High anxiety: A snowy roof weighs heavy on a home and its worried owner

Saturday's Hero

January 20, 1996|By ROB KASPER

LATELY I HAVE been eyeing the roof, surveying the gutters and listening to the downspout.

I am in my "roof worry" mode, a state of high anxiety that follows a big snow storm. It is a time when I interpret every sound the house makes as a warning that the roof is about to give way.

There is no evidence that this is going to happen. On the contrary, all the indicators -- the water trickling down the downspout and not down the walls, the disappearance of the rooftop snowdrifts, the fact that the gutters are still in place -- point to the fact that the roof and gutters are doing their jobs. They are keeping the wet stuff -- snow, ice, water -- outside.

But once you're a roof worrier, you are always a roof worrier. I have been fretting since 1979. That was another time a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on my roof. That was when the living room ceiling did an imitation of an upside-down fountain.

After you have been victimized by ice dams and capillary action, you don't forget. Ice dams and capillary action are other ways of saying your roof has turned against you.

It starts when melting snow fills up the gutters, then the water freezes, then the gutters become clogged and heavy. Some snow and ice will melt and try to travel down the gutter, only to be repelled by the ice dam. The water gets sneaky. It backs up underneath the shingles. It flows uphill. It emerges as a drip from a ceiling. Finding and fixing the leak drives you crazy.

That happened when I lived in the suburbs in a house with a pitched roof. Now I live in a city rowhouse with a flat roof. When the recent blizzard hit, a whole new set of roof worries emerged. Will the snow pile up on the flat roof and make the roof collapse? Will the ice-clogged gutters fall off the house? Should I just sit in the family room and await fate, or should I try to do something?

My basic instinct was to do nothing. Then peer pressure took over. Everywhere I turned, guys were talking about roofs. A neighbor told me that as soon as he finished shoveling out the alley he was going to shovel the snow off his roof. A coach who called to verify that a basketball game had been canceled reported that his neighbor's downspout had just come crashing down. When I took a stroll through the neighborhood, I saw guys on rooftops, shoveling.

It didn't help that my brother called from Boston. The winter storms had dumped even more snow on Boston roofs than on Baltimore roofs. My brother told me that he and his son had just been out on their roof, melting the ice dams in their gutters with hot water drawn from a bathroom faucet and routed through a garden hose.

I liked this idea. Never mind that professional roofers warned against it, pointing out that if the water froze, it would make the burden on the roof even greater and could cause the gutters to fall off. Never mind that my brother had told me the benefit was short-lived -- a day or so after the hot water had thawed his gutters, more rooftop snow had melted and frozen in the gutters. Never mind common sense -- this sounded like fun.

So I walked over to the hardware store and bought an adapter that allowed me to attach a garden hose to the hot water tap in the top floor bathroom. To get the hose to the gutter I had to stand three stories above the ground on a deck covered with snow.

To guard against plunging to an icy death, I tied a rope around my midsection and ran the rope through an open window. I

handed the end of the rope to my teen-age son who had taken up a position inside the house near the window. I told him, "Don't let me fall," and clambered onto the deck. I am not sure what was more frightening, standing on a snowy surface three flights above ground level, or knowing that my safety was in the hands of a teen-ager.

My other son handed me a snow shovel, and I pushed the snow off the deck. I also shoveled snow off parts of the roof, being careful not to let the blade of the shovel cut into the tar paper covering the roof.

I looked around. The roof had more snow than Alaska. The gutters were filled with ice thicker than a linebacker's neck. A geyser blast from Old Faithful couldn't melt this ice, let alone a stream of water from my garden hose.

I reassessed the situation. This was not fun. I climbed inside the house. I untied the rope from my middle and unscrewed the hose from the bathroom sink.

Instead of battling the rooftop ice and snow I was going to let nature remove it. So far it has. The gutters are flowing. The downspout is gurgling. And the roof is not leaking, yet.

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