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Warding Off Old Man Winter

Jack Frost doesn't only make your furnace work overtime during the chilly winter months, resulting in higher heating bills. The icy cold elements also can compromise other areas of your home, particularly your roof and exterior. Preparing your structure properly for winter and knowing what to do right before and after a snow or ice storm can save you thousands of dollars, say the experts.

"Ice, snow and water can leak into a home, which can cause significant damage," says Stan Gatland, manager of Building Science Technology, CertainTeed Corp., Valley Forge, Pa. "And the formation of ice dams can lead to water or structural damage to roof decks, wall sheathing, attics, ceilings and walls."

Gatland says that suitable home winterization can protect homeowners from unnecessary costly repairs, such as replacing a damaged roof or mitigating the risk of mold where water might have seeped into walls or ceilings.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms result in approximately $1 billion in insured losses each year, which includes damage caused by melting snow.

"It's especially important to keep an eye out for accumulations of ice and snow, which can lead to structural damage and, in the event it melts or freezes pipes, water damage," says Craig Smith, CEO of ServiceMagic.com, Golden, Colo., a service for connecting homeowners with service professionals.

For example, Smith says, "heavy snowstorms can dump a tremendous amount of snow on your roof. That's real weight that in some extreme cases could eventually cause a roof to cave. Homeowners living in parts of the country that get a lot of snow should have a snow rake in their garage somewhere - a tool they can use to pull the snow down off their roofs."

Although it depends on the slope of the roof and the design of the home, most roofs will hold up to four feet of snow, Gatland says.

Ice dams form on the roof when heat from the inside the home escapes into the attic and warms the roof decking. This heat, combined with heat from the sun, can melt snow on the roof, which runs down toward the eaves as water. When it reaches the cold eaves and gutters, it refreezes.

"This continual thaw and refreeze process creates ice dams, resulting in water backing up under the roof shingles or behind fascia boards," Gatland says. "There, it can soak through the roof decking or wall sheathing, causing damage to attics, ceilings and walls."

Typically, the section of the roof closest to the gutter line is the area most at risk to ice dams, says Lou Manfredini, host of WGN Radio's "Mr. Fix It" show in Chicago.

"The three areas that contribute to the formation of ice damming are poor insulation in an attic, improper ventilation in the attic, and outside temperatures," Manfredini says.

A typical ice dam can cost a homeowner $3,000 to $10,000 in remediation and repairs, adds Rick Krug of TG's Carpet and Restoration Services, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Gatland says there are three primary ways to defend against ice dam destruction: add extra and adequate insulation, implement a ventilation system, and install a waterproofing shingle underlayment (a rubber membrane product that is often called ice and water shield). All three steps work together to combat ice buildup.

Increasing the insulation R-value in your attic "keeps heat from escaping from your home's living space into your attic," says Gatland. "Ventilation can usually be added to your attic easily; it removes the heat and helps keep the roof deck evenly cool to prevent snow from melting on the roof. And waterproofing shingle underlayment is laid across the roof before shingles are applied or after you remove your existing shingles."

Manfredini says there are other products available to curb the buildup of ice on a roof, including plug-in cables that can melt the snow and ice. "But there has always been a debate about their safety," he says. "The trick is to have them on some type of temperature control that activates when the temperatures drop, although energy is wasted when there is no snow. If you wait to flip a switch once the ice is there, all you do is create pretty triangle lines on your roof and can actually help the water enter your home."

Other areas of a home that can be threatened by wintry weather include gutters and downspouts, landscaping, chimneys, and vents or other junctions. And ice and snow that get into cracks in a wall or roof can refreeze and literally break open the entire wall, Krug says.

"The highest risk area is the north-facing exterior walls and north-sloping roof," says Krug. "In North America, the winter sun does not have a chance to melt off the snow and ice at a rapid enough rate to prevent buildup. So when a homeowner sees buildup of snow and ice, they must take measures to keep north-facing exterior walls from having prolonged direct snow and ice contact."

Additionally, any time the temperature drops below 32 F, "there is the potential risk of frozen pipes, particularly indoor pipes located in poorly insulated areas, such as the attics, crawlspaces and basements," says Jeff Bishop, technical advisor for the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, Vancouver, Wash. "Water damage can occur if cracked pipes are not caught quickly. This is a potential nightmare, particularly for people who travel for holiday vacations."

To avoid these and other plumbing problems, the American Red Cross recommends wrapping and insulating water pipes with special heat tape, heat cable or pipe sleeves, and, when the weather is extremely frigid, allowing your cold water faucets that are served by any exposed pipes to drip water, which can prevent these pipes from freezing.

&Copy; CTW Features

Warding Off Old Man Winter