Thursday, July 2, 2015

Loving Your House: Love Note #4

Loving Your House: Love Note #4
(Helpful hints for homeowners and homeowners-to-be from the Director of Design & Construction, H. Dynia)
July 2014

This is the time of year when we may not be fully done with recovering from or repairing the damage caused by last winter’s severe weather, and should be planning our defense for next winter. It was a terrible season for ice damming on roof edges, and rough on hardscapes (pavement areas) and landscaping.

Diagram from

Photo from

Usually by the time you realize that you have an ice-dam problem, it is difficult to do anything that stops or minimizes the damage. Now is the time to think about how to avoid this kind of problem for next winter, because we do not know how challenging or benign the next winter will be! Here are 3 possible strategies to deal with ice dams:

1.  If your roof is worn and ready for re-roofing, current building codes require membranes along the lower edges of the roof that greatly reduce leaks from ice dams.

2.  Place heat-producing cables along roof edges and gutters to melt away ice as it forms. These products are readily available at home centers and hardware stores, but can be challenging to install if you are not comfortable with heights and ladders. Follow the products instructions for installation and use. They will cost you some electricity to operate. 

3.  Acquire a roof rake and pull off as much snow from the roof as you can, if you can reach it with the extended handle of the roof rake. Especially concentrate on the eve (lower) areas. If the sun can reach the roof material, it often can warm it enough to defeat ice build-up. 

Another casualty of the past winter has been hardscape areas, which may have been damaged by snow plows, snow shovels, ice choppers, and ice melting chemicals. When using de-icing chemicals on concrete or concrete pavers, only use products that are labeled as “pavement friendly”. Sodium Chloride (rock salt) destroys concrete. Calcium Chloride is less destructive. Surface damage to limited areas such as steps, porches, etc. can be repaired with high-strength concrete repair and re-surfacing materials, a task within grasp of most homeowners.

Landscape plantings also were slow to recover from the rainfall deficit of last year, the prolonged low temperatures, and heavy snow loads thrust upon them from snow plows, snow throwers, and shoveling. Some trees and shrubs were very slow to recover and are still not yet fully leafed-out. Here are some steps to take to improve the survivability of your trees and shrubs year-round:

1.  Careful pruning can insure that the tree or shrub is structurally able to survive these loads without a lot of broken branches in windy storms and the coming winter. 
2.  Planning “snow storage” space should be part of your landscape plan to avoid burying your plants under glaciers of ice and snow. 
3.  Fertilizing at appropriate times will avoid late fall soft new growth that will not be survivable.
4.  Heavy mulch in late fall to keep their feet warm and moist, especially important for broad-leaved evergreens.  Mulch applied too early will trigger a growth spurt that will not be ready for winter.
5.  Timely applications of Wilt-Pruf, a sticky Elmer’s glue like anti-transpirant that is sprayed on will act as an overcoat to limit the plant’s need for water when the ground is frozen, minimizing desiccation.
6.  Plants should end the growing season with adequate soil moisture, since below ground growth continues during the winter. 

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