We were asked recently about the advantages of buying a house in winter rather than in summer. Here are six reasons that you will want to consider.
Winter allows you to check the effectiveness of the heating system during heavy use. Are there significant temperature differences between rooms or levels? In extremely cold weather, can the furnace maintain a comfortable temperature in the house? Is the furnace quiet? Excessive noise might alert you to a problem with the furnace or, at the least, give you an indication of the sounds you will live with.
Snow on the roof can indicate how well the attic is insulated and ventilated. Do you see signs of ice-damming or excessive icicles on the exterior? Are there ice crystals or icicles in the attic? Do you see excessive condensation inside the home? Do you see evidence of leaks at the fireplace, skylights or windows?
Insufficient attic insulation or ventilation can cause snow melt on the roof, which then can lead to ice-damming and other ice hazards on a home's exterior. As the snow melts, water moves to the colder edges of the roof and freezes. Glaciation creates ice dams near the eaves or below skylights, which can back water up under the shingles and cause leaks inside the house. Adequate ice shields -- protective materials installed under the shingles -- can help prevent interior damage, but the root cause of the problem still might need to be resolved.
Look for clues to indicate roofing problems, some of which can be detected only during the winter. Possible problems or causes could be:
• Airflow through the attic is blocked, causing warmer attic air to melt snow on the roof.
• Vents are covered with snow or are dumping warm air along the roofline, melting snow in its path.
• Improper insulation that has been moved by the wind or has not been renewed since the original installation.
• Disconnected bathroom exhaust vents that result in warm, moist air being pumped into the attic.
Winter lets you experience the house from a guest's perspective, not from the safety of the garage with remote-control access. For instance, can you safely walk down the driveway to take out the trash or get the mail? If there is a steep driveway, is there a flat spot for guests to park? Are exterior stairs hard to climb if not properly cleared of snow and ice? Homeowners typically enter through the garage and might not experience exterior problems such as an icy stairway. Observe what you will need to do to keep the entrance safe for guests.
Are roads to the house easily navigated, plowed wide enough, maintained and sanded adequately? Is the exit to the street or subdivision so obscured by snow berms that you feel you are launching yourself into fate's arms? Reaching the house in summer can be easy, but winter might present a very different driving situation.
Do windows and doors operate smoothly and easily? Make sure safe exits exist. Shifting of the house during the winter might cause doors or windows to bind. Sometimes windows and doors will even freeze shut. Also, is the weather stripping adequate to prevent cold drafts from coming into the house?
The room most frequently exposed to the elements is the garage. As you look at a prospective home, check to see how the garage drainage is handled. Will water from snow melting off vehicles pond on the floor or drain properly? Do you see evidence of large puddles? Some moisture can be handled through evaporation, but if the problem is significant, you might find yourself wielding a wet/dry shop vacuum to keep the garage dry.
These are just a few of the reasons that purchasing a house during the winter has its advantages. Considering that we have longer winters than summers, a winter purchase lets you gauge how livable the house will be in the coldest part of the year. The winter provides plenty of clues for those willing to brave the elements to be better informed about what they are buying.
Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every fourth Sunday. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
BARBARA AND CLAIR RAMSEY