All buildings, no matter the age, benefit from and require regular care. In fact, often the best preservation work is achieved through consistent maintenance. In that spirit, VHF has created this page to help you keep up with your building’s needs and the challenges that can arise from caring for an aging structure. Below you will find maintenance tips and tricks, advice for common problems and several resources about home / building repair.
Maintaining History Video
For Maintenance Week in November 2017, VHF visited several significant heritage buildings and spoke with their owners and stewards who are actively maintaining them. Watch our short video to learn how maintenance benefits a listed heritage home, the Walter and Mary Chan house in Strathcona and the iconic Marine Building. VHF would like to thank all participants for their assistance in making this video possible.
8 days of Maintenance
Prep your house for winter weather and join us in celebrating maintenance for older buildings. Below are 8 tips to help kickstart your winter maintenance from our expert, John Quinton.
All maintenance tips and information have been developed and reviewed with contractor John Quinton. With over 30 years of industry experience, John is well-versed in historic construction and heritage conservation practices.
We would like to extend our thanks to John and to the VHF Board and staff members who have helped us illustrate important tasks for our 8 days of maintenance, allowing us to photograph them in action! We’d also like to thank Martin Knowles for all of our Maintenance Week photography.
With Vancouver’s mild climate the biggest cause of a home feeling cold is drafts. Making sure your house has adequate weather stripping around doors and windows can go a long way to keeping your house warm and comfortable. Weather stripping should fit snugly and form a seal through compression – nothing should rattle. While you’re at it, inspect wooden sills and gently prod the frames to search for signs of water infiltration or deterioration – soft wood, peeling paint or failing putty. These can be more fully repaired in the spring.
While Vancouver rarely has temperatures drop far enough to freeze pipes it does happen and this is good practice to avoid a nasty surprise and an expensive fix when it thaws. It is also a great time to learn where your main water shut-offs are and ensure they are labelled correctly. If something starts leaking, you will want to know which one to turn in a hurry. Your exterior water source shut-off is usually next to your main shut-off valve, and before the pressure valve that regulates water pressure for the interior house system.
Maintaining the space and water heating appliances in your home is a really important annual task. A well-maintained system can save you money, last longer and do a better job. Replacing the filter in your furnace is a quick inexpensive task that can make a big difference to its performance. Furnaces, boilers and tankless hot water systems all benefit from a professional annual service to keep them running at peak efficiency. This goes for new systems as well!
Access your attic and check for damp and drafts. Ensure soffit ventilation is not obstructed and is properly sealed to prevent critters from entering. Inspect the underside of your roof during daylight hours and with a flashlight handy – look for holes, cracks and any signs of water getting in. Problems can often be patched temporarily until they can be properly repaired in the spring. While you’re in the attic, check the insulation level; if you can see the top of the joists you need more.
From street level and using binoculars, inspect your roof for holes, cracks, slipped shingles or missing flashing. Be sure to check the chimney and any valleys in your roofline for signs of water damage such as obvious wet spots, bubbling stucco on the chimney, missing bricks or mortar, and loose or damaged flashing. You will want to address any issues immediately. If moss is gathering on your roof, do not power wash! It can shorten the roof’s life. If your roof is covered with debris you can have it cleaned using a hose from the peak downward to the gutters to remove this debris and leaves. If you have your gutters professionally cleaned the same company can usually do the roof cleaning as well. To deter moss growth, have a professional roofer replace or install a zinc strip to the roof peak.
Make the most of a rainy day to look for any overflowing gutters and ensure downspouts are draining away from the house and are free of debris and leaves. If you have noticed drainage issues on the property, it may be time to get your perimeter drainage system professionally inspected. Drains can become clogged with leaves, broken or crushed pipes, tree roots or mud. The cost of having your drainage serviced is far less than repairing a flooded basement! To help prevent clogging, trim vegetation away from drains, and clear gutters and downspouts of leaves regularly.
Although Vancouver does not experience extreme freezing and thawing, it is still a good idea to repair cracks and lost mortar in paving and masonry – so bigger problems don’t set in and moisture is kept out! Masonry will eventually need repointing. Pavement can shift and crack, causing pooling water near the home. The ground around you house should always slope away from house walls. Cracks in foundation walls should be assessed and dealt with in consultation with a structural engineer.
Use proper safety equipment to remove leaves and debris from gutters. Ensure gutters are sloping correctly and have not pulled away from the facia. There should be enough downspouts to handle heavy rainfall. Endcaps should be properly caulked and sealed to prevent water damage to siding. If you notice peeling paint or bubbling stucco, chances are water is not draining away properly and should be further investigated.
Heritage Do’s & Don’ts
Maintaining a heritage or character home can offer unique challenges and in some cases requires a little research to ensure you are doing the best thing to care for the structure. To guide you, here is an excerpt from the Province of Manitoba’s Heritage Building Maintenance Manual on recommended treatments for heritage buildings. It outlines do’s and don’ts when it comes to common decisions about your building’s care such as cleaning exterior wood, window replacement or repairing masonry. To download the entire manual, see our maintenance resources section below. The manual has everything from advice on hiring a contractor to troubleshooting a leaky roof.
Tips and Tricks
Please note that every home is different and some suggestions may not be suitable for every scenario or home. Heritage or character homes or buildings can offer unique challenges and in some cases require additional research or consultation to ensure you are doing the best thing to care for the structure. If in doubt, VHF recommends contacting a heritage consultant or contractor experienced with heritage homes.
A note on safety: Please be sure to follow all safety precautions, use proper equipment and be prepared to contact a professional. Larger projects may also require permits.
Choose a high quality exterior paint, and keep it in good condition. This is essential for wood trim and siding as paint stops the wood from absorbing moisture and eventually degrading.
Look for signs of water damage or wet spots after periods of rain – better to stop that leak now early in the season. The attic and basement will often show the first signs of water getting in.
Look for breaks in sealants anywhere water collects, including bathrooms and kitchens, around windows and doors and on the inside of your foundation walls. Replace or repair the sealants as soon as you notice an issue.
Clean the gutters after leaves have fallen to prevent water back-up. You will also want to make sure the downspout drains at least 6 feet away from the foundation or into a well-maintained perimeter drainage system.
Ensure the land grade around your home sends water away from the foundation. Newer homes in particular are susceptible to settling in the surrounding yards as they were more recently filled after construction. To ensure water doesn’t pool against the walls, raise the grade by at least 1/4″ per foot as it nears the home.
Clean out the basement. As uninspiring as that sounds, cleaning out the basement not only rids you of clutter and potential fire hazards, it also offers the chance to inspect your foundation for potential repairs before the wet weather really kicks in. Same goes for your attic! Check for holes or gaps. Look for black stains on insulation or obvious light or rain getting in. While you’re in the attic, check the insulation level; if you can see the top of the joists you need more. For more on insulation click here.
Money Sense has compiled very comprehensive charts with instructions, expected costs and time needed in two handy PDF’s, one for fall and one for winter. The full article also contains good information.