The temps here in West Chester are still relatively warm but last week marked the official beginning of fall and WCPO says leaves should be changing colors soon. And, as anyone who lives in Cincinnati will tell you, the weather can turn on a time. So, before the leaves start to fall (clogging gutters) and freezing temperatures hit (creating water damage problems) it’s time to take advantage of the good weather to perform some preventive fall maintenance to make sure your home is ready for rain, mud, snow, and ice. Though, before anything else, remember to be safe. If you aren’t familiar or comfortable with any aspects of these projects, consider bringing in a pro or a knowledgeable friend.
In the past, I talked about the importance of cleaning gutters and maintaining sump pumps as key to avoiding common water damage restoration emergencies. Considering that a hard rain can dump hundreds (or even thousands) of gallons of water onto your roof, you need your systems working to prevent flooding.
Check Your Sump Pump to Prevent Flooding
Two of the most important tasks are cleaning your gutters and testing your sump pump. Let’s start with the easier task, testing your sump pump. Simply remove any debris from the pit and pour in enough water to cycle the pump on. If that works, check it off the list and kick back with a refreshing beverage. If it doesn’t cycle on, you know now that you need to get it repaired or replaced, which is much better than finding it out after your basement floods.
Clean Your Gutters to Prevent Leaks
The second task is one of the most unpleasant. No one (I know) likes to clean their gutters. It’s messy. It involves ladders and contorting your body into unnatural positions. However, it’s important. Gutters move water away from your house, decreasing the odds that the water will find a way into your house. If your gutters or drain spouts are clogged, that water can back up onto your roof. If you aren’t familiar with your gutters, Lowe’s offers this basic tutorial.
Shingled roofs are designed to shed water down the slope, meaning the shingles are layered so that water flowing down the roof can’t enter your home. However, missing shingles or obstructions gives water a chance to seep under the shingles and enter your home. While you are cleaning your gutters (or watching someone else do it for you), also take a “peak” (see what I did there?) at your roof for loose or missing shingles. Many times, this can be done from the ground and a pair of binoculars are helpful. You might also want to wait for the next windy day to walk around your yard to check and see if any of the shingles are lifting in the wind. It is also a good time to check your roof for general signs of deterioration and common roof problems.
For those that want to clean the gutters themselves, there are a variety of tools and gadgets that claim to make it easier. Some attach to a hose or even a pressure washer, using water to blow out gunk, while others are mechanical devices meant to scoop out debris.
I don’t have personal experience with any of these devices, so I reached out to a friend who has a penchant for DIY gadgets, and he said he has used one. He calls them his gutter salad tongs. The image on the right gives a good hint as to why he calls them that.
The concept is straightforward. The “tongs” screw onto an extendable pole, and you pull on a rope to close them. This allows you to stand on the ground and “grab” clumps of debris to clear the gutters.
I asked him how well they worked, and he said they were “better than nothing.” The upsides are you don’t need to work on a ladder, and there is less mess that ends up on you. The downsides are that you can’t really see what you are doing, it takes some strength and stamina to do long sections, and it can be hard to use around obstructions like gutter spikes.
These work for him since he doesn’t have many tall trees around his house, so his gutters tend to be fairly clear. With a two-story house, he isn’t a fan of climbing that high, so the “tongs” offer an easy solution to clear build-ups at the downspout. He said he probably would not recommend them for someone who has heavy debris all along their gutters unless they are looking for a great upper body workout. So, if you have a similar set-up around your house, a gadget like this might work. Otherwise, another option might be better.
Check Caulking to Prevent Leaks
I suspect that most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about caulk. At least I don’t. Until there is a leak. (See Check for Signs of Existing Water Damage below for more on that.) Checking the caulking around windows and doors is straightforward. Caulking with cracks, gaps, or signs of pulling away should be fixed. I wish I could tell you that fixing it was as simple as just putting more caulk on top of the old but both Ron Hazelton and Bob Vila say that is a bad idea. Those two links offer tips on making the job a success. On the bright side, it’s much more pleasant to replace caulk on a nice fall day than dealing with it this winter.
Check Roof Vents to Avoid Ice Dams
If you are comfortable accessing your attic and can do it safely, check to make sure roof vents are unobstructed and your insulation is in place. Most homes are designed to have a “cold roof” which prevents ice dams. Insulation on the floor of the attic keeps heat inside your house and out of the attic.
The vents provide airflow to remove any heat that does escape, so your roof stays close to the outdoor temperature. This is important as shingles are designed to shed water down toward the ground. If portions of your roof are allowed to warm up, it can melt snow that will then refreeze as it moves toward the lower edge. If this process is allowed to continue, it creates a “dam” that traps the water, allowing it to seep under your shingles, and into your home.
Disconnect Garden Hoses to Prevent Burst Pipes
Another cause of water damage is not disconnecting garden hoses as temperatures turn colder so now is a good time to set up a calendar reminder to deal with outdoor faucets before the threat of the first frost. If you have an older home, you may have an inside shutoff and drain valve that allows you to clear water from the faucet and pipe inside your wall. The idea is that you close this valve in the fall and then open the spigot to drain the water in the pipe.
