Batten Down the Hatches

Brian Vanden Brink
Coastal homes can't head south when cold winds blow. A winterizing strategy will give your house its best chance to weather the season's extremes.

Here's how to protect your investment no matter what blows in.

Think ahead. And I mean at the earliest stages of design and construction. If you build in the northern latitudes, don't complicate winterizing by designing for the two warmest months of the year. Do you really need all those windows? Is a French door opening to the water the best all-season plan? Vernacular architecture evolves for a reason. Pay attention to the way beach houses have been built in your region for generations.

Invest in the best. If you've read my column over the years, you've heard this: Don't skimp on quality. That includes storm windows and doors. Though architects hate the utilitarian look on their masterpieces, I argue for it, at least on the side of the house that takes the brunt. The extra measure of protection is the best winter insurance you can buy.

Block the holes. After 30 years of New England winters and more than my share of cleaning up the mess made by busted pipes, I've turned the battle against air infiltration into a science. When I close a house for the winter, I stuff fiberglass insulation into outside vents for clothes dryers, bath fans, even stove hood exhausts. I seal surfaces around electrical fixtures. I block vents on the weather sides of houses. I also make sure windows and doors are securely fastened. In high winds, loose storm doors can become battering rams.

Drain the pipes. I know. You want to leave open the option of visiting the beach house on winter weekends. Think long and hard about that. In climates where you can expect prolonged freezing spells, you might be better off re-winterizing the house after a rare winter holiday than risking frozen pipes when you are not there. The only sure way to prevent damage from broken pipes in harsh winter regions is to drain them before temperatures fall. And when it comes to protecting the floors, furnishings, and walls in your dream home, you'll value a sure thing.

I've been a seasonal caretaker. I've also installed remote warning systems that sense uninvited moisture and changes in temperature. Both approaches work in most circumstances.

Though caretakers can't guarantee they'll get to your house during treacherous weather in time to prevent damage, you can find people to provide limited-liability, peace-of-mind checkups. Ask other homeowners for trusted names.

Electronic sensor systems work, but can be costly and require back-up power. Buy one that automatically turns off the water when it senses leaks. If you're skittish of technology, drain the pipes and turn off the water before winter arrives.

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