As a Seattle Home Inspector, I frequently appear as Don Quixote. I usually do my best to stay off my high horse—but this is a recurring theme that has been common throughout the current mortgage crisis.
What is the windmill I am tilting at today?
Winterization is the process of turning off all the utilities and draining the water pipes in the home (theoretically). Add a little anti-freeze to the toilets, sink and tub traps and you are good to go (theoretically).
At a recent inspection we were given permission to turn the water back on. There was an obvious leak under the kitchen sink and we had to immediately turn the water back off which prevented further evaluation of functional aspects of the plumbing—including drainage. This is an obvious inconvenience to all parties involved and one must ask, who is supposed to pay for the second visit?
To winterize a home in any climate can be problematic.
In colder climates, leaving the house unheated can do tremendous amounts of damage.
Heated air holds much more moisture than cold air, couple this with people coming and going in the house or moving the air around through the heating system or with exhaust fans, there is less opportunity for moisture to find cold surfaces to condense on. (There are many situations where this can still happen—but when you don’t heat the house you can guarantee it.)
Now let’s take the home and turn off all the utilities, close up all the doors and windows and say, “see you later.” Moisture is always moving into homes from the ground; and the air inside the home will stabilize with whatever the humidity is outdoors. This moisture tends to condense out of the air onto the first cold surface it finds (because there is no warm air to hold it). These cold surfaces tend to be the windows and drywall of the home making these surfaces prone to mold and other fungal growth—–kind of like an empty refrigerator. We all know how nasty an empty refrigerator can get.
So let’s come back to why winterization happens. In a word: $Money.$
As shorted sighted as this may be it is about money.
Winterization is actually a euphemism for, “F*%# you house!” So, unless the house is going to be bulldozed, it makes far more economic sense to pay what it takes to keep the “investment” valuable. The amount of money saved by turning off the utilities will almost always make the home less valuable in the long run—-not to mention less marketable. There is nothing like showing your buyer the inside of a refrigerator—-everyone just can’t wait to get the heck out of there—-and go have coffee at the one with the open house that is all warm and toasty.
It is easy to understand when a homeowner has been pushed out onto the street due to loss of their job that they would not be able to maintain the utilities. When banks do it they become a part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution. Some would argue that they have always been part of the problem.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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