Cool Tips for Your Winter Maintenance Routine
14 Dec 2016

Cool Tips for Your Winter Maintenance Routine

Corey McCloskey, Customer Response Team Representative

You know you live in Alberta when you can talk to your friends, family, and co-workers about how much warmer it feels outside, and it’s about the same temperature as the inside of your freezer. This frosty week, we follow up our blog on humidity control and condensation prevention with all of the other homeowner maintenance items which should be done this time of year.

If you have finished your Christmas shopping, already considering rotating your winter tires, and you’ve narrowed down the all-inclusive package for your Reading Week trip to a couple of options, you probably don’t need a reminder about winter maintenance for your home. If you’re like me, and you only remembered your garden hoses are still hooked up when you started writing blogs about winter maintenance in the last couple of weeks, read on!

Your Cedarglen home is built to deal with just about everything Alberta’s climate can throw at it, but winter can be a particularly harsh brand of punishment. We’ve been spoiled with pretty mild winters the last couple of years, but Jack Frost has a mean streak, so here’s what you should be thinking about, and how you can fight back.

Furnace Filter

Let’s start with the basics. It’s stupid cold, and your furnace is your best friend right now. Naturally, today is the day the fan in that glorious heat generating box decides to take job action, leaving you and your family huddled around your gas fireplace in a parka (pro tip: a gas fireplace ignition circuit will run off a 9-volt or ‘D’ cell batteries as backup, depending on your fireplace model, in the event of a power outage to your home).

Murphy’s Law? Undoubtedly, but it wouldn’t hurt to change your furnace filter once in a while, either. It’s not a coincidence that when your furnace starts putting in some overtime, these failures tend to occur more frequently. You should be replacing the filter on your furnace every three months, max, so if it’s been two and a half months and it gets cold like this, change the filter. Your furnace will thank you.

Furnace and Duct Clean

On a related topic, cleaning your ducts is another important part of maintaining your HVAC system. Generally, this is something you’ll want to think about every three to five years, depending on factors in your home, such as pets or those sensitive to allergens, and it will help keep the accumulated particulate in the ducts to a minimum.

Exterior Mechanical Venting

Your furnace and hot water heater are efficient tools of mechanical awesomeness, and you can count on these appliances to save energy and, by extension, money. There is a downside, however: blower motors are required to vent the by-products of combustion to the exterior on a sealed combustion gas appliance. One of the by-products of combustion is water vapour, and when that warm, moisture laden air runs into the icy wall of Arctic air hanging out in your sideyard, this happens:

PVC exhaust (right) and fresh air intake (left) pipes for a high efficiency gas furnace pass through steel house siding. Two issues are visible in this image. The icicle suggest the exhaust is possibly clogged with snow or ice which could cause the furnace to malfunction. The sealant between the pipe and siding is weathered and deteriorated which may allow air to leak into the house or water behind the siding.

Icicles are fun when you’re a kid or a Frozen princess, but they’re not good for your mechanical vents. When these appliances can’t vent safely, they shut off, and won’t start up again until a tech comes out and resets them. Throw on your boots and knock those off every couple of days when it’s bone-chillingly cold. And you’ll want to kick over the growing ice stalagmite under the vent, while you’re at it.

Hose Bibs

Yes, this is what I hadn’t done until last week, when it was far too late. Shame, Corey, shame. It’s especially shameful because there isn’t a whole lot to it and it beats having to replace your hoses or, worse, hose bibs, when they freeze up.

I could bore you to death with my words, or I could let Cedarglen’s own YouTube sensation, Kyle, do the talking for me!


Aside from avoiding having your pants sued off by the Canada Post guy when he bails on your front step, shoveling is also a good way to mitigate flatwork damage, resulting from freeze/thaw cycles. Contrary to how you are probably starting to feel about the length of this cold snap, we will see a chinook sooner, rather than later, and that 1” skiff of snow you couldn’t be bothered to clear off can cause you trouble.

When the mercury jumps up to 10 degrees in the span of a couple hours, that stuff is going to melt. At some point after that, it’ll freeze. When water freezes, it expands approximately 9% from its liquid volume, and you run the risk of having a hairline crack full of water turning into a wider crack. Wider cracks permit more water, which freeze and expand accordingly, and so goes the freeze/thaw cycle. That’s also why it’s nigh impossible to get rid of an asphalt pothole in the winter!

Shoveling right away after a snowfall also eliminates the risk of ice build-up, which often ends up requiring ice melt, which artificially induces the freeze/thaw cycle, and we’ve learned that’s not a good thing for concrete. The alternative is breaking off the ice, which is not good for the surface of your flatwork, as it can chip the finish, which allows water to pool, which can be made worse by the freeze/thaw cycle…you get the idea.

Eavestroughs and Downspouts

Unless you’re a slightly misinformed actor, who moonlights as a climate change activist, and whose name starts with Leo and ends in Di Caprio, you know an Alberta chinook is a wonderfully spring-like reprieve from the unrelenting cold of our harsh winters, and totally normal in these parts. They do, however, give us something else to think about, as rapid freezing and thawing of snow and ice can and will overload your exterior drainage system, especially if parts of it are frozen solid.

I’m going to assume you diligently cleaned the dirt, asphalt washout, and leaves out of your eavestroughs before it got too cold, so let’s start with your downspouts, and go up from there! As is always the case, your downspout should be left in the downward position, but this can be troublesome, in the event we have a large dump of snow. Since I already convinced you shovel your driveway and sidewalk, consider clearing the snow from the mouth of your downspouts, as it won’t take long before you end up with a downspout-shaped ice cube.

Anywhere the effectiveness of gravity is reduced, such as the elbow connecting your vertical downspout to the diagonal sections, can be a problem area, as well. A light tap from the blade of your shovel will shake loose most minor ice build-up.

The most problematic area, however, is the transition from your eavestrough to your downspout piping, especially if the temperature swing is drastic. Ice damming is generally a good indication of heat loss through your attic, as the constant melting of snow build-up tends to freeze, but a chinook here will create the same circumstances. This melted snow drains away to the eavestrough, as it should, but it will freeze up here, creating a dam, which can cause subsequent melt to find its way under shingles and behind flashings, and is never a good thing. Surface water management isn’t just a springtime task, so keep an eye out!

You’re well on your way to surviving a Calgary winter in your Cedarglen home! There are plenty of resources available to our wise and intrepid homeowners, and you can always start with a call to your friendly neighbourhood Cedarglen Response Team representative (403.255.2000). We’ll be happy to assist with whatever questions you may have!

Have a great weekend,

Cedarglen Homes