Your Home and the “Polar Vortex”

2012 Polar Vortex ices window

The wild temperature swings we’ve experienced on the East Coast this week really test a house and all of the systems that make it feel comfortable — a place you want to be in, in all kinds of weather. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

Windows — Windows are essentially holes in the walls of your house, so make sure you’ve invested in good ones to keep warmth in, to keep heat and destructive UV rays out, and to block drafts. But a great window, even an expensive one, is only as good as its installation. Modern windows have complicated installation procedures and are rated “not for beginners.”

There are two additions being done in my neighborhood now. One addition looks like a master suite pop up addition to the house’s 2nd floor. Those homeowners really skimped on the windows, by selecting very small vinyl models that don’t add much to the appearance of their house. The other addition is clearly a well designed “craftsman” styled addition/remake of the 1950s rancher hidden inside it. Now on this second project the homeowners are spending $25K or so in windows vs the $2000 in windows my other neighbor is spending, and the effect is striking! The second project looks very put together, and the house will have great light and views. That makes the better windows a better investment even though they cost a lot more.

One tip: Most builders order windows that sit on the surface of the house by way of “nailing flanges.” A great higher end window will sit in the window well and have an integrated trim detail to add architectural interest to the house. These are harder to order and install well but look much better.

Basements — Flooding can be a particular concern when the ground is frozen or has ice on top of it, and then the rain runs over the hard surface to the house where it will enter window wells (because the snow/ground/ice is higher than the wells) or even enter through the foundation. This can happen any time of year, and typically it comes from poor grading work we see, caused by improperly mulched planting beds too close to the house. Be sure to hire a good landscaping pro who knows how to grade your yard and maintain proper grading while working on your yard. Alternately, if you do your own gardening work, learn how to manage your grading.

A great thing to do is install a “weep drain” around the house to collect rain water run off into a cistern. You can then use the cistern water to pump water to the garden during growing seasons, instead of paying for potable water here, and this system slows run off and erosion in your yard.

Roofing and Siding — Properly installed, quality roofing and siding should hold up to even the high winds we’ve experienced over the last couple of days. Typically, if you are losing shingles or siding pieces, it’s because they weren’t installed properly. Check the warranty on the work, and contact your installer to rectify the situation.

Walkways — Standing water on walkways can come from clogged gutters or other failed drainage systems. When temps drop, this water turns to ice — a danger to your family and visitors alike. But ice is tough because you can’t always see it. Check the drainage of your patio or walkway to make sure water is clearing properly — and try to stay ahead of the game by salting walking paths before ice forms.

Have a safe week, and stay warm. As always, call us if we can help with any of your home’s needs.

Related reading: Water Damage: Un-Sexy Yet Vital Repairs

Image: Akasped

How Does Your Home Fend Off February Chill?


This week started off quite brisk and windy. We noticed that this made our house exceptionally chilly, even though the temperature outside was no lower than some other nights this winter. The wind made the difference — and the reason why that happened is because we have some leaks in the “envelope” of our older home. While we have invested in many energy-efficient upgrades, such as insulation and new windows and doors, we still have more steps to take until we reach optimal efficiency that will keep our house warmer on cold, windy nights (and cooler on hot summer days, too!). But because we had an energy audit we know where those further improvements need to happen and we have a plan in place to get them done.

If your house is drafty on a windy night too, don’t let anyone tell you that your older home can’t be efficient, or that just slapping on new windows will achieve your desired results. Neither are true. To get real results for our clients, we provide a home energy auditor who is familiar with older houses to test your home’s efficiency. The auditor tests the performance of appliances and fixtures, as well as the overall house structure, to see where waste is occurring, then consults with us to develop the best, most cost-effective means of improving your home’s results. Usually, we tackle the simple, unglamorous stuff first, then make plans to tackle the sexier items later. The exciting part, for you, is seeing immediate lower energy use, resulting in a cheaper-to-run home. This approach is best because we combine the expertise and facts of a home energy audit from a carefully selected BPI pro who knows older homes with our own many decades of experience and knowledge working on older homes. We know how to get the “biggest bang for your buck,” and we can stage the steps over time to make the process more affordable.

Typically, the auditing service costs $750-$900, depending on the complexity of the home, but this investment (as well as the first round of efficiency improvements) is earned back in saved energy costs in less than three years. Many times, tax incentives are available, too.

Happy December! Time to Start Planning for 2012

While you’re busy preparing your holiday celebrations, entertaining and travel, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at your home and plan for the renovation projects that need to be tackled in the new year. We don’t know a better way to cure the “winter doldrums” than to breathe new life into a space that you use every day. Instant quality-of-life improvement! Call us today to discuss your needs. We’ll be happy to create a 2012 plan for your home.

Fireplace Season Begins — Are You Prepared?

Chilly evenings call for cozy fires. It’s just that simple. Is your fireplace in good working order? Do you have a supply of seasoned firewood in place? This is a good time to consider installing a gas or wood-burning insert, as they can help to keep your home toasty and save on other heating costs, as well. Call us for help!

Oh Baby, It’s Cold Outside

With temps hovering in the 30s all week — and it’s not even officially winter yet! — you may be noticing drafty windows and inefficiencies in your heating system. If your home needs to be more tightly buttoned up this season to stay cozy, give us a call. We can help you choose the right products and suppliers. Act quickly if you want to take advantage of tax rebates ending on 12/31/10.

Image: Emery Way

Prepare for Winter Now

The time to prepare your home for winter is now, before winter arrives and while your service providers still have open schedules.

Cost for energy will likely go up another 15% this year. So any energy savings you make mean you will save money as well as do a good thing for the Earth!

There are many simple low cost things you can do, or you can call us to get them done for you.

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