Goodbye, Polar Vortex; Hello, Home Maintenance Headaches

Home with winter weather damage to its exteriorAfter such a harsh winter, your home's exterior is going to need some TLC. Touch-up peeling paint, patch gaps in window caulk, and readjust sagging gutters to prevent moisture from spring's thaw from damaging your house. Image: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

The winter from hell may be about over, but your home maintenance headaches are about to begin. Here are some polar vortex leave-behinds that need your attention.

With any luck, the worst of winter is behind us. But if the polar vortex has sucker-punched your home, you’ll need to devote the beginning of spring to fixing the damage that sustained cold, ice, and snow has wrought.

Some polar vortex injuries — basically anything that lets water seep into your home — need your attention STAT! Other problems, like patching driveway cracks, are less time sensitive (meaning soon, not necessarily now).

Mission Critical Repairs

1. Roof problems

Frigid nights and warmer days stress a roof — sometimes to the breaking and cracking point. Shingles deteriorate, seams tear and split, expansion joints crack and separate. Add ice build-up under shingles, and you’ve got a roof that’s ready to start leaking water into your home.

Signs:

  • Broken, buckling, blistering, and missing shingles
  • Cracked rubber boots around vent pipes
  • Rust spots on flashing
  • Inside drywall that shows dark water stains, feels wet and soft, and looks like it’s bulging or blistering

Repair: Replace damaged or loose shingles, and caulk flashing around chimneys, skylights, and attic vents. If you’re not afraid of heights and you have a buddy to spot you, you can do this yourself for about $24 for a bundle of shingles and $6 for roof caulk. A pro will charge $100-$150 to replace a few shingles (large repairs can stretch to $1,000) and $300-$500 to fix flashing.

Related: Inspecting Your Roof to Get Ahead of Problems

2. Gutters and downspouts

They’re supposed to direct roof runoff away from your house and foundation. But brutal winters can damage gutters and downspouts so that water stagnates and freezes, leaks under eaves, flows into the ground, and soaks foundations.

Signs: 

  • Damaged hangers that cause gutters to sag and separate from the house
  • Leaky gutter joints with peeling or deteriorating caulking
  • Improperly pitched gutters that don’t lean toward downspouts
  • Water shooting out downspout seams
  • Downspouts dislodged from gutters or pointed toward foundations

Repair: Gutter and downspout repair is relatively simple and inexpensive. Replacment hangers cost about $11 each; a tube of gutter sealant to patch leaky joints is about $5. In a pinch, you can stop water leaks from gutters or downspouts with duct tape — but this is a temporary solution.

If water collects in the gutter because the slope is too shallow — it should be sloped ¼-inch for every 10 feet — you can push, bend, or rehang gutters to start the water flowing.

It’s best to extend downspouts at least 4-5 feet away from the house. You can buy extenders for less than $20 each.

Related: Fast Fixes for Common Gutter Problems

3. Ice dams

The temperature difference between the inside and outside of your house can force snow on a roof to melt, then refreeze into an ice dam. The dam traps melting runoff, forcing water through roof cracks and soffit joints into your home. Heavy ice dams also can pry gutters and fascia boards away from the house.

Signs:

  • Large icicles dripping from your roof, which could indicate the melting-freezing conditions that cause dams
  • Water stains on walls, especially in corners between ceilings and corners of exterior walls
  • Water dripping through light fixtures
  • Soft spots in drywall
  • Drenched carpet

Repair: For a long-term solution, button up your attic with better sealants and improved insulation ($800-$1,500) to prevent a snowy roof from warming and creating ice dams. Also, install soffit, gable, or ridge vents ($300-$600) to expel heat and prevent your roof from melting accumulated snow.

Short-term solutions include:

  • Removing snow from your roof with a roof rake or broom. Be gentle, so you don’t damage shingles.
  • If water already is entering your home, make channels through the dam to allow water to drain off the roof. When the water freezes again, you’ll have to repeat.
  • If working on ice dams and slippery roofs isn’t your thing, hire a professional who will steam the ice away for about $500.

Related: How to Prevent Ice Dams

Essential But Not Immediate Repairs

Foundation: Probably the most essential item in this category.

Gutter and downspout damage can soak the earth and, when it freezes, cause your foundation to crack and water to seep into your basement.  At the first sign of basement water, move snow away from your home’s foundation to let the earth warm gradually and prevent further cracking caused by sudden temperature changes.

You can hire a contractor to plug cracks over ¼-inch wide by injecting epoxy ($1,500-$3,000); or you can do it yourself with foundation repair kits ($100-$150 for 10 feet of repairs).

Paint: Moisture from snow and ice can cause exterior paint to blister and peel, exposing wood to water and rot. When the spring thaw reaches 50 degrees, scrape and touch-up the damaged paint.

Shrubs: Shrubs need water even in winter, which they usually pull from the snowy ground through developed root systems. But frigid winters in places that haven’t gotten much snow (and salt spray from de-icers) can desiccate plants and cause “winter burn” — yellow or brown leaves. Most plants with some winter burn can be saved.

Once healthy parts of the plant begin to green up when sunlight hours increase and temperatures rise above freezing, prune away dead branches and leaves. Fertilize, water, and mulch to give the damaged plant extra food and consistent moisture. Pitch shrubs with extensive winter burn before disease and bugs begin feasting on the dead organic material.

Related: How to Revive Your Lawn from the Ravages of the Polar Vortex

Driveways: Deep freezes and sudden thaws will cause cracks and potholes in asphalt driveways. Patch cracks and holes ($10 for a 1-gallon blacktop patch) to prevent water from seeping into your driveways and causing more damage next winter.

Related: 9 Super-Cool Driveways

Wood window frames: Super-cold weather can shrink wood frames causing gaps between the frame and the siding. To prevent drafts and climbing heating bills, seal the gaps with silicone-based caulk (about $8 for 10 ounces), or install long-lasting spring bronze weather stripping ($21 to seal a 3-by-5-foot window).

Related: The Only Maintenance Schedule You’ll Ever Need