Help Your Home Recover from Winter

If you think this winter was tough on you, think about your house.

We asked Thomas Kearin of Heidbreder Building Group in Lake Forest and Drew Johnson of Rocco Fiore & Sons for their thoughts on the lasting effects from the polar vortex.

“The extreme temperatures, snow and ice, not to mention the upcoming melt, can wreak havoc on your home,” Kearin says. “And ice can be one of your worst enemies.”

Ice expands and can split gutters and downspouts, dumping water at your foundation. It can split concrete, stone and brick, even push or tear off roof shingles. And those small cracks and holes that only dripped in the cold weather can become rivers in a heavy rain.

There’s no better time than before the spring showers to give your house a good once-over. If you’re lucky enough to already be familiar with your home’s exterior envelope, you’re one step ahead (and if you’re not, don’t be afraid to call in a professional).

Start with your gutters and downspouts.

Think of these as the arteries of your home. Keep them clean and free of debris, directing water away from your house. Check the backsides of your downspouts for any cracked seams. Make sure the gutters are firmly attached to your roof and allowing for an even, steady flow of water to the downspouts. Winter’s ice dams can pull gutters away from your roof, allowing for gaps that permit water to flow down the side of your house and pool at the foundation.

Inspect your roof, but skip the ladder.

If you want to hold off hiring a roofer to inspect your shingles, Kearin recommends taking out the binoculars. “Ice and ladders don’t make for happy endings,” he warns. Look for any shingles that are missing or curled, making your roof susceptible to leaks. If you notice flashing curled up around skylights, chimneys or vents, or if you see cracks in your chimney cap or brick faces, it’s best to call in a professional.

Look for cracks.

Check your exterior concrete, stone and brick for any noticeable cracks or deteriorating mortar—all spots vulnerable to moisture and crumbling. Ice expansion can cause sidewalks and even garage floors to heave up, leaving tripping hazards. Always make sure your hardscapes drain away from your home’s foundation. And if you’ve used a lot of salt, consider pulling out the power-washer when the weather warms up as salt only speeds corrosion.

Don’t forget the sump pump.

Most likely your sump pump has been in hibernation this winter, except for some ice and snow melt around your foundation. Don’t be afraid to call in a plumber to ensure it’s working, as most hardworking pumps only last three to five years (replacing your pump is cheaper than cleaning up water damage). Kearin always recommends installing a battery-powered backup to kick in when the power goes out.

Hope the best for your landscape.

“The good news is the consistent snow pack largely served as insulation for most plant roots this winter,” Johnson explains. “The bad news is that the extreme cold and high winds caused branches to crack, affecting a plant’s cell tissue and causing tip dieback.”

Regrettably for most landscapes, it’s going to be a wait-and-see game as the extent of the damage is difficult to predict. Rocco Fiore anticipates a lot of corrective pruning will be needed to help minimize damage from branch dieback as well as lop-sided damage from burrowing animals.

Among the more sensitive plants to monitor are forsythia, fruit trees, euonymus and redbuds. And remember, some trees and shrubs might benefit from a low-nitrogen fertilizer boost.