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.

By Michael Haigley
August 25, 2005
Brian Vanden Brink

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

Think ahead. And I mean at the earliest stages of design andconstruction. If you build in the northern latitudes, don'tcomplicate winterizing by designing for the two warmest months ofthe year. Do you really need all those windows? Is a French dooropening to the water the best all-season plan? Vernaculararchitecture evolves for a reason. Pay attention to the way beachhouses 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 stormwindows and doors. Though architects hate the utilitarian look ontheir masterpieces, I argue for it, at least on the side of thehouse that takes the brunt. The extra measure of protection is thebest winter insurance you can buy.

Block the holes. After 30 years of New England winters andmore 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 insulationinto outside vents for clothes dryers, bath fans, even stove hoodexhausts. I seal surfaces around electrical fixtures. I block ventson the weather sides of houses. I also make sure windows and doorsare securely fastened. In high winds, loose storm doors can becomebattering rams.

Drain the pipes. I know. You want to leave open the optionof visiting the beach house on winter weekends. Think long and hardabout that. In climates where you can expect prolonged freezingspells, you might be better off re-winterizing the house after arare winter holiday than risking frozen pipes when you are notthere. The only sure way to prevent damage from broken pipes inharsh winter regions is to drain them before temperatures fall. Andwhen it comes to protecting the floors, furnishings, and walls inyour dream home, you'll value a sure thing.

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

Though caretakers can't guarantee they'll get to your houseduring treacherous weather in time to prevent damage, you can findpeople to provide limited-liability, peace-of-mind checkups. Askother homeowners for trusted names.

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