Departing snow, ice reveal problems they've created

HOME WORK

March 19, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

If you've been thinking about celebrating the fact that the ice and snow are finally melting, you might want to wait a bit.

It's about time for the damage from months of harsh weather to start showing up. All that frozen stuff has turned into water, and water has a disturbing tendency to work its way into places it doesn't belong.

For instance, a couple in Randallstown have a water problem with the roof of their porch.

"We must be a victim of ice damming," they write -- that's when freeze and thaw cycles cause ice to back up under the roof surface and, when it thaws, to run down inside the house. "Water has been dripping from windows, wall is wet . . ."

They wonder if they need drip caps under the roof edge, more downspouts, or heating elements along the roof edge.

They don't say what the roof surface is, but it seems clear that the first step is to call a roofer. If there's no drip cap, or if there is one but it's damaged, the roofer can install or repair it, and that may take care of the problem. A roofer can also evaluate the need for more downspouts. Normally, this is not a climate where roof-edge heating elements are necessary. They attach to the surface of the roof, along the lower edge, and keep ice melting and running away harmlessly in the gutter. But with all water problems, the best approach is a series of escalating efforts; the first, simple, step may do the trick.

Attempts to get rid of ice on her front steps led to problems for another reader.

"The salt I put on steps cracked the bricks and most of the cement dropped off," she writes. "There is a lot of sand under the bricks." What, she wonders, should be under the brick, and is there a way to repair the steps.

Ideally, the brick on steps is simply a facing, applied over concrete or cinder block. Brick needs to be on a solid surface. However, some brick is placed over sand -- OK for a patio, where bricks are flat against the ground, but a shaky foundation for a set of steps.

There may not be a simple solution -- or, at least, any solution is not likely to be permanent.

Crumbling brick is often parged -- that is, coated with mortar. A better treatment is to nail galvanized wire lath to the brick with masonry nails in the brick joints then cover with two coats of mortar. The lath bonds with the mortar and holds it much better than simply applying mortar without the lath. However, this system does require solid joints to nail the lath.

And, if the steps are built on sand or rubble, both solutions are temporary. At some point, the steps are going to need to be replaced.

To build new brick steps, you first install a concrete footing from grade level to below the frost line (that would be 30 inches deep, in this climate). On top of the footing, you build cinder block steps. Brick veneer is secured with brick ties, corrugated metal strips that are nailed into the cinder blocks or mortared between layers of blocks and brick. Steps can also be built of concrete slabs reinforced with steel bar, and then faced with brick.

Once brick steps start getting cracks and water gets in and freezes and thaws, problems get worse rapidly. To preserve old steps, you need to keep water out. That means pointing up cracks with mortar. Some routine fall maintenance is a good idea -- before temperatures get too cold for mixing mortar.

A reader in Baltimore has a water problem that can occur year 'round, although it may be worse in winter when houses are closed up.

"Whenever I run the bath or shower, brown streaks and droplets cover my walls and ceilings from the humidity. Opening a window does not help . . . Can you enlighten me on this situation."

Bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms, or any place where moisture is introduced into interior air, needs lots of ventilation. The simple act of taking a shower can pour gallons of moisture into the air.

If the bath has a ventilating fan vented to the outside, it should be run during a bath or shower and up to 20 minutes afterward. It may also help to towel down the walls if they are dripping; it will make clearing up moisture easier for the fan.

If there's no fan, consider installing one. It pays to acquire a good-quality, quiet fan, one that's dependable and not so noisy it's annoying to run it.

Exhaust fans require a 3-inch diameter pipe that runs through the roof. If you're retrofitting, select the contractor carefully; quiz him on how he'll get the pipe out. You want someone who can install the fan without chopping up the house.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.

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