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Ask a Patch Pro: How to Winterize Your Home

Let one of our Patch Pros answer your questions about winter home maintenance.

If Benjamin Franklin was born Minnesotan, he may have added 'winter' to his list of certainties in his famous quote: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

As the days grow shorter and the thermometer continues its steady, downward slide, many of us are preparing as best we can for the long dark months ahead. But when it comes to winterizing your home, do you know what necessary steps should be taken or best methods used?

Here to help with our preparations are three "Patch Pros"—local home repair and maintenance specialists that have agreed to answer your questions and address your concerns regarding home winterization in the comments section below.

Our first expert is Lindsay Reddy, the owner of the Eagan-based business Jack of All Trades Handyman. You can also expect to hear from Scott Dodge and Adam Bressler from Builders and Remodelers.

Our panel of three experts will regularly check the comments below and try to answer your questions for this "Ask a Patch Pro" feature beginning Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. Thanks to all our Patch pros and questioners for participating!

Check out some of our previous installments in the "Ask a Patch Pro" series:

  • Ask a Patch Pro: Wine
  • Ask a Patch Pro: Pedestrian Safety
  • Ask a Patch Pro: Recycling and Composting
  • Ask a Patch Panel: Breast Cancer
  • Ask the Patch Pro: All About Real Estate
Joshua October 30, 2012 at 01:48 PM
What's the best way to prevent ice dams? We had serious damage in the winter of 2009/2010. I ended up buying a roof rake and my understanding is clearing the first 24 inches off the edge is a good way to do it. I've also read about salt pucks, and heated wire strips (which I don't really want to use). We live a quad-style townhome and our roof style looks exactly like this: http://gis.co.dakota.mn.us/content/dakco/pimages/02-84814-01-380.jpg The dams formed above the second story bedroom windows, and with all the uneven surfaces and nooks/crannies, I'm not sure how to tackle it... especially in a winter with above average snowfall. Thanks!
matt October 30, 2012 at 03:11 PM
my house is two years old. We have windows in our living room where cold air is coming in. I would think a two year old house would have energy effiecient windows, but i guess not. Is there anything I can do to stop the breeze from coming in. My wife does not want those "tacky" plastic barriers on the window. Is there anything else?
James Sanna (Editor) October 30, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Are there any easy ways to insulate an older house? I keep pushing my parents to get insulation blown into their walls, as I've heard it's cheap, and they say it would be a hassle and more money than it's worth. Who's right?
Joshua October 31, 2012 at 01:53 AM
I guess the pros are MIA, huh?
James Sanna (Editor) October 31, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Just so readers know, Hurricane Sandy seems to have thrown a stick in the spokes of a few of Patch's servers, and a few readers—including one of this week's Pros—have reported experiencing problems with our comments feature. We apologize and hope to have this ironed out ASAP, so keep sending in your questions, or email them to your Patch editor (check the upper-left corner of this page for their address) if you're not able to submit a comment right now.
Scott Dodge October 31, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Hey All - Scott Dodge here. My apologies for the lack of responses, but there seems to be a fluke issue that prevents the comments from loading on this article. I've been working with James to get this taken care of. It looks as though the mobile version is up and running - so I'll pass the information along and hopefully we can get these questions answered ASAP! Thanks for your patience! - Scott
Adam Bressler November 01, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Josh, I just wanted to let you know I have responded to your question, however, my response is 900 and some characters too long to post on 'The Patch'. We are searching for solutions to resolve this issue. Thank you in advance for your patience. On the Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers
Adam Bressler November 01, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Matt, I just wanted to let you know I have responded to your question, however, my response is 400 and some characters too long to post on 'The Patch'. We are searching for solutions to resolve this issue. Thank you in advance for your patience. On the Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers
Joshua November 01, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Okay- thanks, Adam.
Adam Bressler November 01, 2012 at 04:21 PM
James, I just wanted to let you know I have responded to your question, however, my response is 500 and some characters too long to post on 'The Patch'. We are searching for solutions to resolve this issue. Thank you in advance for your patience. On the Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers
