Protect Your Historic Home from Winter's Ravages

Here are some winterization tips to help you weather the harsh elements of Mother Nature and conserve energy in your historic home.

In Rhode Island, old and historic properties are distinguished survivors, having sheltered generations of occupants through harsh elements year after year. With this recent flash of snow, it’s clear that winter is at our doorstep and homeowners need to start preparing for the cold weather ahead.

Whether you live in an old home or a newer home that lacks the latest technological features, here are some winterization tips to help you weather the harsh elements of Mother Nature and conserve energy:

  • De-icing walkways and driveways: Negotiating icy paths is a big winter concern. Owners of houses with traditional paving may wonder what’s the best way to manage de-icing a walkway, driveway or front stoop to make it less treacherous after a winter storm? It is important to note that frequent use of de-icers can damage historic masonry, and even more durable surfaces like slate and granite. The trick here is to use de-icers sparingly, de-icing the access to the one entrance you use most frequently. For less used pathways, remember to shovel early and often, and provide traction underfoot with salt or sawdust.
  • Ice Dams: Ice dams — accumulations of ice at the roof line or in gutters — form when heated air escapes into the attic and warms the roof sheathing, melting any snow that sits on top. Melted snow runs down the roof and re-freezes when it contacts an overhanging, unheated eave line. Check for the likelihood of ice dams on your roof by inspecting it during the first light snowfall or a heavy frost. The key is to look for an uninterrupted blanket of snow on the roof. If you don’t see one, then follow the tips below to prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Keep the attic cold:  Keeping the attic cold is important in avoiding ice dams as well as keeping heating costs down this winter. Homeowners should make sure that the attic is adequately insulated and sealed. All penetrations into the attic should be sealed with caulk, expanding foam or backer rod. The attic floor should also be thoroughly insulated. Remembering to replace wet or compressed insulation with cellulose or fiberglass bat insulations helps to combat ice dams and also keep costs down on winter heating and summer cooling. If ice dams are a concern, make sure the attic is vented to move warm air outside before it can heat the roof. 
  • Roof snow and ice removal: Homeowners have a few options in removing ice and snow from the roof of their historic home. In instances where homeowners are worried about ice dams, they can install de-icing cables along the bottom of the gutter, through downspouts and into drain pipes, or at problematic roof valleys or overhanging eaves. These cables carry a heating element through an insulated wire to warm targeted areas. Homeowners can use a long handled roof rake to reduce the volume of snow. However, this is only recommended for roofs that are easily accessed from the ground, as it is dangerous to attempt on a two-story building. Chemical de-icers should never be used on roofs since they can discolor shingles and corrode drains, and chopping at ice can damage roof shingles or siding, so it is best to stick to the above recommended methods.
  • Keep the melting snow out: The last thing a homeowner wants when the snow starts melting is to have it end up in their home. To keep that snow on your roof from melting down into the walls of your house, install several feet of metal roofing at the eave line of the house. An alternative option is to install one layer of three-foot rolled asphalt roofing or roofing underlayment beneath the shingles at the roof edge. These installations can help but may not prevent ice dams from forming or prevent damage caused from heavy accumulations of ice.
  • Consider adding some interior storm windows: For windows you open infrequently, or in spaces that seem exceptionally drafty, adding an interior storm window can help improve comfort and reduce energy consumption. Interior storm windows are very effective at stopping air leakage — a major source of the discomfort we feel in a drafty room — help with cutting energy use, and can even reduce outside noise. If an interior storm window seems too cumbersome, insulating shades to cover the window or lined draperies that extend to the floor are two more ways to manage drafts and keep rooms cozy on cold, dark winter nights.
  • Drink hot chocolate. Lots and lots of hot chocolate.

Sally Zimmerman is the Manager of Historic Preservation Services at Historic New England. For more information on home weatherization, visit www.historicnewengland.org

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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