By Erin Golden
As temperatures drop and the days get shorter, most of us fire up the heater—and suddenly notice all of those chilly, drafty spots in the house.
Winter is hard on homes, particularly on those that haven’t been properly weatherized. Experts say if you use the right materials and building techniques from the start, you’ll save yourself headaches down the road.
"Your hot water and heating systems are going to last longer," says David Pryor, business manager of Embers Green Renovations in Vancouver, a division of the nonprofit Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (EMBERS). "You’re actually going to save money in a number of ways, because weatherization makes other products in your house work better."
The goal of weatherization is to seal the gaps that allow cold air and moisture to seep in and to use proper insulation in all the right places.
"Most people don’t understand the term weatherization," Pryor says. "They see it as caulking or weather stripping windows and doors. The truth is weatherization is the process of using special tools to go far beyond just caulking and weather stripping."
Whether winter in your neighborhood brings wind, driving rain, snow or ice—or all of the above—it also brings the risk of water damage to your home. Areas around doors and windows can be prime spots for problems.
Larry Clay, owner and president of Clay Construction Inc. in Langley, B.C., often suggests his clients opt for fiberglass doors rather than wood doors, which can experience warping.
"For homeowners willing to pass on the appeal of wood doors, a fiberglass door is a wonderful alternative," Clay says.
When it comes to windows, Clay does his research. Before windows ever leave the manufacturer, random ones are tested to see how they stand up to pressure and strain. If window suppliers ask to be placed on Clay’s preferred vendor list, he checks with the salespeople to make sure the windows he selects stand up to these tests and meet warranty standards.
Even the best windows, doors, shingles and siding won’t be much help in the next winter storm if they haven’t been properly installed. In most cases, that means using plenty of caulk or weather stripping tape to seal up entryways and windows on all sides. It’s also important to use generous amounts of caulking under door thresholds to ensure a watertight fit.
"We have to make sure the water is not rebounding off the deck rooftops, getting under the door and getting your flooring all wet," Clay says. "In particular, [caulk] the whole door unit under the threshold to the framing."
Pryor says giving a house a simple weatherization makeover with weather stripping can go a long way in places with cooler temperatures, and it doesn’t take much effort.
"Let’s say it costs $150 to do all the weather stripping in the home," he says. "That would pay for itself in two or three months in most northern locations."
As the mercury drops, good insulation and air sealing in the rest of the house also becomes a bigger issue. Until recently, Pryor says, many builders didn’t properly insulate and air seal the area around the floor joists, which allowed moisture and cool air to seep in. Now he suggests using spray foam insulation in those areas. You should also examine the insulation and air sealing in the attic.
"We’re finding even houses built as recently as five to 10 years ago have inadequate attic and crawlspace insulation," he says.
If people don’t feel comfortable replacing windows or investing the time and money to weatherize, it’s a good idea to bring in experts to pinpoint potential problem areas.
Pryor’s group uses blower door testing—a fan system that checks air flow and pressure levels and can find holes as small as a sewing pin—and an infrared, thermal-imaging device that shows surface temperatures in the home to determine exactly what’s leaking air and/or moisture.
Pryor and Clay both say they have seen plenty of projects completed by experienced, skilled professionals in which there are still gaps and leaks, so it’s important to put in the extra effort and get the job done right the first time. A careful inspection of the entire exterior is required to identify and correct critical areas and detect areas of possible water penetration.
"The whole building envelope is critical," Clay says. "Proper installation of building wrap, sealing of all penetrations, and installation of flashing and cladding ensure the building envelope will perform as it is intended to."