Most of us know from the time we start to drive that basic maintenance is required on a vehicle.
Yet, how many of us who buy our first place know what maintenance is required?
As winter steps into town for real, we turned to Kyle Sigouin from First Onsite Property Restoration for some tips that can prevent us from needing to fully restore our homes.
"Most people don't do certain things until they're reacting to a problem. And then they recognize, 'Oh, dear, it would have been that simple of a fix.' An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he said.
Avoiding frozen pipes
Sigouin notes that in Squamish and the Sea to Sky Corridor, we have a lot of new construction, old construction, and hillside properties. "A lot of main water supplies are entering in an uncontrolled area like a crawlspace, or under the home," he said.
"Doing heat trace is something that not a lot of people are aware of — where they actually will wrap a heat trace cable around the incoming main water line, which is electrically wired, and offers and emits a little bit of heat to make sure that that pipe doesn't experience the low temperatures in the event it's uncontrolled."
"Heat trace" means an electrical heating element is physically put along the length of a pipe to keep the pipe warmer, and thus prevent freezing.
Assuming it is a home you are living in, Sigouin said to make sure that anything that's not behind a wall or insulated is covered using a foam pipe protector or wrap, available at a hardware store.
"And wrapping your exposed piping with that material alongside heat trace,' he said. You'd only need to protect the main water line coming in through the foundation wall and up through the floor, for example.
Adding a space heater on a timer may work for a drafty crawlspace to ensure it doesn't get too cold, he said.
The main thing is to ensure your home is tight, meaning not allowing cold air in during the winter.
"So, the perimeter of your home, if there's any flashing details or gaps around windows or doors, making sure that those are sealed properly to make sure that we don't have outdoor airflow coming into the home," he said. "If we can control the home's interior environment — with the heat trace and the pipe protectors — [that] is really all that you can do other than ensuring that the home is maintained at that temperature."
It sounds obvious, but make sure windows are shut in a bathroom, for example, to ensure it doesn't get too cold. On days where it is pretty warm during the day but below freezing at night, for example, it may be cool enough to cause a problem.
More often, it is homes and cabins that are used seasonally — or for vacation rentals — that are more at risk for pipe bursts, he said.
"It's really where the home is unoccupied, and people are not protecting the envelope, they're not protecting the incoming supply, and they're not turning the water off," he said. "In my 20 years in this business, I can tell you that that would be, by far and wide, the most severe water escapes."
If you're leaving home for more than a few days, you should be turning the water off at the main source.
"And then the trick to that is opening up a tap at the lowest point of your home to allow all of the water to exit," he said. "So you turn your main water supply off. And then you go to that, say, lowest level bathroom and turn on a tap and make sure all the water drains out. And then you know that that system isn't pressurized, and there's no more water physically in that home. It is completely drained out of the pipes."
When you go back to the home, you do the reverse. After turning the main water back on, go to the highest point in the house and turn a tap on.
"That slowly fills the system back up and starts to pour out at the highest point. And you know the system doesn't have air bubbles; it doesn't stress the system by turning the water on aggressively. ... When you empty the piping and then force the water back at full pressure, you can potentially cause issues if you don't do it slowly."
You can also install sensors that send alerts that let you know if there are any water leaks.
Sigouin suggested checking with your home insurance company to see if there are any incentives for installing them.
"Having those water sensors are definitely recommended," he said.
Some older homes may not have the proper insulation in their attic, Sigouin said.
"The issue with that is there are baffles that you install at the soffit that allow airflow in the soffit, and that can continue up into your roof. You do not want your attic to be warm; the attic should be the same temperature as outside because what you don't want is a warm attic meeting a cold surface, and that's how you'd have mould growing on that sheathing," he said.
Baffles are chutes or tubes that can provide a channel for air to flow from outside to inside.
A soffit is the material that is installed to cover the underside of your roof overhang.
Homeowners with older homes should check that their insulation is not blocking the soffit.
"A lot of people will go and up-size their attic insulation ... [so] making sure that that insulation over time hasn't fallen onto those soffits and actually blocked its airflow," he said.
Inspect the roof space and clearing debris
Water has to be able to shed away from the property easily, Sigouin stressed.
Gutters, downspouts and drainage are areas to pay attention to.
"If your gutters are filled with leaves, and you know they overflow when it rains in the fall, one would assume that you would know that the drain is impeded from flowing freely. And that's typically caused by leaves, pine needles [that] build up and turn into dirt, and it gums up your gutters. If that water cannot shed away by going down the gutter, down the downspout and run away from the property, then naturally, it's going to build up, and if you add dropping temperatures to that, if that all freezes, it can cause problems."
One thing he said that many homeowners don't do is have a company come out every five years to clean their perimeter drainage.
"That is one of the main causes that we see for sewer backups," he said.
"They go in, and they do a hydro flush. [That's] basically a fancy way of saying they stick out a really long hose with that sprayer on the end, and they run it through the whole system to make sure it runs freely. And then that will protect against rising groundwater when the snow melts; that'll protect against the gutters and downspouts being able to run through that freely out to the street as well."
He said it isn't something he would be comfortable suggesting homeowners do themselves.
Checking your vacation property during a cold spell
If you have a cabin or a property you leave during the colder season, Sigouin suggests walking around the property to ensure it is ready for the cold.
"Assuming the water is shut off, you want to make sure you want to make sure that the temperature the thermostat is set is at the appropriate level," he said, adding he would put his bathroom heater on between five and 10 degrees and close the door.
"It's really just making sure that the heat is on [and] that you don't see any visible signs of moisture or condensation inside."
The most common mould in homes is stachybotrys, or black mould. It grows on pulp surfaces, like drywall.
If you see it, do something about it, he stressed.
"If you see mould inside of a home, it is always related to moisture entering the property."
He said to call a professional to figure it out sooner rather than later.
"It's costly to mitigate. It's dangerous to your health. And it only arrives in the presence of moisture," he said, noting if you see it, that means there is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.
"Oftentimes, you'll see it under people's sinks because a pipe might be weeping or dripping very slowly; not enough to cause a catastrophic loss; however, over time, a concentration of water will result in mould forming."
Mould on a window means the window's seal has failed or the glazing itself is old and has failed.
"And making sure that the proper caulking around your window is done. And flashings above your windows are installed," he added.