Before the Snow Flies: Home improvement projects to consider ahead of cold weather season

Tompkins Weekly Staff

Photo by Metro
Cleaning out your gutters is something that will help keep your home in good shape heading into the winter.

As summer-like temperatures linger into fall, it may be difficult to fathom colder temperatures lurking in the near future. And, the change of seasons into shorter – and colder – days is a time when people think about what work needs to be done around their homes to make them more snug before the snow flies.

Tom Rapalee of Between the Lakes Construction said his company does everything from concrete to fine trim, additions, decks, windows, doors and dock replacement.
“This time of year is probably the best time of year (for dock replacement), because the water is starting to go down in the lake,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into a dock – you take out the old one and have to drive new piles. You have to have a barge come in to drive the piles into the bedrock of the lake.
“And do your best not to fall in the water,” Rapalee added.

What about work that is most popular for people to have during fall and winter?
“Probably bathrooms would be the most,” Rapalee said of projects he sees customers wanting most this time of year. “I think it’s just because of the cold months. People are getting ready to be inside.”

Andrew Nobles of Noble One Contracting seconded the bathroom work as something keeping contractors busy right now, adding that kitchen remodels also are popular – especially for those who take flight to warmer climates during the colder months here.
“A lot of people who head south in the winter plan to have their kitchen or bathroom done while they are gone,” he said, “so when they return (in the spring), they’re not living in a construction zone all summer.
“We have some current customers, who we’ve just built a second story for, have us redoing their kitchen and bathroom while they are gone this winter,” Nobles added. “They’ll come back and it will be all done.”

Tom Pirko of Bishop’s Carpet One said his store’s customers are replacement minded this time of year.
“We have quite a few replacing area rugs or replacing floors before family comes for the holidays,” he said. “That’s more of what we see right now.”

As for trends, Pirko said luxury vinyl tile has drawn a lot of customers.
“A lot of people are going to new luxury vinyl tile,” he said. “It has some amazing looks that make it look like either real wood or real tile. It’s waterproof and easier to install.
“It works well here with floors that are not very flat or have shifted because of weather changes,” Pirko added. “It can go over a lot of different surfaces.”

Owing to the environmental awareness of consumers in Tompkins County, he noted that marmoleum – a natural and environmentally friendly floor covering that functions like linoleum – is a big seller at Bishop’s.
“We have between 200-300 color choices and wears like iron,” Pirko said. “It lasts a very long time; usually people get tired of the color before the floor ever wears out.”

Chad Hubbard of Hubbard Heating and Air said people should make sure to have their heating unit serviced before winter comes.
“Check for proper operation, make sure that the safeties are all working correctly and that the heat exchanger is intact,” he said. “What we generally do is we also change the batteries in the thermostat, and make sure the carbon monoxide detectors are operational and the batteries have been changed.
“And, air filters should be checked and changed,” Hubbard added.

For those looking to improve their efficiency, Hubbard recommends installing heat pumps.
“Truly the best bang for the buck right now are heat pumps,” he said. “With a heat pump, you’re using electricity to transfer latent heat that is already outside, inside, rather than produce the heat.
“It is a third to a half less expensive to operate than the typical fossil fuel unit or heating system,” Hubbard added. “We have sold so many this year – it’s kind of been the hot commodity. And, truly, the newer units are good to negative-18, negative-20 degrees. They are pretty amazing.”

Nobles advised doing work to shore up area susceptible to heat loss.
“Definitely making sure your windows make the current values,” he said. “A lot of people have drafty, air leaky windows; they start calling us right about now to replace their windows.”
Nobles said people should check their doors for heat loss as well, and “make sure your attic is air-sealed properly.”

Windows can be one of the biggest heat loss areas, he said, “especially in older homes.”
“Now, windows are double-paned, with a vacuum-sealed interior that prevents fogging on the outside and inside of the glass,” said Nobles. “You know if your windows are fogging up, you’re losing a lot of energy in those areas.”

Rapalee cautioned that people should not put off a project they are already planning on having done.

“Do it now before it’s too late, before something is so far gone you have to go more in-depth and it blows your budget out of the water,” he said. “Roofs are probably the biggest thing right now – have your roof done now so it doesn’t leak during the winter.”
“Make sure your gutters are cleaned out and your roof is leak free,” added Nobles. “Obviously, a huge deal in winter is ice dams, which can just destroy roofs. If you have a shoddy roof, it is best to get a new one before winter rolls around, because it will leak through.”

This time of year is typically when Hubbard’s business is flooded with calls from people about their heating systems.
“People call this time of year and say: ‘My furnace had a problem in the spring and I just turned it off, and now I don’t have any heat,’” he said. “Now is the time when we’re starting to get backed up several weeks.
“My advice to people is to be more proactive during the summer and earlier in the year,” Hubbard added. “People who are calling right now, if there are major problems, it’s getting pushed off into the heating season.”

Pirko also advised people not to wait to get their floor work done.
“Don’t wait until right before the holidays to come in,” he said. “A lot of people wait until their family is coming to come in; we usually have people coming in the first or second week of December and then they get upset when we can’t do the work before Christmas.”