Here in the Northeast–and in most of the rest of the country–it’s been a hard winter. Fortunately, spring is just around the corner, and once the snow melts it’s a great time to assess the toll winter has taken on your home. Simply taking a ten-minute stroll around the outside and examining the foundation, siding, trim, porch, and deck can tell you a lot and maybe head off any problems before they become more costly fixes down the road:
In the spring there’s usually still a lot of moisture in the ground, making it easier to see if you have drainage problems around the foundation. Look for water pooling up against foundation walls on the outside, and obvious signs of leakage inside. Besides actual cracks in the concrete, evidence of moisture problems include peeling or flaking paint, efflorescence (or salt deposits), chalky residue, and mildew.
Efflorescence on masonry–probably a sign of excess moisture.
Soil often settles around a foundation, so adding more soil and re-grading so that water flows away from the house–rather than toward–is a simple fix. Hundreds of gallons of water fall on your roof during a typical rainstorm and repairing missing or broken gutters and downspouts will divert this deluge away from the house.
Decks and Porches
Decks really take a beating from freeze/thaw cycles. Water that seeps into cracks in wood will freeze and expand, swelling the substrate and stressing the finish coating. Cracked and peeling finishes indicate that there’s a problem, but also look for excessively-cupped or bowed boards and rust stains from screws and nails. To prevent minor problems from becoming major ones, decks should be cleaned annually and recoated every one or two years.
All painted finishes eventually break down from exposure to sun and rain. But if paint has been applied to a properly-prepared substrate under suitable environmental conditions, it should last several years. If you’re not getting good performance, the kind of failure can tell you about what caused the problem–and what you can do to correct it. Chalking and fading are normal signs of aging paint, for example, particularly on the south side of a house where UV exposure is greatest. But if there are blisters or peeling paint, it’s likely that there’s a moisture problem of some sort. This can be caused by leaking or broken gutters, but it can also result from moisture trapped behind the siding. If you have stucco siding, look for efflorescence and cracks, as well as flaking or peeling paint. If you have wood clapboards or shingles, check for rot, particularly down near the ground and where the siding meets trim.
Peeling on wood siding–generally an indication of
moisture seeping to the surface.
Take a look at your landscaping, too: shrubs make decorative foundation plantings but they can limit air movement and prevent your siding from drying out. Prune back branches that are in contact with the house or move overgrown shrubs once the ground is workable.
Finally, take a close look at your doors and windows. Older windows may have loose glazing compound that should be replaced. Wood window sashes might look weathered, but often just need to be scraped, sanded, primed and repainted to look as good as new. Vinyl- or aluminum-clad windows and doors may just need a good cleaning.
It’s amazing what a ten-minute inspection can reveal. That and a little preventive maintenance will minimize seasonal damage and premature paint failure, saving you money and headaches in the long run.
In the next post, we’ll tell you what you need to do to prep your house for paint.