January 14, 2019

Old Man Winter is here. We know that he can deliver cold wind, ice, snow, as well as steady daytime rain that freezes into black ice overnight. At some point, temperatures will hang out for days in the teens, or, drop a day or two to single digits (or longer for some regions), stressing our homes to their thermal limits. 

Ice Dam

There is no need to shiver, here are 10 things you, warrior homeowners/renters, can do to be prepared:

1. Check that every window is fully closed and fully latched (easy to forget a few)
2. Change over any storm doors and windows
3. Shut off the hose bibs from inside and open bibs outside to drain
4. Insulate any water pipes that might freeze
5. Complete a professional boiler or furnace tune-up with a chimney check
6. Inspect and repair loose shingles, gutters, and downspouts
7. Verify that rainwater downspouts drain well and away from the house
8. Mark the edge of driveways and walks for easy shoveling or plowing when snow covered
9. Store snow tools and ice melt for walkways and driveways in convenient places
10. Spread chopped leaves, or natural mulch, over garden patches to build the soil over the winter and warm soil for early spring start

Ice Dams

One serious winter home hazard is Ice dams. The simplest ice dams are icicles, small to large, forming downward from the downspouts. Sometimes, icicles grow into awkward crystalline pile ups above the gutter. They can be both enchanting and ominous.

Ice dams are a triple threat. They can build up size and weight until they come crashing down. Gutters, fascia, and shingles can be damaged. Interior ceilings and walls below can be water damaged.

If an ice dam forms above an entry door, it is safest to block use of that threatened doorway until the ice dam is removed by a professional or has completely melted in warmer temperatures. Be very clear in blocking anyone from approaching a threatened door or porch.

Ice dams are spawned by poor or ineffective attic insulation. A portion of the heat you pay for in your energy bill is escaping through the attic floor and melting snow on the roof. This snowmelt refreezes when it reaches the cold roof edge and gutter.

Your attic floor might look well insulated to you. But, does the insulation extend fully over the outside walls below? Is the attic floor air sealed around chimneys, pipes, light fixtures, and wires so warm air does not rise up into the attic? The attic access hatch may be a big thermal drain; a certified energy auditor can tell you.

Check your frost or snow-covered roof for melting patterns. Often the fastest melting and driest shingles waste the most energy. Well air-sealed and insulated attics maintain frost and snow longer.

Consult a professional

If you suspect you have some form of Ice dam, DO NOT attempt to take it down yourself. Not even smaller icicles. Call your roofer or gutter service to perform this dangerous task.

Then get a comprehensive home energy audit with a BPI Certified Professional.

Not only will you save money on your energy bill and improve family comfort, you will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) escaping into our atmosphere. Every little bit helps!

Old Man Winter doesn’t have to win. We can keep him in his place, and maybe even enjoy him by staying safe and warm. Sister Spring is coming.

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Frank Lee, Guest Poster

Frank Lee RA CEM BPI is an energy strategist with the City of Baltimore’s Office of Sustainable Energy.