Snow melt gives roofers a deep chill

January 29, 2000|By Rob Kasper

THESE DAYS my eyes are lifted toward the heavens, but my mind is on the gutters. It is melting time, a nervous period for homeowners.

The big snow of last Tuesday sits on our roofs, slowly warming and returning to its liquid state. In theory, this is a simple process. The snow melts, runs down the roof into the gutter and is carried away from the house.

Reality is often more complicated. Some of the snow melts. It meanders to the gutters, where, when the sun goes down, it freezes, filling the gutters with ice. More water arrives, over- flows the gutters, and icicles form. Icicles can be gorgeous. But they can also weigh down gutters and downspouts. The extra weight can pull the gutters loose from their moorings. And sagging gutters, even when adorned with icicles, are not gorgeous.

If you are unlucky enough to have an ice dam form in your gutters, the melted snow gets sneaky. It attempts to back up underneath the roof. If it succeeds it will announce itself in your home, usually as a drip from a upstairs ceiling.

Like many veterans of big snows, I have settled into a post-blizzard routine. First I dig out. Next I secure a parking space. Then I wait for signals from the roof on how things are going up there. I stare at the ceilings, looking for wet spots. I keep my ears attuned to any unusual noises from above.

I fight the urge to climb on the roof and help nature hurry things along. Just as the song of the Sirens lured sailors to steer their ships toward deadly rocks, the sight of snowdrifts on my roof beckons me to ascend the heights.

However, after talking to a couple of roofers this week, I have resolved to keep my feet on the ground.

Both James Fick of Fick Brothers Roofing on East 25th Street and Patrick Kenney of Pleasant Roofers in Highlandtown told me that when homeowners climb on snowy roofs, bad things often happen.

There is a small chance you will be able to shovel off some snow, the roofers said, and thus relieve the stress on your roof and gutters. But, they said, there is an even bigger chance that you will slip and fall.

"I slid 15 feet on a snowy roof, and the only thing that kept me from falling off was that my heel caught the gutter," said Keeney, who has worked on roofs for the past 22 years, recounting a harrowing rooftop moment of a few years back.

In addition to falling, there is a possibility that a shovel-wielding homeowner can do more harm than good to his roof. "If it is a flat roof, you can end up cutting it with a shovel. The roof is brittle when it is cold," Keeney said. "If it is a shingle roof, you can knock off shingles."

Fick said his company rarely sends crews onto snowy roofs, and said he would not advise amateurs to venture onto surfaces that professionals fear to tread.

"Let nature take its course," Fick said, pointing out that sunshine and warmer weather will eventually remove the snow and ice.

The professional roofers also didn't warm to another suggestion I offered: throwing ice melt on the roof to speed up the thawing.

The chemicals in the ice-melting solution could discolor the roof or even burn holes in metal gutters, they said.

The pros did say it was OK for me to knock off a few icicles, as long as they were easy targets. In fact, instead of attacking icicles by leaning out of an upstairs window and swatting them with a broom, they suggested I stand on the ground and throw snowballs at them. Pegging icicles with snowballs could lighten the load on the gutters -- and make me feel like I was doing something useful, they said.

The roofers also passed along a tip on how to save a water-logged ceiling. If your roof leaks and a ceiling starts looking soggy, make a small hole in the ceiling with an ice pick and let the leak drip through the hole into a bucket, they said. The idea is to prevent the ceiling from getting water-soaked and collapsing. A small hole, they said, is easier to fix than a collapsed ceiling.

Finally, they told me: Be patient. Few roof repairs can be undertaken until the ice and snow disappear, they said. Moreover, like many roofers in the area, these guys are still trying to catch up with the backlog of business caused by Hurricane Floyd last summer. The hurricane roared through here in September, felling trees, chewing up roofs and gutters, and giving roofers more work than they can handle.

So this weekend, I will let my eyes, but not my body, journey up to the rooftop. If I spot any icicles, I will peg them. I will listen for the distinctive sound of the melting season: drip, drip, drip. And I will hope that all these drips fall outside, not inside, the house.

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