Baby, it’s cold outside! That means it’s time for some hot chocolate, another log on the fire, and a blog post about winter and home inspections.
For many home-shoppers and sellers who are enduring one of the coldest and snowiest seasons in recent memory, here’s one of the most common questions we hear at A-Pro when temperatures drop: “Do you perform home inspections in the winter?” It’s a fair question. After all, not all service businesses are equipped to handle the brutal cold and mounds of powdery precipitation.
The good news is that snow and cold can’t stop a home inspector from doing the job—unless, of course, roads are blocked and they can’t get to the house. Otherwise, you can expect a comprehensive winter home inspection with a few caveats to keep in mind.
In fear of damaging the condenser and pump, inspectors will not operate A/C equipment in low temperatures (generally if it’s been 65° F and below for the last 24 hours), though a visual inspection of the outdoor condenser unit can be performed to check for damage, levelness, proximity to vegetation, etc. An icy and snow-covered roof may be too dangerous to climb upon. Even if a small section can be cleared to assess the condition of the roof covering, providing an assessment of the entire roof won’t be possible if it’s blanketed in snow. This limitation will be noted in the home inspection report. If necessary, a follow-up inspection may be necessary. Ideally, the home inspection can be scheduled in anticipation of warmer weather that will melt roof snow so a more detailed evaluation can be executed. Further, it’s difficult to provide a complete report on the condition of driveways, walkways, and patios if they are covered in snow.
On the positive side, a winter inspection allows the inspector to spot conditions that otherwise wouldn’t be present in warmer weather, such as ice dams on the roof—an indicator that the attic may be poorly ventilated and/or lack insulation. The winter also presents a good opportunity to run the furnace in harsh conditions, detect drafty windows and doors, and point out condensation on windows.
If a home is scheduled for a winter inspection, having snow shoveled off of driveways, steps, and around the foundation of the home is highly recommended, as well as having windows de-iced so they can be more easily opened and inspected.
Bottom line: Don’t hesitate to call for a home inspection in the winter. It’s a smart investment and an essential step regardless of the season.
Frozen Water Pipes and Pipe Insulation
You can fill a virtual library of home improvement books with horror stories of burst water pipes causing thousands of dollars in interior damage. In the winter, pipes in unheated areas (basements, crawlspaces, under cabinets, attics, garages, and in exterior walls) are most susceptible to freezing, potentially leading to minor and major cracks that can result in messy and costly surprises, especially when a leak goes undetected in an unoccupied residence. The best way to ward off this common disaster is to ensure that these pipes don’t freeze in the first place. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors® (InterNACHI), the use of pipe insulation can help prevent freezing and cracking, in addition to saving energy by minimizing heat loss and gain through piping. Such insulation
can also reduce sweating that can spur mold growth and lead to corrosion of pipes and their fittings. Additionally, the insulation (e.g., self-sealing, spray foam, hinged fiberglass covers), can protect you and your family from accidentally touching an extremely hot or cold pipe. When pipes are visible, your inspector will point out the absence of insulation in vulnerable areas.
Heat tape (electrical cable that wraps around pipes) is another option to ensure that a pipe doesn’t reach the freezing point. Self-regulating types of heat tape adjust heat output based on ambient temperatures. Experts recommend using only Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters to plug in heat tape and to strictly follow all manufacturer installation guidelines.
No blog post about winter home inspections would be complete without touching on the freeze-thaw cycle—a phenomenon which can affect a number of systems and components in a home. This takes place when water penetrates openings or gets absorbed into structures, freezes, melts, and freezes again. The expanding ice (water expands about 10% in volume when frozen) exerts an outward force that can damage roofing materials at the eaves; cause brick to chip, crack, and break; damage asphalt and concrete driveways and walkways; and lead to cracks in foundation walls and floors. During an inspection, preventative measures, such as sealing driveway cracks and taking steps to prevent water pooling around the foundation, will be noted by your home inspector.