Mother Nature even has her melting mind in gutter today

February 22, 2003|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,SUN STAFF

TODAY, MY MIND will be in the gutter, and my body will be in the basement.

Like a lot of area residents, I am hoping the gutters on my house will withstand the surge of water expected to come when heavy rains melt the 2-foot snowpack sitting on the roof. Once the water gets off the roof, the goal is to keep it out of the basement.

This weekend looks like it is shaping up as a couple of days filled with roof worry and cellar dwelling, another exciting chapter in the life of a homeowner. I think most of the snow is still on my roof. After the "roofslide" hit the other night, I'm not entirely sure. It happened right before supper. I was in the kitchen eyeing the tacos when I heard a rumble from upstairs, followed by what sounded like small explosions in the back yard. I peeked out the back door and saw chunks of ice, each about the size of Antarctica, sticking in the snow.

The good news was that the back porch roof, which I thought might collapse, had freed itself from the burden of snow and ice. The bad news was, had that sliding snowpack hit me, I would have been flatter than a taco. The pieces of fallen ice looked fearsome, but I was happy to see they had not taken the back porch gutter with them in their descent. Not only had this section of guttering survived the slide, it was now open for rainfall. This gladdened my heart.

Not all homeowners in the area have been so lucky. Roofers I spoke with yesterday told me they had been swamped this week with calls from customers whose gutters had taken a plunge. I called the roofers because I was searching for gutter-care tips that those of us afflicted with roof worry could put into practice this weekend.

Mainly what they told me was be calm, and don't do anything stupid. Other than keeping the ends of the downspouts clear, so that water can flow out of them, the roofers recommended letting the gutters go about their business.

"It is an unusual weather situation," said Joe Fick, owner of Fick Brothers Roofing Co., whose family has been in the roofing business since 1915. "There is not a lot you can do."

Indeed, for every benign gutter action that I considered undertaking, there seemed to be the possibility of its resulting in an equally dire reaction.

If, for instance, I picked up an ice pick and attempted to chop away at the mass of ice blocking a gutter, there was a good chance, Fick said, that I could end up poking a hole in the gutter, creating a new problem.

Or if I attempted to climb up on my flat roof and shovel the snow off it, there would be a chance that I could slip and fall four stories. Fick said he had recently seen a man in Rodgers Forge raking the snow off his roof. The man stood on the ground, Fick said, and used a device attached to a long, extendable pole to pull down some of the rooftop snow.

As a fan of extendable poles, I know when you use them you have to watch out for overhead power lines. Moreover, it seemed likely to me that the snow poler could easily start a "roofslide" covering himself in pain, snow and sorrow.

After talking to roofers, I became convinced that most gutters, especially those held on with bracket hangers that wrap around or "cup" them, are pretty tough. They don't need much help coping with snow melt.

Next, I turned my attention to fortifying the basement, my other area of worry on this wet weekend.

Two quick steps that homeowners can take to guard against flooded basements are to extend their downspouts away from their homes with plastic pipe, and, if they have a sump pump, to clear its discharge. That is what Robin Bryan Culver, owner of a family-run waterproofing business, Walter H. Bryan Inc., recommended.

Slipping a 10-foot length of plastic pipe over the end of the downspout can channel away water from the foundation of the house, she said. As for homes that have sump pumps, it is important, she said, to clear ice and snow away from discharge, so that water is pumped out of, not back into, the basement.

Joe Lattanzi can attest to the importance of sump pump maintenance. Lattanzi works in the family business, Lattanzi's Lawn & Landscape Service Inc., a Perry Hall enterprise that also cleans flooded basements.

He told me that after the meltdown that followed the 1996 snowstorm, he ended up cleaning up his own basement.

It flooded, Lattanzi said, after a hacky sack, a sand-filled footbag, was sucked into the sump pump, clogging the unit.

"There was 3 inches of water on the basement floor," Lattanzi said. "My dad could have killed us."

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