Adam Bressler November 01, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Why Ice Damning Occurs Ice damning is a problem (in most cases) with either insulation (of the attic) or ventilation. Ice damning typically occurs when the temperature is in the 20’s (degrees Fahrenheit). What happens is the heat from within your home rises into the attic of the home. The heat within your home, without proper insulation (R19 flat roof, or R39 vaulted roof) will go into the attic, instead of ‘bouncing’ back down into the home. When too much heat enters the attic, and the attic temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it begins to heat your sheathing and shingles. In turn its slowly begins to melt the snow on your roof. That melted snow (water) begins to run down your roof until it reaches the point where your roof begins to overhang from your exterior walls. Because the overhang is not heated by the home the water begins cools and starts creating ice.
Scott Dodge November 01, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Part 2 of Adam's Response: Solutions There are a few things you can do to help locate the problem. The first thing to do is to climb into the attic and check to see what type of insulation you have, if any. If you do not have insulation, then you will need to provide the proper amount of attic insulation to help trap heat within your home. If, you do have insulation in the attic, check to make sure it is an adequate amount to reach the proper/recommended R-value mentioned previously. If you have the proper amount in insulation then your problem is most likely ventilation. No matter the amount of insulation some heat is going to reach your attic. At this point you want to make sure you have enough ventilation through a combination of roofing vents and ventilation through your soffits. A cool attic is a healthy attic. If, the attic never reaches a temperature where the snow can melt, then ice cannot form. It is important to note that some weather conditions will create ice damming, such as freezing rain. Some of the solutions you have mentioned are more to aid in helping to dissipate existing ice damming (salt pucks). Heat wires can be effective in preventing ice damming. However, most people do not realize you need to have them on for the entire winter. If, you already have ice on your roof, this will not melt the ice or solve your problem.
Scott Dodge November 01, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Adam's response: There is good news and bad news. We run across this problem all of the time in our business. Without seeing the windows and home first hand I can only provide a response from what we have seen with previous customers for which we have solved this exact problem. One of the way ‘new’ home builders cut corners to make money on ‘new’ home construction is to put what we call ‘construction-grade’ windows and siding on the development. In most case, this is not an isolated problem, but one many homeowners in your development are experiencing. It could be one of two things. The first and most likely is that they installed poor quality windows with regards to energy efficiency. Those windows are transferring the cold temperatures from the exterior of your home into the interior of your home. Sometimes this can feel like a draft or a breeze, but in actuality the window unit is so cold, it is literally radiating cold into your home. The second reason for your problem could be improper installation of the windows. If, there is air blowing into the house from around the edge of the windows; then the contractors may have improperly installed the windows without insulation. (1/2)
Scott Dodge November 01, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Adam's response: I know that your wife thinks the plastic around the windows is tacky, but it could be a useful aid in determining your problem without having a professional stop out and give you a consultation to your problem first-hand. If you put up the plastic and see a reduction in energy loss and an improvement in overall home comfort then your problem is a poor performing window with regards to energy efficiency. If it does not aid in solving your problem, you are most likely looking at improper installation. To recap, your next points of action should be to either put the plastic on your windows and see if it gets your through the winter. Or contact a contractor to provide you with a consultation. On The Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers (2/2)
Scott Dodge November 01, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Adam's response below: James, thank you for your question. This is another BIG area of interest for homeowners, especially those who have older homes in Minnesota. The first thing to remember when it comes to home improvements is that there are no black-and-white, right or wrong answers. There are only what is ‘right’ for someone’s situation. After all, we are all kings and queens of our own castles. Having said that, there are some home improvement projects that are no-brainers and some that are more luxury items. The first thing to do is to ask what problems they are experiencing. Are they noticing/complaining about the walls of the home being cold or having condensation? If they are not, you may be attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Having said that, there are definitely benefits to added insulation. Your overall home comfort will improve. In the winter your home’s heat will be better retained, making your home more comfortable and more economical to heat. In the summer, your home will be more cool and comfortable, again with a decrease in your cooling bill. Everyone that I have known to do this project has loved the end result for years to come. (1/2)
