Surviving a Polar Vortex

Blog Post Image
Real Estate

There is nothing more refreshing than going outside in Minnesota in February. The feel of the subzero temperatures on your cheeks really awakens a person's spirit. The snow sings underfoot as you dash quickly to your car for warmth. Interestingly, only a Northerner can gauge the outside temperature by the pitch of the snow’s squeak underfoot. The colder the temp, the higher the squeak of the snow.

In this blog, I hope to provide some information to homeowners on what to do during a vortex to protect their homes. Even though your home may be well insulated and you have your heat cranked up, it is still vulnerable to the extremes. Keep a close eye on your basements, exterior walls, doorways, windows, and attic spaces for signs of frost forming inside your home. If you are not sure if your home is adequately prepared for winter, you should consider having a contractor come out to assess anything that should be improved. Spending a little money on preparation and prevention will go a long way.

Attic Spaces – If you can see up into your attic, check to see if there are frost formations on the underside of your roof. It is common to see small amounts in older homes, but it should not be accumulating. If it is accumulating, it could be due to an excess amount of snow piling on the roof that is being warmed from the attic space due to inefficient insulation levels. What happens is that the snow is warmed from below and begins to seep in through the shingles as it has nowhere else to go. Once this starts to happen, it builds up on the inside of the roofline. You may not even be aware of this happening if you do not look. Most of us are unaware of the presence of an ice dam until spring when the weather warms up and it starts to thaw and drip into our homes.

Here are a few remedies for dealing with ice dams:

· Have a contractor evaluate the R-value of your insulation every few years to ensure that it is performing at it best. They can also check the ventilation of the attic to make sure that it is breathing the way it should.

· Check your roof after snowstorms. If there is snow that is accumulating, get a roof rake and remove it. There are also various contractors that will come and clean your roof for a fee. Accumulating snow is the main cause of ice dam formation combined with inadequate insulation levels. If you do not want to rake your roof, consider investing in heat cables to melt away ice formations along your eaves. Keeping your roof clean in the winter is very important!

Walls and Closet Spaces – In subzero conditions, walk around your home and check the exterior walls and closet spaces to see how cold they are getting and look for signs of frost formation. If this situation is left unremedied, it can lead to the germination of black mold.

Here are a few remedies for dealing with frost intrusion in your home:

· Move furniture away from the exterior walls to ensure proper air circulation. A lack of airflow prevents the warm air from your home’s HVAC system from keeping the exterior walls warm enough to prevent frost intrusion. If you do find an area that has experienced frost intrusion, move the furniture away and place a fan on the area to increase airflow until it is frost-free and dry.

· During the vortex months, keep items away from the exterior walls of your closets. Most of us do not think about the repercussions of what might happen as we stuff our excess belongings deep inside the closets to be forgotten. If you do happen to notice that your closet usually stays cold, keep the door ajar during the winter months to encourage air circulation. Keep in mind, both frost formations and black mold prefer a habitat of motionless air. Again, if an issue is detected, consider utilizing a fan to temporarily circulate the air until the area is dry.

Windows – During the winter, it is not unusual to see some frost formation on your windows if you live in an older home that does not have double pane argon windows. But, if you are in a home that does have double pane argon windows, you should not see frost formations. This is a sign that they have lost their R-value and should be replaced. In extreme temperatures, you may see frost forming around the edges/cracks between the window and the frame. Do not be alarmed; even the best of windows can succumb to Minnesota conditions. If you do see frost forming, watch for it to melt when the sun warms it and dry the area regularly to prevent it from soaking into the woodwork/window frame. Keeping the area dry and clean will prevent it from becoming a sanctuary for black mold.

If you are in a home with older windows, here are a few things you can do to prepare for winter.

· Check to see if their caulking and/or glazing needs to be replaced in the fall. Keeping them adequately caulked and glazed can keep the elements out. In the fall, you can get the temporary rope caulking to run around the seam on the interior of the window to add an extra level of protection from the cold.

· Install plastic window kits in the fall to help insulate older windows and to keep drafts out. Make sure to install them properly. They should only be on the glass and framework of the window, not on the walls of the home. The window plastic is intended to be in direct contact with the glass.

· Keep problem windows free of clutter. Proper ventilation is key to minimizing frost intrusion. Plan a budget to have any problem windows repaired or replaced.

Basements – It is vital to keep a close eye on your basement in the winter, especially if you are in an older home. Even if your basement is unfinished and you do not go down there often, you should make a routine of doing so in the winter to ensure that you don’t have any frost intrusion. Being wary is better than having to deal with an issue. When making your rounds, check all the exterior walls of your foundation for visible frost, moisture, coldness, or mold formations. Especially focus on areas where you have plumbing, such as water lines and waste pipes. There is nothing worse than frozen pipes in your basement in the winter, other than being stranded outside.

To prepare your basement for winter:

· During the summer and fall, evaluate the soil level/grade around your home. Having an adequate level of soil can help insulate your foundation from the cold of winter. If the soil level is low, bring in more to build it up. While doing this, ensure that you are providing a slope from your foundation down to the yard. This will help during the spring melt and rain to make sure that water flows away from your home.

· Check to make sure that you do not have items stored directly against the walls. Good air circulation is important in keeping your basement free of potential issues. If you add storage

shelving to your basement, make sure that you leave a couple of inches of space between the shelving and the wall to allow for air circulation.

· If you notice an area that has frost accumulation, move stuff away from it so that the air can move more easily. Keep an eye on the area to ensure that the frost does not continue to spread. When it begins to thaw, dry the area to prevent it from becoming a good environment for black mold.

· Check your water lines that are near exterior walls to make sure that they are not becoming too cold and risking freezing. If you know of an area that is consistently cold every winter, consider going to the local home improvement store and purchasing pipe wrap or heat cables to prevent your pipes from freezing during the extreme polar vortex. If your pipes do happen to freeze, get a source of heat on them immediately to prevent the pipe from bursting. Keep some spare space heaters or heat lamps handy for this purpose. If using heat lamps, do not leave them unattended for long periods without checking on them as they can be a potential fire hazard. Heat lamps should only be used to thaw the pipes out, not as prevention. Heat cables also should only be used when it is believed that they are needed to get through extra cold days and only on the water lines/waste pipes that are deemed to be at risk of freezing. Pipe wrap insulation is the best for long-term protection as it does not have the potential to become a fire hazard if left unattended.

In this blog, you heard me mention insulation and air circulation multiple times. The reason for this is that it is vital that you have adequate air circulation to work with the insulation to keep your home protected from the elements and comfortable. If either the insulation or ventilation is inadequate, moisture will become a problem. When you get moisture, you get black mold.

Stay warm and stay healthy! I hope that you found my blog to be helpful!