Winter Weather Care for Your Custom Built Home: Protection Tips Inside and Out

Ideally, a luxury custom built home is a sanctuary and welcome retreat, year ’round, in any weather. Yet extreme (and extremely unpleasant) winter weather conditions make it more imperative to create the ultimate cozy sanctuary, or escape from the outdoor reality. Most luxury custom home owners in Southeastern Wisconsin have invested a great deal of time (and money) imagining, creating and recreating such a perfect retreat for their family, to embrace and coexist with the worst mother nature has to offer. Since a new custom built home is clearly a welcome refuge from severe outdoor elements, it is important to protect this investment from the very same elements by providing winter weather care for your custom built home.

January is typically the midway point of the exhaustive freeze-thaw cycle that typifies a Wisconsin winter. Thermometer fluctuations can be dizzying, yet the consequences of repeated cycles of freezing and thawing for several months can be disastrous to our homes and property. Areas in the home most impacted by freeze-thaw cycles include:

  • Plumbing/ pipes
  • Foundation
  • Masonry (walkways, walls)
  • Roofs & Eaves

A precious natural resource, water is much celebrated in Wisconsin for its recreational offerings, and walking any shoreline in mid-winter provides a glimpse into the destructive nature and incredible strength of its ice form. Essentially, any crack, crevice or hole provides an opportunity for water molecules collect. Whether it is cement, wood or stone material, moisture retained expands when it freezes by nearly 10% in volume, effectively enlarging the space it occupies. Essentially, tiny cracks and fissures that are regularly exposed to moisture and repeatedly endure the freeze/thaw cycle will quickly grow exponentially.

The easiest way to protect the integrity of your home’s foundation, masonry and stone work is to regularly inspect for any cracks and take appropriate measures to seal or fill them sooner rather than later. When it comes to the home’s roof, the caulking along the flashing should be regularly checked for cracks. It is also important to keep gutters clear from debris to discourage any water collection. The roof surface should also be checked for any “blisters”, or pockets of water between layers, which should be immediately cut out and removed.

While the presence of water and the act of freezing has tremendous destructive potential, the lack of water in the air, or low humidity levels during these same months is particularly damaging to wood. During the winter months, dry air exacerbated by indoor heating causes humidity levels to drop as low as 13%, and it pulls moisture from where it can find it, namely all things wood in the home. This often results in damaging cracks and splits in the wood and causes gaps between floorboards and between doors or cabinets and frames. Softer woods are more vulnerable than hard woods to losing moisture rapidly, due to their pore size and surface hardness. Additionally, furniture and cabinetry that is sealed or lacquered are also more resistant than unfinished surfaces.

Maintaining consistent humidity levels in the home is the easiest way to ensure optimal health for the woodwork in the home, from ceilings to floors and all surfaces in between. Nearly all custom built homes have a central humidifier incorporated in their HVAC system to ensure constant levels year ’round, optimally around 35%. Additionally, many custom home builders or carpenters would recommend specific wood conditioners with which to treat floors, furniture and cabinetry once or twice a year. As with other critical areas of home maintenance, it is best to proactively protect your wood’s natural beauty before irreversible damage occurs.