With the end of the year rapidly approaching, how to prepare your oak building for winter is probably on your mind. Although Britain may not experience the harshest winters in the world, our weather conditions can still put oak buildings at risk. The seemingly relentless rain, snow, frost and driving cold winds can all take their toll. In recent years, Britain has experienced colder temperatures and heavier snowfall than usual. With this winter looking likely to follow suit, proper preparation could save serious money for the homeowner. Whether this is from reduced heating costs or avoiding costly repair jobs in the spring, now is the time to act.
Luckily, most of these methods are preventative and easy for the owner to carry out without professional help. All apply equally to newly built oak framed buildings, extensions and garden rooms or established structures standing for many years. By following the steps outlined below, you can be sure your property is ready for the worst that winter can throw at it.
1. Treating Exterior Oak
Oak is perfectly suited to exterior use as its natural resistance to water penetration means the British climate will do it little if any harm. Some owners prefer to keep the original colour rather than allowing the natural silvering that comes with age. This can be achieved by applying clear wood preservative followed by UV protection oil. Whether doing this for the first time on a new build or topping up existing treatment, surface water and bad weather make it very difficult during winter. Most oak preservatives will need to be refreshed every 12 months and this is the perfect time to do it. Treating exterior oak for blackening from water reacting to tannins in the timber should also be done now. Wet winter conditions will only make watermarks worse and will make treatment almost impossible.
2. Protecting Outdoor Furniture
In gazebos or summerhouses with fitted benches, simply covering them with waterproof sheets can prevent build ups of snow or rainwater. Freestanding benches and other furniture secured to the ground can be similarly protected. Any unsecured wooden furniture can be stored in garages or sheds until springtime if space is available. It is unlikely they will be used during winter and this will only increase their lifespan.
3. Clearing Guttering
During the summer plants can grow in guttering, obscured from view and in the autumn, leaves can accumulate, blocking the flow of water. Left unchecked this can cause overflows during heavy rainfall or when snow thaws, leading to blackening and encouraging mould. Clearing any debris from guttering before winter allows water to flow freely away from oak roofing and cladding. Standing water in prolonged contact with oak can cause dry rot if the moisture content of the timber rises above 20%. This can spread to other structural elements of the building, causing massive damage.
4. Clearing Debris from Floors
Although oak is highly water resistant, if surface water pools around the timber at ground level for long periods it can lead to dry rot. This can weaken timber supports which will need to be replaced to avoid dangerous and costly collapses. Leaves and dirt that have built up at the base of oak structures can retain water, making this more likely. Clearing them away now allows the oak to remain as dry as possible during winter. Freestanding oak structures are often secured to concrete footings with steel fixtures to leave a gap to avoid this. However, wet debris collected around these can also lead to rusting that will weaken the overall structure.
5. Checking for Damage
Over the course of the year, oak cladding or roofing on outdoor buildings can suffer minor damage that goes unnoticed. In the winter, this can allow cold winds to penetrate houses and work rooms, increasing heating costs. Water can also flow through any cracks or holes, causing damp that can damage the structure and contents. If this freezes, it will expand, widening the gap and further damaging the timber. All exterior timber should be visually inspected for damage and repaired if necessary to avoid these issues.
6. Checking Window Seals
As the oak around window fittings shrinks over time it can create gaps and compromise the seals. While this should be factored into the design of new buildings to prevent gaps, it may be an issue in older structures. Again, this can drive up heating costs and allow water to penetrate the building. Any gaps can be easily remedied by applying clear silicone sealant to prevent rain or snow entering.
Oak has a lower thermal mass than many construction materials, so oak buildings lose less heat in winter and warm up quickly. However, additional insulation will be necessary. For contemporary oak framed houses there are a wealth of options for wall insulation, from structural insulation panels (SIPs) to synthetic foam boards and natural fibre wools. Obviously, in older oak buildings tearing open walls to fit modern insulation is impractical, time consuming and expensive. Loft insulation is one possible solution to this. As heat rises, a huge amount can be lost through an uninsulated roof. Solving this can be one of the best energy saving improvements you can make. Mineral wool rolls are readily available, relatively cheap and easy for even a layman to install. Insulating the interior surface of the roof and between the rafters of the loft will dramatically reduce heat loss.
Just following these simple steps will go a long way to keeping your oak framed building cosy in winter. Combined with the natural hardiness of oak they should ensure years of trouble-free winters protected from the elements.
Hardwoods Group are specialists in the construction of quality oak framed buildings and supply wholesale oak timber of all kinds. Whatever your needs, contact us with your requirements, we will be happy to help.
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