Despite the cool temperatures that persisted through late May, the winter of 2016 and 2017 was the mildest on record. While this fact can be good news for Minnesotans who depend on natural gas or electricity to heat their homes (or who just hate shoveling feet of snow to make it out of their driveways), it can also create some unexpected maintenance and repair issues for homes in the north central U.S.
Read on to learn more about a few of the problems that can result from an extraordinarily mild winter and what you can do to protect your home from damage.
Flooding Can Cause Foundation and Drainage Problems
The "Land of a Thousand Lakes" was given this name for a reason, and a mild winter combined with several heavy rainfalls have left many parts of Minnesota soggy and submerged heading into the summer.
Foundation and Septic Damage
Even homes that appear to be well out of the flooding danger zone can suffer foundation or septic system damage due to sustained high levels of groundwater. When flood waters enter the drainage field of your septic tank, wastewater has nowhere to go—risking backed-up drains and bursting pipes if you haven't had your septic tank recently pumped.
If your basement regularly floods during a rain despite your use of a sump pump or other drainage system, you may have already suffered damage to your foundation that's allowing water to enter your home.
One way to prevent further damage and ensure proper drainage around your home is to install French drains. These drains have a sophisticated-sounding name but operate quite simply, consisting only of some trenches, drainage pipes, and gravel or another filter material. Digging these trenches around your home and providing rainwater (and rising groundwater) a clear path away from your foundation can go a long way toward minimizing the moisture in your basement.
Moisture Barrier Breaches
Those who have decks or other structures attached to their homes will also want to take care to ensure that there is sufficient moisture protection between these structures and your home's support beams. In some cases, homeowners have been surprised to discover bare wood (or rotting plywood) between their old decks and their houses in lieu of any sort of moisture barrier.
Even if you can't access this space without tearing off your deck, you may be able to ensure moisture isn't making its way inside by carefully examining the walls inside your basement or crawlspace for signs of water damage.
Drywall that seems soft or crumbly, stains in the wooden support beams or concrete blocks that hold up the outside of your home, or any musty or mildewed odors can all point to water damage between your outer walls and deck or patio.
Insects Can Eat You Out of House and Home
Not only has the mild winter affected the health of various fruit crops, but it has led to a boom in the population of pesky insects like carpenter bees and termites. While many of the parasites that tend to thrive after mild winters feed only on humans (and animals) and don't have much of an impact on inanimate objects, termites and carpenter bees can cause some major destruction to your home over a fairly short period of time.
Termites generally require targeted treatment. DIY kits can be tempting, especially if you're not eager to shell out for a full-blown termite remediation, but taking a halfhearted approach to eradicating these wood-chewing pests will all but guarantee you'll continue dealing with this issue for years to come. A professional exterminator can apply a specialized termite killer to the perimeter of your foundation while "bombing" your house with insecticides if termites have already made it inside.
When it comes to carpenter bees, diversion and deflection may be your best strategy. These bees, which often resemble bumblebees, thrive on soft, untreated wood, with a special taste for the wood of dead or dying apple, cherry, or peach trees.
While commercial poisons and insecticides can sometimes successfully exterminate carpenter bees, some homeowners have opted for a gentler approach by luring these pollinators away from appetizing decks and support beams in favor of blocks of soft wood placed at the edges of their property.
Sealing your deck and other exterior wooden structures with a protective coat of polyurethane or other polymer-based stain can also make this wood unappetizing to carpenter bees. While you're sealing your deck, you'll want to thoroughly plug any holes that may have already been chewed by your resident carpenter bees; leaving these holes untouched can give your bees a direct pathway to interior (untreated) wood.
Although you may still be relishing your low winter utility bills, the mild winter you and other Minnesotans have just experienced isn't without its own consequences. Keeping these tips in mind and giving your home's exterior a good once-over now that temperatures have risen can ensure a stress-free summer.