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Did the polar vortex vex your home?

April 23, 2014

By Pam Leibfried

This year, it wasn’t just northern states that experienced extreme winter weather. Even the South suffered through snow and ice storms as a result of the polar vortex and other extreme weather patterns. Now that spring has sprung, it’s time to find and fix any damage the severe winter did to our homes.

Leaking roofs and loose gutters
Did you experience heavier than usual snow accumulations this winter? If so, it’s more likely that you’ll have damage to your roof, gutters or chimney. If you had ice dams or heavy snow accumulations on your roof, it is especially critical that you (or a roofing professional) inspect it and your gutters and chimney for signs of damage so that they can be repaired as quickly as possible.

If roof shingles broke or blew off, you can probably spot that problem easily now that the snow has melted. Shingles that are loose or cracked, on the other hand, may not be as easy to see. Yet the resulting water leaks can do just as much damage as those from a missing shingle. In addition to looking for gaps, cracks or other damage, there are additional places to check for signs that may indicate problems with your roof. Inspect your attic and upstairs ceilings, looking for wet spots or areas that have stains or warping. Your home’s soffits, too, are a common area where signs of water damage may appear. If the soffit paint has bubbles or if there are stained areas, it could indicate that you had a leak in the roof above. If you see any signs of leaks, you should contact a roofing professional as soon as possible to get the damage fixed before spring and summer rains make things even worse – and more costly to repair. Now would be a good time, too, to improve your attic insulation to avoid or reduce ice dam issues in upcoming winters.

Heavy snowfalls and blizzard-strength winds buffeting your home may have caused the gutters to pull away from the edge of your roof. Gutters and downspouts can also crack or split at their seams as water freezes and thaws inside them. Since gutters and downspouts are critical to keep water away from your home’s foundation, you need to repair any damage as soon as possible. If you’re up to making repairs yourself, gutter hangers, gutter sealant and downspout replacements or extenders can be purchased at home improvement centers, and they’re fairly inexpensive.

Crumbling driveways and sidewalks
If you drive, you are no doubt painfully aware that this winter has wreaked havoc on roadways, creating millions of potholes and causing untold damage to cars driving over them. The same freeze-thaw cycles that damaged streets and highways can also hurt your driveway, sidewalks and cement patios, causing pitting on the surface or turning small cracks into chasms. To ensure that small cracks and pits now don’t turn into huge cracks and pits next winter, you should patch the cracks and resurface the pitted areas during the warm spring and summer months.

Landscape damage
The same salt and de-icing materials that damaged your sidewalk or driveway can also be detrimental – or fatal – to your lawn and landscaping. If areas of your lawn show signs of damage, the first step is to flush away as much of the salt as possible. True Value’s lawn experts recommend that you not only thoroughly water areas adjacent to concrete, but that you also add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the end of your hose sprayer attachment to help remove residue and buildup from the grass.

Before you re-seed or re-sod areas of lawn that look damaged, try treating them with calcium sulfate (gypsum) first. Gypsum pellets, available at lawn and garden centers, should be spread on affected areas to help reduce the salt level in the soil. Follow the package directions, then wait a couple of weeks to see if your lawn bounces back. You could save yourself a lot of work and expense. Gypsum can also be used to treat the dirt around shrubs or trees that are near pavement if they have been affected by winter road salts.

A silver lining: invasive insect deaths
At least one outcome of this winter’s extreme cold temperatures benefits some homeowners. Invasive insects that damage trees and lawns will experience population reductions from the extreme cold. Entomologists estimate that more than half of the stink bug population in some states may have perished this winter. We can also expect a reduction in population of the emerald ash borer, the hemlock wooly adelgid, the mimosa webworm, the Japanese beetle, the Asian long-horned beetle and the gypsy moth.

However, entomologists and the USDA have cautioned that media reports of invasive insect annihilation were overly optimistic. In many states, the extreme cold was not sustained for enough consecutive days to completely stop invasive species. And even in some regions where low temperatures lingered, snow accumulations on the ground served as insulation and protection for insects that were below the snow cover. In other areas, the same severe cold that killed the invasive species also wiped out huge numbers of the insects that are their predators, which could make it easier for the surviving invaders to bounce back. 

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