Last call for roofs
Take steps now to lessen
chances of damage to your home this winter
By Richard Mullins Democrat
and Chronicle (September 21, 2002)
As the saying goes, there's no better time
to work on the roof than when the sun is shining.
So, as fall arrives, experts in home maintenance
suggest a few steps for getting houses ready for the coming
months of snow, sleet and ice.
Caulk does a wonderful job of sealing doors
and windows against the weather. And driveway sealing is
best done before winter to prevent ice from splitting the
But, besides an ice-covered tree falling
on the roof, one of the worst things that can happen to
a house is an ice dam.
Like their evil twins icicles, ice dams
start with a light coat of ice in the gutters, but form
over time into heaping waves of heavy ice hanging off a
roof. They can drag the gutters clean off a house.
Edward Bell said ice dams form on his house
in Brighton every year.
''On one side of the house, the gutter hangs
over the driveway, and we basically had a skating rink there
all the time,'' Bell says. More attic insulation and better
venting fixed the problem in some areas. But dams still
formed in other areas, pulling the stucco off the house
in one spot.
The problem starts when heat radiates from
the house into the roof and melts the snow, even in frigid
weather. The freshly melted water trickles down the roof
to the gutters, which are very cold, and freezes in place.
Over time, layers of ice form and, with nowhere to drain,
grow up the roof.
In nightmare cases, the gutters simply buckle
under the weight and are ripped off. Or, the ice grows under
the shingles and melts, rotting rafters and the wooden house
People do all kinds of things to try to
stop the onslaught, said Fritz Gunther, president of
Gunther Home Inspection. ''Some people end up getting
on the roof with shovels to sweep the snow away, but I really
don't recommend that,'' he said.
The best fix is not on the roof, but inside
the attic. Experts suggest these approaches:
- Vent, baby, vent: While it may seem counter-intuitive,
a warm attic in the winter can only cause problems. So,
experts say, the best solution is to properly insulate
the attic and install vents that allow cold air to circulate
in the rafters, keeping the shingles cold.
This also has the benefit of keeping the roof cool in
the summer. If an attic heats up to more than 100 degrees,
it ''cooks'' the shingles and can cut their life span
dramatically, Gunther said.
- Getting hot, hot, hot: Install wire heaters
along the gutters and downspouts. These can keep the gutters
just warm enough to allow water to drain away. Some contractors
consider this treating the symptom rather than the cause.
But for houses with difficult-to-insulate roofs, or unusual
roof lines, wire heaters can help prevent ice from forming.
As a note of caution, Gunther says, ''This is really
a project for an electrician. Do not simply plug these
into an extension cord hanging out the window, since you
can overload a circuit or cause a fire.''
- Shining armor: A common approach in the
Northeast is to install metal snow ''slides'' along the
roof line. This gives the roof a two-part look, with shingles
at the top and a metal armor at the bottom.
The slick metal surface gives the ice and snow more of
a chance to slide off. Since this involves replacing shingles
with metal, it's best done during other major roof work.
In the case of Bell's house, he has hired
contractors to blow more insulation into parts of the attic.
As a stop-gap, he hired Mike Mincher of
Sun World Construction to install heating wires, a job that
required upgrades to the house's electricity.
''So, we're hoping the wire heaters in other
places will do the trick,'' Bell said.