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Extreme winter weather has been hard on your house, too

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

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If your house made it through the bitter cold with no frozen pipes, congratulations. (I wrote something similar atop a column a decade ago. It’s more accurate now. In 2004, I’d never even heard of a #*#!! polar vortex.)

Our place made it, but as it turned out, we had some near misses. And we discovered a plumbing issue that we didn’t know about – one that could have turned into a disaster if our luck had been a little different.

Winter is over – let’s hope – but homes got hammered by the ice, snow and bitter cold. Here’s a reminder that we all need to check around our houses for damage before we forget the hateful cold weather and kick back on the deck.

During some recent plumbing work, we discovered that a water cutoff valve at the water heater was installed improperly and wasn’t operating correctly. As in, it wouldn’t cut off the water.

I haven’t had occasion to use that valve, thank goodness. I’ve turned the water off in other ways. I’m really glad I didn’t discover that valve problem with water gushing into my face.

Standard cold-weather advice is that you ought to make sure you know where the master water cutoff is located. You’ll need to race to it quickly if a pipe does freeze and burst. Also, you need to test it and make sure it’s actually working.

The well guys came and replaced a cracked cap on the well. We needed to get that done before ant season. Ants do love to sneak into wells.

The well guys said they were working us in between emergency calls – to repair pipes that had frozen and popped. They said wells were freezing that had made it through previous winters.

I told them I could understand that.

See, I had taken my own advice about prepping the well for the first few arctic blasts. I had tucked a light under the well cover, and made sure the cover was seated firmly to keep out drafts.

Then, when we had a streak of tolerable winter weather, I removed the light. We headed for Florida to enjoy a few “warm” days. Then the weather turned nasty again.

Florida farmers faced freeze warnings the day we got there and the day we left – and we had to call a good friend back home to check on the well. He wrapped everything in insulation and sealed it up tightly. A pipe at the well had frozen when he checked, but hadn’t split.

I didn’t tell the well guys that the pipe froze because of my boneheadedness. I blamed it on the polar vortex.

Anyway, here are some spots to check for winter damage:

• Experts say that the backflow preventer is the most vulnerable part of an irrigation system. Pipes buried a few inches under the ground should be fine most winters. But, as the well guys said, this wasn’t most winters. You might want to round up some repair parts and cement and check your own irrigation system.

• You might have a slow leak under the house and not know it. We have learned the hard way that (a) tiny leaks can go unnoticed, and (b) insurance companies don’t like to pay for repairs caused by slow, untended leaks.

• If you closed all the crawlspace vents during the frigid weather, be sure to open them. Home inspectors say ventilation is need all year long to prevent moisture under houses.

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