Fix winter storm damage to prevent mould growth

Now may be the time to look at any damage that's been caused over winter

Winter storms can be hard on your home. Gusty winds, driving rain and icy temperatures can combine to damage roofs, siding, windows and doors.

Winter storm damage often goes unnoticed and unrepaired until spring weather arrives. By then, water from rain, snow and ice may have already penetrated into walls, attics, basements and crawl spaces. While water damage itself can be unsightly, one of the biggest dangers from undetected moisture infiltration is mould. If left unchecked, mould growth may cause structural damage to your home.

According to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, any area exposed to moisture in a home has the potential to become a breeding ground for mould.

Mould can be found wherever there is moisture, oxygen and something for mould to feed on. In your home, those areas may include a damp laundry area, an unvented bathroom, or a closet where wet clothing or boots have been put away.

However, one of the worst places mould can grow is where it is less easily detected – inside wall cavities and under flooring that has become wet due to leaks caused by winter weather. It is critical to check for and repair even minor winter storm damage on the outside of your home before mould gets out of control.

Check the following areas for potential water infiltration:

Roof  

  • Look for loose or missing shingles.
  • Check the metal flashing around a fireplace chimney or skylight.
  • Trim back tree limbs that could brush or fall on the roof should they break.
  • Inspect the attic or crawl space to verify that there are no leaks that could damage ceilings.

Gutters and downspouts

  • Check to be sure gutters and downspouts are properly attached to the house and each other.
  • Clean leaves, needles and branches from gutters so water can flow freely.
  • Extend downspouts away from your home’s foundation.
  • If you have a sump pump, make sure it is working and consider installing a battery backup.
  • Note any standing water around the foundation or crawlspace and make improvements once spring arrives to allow water to drain away from the house.

Siding, windows, and doors  

  • Check for and repair any loose or damaged siding.
  • Make sure seals are tight on doors and windows. Check for any damage to outside caulking.
  • Wipe up condensation on the tracks on the inside of windows to prevent mould growth.
  • Consider replacing metal windows and exterior door thresholds with vinyl to prevent air and water leakage.

Basement or crawlspace

  • If you have a basement, check for water seepage from cracks or the joint where the wall and floor meet.
  • Check for standing water in a crawlspace.
  • Purchase a dehumidifier to remove moisture from basement areas. Reduce indoor humidity to an optimum level of between 30 to 60 percent.

Plumbing  

  • Wrap exposed pipes in basements or crawlspaces with insulation sleeves to prevent them from freezing and bursting.
  • Turn off water to outside faucets and open faucets to let water drain out.
  • Caulk holes or cracks where pipes pass through outside walls or foundations.
  • Leave kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open during cold spells to allow warm air to circulate around pipes.
  • Trickle water through faucets connected to pipes that run through unheated or unprotected spaces.
  • If your home will be unoccupied for an extended period of time, shut off and drain your water system.

If you see water infiltration or damage, first locate the area where water is entering your home and determine the cause of the leak. Once repairs are made, clean and dry any damp or wet building materials within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mould growth.

If mould has already started to grow, clean hard surfaces with water and detergent or a solution of no more than one cup of bleach in approximately 3.8 litres of water. Allow surfaces to dry completely. Absorbent materials that are mouldy, such as ceiling tiles and carpeting, may need to be replaced. Consult with a professional cleaning service that is experienced with mould clean-up.

Be vigilant and check your home frequently for damage done by cold, wind, rain or snow. Remember, there is no practical way to eliminate all mould or mould spores in an indoor environment. The best way to avoid mould is by keeping water out.

Barry Hogan is president of Gamble Hub International, an insurance broker with offices in Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham Kent, and London Middlesex. Hub International has 18 offices located throughout Ontario and can be found on the web at www.hubinternational.com

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