Money Saving Mondays: Winter Damage

On both counts, a lot you have to leave to professional roofers and plumbers—but there are a few things you can do yourself to address the issues

This is not something anyone in blizzard-battered New England really wants to hear, but before too long, the plague of ice dams and roof collapses will be giving way to a plague of flooded basements as these record-breaking piles of snow start to melt.

On both counts, a lot you have to leave to professional roofers and plumbers—but there are a few things you can do yourself to address the issues.

We talked to Dave Seymour and Peter Souhleris of CityLight Homes in Peabody, Massachusetts, and the “Flipping Boston” real estate show on A&E Networks as they dealt with a major plague of ice dams at a home in Danvers.

They’d done one of the most important things—hire professionals tethered by ropes to do the dangerous work of shoveling snow off the roof and use a kerosene-powered steam heater to melt off chunks of ice from the roof and gutters.

“Don't be walking on icy roofs covered in snow, don't be hitting your gutters with hammers, don't be going up with a hatchet,’’ is maybe the most important advice Seymour had to offer.

Things you can do yourself: Knock off large icicles, gently, if you can get to them through a window. “Think about the weight” of the ice that you can remove, Seymour said. “That’s pulling down your gutters” and can even begin to pull out fascia boards if it gets too thick and heavy.

Souhleris says it’s good to sprinkle melting agents from windows onto frozen gutters – but be sure it is the right kind. “Calcium chloride, not rock salt, and the flakes are the best ones to use,” Souhleris said. “If it’s anything else, they’re just going to roll off.’’

Work now to get damp ceilings and walls drying now, by opening doors to rooms and running fans and even in cases of extreme wetness drilling small holes – far away from any electric or communications wiring – to get air circulating and drying out damp insulation. Once the ice dams are gone and the ceilings and walls are dry, you can have damage assessed and fixed. But, Souhleris stressed, don’t go hacking at ceilings you're sure where the leak's coming from. “I've had water leaks come from the other side of the building and land here, and I'm ripping this up and I'm saying, ‘I don't get it’ -- and the source is like 30 feet away,” Souhleris said.

Ice dams should not cause lasting mold damage once they’ve been cleared. “Mold is such a hot word,’’ Seymour said. “ ‘Oh my God, I’ve got mold – we’re all going to die.’ But in truth, the mold only grows if it has a continual source of moisture.’’ Once a melting ice dam is gone from a roof, the walls and ceilings below should be able to dry out.

Of course, with this much snow, right after ice dam season comes – oh, joy – flooded-basement season.

For advice there, we met up with plumber Kate McDonnell-Tynan of McDonnell Plumbing and Heating in Needham. She took us to a home that showed one of the smarter things you can do right now: Shovel away all the snow from around the foundation, ideally clearing a three-foot-wide path around the house.

“That can make all the difference, because if your foundation is cracked in any way, the water, when the snow starts to melt, the water’s going to find the crack or whatever the easiest route is, and the water's just going to flood in,’’ McDonnell-Tynan said. “So pulling it back just that little bit is going to make all the difference in the world.’’ Be sure, though, to exercise extreme caution clearing snow from around gas lines, electric power outlets, and other potential hazards.

If you’ve got a sump pump in your basement, right now is a good time to test it, McDonnell-Tynan said. Make sure it’s plugged in and the pipes and fittings and connections are secure, the discharge pipe is clear, and pull up the flapper – mimicking the action of flooding water pushing it up to make sure it goes on.

“You want to hear that noise. That is important, because then you know it’s going to work,’’ McDonnell-Tynan said. And we may not get too much of a respite in between ice dam season and basement flooding season. “Once we’ve had, probably, three or four high 30s/low 40s days,” McDonnell said, the sump pumps “are going to start to kick in.”

With videographer Nik Saragosa and video editor Lauren Kleciak.

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