Sunday, January 5, 2014

Winning the War on Old Man Winter

Where I live, we've been having the most beautiful winter weather since the New Year began. Temperatures have been hitting their highs in the mid-60's, and lows in low 40's. That's practically t-shirt weather in Mike Holmes' part of the world, no doubt. Up north, there are different battles to contend with, mainly snow and ice. In the article below, Mike gives some great advice to win the war on Old Man Winter. Just because I live in a region where snow is a pretty rare treat, doesn't mean I'm clueless about de-icers such as salt. I've seen the detrimental effects that can occur from regular use of salt on concrete steps by visiting my Great Grandpa's farm every year up in North Dakota. Years of using salt on his front steps literally ate the concrete down to the rebar. So what does Mike recommend instead? Try a shoveling and some sand and gravel. I'm not an expert, but I would assume that the sand and gravel would allow walkers gain some traction and avoid nasty slips and falls on icy walkways. Along with shoveling snow from the walkways, Mike reminds people to protect their foundations by keeping the snow away from foundation walls as best they can with regular shoveling. Mike also recommends keeping eavestroughs (or "gutters" where I come from) clear of debris to prevent ice dams, which can ruin your shingles. It may be a cliche but it's true. An ounce of winter maintenance prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure in the form of spring repairs.

Winter can wreck your house - and your budget

Winter can really do a number on your house: Melting snow piled up against your foundation can lead to a leak in the basement; salt can eat away at your mortar; ice damming on the roof can cause water damage to the structure below; or a non-insulated pipe running through a cold zone could burst.

Luckily, there are a few things we can do to minimize the damage from Old Man Winter.

When it comes to de-icers the most common is salt, but it damages your lawn and garden and eats away at rock, concrete and mortar. It’s just one of those things that causes deterioration. Instead, after shovelling I apply a good layer of sand and gravel.

And remember to shovel the snow away from your foundation walls, too. Concrete is porous and moisture from melting snow can be absorbed by foundation walls and penetrate into the basement. A little more shovelling can go a long a way.

Also, make sure that any pipes that run through cold zones — such as crawl spaces, a garage or along a wall that isn’t insulated, like in the basement — are properly wrapped with foam.

Sometimes builders forget to insulate the lines properly in short runs — when the line temporarily goes under the insulation or where there’s a transition from the cold zone to the rest of the house. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Ideally, you want your plumbing lines installed on the warm side of the insulation to prevent them from freezing and bursting. If they aren’t on the warm side the pipes have to be rerun. It’s a project worth planning for 2014.

Then there are ice dams.

If the bottom of your roof along the eavestroughs is full of ice, and the snow starts to melt, the water isn’t going to flow down the eavestroughs and downspouts. It’s going to go right back up under the shingles. And once water creeps under the shingles it can drain inside exterior walls, causing damage to framing, sheathing, siding and drywall.

There are a couple of reasons for ice dams: No. 1, your eavestroughs (gutters) could be clogged with leaves and debris. Add freezing temperatures and you’ve got the potential for a frozen channel of muck. And No. 2, heat loss.

The best way to prevent an ice dam caused by clogged gutters is to get them cleaned in the spring and fall. But if you’re dealing with an ice dam now, call a professional roofer. They can take a look at your gutters and make sure there aren’t any breaks or disconnections that could be making a bad situation worse.

Some roofers or ice-dam removal companies recommend using steam to melt the ice, but I wouldn’t introduce steam to a freezing environment. Instead, there are de-icers that are non-corrosive to roofing materials that can be sprinkled along the frozen channel to melt the ice. One product is a calcium chloride flake — it looks like snow. Once everything has melted, all the debris from the eavestroughs can be removed.

The other and more popular cause of ice dams is heat loss. Patches of melted snow on the roof are a definite sign, and if that’s the case, cleaning the gutters is not a permanent fix. The ice damming will come back. The only real solution is adding more insulation and ventilation in the attic and making sure it’s properly sealed off from the rest of the home.

If you’re dealing with a roof leak in the winter, call a professional roofer. They can tell if there’s a problem with the roof structure, the flashing or the shingles in an area and offer solutions. You might just need a relatively small repair.

Another winter threat to your roof is hail. Hailstones can make serious dents on an asphalt roof that can potentially compromise the roof’s integrity, to the point that you should call your insurance policy agent.

Typically, a homeowner files a claim; an adjuster visits the site to appraise the damage and decides, based on industry standards and the extent of the damage, whether or not the insurance will cover the cost of a replacement.

How do you prevent hail damage to your roof? Hail-resistant shingles resist damage, but they also cost more money. Metal roofs are also more resistant but again, they are also very expensive, and I wouldn’t recommend replacing your roof during winter. It can be done, but you risk exposing your home to the elements and the conditions make the work more difficult. If you can, hold off until the spring. But start calling contractors now! Because the good ones will be booked come peak season.

Catch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays on HGTV. For more information, visit

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