her partner moved into their 1990s-built Colwood home about a year ago. Despite the frenzy around buying a home, the couple made an offer on the house with the condition that an inspection take place.
“We knew a little bit about what we were coming into,” says Moroso. “But every new house has its mysteries — quirky little things you aren’t aware of.”
When winter arrived after their purchase, Moroso and her family discovered their 2,400-square-foot, three-level home performed well. Even with any flags from the home inspection, however, there were still a few unexpected kinks.
“There were a couple of surprises in the home,” she says, “which is now useful for us [to know], going into next winter.”
One surprise involved the exterior taps, where a mislabelled shut-off valve resulted in an unexpected leak inside the exterior wall. Fortunately, the couple realized this quickly and repairs were done pronto.
Another unexpected discovery was made when they found an unidentified tank lid buried under patio stones. The tank turned out to be part of the septic system’s operational holding and distribution system. Though undetected by the previous owners, it ultimately posed no problems.
There were little things, like a gas fireplace that never could be turned on. Rather than risk a blow-up, however, they hired a technician, which ended up being the right choice. They even added a fan and thermostat to improve heat efficiency.
“So glad we didn’t start playing around with it,” Moroso says.
Because they had the house inspected prior to purchase, they learned the windows had been replaced recently, and that the home was well swaddled — helpful things to cross off the list of to-dos when entering home ownership.
“We have great insulation,” Moroso says. “It’s beyond what the [building] code would require.”
With their three-level home hosting a roof too tall to be visible from the ground, the family had a professional inspection performed on the gutters and perimeter drains. Tree and vegetation debris on the roof and gutters was not something they had to worry about due to landscaping, but it was still important to make sure the asphalt roof remained in good, moss-free shape.
Jane Johnston, a Realtor with The Briar Hill Group at RE/MAX Camosun, says she makes a point of informing her clients what older homes (mid-’90s and earlier) will likely require. She also addresses perceived needs versus real needs.
One perceived need, in light of winter, is that homeowners think they need double-paned windows.
“It’s not as critical in Victoria,” she says.
Today’s well-engineered single-pane windows work well. However, the quality of insulation should be examined. Proper insulation will reduce fluctuating temperatures — which can, in themselves, degrade a home over time. It can also curb the risks for humidity, mould, drafts and high heating bills.
Perimeter drains are also a notable concern. While it’s not the most visible home maintenance task, these should be checked regularly and cleaned every five years or so. With their connection to a home’s plumbing infrastructure, a clogged or collapsed perimeter drain could lead to basement flooding, mildew, mould and environmental contamination in the long term.
The home’s foundation should also get regular look-sees.
“Water can be such an issue here,” Johnston says, noting that when these less-visible infrastructure elements fail, residents often have to move out of the home while remediation is done.
Prevention is Key
Johnston recommends avoiding plants around the perimeter of the house, because their roots can grow into drains. Some invasive species (like bamboo) have even been known to exacerbate cracks in cement foundations and cause serious structural damage. Plants also carry moisture, which can envelop a home.
Mould prevention is serious business in this damp climate from fall to spring, and one way to check for moisture in the walls is to look for evidence of mould in cupboards and along windows. While there are many steps to preventing mould accumulation, the overarching theme is good ventilation, especially through the roof.
Roofs featuring soffits and fascia have a supportive barrier between external elements, especially in sloping-roof systems. These not only keep out moisture and prevent mould and mildew, but also deter pest infestations and add to the life of the roof. For reference, composition shingles on roofs should be replaced every 12 to 20 years; wood shingles every 20 to 25 years; asphalt shingles every 15 to 30 years.
“The whole house is a system,” Johnston says.
Mortgage specialists note that a home’s value can decline by roughly 10 per cent if proper maintenance is left undone. Major considerations include ensuring water doesn’t pool around the foundation, that the roof is in good shape and that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are serviced.
Experts recommend annually spending one to four per cent of a home’s value for maintenance and repairs. That means owners of a million-dollar house should anticipate spending $10,000 to $40,000 each year in property maintenance.
Moroso has first-hand advice for homeowners looking to protect their investments as winter approaches: start saving.
Prior to buying their home, Moroso and her partner both paid strata fees. Now, they put a few hundred dollars each month towards their home repair/contingency fund, which renders it less painful when a home expert needs to be called.
And, when expert help is required, Moroso recommends hiring professionals instead of going the YouTube route.
“We didn’t have full knowledge of plumbing and we paid the price,” she says.
Moroso has one last tidbit of wisdom. Even if you ended up buying a home without conditions like an inspection, she suggests getting one anyway, even after purchasing.
“[With an inspection] you get a prioritized list of what needs attention,” Moroso says, adding that even if you can’t get to it right away, “you have it to refer to. It’s super useful.”
“We knew a little bit about what we were coming into, but every new house has its mysteries — quirky little things you aren’t aware of.”
Assessing these top issues can save you grief in the long run and give you a chance to make modifications before spendy remediation work becomes necessary.
Make sure your attic and any indoor/outdoor wall is well insulated.
Inspect chimneys and fireplaces for creosote accumulation, nesting wildlife and to ensure proper working order.
Check for clogged or loose gutters, and have an expert perform regular cleaning before the heavy rains.
Inspect your home for air leaks, including through windows, doors, switches and vents.
Remove or trim any plants or trees that pose a risk to the house, either from above or from below with water collection and root damage.
Change furnace filters, clean dryer ducts and have HVAC and heat pump systems inspected by professionals.
From perimeter drains to exterior faucets, have a handle on how everything is flowing, and prepare to remove hoses and insulate faucets before a freeze.