It's not time yet to think about winter, you say?


If it were simply a matter of taking a few precautions to ensure your house would be warm and dry inside, getting it ready for cold weather would be a snap.

But this year, it's not that simple. A summer of torrential downpours has made it necessary for some of us to undo lots of damage before we can even begin to guard against the worst that winter is capable of bringing.

The kind of damage these storms have wrought parallels what winter can do to property. The difference is that you have better weather (well, in theory) and longer days to deal with it now.

Keep in mind that it isn't over till it's over. The weather patterns that have been creating such havoc may stay with us for months. And we haven't even factored in hurricane season.

Even if the chimney looks fine on the outside, what's inside is of more concern.

Inside problems, in no particular order, might be large amounts of creosote and liners that are missing or cracked, failing brick and mortar, venting problems or moisture seepage.

When winter does come, freeze-thaw-freeze cycles can cause "spalling," or cracks, in unsealed bricks or mortar. If the mortar isn't sealed, water gets into the joints. Then, when it freezes, the water expands and forces the mortar out of the joints, and the chimney eventually can be undermined.

Unless your heating and cooling system is a high-efficiency modern one that vents out the side of the house, losing the use of a chimney during the winter can be a chilling experience.

This is a good time to look at the roof system, too, including the gutters and downspouts. Has it done what it should to keep your interior dry and water away from your house?

If the gutters and downspouts are blocked, water from heavy rains will accumulate at the lowest point and pour over the side, usually in spots the roof system was designed to keep dry, such as a window or doorway.

You may be able to wipe up the moisture you can see on the floor below the window, but what about in the wall around it?

Without proper ventilation, these hidden areas don't dry out. If the drainage problem continues, either from your neglect or permanent damage to the gutters, mold could result.

And so far, mold damage has been excluded from standard homeowners' policies in 43 states. If you have to clean up, you are on your own.

To check for moisture behind the walls, you may need to hire a professional who will use a meter to determine water content.

Drywall wicks water. The worst, however, is behind the drywall. Remove the baseboard, then cut holes in the area behind the baseboard so air is forced into the wall to dry it out.

Clean the gutters and downspouts and keep them clean, even if you have to hire a professional to do it. Call a roofer and have the condition of the shingles and valleys checked and the gutters and downspouts readjusted so they work properly.

If you know what you are doing and have enough time, you can do it yourself.

One other roof-related matter you should take care of is ice-dam prevention.

Ice dams are formed when snow and ice melt beneath the accumulated snow cover and the water backs up under the shingles, then freezes upon reaching the eaves. The freezing water forms a dam of ice in the cornice.

The problem typically is at its worst in the first two feet of the roof back from the edge. Roofers have been installing a waterproof barrier known as an underlayment under the shingles in that spot to prevent melting water from leaking into the walls and ceilings below.

To address the problem, you are going to have to hire an insulation contractor to look at the ventilation and insulation in the attic.

One way to reduce ice damming is to lower the temperature in your house, which means less heat can escape and melt the ice on the roof. If you have a flat roof, however, raise the temperature in the house to let more heat escape and reduce the buildup of ice and snow.

In the attic, ventilation and insulation should act together to stop the heat from leaking while not impeding the melting of snow and ice and draining of the meltwater on the roof. This stops the accumulation of moisture that leads to rotting.

You can tell whether you need to replace or repair by the condition of the sheathing, the material nailed to the roof joists and covered by the shingles. If it's rotting and the roof outside is sound, better ventilation is required.

Wet insulation doesn't insulate. The attic should have vents or baffles for constant air flow. There also should be a cushion of air at least one inch thick between the insulation and the roof shingles, to reduce the level of moisture.

When water has nowhere else to flow, it finds its low point, and that is usually the basement.

The tremendous pressure that an unusual volume of water exerts on a foundation can cause it to shift, resulting in cracks -- usually below the surface. This can alter the drainage system enough so that water travels back toward the foundation rather than away from it.

Foundation and drainage problems need professional attention and must be taken care of before the ground freezes.

The professional also will have to determine whether repairing the foundation and the drainage will solve the problem, or whether you will have to spend money inside the basement to manage water getting in.

It may mean something as simple as a dehumidifier large enough to handle mold-producing moisture.

On the other hand, it could require an expensive system of perimeter and french drains with a sump pump to remove large amounts of water percolating up through the floor or through the foundation walls.

One more thing: If your basement flooded during this summer's downpours, you will need to have your furnace checked for damage.

Do it now. This is the busy season for heating contractors, and any delay on your part may find you cooling your heels -- and the rest of your body -- while the contractor waits for repair parts.