However, it’s more likely you have a frost-proof sillcock. Many newer homes will have frost-proof faucets, which are also called frost-proof sillcocks or frost-proof hose bibs. In simple terms, the sillcock has a length of pipe with the valve at one end and the handle at the other. This means the water is actually shut off on the inside of the house where it’s warm. The other key component is an anti-siphon ‘vent’ that breaks the vacuum in the faucet which, among other things, helps the water to drain out of the faucet when you turn it off.
Frost-proof sillcocks are popular because you don’t have to drain them. They do it automatically unless you have something attached, such as a hose or a quick connector. Leaving these connected can trap water in the pipe between the valve on the inside of the house and the faucet on the outside.
Once temperatures get cold enough that water freezes, expands, and ruptures the portion of pipe inside your walls. However, because there is a relatively small amount of water in that portion of the pipe, you typically won’t know this has happened until the spring when you turn on the faucet. (For more, see this video: What Happens When You Leave Your Garden Hose Attached in Winter.)
Setting up a reminder now reduces the chances you will find yourself running around your yard in the early hours of the first day of a cold spell. Or, worse, finding out you forgot because your basement is flooded!
Check for Signs of Existing Water Damage
Moving inside, inspect the interior of your house for signs of existing water damage. Start on your top floor and check the ceiling for water stains. These are typically yellowish/tan areas with darker borders and are a sign that water penetrated the drywall. Other signs are drywall that appears bubbled, raised, or is soft to the touch. Be sure to have a flashlight and check the ceilings of closets.
As I have discussed, damp spots on your carpet can come from seemingly unlikely places, meaning that the water damage you see can be in a different area than where the water is entering. For example, I was once tracking down what appeared to be a leak in a basement. Water was pooling on the floor requiring the carpet and pad to be removed, as well as additional water damage restoration work.
However, the cause wasn’t a leaking foundation. It turns out that the caulk on a second-floor window had failed. Water was entering around the window, flowing down the interior of the first-floor wall, and then pooling in the basement. While the basement required the majority of the restoration work, the solution to fix the cause was on the second floor.
As you move into the basement, it may be more difficult to notice water damage on unfinished areas such as utility rooms. If you suspect water may have leaked down an unfinished wall but aren’t certain if that is still an active lead, one low-tech trick is to tape a small piece of paper towel or toilet paper to the wall. If water does leak, the paper will soak up the water, so you will either find it damp or be able to see it was wet and dried out.
Overall, this should give you a chance of avoiding some common water damage issues. However, even with the best planning, Mother Nature still has a say. To be prepared for unavoidable water damage emergencies, we have prepared the printer-friendly guide to the right. It covers the key steps for the water damage restoration process.
And, if you need help, please call us. With nearly 38 years of water damage restoration experience, you can trust Extra Effort to work with your insurance company to return your home or business to its original state.
Apply Stain Protector to Your Carpets
With rain, mud, snow, and salt just around the corner, a final step in your fall maintenance routine: consider having your carpets cleaned and treated with a stain protector. Hot water extraction is recommended by major carpet manufacturers and a clean carpet is perfect for applying a stain protector. Extra Effort uses DuPont Teflon to protect all the carpets we clean because it is both safe and effective. DuPont Teflon repels liquid spills, dust, and dirt, allowing carpets to remain cleaner longer. Plus, having your carpets cleaned now is one less “to-do” item before the holidays get here and we currently offer a free application of DuPont Teflon to help protect your carpet and upholstery.
Fall Checklist to Avoid Common Water Damage Restoration Emergencies Summary
For those that like lists, here is a quick summary of the points above.
- clean any debris out of your sump pump pit and pour some water in to test it
- clean your gutters and check to ensure your downspouts are positioned to move water away from your house
- inspect your roof for any loose or missing shingles (hint: check on a windy day to look for any movement)
- check that attic roof vents are unobstructed, and your insulation is in place with no gaps
- replace any failing caulk (or gaps) around windows and doors
- set up a calendar reminder to either shut off older outdoor faucets or remove hoses and quick connect couplings from newer frost-proof sillcocks
- inspect the interior ceilings and walls for water stains
- look for damp spots on your carpet (after the next heavy rain)
- check your basement for signs of water infiltration (puddles after rain, wet boxes or drywall, etc.)
- have stain protector applied to your carpets to protect against mud and salt
Questions? I am always available to answer your stain removal questions and concerns. Call us today at (513) 777-8770 to learn more about our carpet and upholstery cleaning services. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about this month’s cleaning special.
Elliott S. Fishman, Co-Owner
Extra Effort Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, Inc.
About Elliott S. Fishman
Elliott Fishman, along with his son Brian, is the owner and operator of Extra Effort Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, Inc. We serve the residents and businesses of Greater Cincinnati to include West Chester, Mason, Maineville, Loveland, Wyoming, Fairfield, Indian Hill, Montgomery, Hyde Park and Anderson Township. Elliott started this company in 1984, based on the belief that it takes Extra Effort to make each job a success. The father/son team puts the extra time, extra care, and extra effort into every task they undertake – no matter how large or small the job. Extra Effort’s quality equipment, trained technicians and safe products have made the company a top choice for residential and commercial carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, water damage / water extraction, fabric protection, odor control and spot removal.