Some people don't button up the house until caulking fails, wind whistles in, and the first eye-popping utility bill of the winter lands in the mailbox. But you can cut fuel costs, stop air leaks, and prevent damage from water, ice and snow by sealing the house before winter hits.
Here are some preventive maintenance tips for siding, windows and doors to help prepare for the big chill:
Caulking. This quick fix will bridge many minor gaps in wood and masonry. To make a repair last, first dig out old caulk, let the crack dry, and brush out debris. Then apply a liberal bead of flexible, exterior-grade caulk, such as silicone. Once silicone sets up you can easily trim off any excess to create a neat finish.
Fixing split clapboards and shakes. Fix a small split by prying open the crack slightly and coating the mating edges with waterproof glue. Don't risk another split by nailing a sliver. Instead, wedge it in place with a board like a 2-by-4 angled down to the ground until the glue sets.
Filling damaged wood. If siding is gouged or rotted (that's common near downspouts), scrape out the damage and try to fill the area instead of replacing the entire board.
The most durable material is epoxy filler. You need to mix ingredients to activate the glue, which is soupy and sticky. But epoxy cures stronger than most wood and can fill holes and insect damage even in load-bearing lumber, such as girders and foundation sills.
Replacing clapboards and shakes. First pry up the overlapping piece and slip in small wedges to hold it. That makes it easier to remove the damaged board below, and to cut nails that will be in the way of a replacement. (You can reach past the wedges with a hacksaw blade to cut them.) Slide the new board in place and fasten it by driving nails at an angle just under the edge of the overlapping board.
Repairing masonry siding. To seal eroded mortar joints in brick or stone, first scrape out loose material. Then excavate damaged joints at least as deep as they are wide. Set the patch mortar on a board, hold it next to the joint, and push the mix in with a trowel. (That saves cleanup time scraping excess mortar off the face of the wall.) Before the mortar hardens, smooth and shape the joint to match surrounding seams.
You can also add powdered masonry colorant to the mix to help the repair blend in. On stucco, seal small cracks with an acrylic or siliconized-acrylic sealant. On large and deep cracks, use the same stucco mix used on the wall.
Clean out the crack, dampen the patch area, and build up the repair in layers about quarter-inch thick. To help a stucco repair blend in, let the mix firm up, then swirl or dab the surface with a damp sponge to match the surrounding texture.
Sealing windows. Manufacturers build in some insulating protection (like double-glazing), and weatherstrip moving parts. But the wear and tear of weather (and opening and closing) can break the seals. That creates problems with condensation: cold outside air meeting warm interior air that produces dripping, paint-peeling, wood-rotting moisture. To stop most air leaks around window and door frames use caulking. Scrape or dig out old, brittle, cracked material and apply an exterior-grade caulk to keep water and wind from entering seams. To seal storm units, gain solid contact and trap insulating dead air between storms and windows by attaching flexible rope weatherstripping or self-sticking foam strips to the storm frame. Foam helps to help seal an old, uneven unit.
Adding interior storms. The most cost-effective, though temporary, way to stop condensation is with interior storms made of heat-shrink plastic. It's sold in kits with double-faced tape to cover windows and glass doors. Apply the tape to the inside frame, attach the plastic film to the tape, and heat it with a hair dryer to remove the wrinkles. Trapping an inch or so of dead air generally stops condensation and drafts.
Sealing doors. The most effective seal is made with interlocked weatherstripping. It comes built in on many pre-hung exterior doors, and can be added to older doors.
Most systems use opposing V-strips that interlock when the door closes. Contractors who install high-quality systems may have to cut down the door slightly, and also slice grooves in the frame to hold the strips securely.