Five Ways To Prep For Winter That Protect Your Homes Value

If you’re a seasoned homeowner or just making the down payment on your first home, you’ll still have one thing in common:
protecting your investment.

Lake place, cabin, or farmhouse, increasing the value of our real estate is always the goal. If you’re too busy counting how many lakes are in Minnesota or just enjoying your Summer activities, the ways to get distracted are innumerable. Still, we have to find the time to put in those particularly pertinent housekeeping and homeowning tasks to prevent a loss in value. Now Summer is gone and the Fall is coming swiftly to an end.

If the winter season has you concerned, then this guide will provide ample methods to protect your home for the winter season, which the Midwest is known for.

  1. How Does the Grade Around Your Home Affect Winter Conditions?

Landscaping is one aspect of the home that is rarely thought of when it comes to protecting the home itself. The characteristic slope around the property does determine which way water flows. If water is flowing into the foundation, you might experience a loss in real estate value, and rather quickly.

With extreme winter weather a commonplace occurrence in North Dakota and Minnesota, especially in Lake areas, landscaping grade should be addressed.

Many lake area homes have basements or at least crawl spaces, and being close to a lake can leave homeowners wondering what to do. It is possible to have no water in your basement even if you have a negative grade around your home, but the issue should be addressed to protect the value of your home. Check this out:

Negative Grade

To put this into perspective, a negative grade is when a home’s yard and landscaping slopes toward a structure instead of away from it.

Pooled water will drain alongside your foundation, collect below your home and could result in a heaved floor in the foundation, as well as increasing seepage and humidity in your home.

Positive Grade

Positive grade is the opposite then. An effective positive grade should slope 1” per foot around the perimeter of your home, to 5’ away from your foundation.

Downspout extensions should be out at all times, depositing runoff 6’ from your home.

Patios, driveways, and walkways are designed with this in mind and should slope away from your home as well.

How to Fix Negative Grade

First, you can add black dirt to increase the slope. It is important to use pulverized black dirt for this, not rock, sand or clay. However, it is good practice to keep black dirt far away from the lake if you have a lake place.

The reason we use black dirt is that it keeps a better balance of moisture and won’t show the drastic effects of wet/dry expansion/contraction as much as the clay-based soil will.

The soil in the Red River Valley area is made up from roughly 90% clay. When clay is exposed to water it expands. This will cause the waterlogged soil to push against your foundation and cause breaks long term.

If you’ve purchased a home that features breaks in the foundation it is important to have these cracks assessed and repaired before further issues arise.

Conversely, the Midwest winter gets cold enough to “settle” or shift a foundation. This is especially common in lake homes as the area features lots of groundwater movement, between steady flow in the summer to drought-like conditions of winter freezing.

So, take a good look at your foundation and check for cracks when out in the winter months.

2. Lake Living and Your Sump Pump

A sump pump is a staple of most lake homes that have seen floods in the past. If your lake association hasn’t set up a pump to get water levels back to ordinary watermark, then this investment will protect your home for years to come.

Additionally, winter in the North Dakota/Minnesota area means that power outages due to excessive cold can be common. Your sump pump should be set up for just such an emergency.

Always have a second pump or backup generator setup.

If your pump should fail, you want to get another line of defense in place as quickly as possible.

Maintence on the sump hole is recommended too. Be sure to clean debris out of your sump so that it doesn’t become an issue in the future.

3. Seasonal Humidity Shifts

The transition to Winters on a lake or in a forested area have homeowners wondering about humidity, alike.

A typical Midwestern home emits gallons of water a day into the air through its basement and foundation. Sometimes in excess of ten gallons of moisture.

Although having moisture in your home is important for better health and air quality, still having too much can lead to mold, rot and the deterioration of the value of your property.

As homeowners, it’s essential to keep moisture at desired levels. In the winter, too much moisture can easily be identified by condensation on any cold surface around your home.

As with all Winter living, areas to watch are windows, doors and exterior corners in a room.

How to Control Excessive Moisture

Try adjusting your humidity according to the outdoor temperature. This is why we see condensation on windows, doors and exterior corners, these are areas that fluctuate the greatest when the temperature drops.

Here’s one central tenant to keep in mind:

The colder the surface, the lower dewpoint.

Dewpoint is responsible for how moisture forms. Even installing new, more effective, blinds can’t stop cold air from condensing between the glass and blinds without icing over. Therefore it is important that you open your window coverings daily.

Opening your blinds just a quarter of the way up allows air to flow and water to evaporate.

Another effective way to control humidity is to install an air to air heat exchanger into your home. This unit plays an important role to improve indoor air quality.

The state of Minnesota made including these important pieces of equipment a requirement in their 2015 building code. If you’ve purchased a newer home in the state of Minnesota, then you’re probably fine, however, older homes might require this added feature to protect your investment and win-over potential buyers in the future.  

4. Mold Myth-Busting

This leads us to the next point, mold.

Tiny mold spores are in the air all around us, and with that, a mold colony in one location can easily spread to other areas. This makes for a challenge as the homeowner enters winter. Why?

Mold spores often travel through your heating system.

From Fargo and Moorhead, all the way to Western Minnesota, cabins and lake places alike face the issues of mold. However, if you’ve tackled the excessive moisture with humidity control than you’ve basically won the war.

Third-party testing will also confirm that mold spore counts in your home have returned to acceptable levels, giving you final peace of mind that your mold problems are behind you. Just make sure to keep paperwork from these ordeals just in case you list your lake home for sale at some point in the future.

5. Preventing A Frozen Pipe

If you snowbird south for the winter and leave your home, or if the lake property you have is simply a getaway from your regular home, it’s important to make sure that it is ready for winter.

Nothing can drastically affect your home's value for the negative quite like a burst pipe.

Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed. Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, or garages are suspect. A 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can leak up to 250 gallons of water a day if you’re away. Flooding, serious structural damage, and the immediate potential for mold are just a few of the problems homeowners could face.

To prevent this from occurring try out these workarounds:

  • Always heat parts of a building with piping.

  • Keep exterior doors closed and secure, even if not in the immediate vicinity of piping.

  • Maintain heat in buildings at all times. Don’t leave temperatures below 40°F.

If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF. Pipes under cupboards are particularly at risk, so consider leaving doors open if you’re leaving the cabin for a long period.

Hopefully, these five tips find you well. As winter approaches, these are the top five things you’ll want to take care of. Protect the value of your home, and watch our blog for more tips on having a prosperous property in lake country and beyond.

Dirk Ockhardt