Ken's latest blog post:
Dear Readers: Ice dams and icicles are making a big comeback lately due to the spate of uncommon and harsh weather. Usually these troubles are confined to the roof edges and gutters along the more northerly exposures of a home, because that’s where the most snow buildup occurs. But this year the snow has hung around long enough that I’m getting reports from folks who say they also have ice troubles on the sunnier sides of the house. The cause of these buildups is always the same: constant melt/freeze/thaw cycles caused by an overly warm attic or the effects of the midday sun.
A cold attic is a good thing. Warm attics tend to exacerbate ice dam buildup from underneath. That’s why good ventilation and extra thick insulation are vital; they slow down heat transfer from inside the house.
Ice dams can cause real damage if they get out of hand. The ice can actually creep up underneath the shingles and eventually let water leak into the house. If you’ve gotten a new roof lately, there is probably less jeopardy at your house. Roofers are required to install Ice and Water Shield—a sticky, extra thick tarpaper—along the edge of the roof for two or three feet up from the gutters. But this stuff works only up to a point. If the ice dam gets “tall” enough, there could still be some damage.
Icicles, too, are bad news. They weigh down the gutters, and can wrap and twist them, or actually pull them off the house. Plus they are extremely dangerous. Anyone walking underneath when an icicle decides to let go can be badly injured. So when you break them off, use a tool with a long extension handle!
The bottom line for both ice dams an icicles is less snow. Use a snow rake to pull off as much as you can after each storm. Heat cable—sometimes known as heat tape—can be a lifesaver. There are versions specifically designed for roof edges; they come with clips to hold the cable in place. Lay the wire in a zigzag pattern along the bottom edge of the roof and along the length of the gutters. Heat cable is a little pricey—about a dollar a foot—but its benefits are incalculable. And it can be left in place year round.
Here’s another idea. One of my listeners reports he has had good luck with ice melt tablets. These are specifically designed to be placed along the roof edge--and even in the gutters--to accelerate melting. They are calcium chloride based (never use rock salt for this!) and come in a 60 tablet bucket for about $25. He says if you have a good arm you can even toss them up there, like a softball.
Dear Ken: What about gutter covers that keep the leaves out. Are these more apt to freeze up? George
Maybe. There are several versions of gutter covers available. They all work on the same principle (the only difference is how they are installed). The shield hangs over the top of the gutter and deflects leaves and twigs on to the ground—while the water curls over the edge and into the gutter because of its surface tension. I have reports that these are more vulnerable to freeze-ups than regular gutters. That’s because the small gap between their edge and the gutter rim closes up relatively quickly when it gets cold. But the benefits—especially to owners with a high, two story house in a heavily treed area—are huge. So if you plan to install gutter covers, put in heat tape at the same time—especially on the north side.
Dear Ken: I’m installing new hardwood floors. Do you like the water based or regular varnish finish? I’m getting conflicting advice. Sam
I like the old fashioned, petroleum based polyurethane based version. It has a longer track record and is more economical. Admittedly, water based material has less odor and dries faster, but it can cost twice as much as the regular stuff. Besides, I think the oil based product has a softer and warmer “glow” after it cures.
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