Winter is back in upper Michigan. There are some specific challenges Realtors and those with homes for sale face here due to the heavy lake effect snow each year. I've complied a few tips based on my experieince as a Home Inspector who sees the good, the bad, and the ugly on a regular basis.
1. GUTTERS! They should remain clear (including downspouts) or be removed, if possible in winter months. newer homes will generally have an ice dam protective membrane under asphault shingles, but older homes often do not. Snow tends to build up along the roof eaves and goes through thawing and freezing cycles, creating ice buildup (ice dam) that has nowhere to go except up if gutters are present and plugged. In other words, the ice gets up under the shingles and as it thaws, causing leaks. Heat tape can also be used to prevent ice dams, but should be installed only to manufacturer's specifications.
2. SECURITY! How does one winterize the plumbing in a home in upper Michigan? One possible way would be to leave a home unoccupied and wait for someone to remove all the copper water lines. This happened three days ago to a property here in town...not on purpose, of course. A much better way would be to ensure the water company has shut off the water, removed the meter and then have a professional turn off and drain the water heater, drain water from the lines, and purge remaining water using an air compressor. All traps should be filled with 50/50 aintifreeze, the toilet tank drained, the boiler winterized along with supply and return lines and all radiators, copper fin ect..., the sump pump checked for operation and for potential of the drain line freezing. Water damage can be a costly repair, and it is often easily avoidable.
3. SNOW LOAD! Decks and balconies are designed to carry a limited weight load. As snow compacts, it becomes much heavier. Eventually, the 3-4 feet of snow covering the deck can add an enourmous abount of weight. Typically, if a deck or balcony fails from snow load, it does so at the ledger board where it attaches to the home. This happens when the ledger board has been nailed to the sill, or lightly screwed rather than bolted using long 3/8 inch lag screws as required. This is an inexpensive fix, but an important one.
Last winter, numerous structures collapsed under the 340 inch snow load here. Some collapsed because the structures were quite old and the framing strength had been compromised. Others collapsed because they had flat roofs (garages and commercial) that were never shoveled off. Every home should be checked up on during the winters months if vacant. Heavy snow tends to accumulate around dormers, valleys and on shed or flat roofs. Absent home owners should make plans to have thier property periodically checked on and roofs shoveled, if needed.
4. ACCESS! One final thought. It's true that showings are generally less frequent here during the winter months, but people do move and relocate regardless of the weather. If your home is for sale and it is vacant, it would be to your advantage to at least keep a path open for quick access. I sometimes have to access a property using snowshoes and then did a tunnel down to get access to the front door. Personally, I think this tends to limit the number of showings your going to get!