Tarion Talks Podcast: Episode 5, Winter Home Maintenance

For our fifth episode of Tarion Talks, we discuss some winter home maintenance tips.

Home maintenance is important during all seasons, but especially in the winter. Winter can be a tough season on your home. The wind, snow and ice don’t discriminate between old and new houses – new homes need regular maintenance, too.

1. Humidity

As a homeowner, you should keep a close eye on the moisture levels in your home. Too much or too little humidity can cause problems.  Tarion recommends you keep the relative humidity levels within the 30-50 per cent range.

A great way to monitor the humidity levels in your home is to use a hygrometer. You can buy one from most big box stores, but many new homes come with hygrometers built into your thermostat. Just remember to check the levels often! This is important, because any damage caused by a lack of homeowner maintenance isn’t covered by the new home warranty.

Too little humidity = too dry

Winter can get quite dry. What you can do is increase humidity levels in your home. Many home builders now offer a built-in humidifier that is connected to a new home’s furnace and can be adjusted. If your furnace doesn’t have one connected, you can get a separate humidifier that you add water to and it will to release moisture into your home.

What happens when it’s too dry?

When it’s too dry, your wood finishes – such as hardwood floors, stairs and cabinetry – may suffer. For example, you may hear squeaks or see gaps between the boards in your floor, which can develop as the wood loses moisture and shrinks. Tarion only covers these kinds of issues if they are related to builder defects, and were not caused by a lack of homeowner maintenance.

Too much humidity = too much moisture

This is quite common during the winter time, when exterior doors and windows are usually shut allowing less air in to ventilate the home. If you have a smaller home or condo – or maybe just a larger family – be mindful that humidity can be generated by everyday activities such as showering or cooking.

If you do find that your moisture level is higher than the recommended 50 per cent, check that your exhaust fans (e.g., bathroom, stove hood) are working, and use them regularly. You can also use a dehumidifier to decrease home humidity.

What happens when there’s too much moisture?

Too much moisture can also affect your wood finishes – warping doors and cabinets, causing wallpaper to peel, and causing crowning, cupping or buckling in wood floors.  Mildew and mould can also occur when there is excessive moisture in your home. Mould is often caused by a lack of homeowner maintenance – in which case, remediation would not be covered under the statutory warranty.

2. Sweating Windows

“Sweating” is another name for condensation that gathers on the inside of your windows. This is a common condition that happens when the warm air inside your home meets the cold surface of the window.

Too much moisture in your home means you will probably get more condensation and water droplets, and that can damage surrounding walls, hardwood floors, trim and furnishings.

Too much moisture in your home means you will probably get more condensation and water droplets, and that can damage surrounding walls, hardwood floors, trim and furnishings. It can also lead to mildew and mould. Again, these issues will not be covered by the statutory warranty if the cause is the homeowner’s failure to properly maintain humidity levels.

You can prevent window sweating by:

  • Running your furnace fan continuously along with the principal exhaust fan
  • Avoiding heavy draperies and window coverings, that can restrict the flow of indoor air to your windows

3. Ice Damming

This common problem is most likely to happen during really snowy winters. An ice dam can occur when snow accumulates on your roof, melts, then re-freezes at the roof’s edge. This newly formed “dam” of ice can cause meltwater to pool alongside it, potentially leading to damage inside and outside of your home. Water leaks entering your home can damaging its wood structure or – in some cases – even personal belongings.

More often than not, ice damming is not covered under the statutory warranty because it is not caused by a builder defect, but rather by the homeowners’ failure to keep their roof properly maintained.

How to prevent ice damming:

  • Use a roof rake to remove fresh snowfall from the first metre of your roof;
  • Hire a professional to remove snow and ice from your roof;
  • Ensure your attic is properly insulated;
  • Install heated cables along the first metre of your roof.

What not to do:

  • Don’t try to climb up onto your roof – for your own safety, you should hire a professional for this task
  • Don’t throw salt or chemicals onto your roof as they can damage roof shingles

4. Furnaces

Your furnace gets quite the workout during the winter. Here are some tips to keep it running smoothly:

  • Regularly check and clean the furnace filter – at least once a month during the winter
  • Get a licensed technician to check it out at least once a year

If something does go wrong because your furnace is defective or was not installed properly, this may be covered under your home’s warranty. Give your builder a call first and see if the issue can be resolved by working with them directly.

If a problem with your furnace has led to a total loss of heat in your home, this may be considered an emergency situation by Tarion. Check our website’s information page on emergency procedures, or give us a call, for more information on how to proceed.

5. Pipes

If plumbing pipes burst or freeze, they may be covered under your warranty – unless this was not caused by the homeowner’s lack of maintenance.

Preventing damage to pipes

Make sure your home’s inside temperature is always above freezing… even if you are away from home for an extended period of time.

When winter starts, remember it’s time to take care of those exterior hose bibs:

  • Shut off any related interior valves, and leave the exterior valves open
  • Disconnect all garden hoses from their bibs

Steps to take if your pipes burst:

  • Turn the water supply valve off immediately
  • Contact your builder
  • If your builder doesn’t resolve the problem, report it to Tarion

6. Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Winter is a prime season for house fires.

Don’t forget to:

  • Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors every month, all year round
  • Change the batteries in your detectors at least twice a year

Your new home was a big investment. You spent countless hours and days making sure you made the right choice and got what you wanted. Now it’s time to show it some TLC this cold winter season and every season.