In this installment, the Handy Maniac offers three must-do tips to avoid winter home-repair disasters.
KA-BOOM! One night last winter I awoke at 3 a.m. to the sound of someone throwing things from our roof. I bolted upright in bed, only to discover that the Handy Maniac was gone. I crept out in the hallway, heart racing, and discovered that the hatch to our roof was open. HM was stomping around in his pajamas and boots, hurling bread loaf-sized chunks of frozen snow and ice into our backyard. It’s finally happened, I thought. HM has actually gone bonkers.
I climbed halfway up the ladder. "What the hell are you doing?"
He poked his head over the hatch. He was wielding a dripping gardener’s hand spade. "We’ve got ice damming!"
"You’re going to kill yourself out here. Call someone!"
HM turned away in disgust. "I’M THE ONE YOU CALL."
And so I did what any concerned wife would do. I went back to bed.
How cleaning your gutters can save your roof
The next morning I learned about ice damming. Apparently HM had gotten up to relieve himself and noticed water dripping from the ceiling. Since it was flowing into the tub, he figured he’d deal with it in the morning. We’d just had another snowstorm, and he concluded there must be a leak from the roof. It would mean finding the leak on the roof, tarring it, and cutting a hole in the ceiling to let it dry out - but that was an easy patch. However, when he went down to the kitchen to get a glass of water, he discovered water dripping down through our microwave hood. Water had made its way all the way through another floor. And he knew he had to deal with it now or he’d have major damage to repair.
"So what happened?" I asked.
HM got a funny look on his face. It took me a moment to place it. Oh yes. Sheepish. Not a common HM emotion. (It seems even the Handy Maniac can fall victim to home repair problems that result from lack of prevention. It’s how he’s learned most of his lessons: "THE HARD WAY.")
Our gutters had been clogged with leaves. Snow had fallen. And then it warmed up and the snow started to melt. Then the temperature dropped and the water froze, causing an ice dam in our gutters. And now the new, wet, rainy snow had nowhere to go, so it backed up and created pools of water on our roof. And those pools found small cracks in the roof flashing.
(Ice damming can also occur due to poor attic insulation or ventilation, which makes your roof heat up from the inside and melt snow, which then refreezes…but that’s a lesson for another time.)
This is a cautionary tale. All of this could have been avoided if our gutters had been clear and small roof cracks had been discovered and sealed. SO.... HM recommends cleaning your gutters regularly in the fall before until the snows come. Falling leaves clog gutters. You have to get on the roof, scoop them out and check that the downspouts are clear by running water through them.
While you’re up on your roof, you should also check seams and edges for hairline cracks, especially any tarred areas and flashing (where, say, your chimney extends from the roof).
Turn off outside water
"Pick a date to turn off your outside water, and always stick to it." HM likes Halloween because it’s easy to remember. "Forget about Indian Summer in November!" Don’t be seduced by the appeal of keeping your lawn or plants going for another few weeks. "Let your yard go dormant. Stop watering." Winter can come fast.
Turning off the water sounds simple. Not so. Do you even know where your shut-offs for your outside spigots are? Hint: NOT OUTSIDE. All outside water spigots (even frost-free valves) have an inside shut-off…or should. And there should be a drain at that shut-off valve. So be sure to drain your pipes or you will be left with a frozen pipe. And frozen pipes crack and cause leaks in walls. Also, be sure to bring your hose inside. Don’t leave it outside to crack in freezing weather.
What every house should have for a storm readiness kit
I ask HM what should be in a storm readiness kit other than chocolate, red wine, and the new season of Bojack Horseman. He is not amused. "Think: What would you need to camp out in your house with no power?"
Here’s HM’s checklist:
- Working flashlight and batteries
- A roll of duct tape
- A couple of plastic tarps
- Battery-operated radio
I bet you’re wondering about the duct tape and plastic tarps. I know I was. "Remember, hurricane season is late in the Northeast," says HM. (The subtext being, DUH.) I am still not sure what that has to do with duct tape and tarps. He sighs. "If a window breaks, you will need to cover it with the plastic and tape it shut."
Remember: Bad maintenance means the Handy Maniac has to come to your house. And none of us wants that. Least of all you.
Originally published on Cafe.com, Friday, October 10th 2014.