Expert advice to help prep your home for what’s ahead

  • Posted on: December 22, 2013
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By: Bryan Baeumler Real Estate, Homes Renovations, Published on Fri Oct 25 2013

It’s been a great fall to just kick back at home. But the fine weather is, well, finite and home reno and repair expert Bryan Baeumler is here with some expert advice about preparing your home for what’s to come. After all, you don’t want to be caught with your furnace down on the first seriously cold morning.

Baeumler, the award-winning TV host, today kicks off a new Star column with advice and tips on maintaining, mending and modernizing your living space.

“I’m going to answer questions about their homes — their greatest asset — and impart some hard-earned wisdom to help them avoid making mistakes,” says Baeumler, 39, the Gemini-award winning star of three series returning to HGTV.

“And I’m going to give people an honest, unedited, commercial-free opinion.”

He’s known for handing out a little tough love and a lot of humour on shows Leave it to Bryan, House of Bryan and Canada’s Handyman Challenge. And you can expect the same in the Star each month from the busy father of four.

In a conversation with Alex Nino Gheciu, Beaumler discusses ways to avert a winter housing headache before you’re caught in the cold.

What’s the first thing homeowners should think about as the temperature begins to drop?

Before we get into the freezing and the snow, now’s a good time to get into “basic maintenance” mode, as well as “prepare to save some money” mode. You can start by waterproofing the outside of your house ahead of the freeze-thaw cycle. Snow sits atop of your roof, but we always get a few snows that melt before everything stays.

Begin by taking a walk around the outside of your house and just having a look at it. Check your eavestroughs to make sure they aren’t clogged with leaves — it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put a gutter guard on them.

Also make sure the grading around your house is right and that the soil in your foundation is sloped away from the house in order to direct any water away. Grab some soil and fill any rough spots where the backfill has sunk, so that any water that comes down has a chance to run away. You don’t want water getting close to your foundation and possibly compromising it. Check that your downspouts are at least four to six feet away from the foundation, to direct any water away.

Take a gander at the roof when you’re outside — check for missing shingles and loose flashing. Also ensure your windowsills are angled away from the house and that the caulking in between them isn’t cracked, allowing water to penetrate the wall. You want a chance to do all this before the big spring thaw.

How can I prevent heat from escaping the house during the frigid months?

If you do a thermal scan of a house in the winter, you can normally see the windows losing a lot of heat and you can see a lot coming out through the attic. Whenever you see a ton of air flying out of your house in the cold months, that’s money and you’re losing it. Now’s a good time to poke your head up into the attic and make sure you’ve got enough insulation above the warm areas of your house. All the heat rises, obviously, and up there is a major area of heat loss. If you need to add some more insulation, then do so.

It’s also a great time to buy a few tubes of latex sealant. Go around to your windows, doors and baseboards and just caulk those gaps that are allowing air to flow in from the outside of the house. There’s a ton of heat loss there. Those thermal cameras also catch a lot of air escaping from the rim joist area, which is where your floor boards sit atop your foundation. There’s typically just a handful of insulation stuffed into that area. You can tape those spots up or seal them. It’s a good way to save some cash.

Should I be thinking about my air quality while cooped up indoors this winter?

In the winter, we tend to keep all our doors and windows closed and that keeps a lot of the moisture in. That moisture — augmented by everything from breathing to cooking to showering — raises the indoor humidity level and increases the chance of mould and stale air.

While you’re in the attic (checking your insulation), make sure insulation is not clogging your home’s vents. You want to make sure you’ve got good airflow, but also not too much of it.

Fall’s a good time to change and clean the filters around the house, from the furnace filter to the filters on things like your stove and even your bathroom vents.

In general, the air in your home can be 10 times dirtier than the air outside. If you’re in a middle-aged home, a good little project would be to get a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) installed. It costs a few thousand dollars, but it’ll suck out the stale air from the basement. It will also bring the fresh air from outside, but in the process it’ll run through a heat exchanger, so the warm air going out will actually warm up the cold air coming in. You’ll get the air exchange, secondary air filtration, and really increase the air quality in the house. It would make a good Christmas gift . . .

My bathroom floor is always freezing during the winter. What can I do about it?

If you’ve got a bathroom, or any indoor space that’s above a garage, it’s bound to get cold. In that case you’d have to work on the ceiling of the garage, take down some of the drywall and make sure everything is insulated. The best way to do that would be with a two-pound polyurethane spray foam; it will fully seal it against air and insulate.

Another great project in the winter is to put in some heated tiles. You’d have to take out the current tiles, and put a mortar bed down on the bathroom floor. Then you’d lay a cable-laced heat mat into the mortar bed and connect the cables into a thermostat that’s on its own circuit. Then you set the tiles over top of the mat so when you turn that on, the floor heats up. The thermostat controls the heat in the floor; a thermocouple that goes into the floor tell the thermostats how warm (or cold) the floor is. And that’s about it. It’s like a heating pad for the floor.

Should I be worried about vermin creeping into my house to escape the cold?

This is the time that mice start coming in. Part of your exterior inspection should be searching for areas where they might enter. Go into the basement and seal up any small openings with foam. Set up a few traps and maybe get a cat (well, maybe just think about it).

If you’re in a late-model home, all the socket vents generally have screens on them to keep the big things out. If you’re in a much older home, you might have problems with things like raccoons. The best thing to do in that situation would be to get a pest control company to come in and work their magic. Essentially they’ll put one-way gates on any holes in your attics, so raccoons can leave but can’t come back in. It’s better to call someone that has experience doing that than hanging off a ladder and trying to deal with some angry animal yourself.

Bryan Baeumler is the host of HGTV’s Leave it to Bryan, House of Bryan and co-stars in Canada’s Handyman Challenge. His column appears once a month in New in Homes & Condos. Send your questions to him at and put “Bryan” in the subject line. Find his website at or follow him on Facebook or Twitter @Bryan_Baeumler.