Scott Dodge November 01, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Adam's response below: Having said that, your walls are typically the most energy efficient part of your home, with or without insulation. The air pocket between the studs creates a barrier slowing down the transfer of heat/cold. Insulation creates millions of tiny air pockets further slowing down the transference of heat/cold. One suggestion that I would have is to call your energy company and have an energy audit performed. The cost varies from company to company, but it is well worth the cost. They will show you with heat mapping where you are losing the most energy in your home. In most cases replacement windows and doors is the most common area of heat loss or lack of energy efficiency. Second most is attic insulation or wall insulation. On the Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers (2/2)
Rebecca Loerzel November 01, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Hi-- I have a 12 year old townhouse; I have lived there for 8 years. The room above the non-heated garage has always been very cold (40 some degrees) during the winter. I have always suspected it is not insulated properly, but a townhouse association rep said it is just going to be that way due to the garage not being heated. Is this really normal, or do you think additional insulation would help? Thanks, Rebecca
The Twilight Clone November 01, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Rebecca, dumb question, but is the ceiling of the garage insulated?
Rebecca Loerzel November 01, 2012 at 09:04 PM
I do not know for sure. I had someone out a year or two ago and he had mentioned he could go in through the garage ceiling and add some insulation that way. The floor and the walls all get very cold so I have doubted that any of it is really insulated properly.
Scott Dodge November 02, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Adam's response below: First and foremost, yes, this is typical of a room above an unheated garage that does not have proper insulation. There is a difference between comfortable living space and what is required by code. By code, you would need a fire-barrier between the garage and any living space (codes can vary per city) meaning your garage is most likely sheet rocked. But, there is no code for insulation in the context of this conversation. At the end of the day, you have a problem that you want solved. You have a room, which you want to be more comfortable. I think the real question here is what is the best and most cost effective way to solve your current dissatisfaction with the frigid temperatures of this room. If your garage is sheet rocked, I would recommend blown-in insulation. This involves cutting holes in your sheet rock between the rafters and blowing in insulation. Some sheet rocking with tapping and mudding may be required after the insulation is completed. Blown in insulation is going to give you the highest R-value which is going to make your room the most comfortable. If you have open rafters in the garage, you can look an installing various types of insulation between the floor of the room and the top of the garage. Based upon the R-value you are looking to gain and your budget. - Adam
Lindsay Reddy November 02, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Hi Joshua, I can personally understand your frustration with ice damns, I ended up with a great deal of damage in my home the same winter. All associations are different, but most of them are responsible for the upkeep of the exterior of the home, and that includes the roof and keeping up with the prevention of ice dams. If the insulation in your attic is okay, I would recommend talking with your association and seeing what they are responsible for. They should be able to send someone out to inspect the roof and then throughout the winter they should be removing the snow to prevent ice and snow build up that can also result in ice damns.
Lindsay Reddy November 02, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Hi Rebecca, I would also recommend having the ceiling of the garage re-insulated. Insulation costs are reasonable, will make a huge difference in the comfort of your home and will pay for itself energy cost savings.
Rebecca Loerzel November 02, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Thanks Adam. Is this something that could be done now or would I need to wait until spring? I recall the person I had out a couple years ago said it needed to be in the 60s to install the type of insulation he had in mind.
Adam Bressler November 05, 2012 at 03:43 PM
The proper thing to do will be to have a company come back out and re-evalute your current situation. Locating and then solving your problem. However, sight-un-seen my recommendation for solving your problem will be to strip-cut the sheet rock and then use blown in fiberglass insulation. You can do this type of insulation year round. I would recommend doing the work as soon as possible, so that you will be able to enjoy a comfortable room for the entire winter. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. On the Level with Adam Bressler, Builders & Remodelers

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