Winter Weather Tips

Winter Weather Tips

Ice Dams on Your Roof

Icicles are commonly thought to be a sign of an ice dam on your roof, but are they? Possibly, says Rem Brown, senior engineering manager at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

The three things necessary to form icicles – snow, heat to melt the snow, and cold weather – are also necessary to form ice dams, he explains. Ice dams form when warm air from inside your home melts snow on the roof. When the meltwater reaches the colder eaves (the part of the roof that extends beyond the walls), the water re-freezes and creates a build-up of ice along the edge of your roofline.

So, icicles hanging from the roof edge could be a sign of an ice dam (and larger icicles would likely indicate a larger ice dam, Brown says), but ice dams can even form without the presence of any large icicles.

The dangers of ice dams

The more snow and ice accumulate, and temperatures rise and fall, the larger the potential for ice dams. And ice dams can wreak havoc. They can damage and loosen shingles, rip off gutters and cause meltwater to pool and seep into your attic. Once that happens, insulation can get wet, paint can peel and the structure of your home can become damp. Untreated, this may cause rotting wood, damaged drywall and even mold growth.
How to remove snow to avoid an ice dam

It’s best to remove snow from a heavy snowfall immediately to prevent the buildup of ice dams later. Though you might hear about people doing anything from using a snow blower to remove snow or an axe to chip away at an already-formed ice dam, both methods can damage your roof, IBHS warns.

A push broom with stiff bristles can be used to remove snow off flat and low-slope roofs, while a roof rake is the right option for sloped roofs, IBHS says, because you can remain on the ground and still remove snow. Of course, if you’re unable to easily reach the roof, or just unsure about your ability to do so, ask a roofing professional to do the job.

How to permanently prevent ice dams

According to This Old House, the best way to prevent ice dams is to keep your roof and eaves the same temperature. Here’s how:

  • Add extra insulation in your attic floor to keep the warm air inside your home and out of the attic.
  • Relocate or remove heat sources that are installed in the attic directly under your roof.
  • Insulate attic access doors with a cover, or seal an existing hatch with weatherstripping.
  • Check the exhausts.Make sure all ducts from bathrooms, kitchens or other living areas exhaust to the outside, not the attic.
  • Check the flashing around the chimney. Over time, flashing can crack and separate from the roof, causing hot air to escape and allowing water to trickle in along the chimney.
  • Have your chimney sweep check the flashing and, if necessary, repair or replace it.

Preventive steps like these can help preserve the health of your home by eliminating ice dams – and maybe even those icicles!

Know common sources of air leaks

If you’ve lived in your house for a while, you probably know where some air leaks are, simply because you’ve felt them. And while you might think windows and doors are the biggest culprits, Energy Star says your most significant air leaks likely come from other sources hidden away in the basement and attic of your home:

  • Knee walls (side walls that supports attic rafters)
  • Attic hatch/opening
  • Wiring holes (cable TV, electrical outlets, phone lines)
  • Plumbing vents
  • Recessed lights
  • Furnace flues or ducts
  • Basement rim joists (where the foundation meets the wood framing)

Identify your home’s drafts

DO YOUR OWN INSPECTION. You’ll need to identify these less-obvious air leaks to make a impact on your energy bills. Energy Star says you can do that yourself, with a careful visual inspection inside and out: Look for gaps and cracks at the common points of air leakage (e.g., knee walls, dryer vents, outdoor faucets, attic hatches, sill plates) and pay close attention to the building envelope — the outer walls, doors and other openings of your home. Take notes of any cracks, gaps or other openings, so you can return and air-seal them later.

You can also perform a simple test to supplement your visual inspection. Energy Star outlines various methods, but offers the following steps for performing a DIY smoke test:

  • Pick a cool and windy day, and turn off all appliances or stoves that create air disturbances.
  • Shut all windows, doors and fireplace flues.
  • Carefully light a stick of incense and hold it near any potential points of air leakage (see the common points of air leakage list above).

If the smoke begins moving unsteadily back and forth, or if it’s sucked out of the room or blown into it, you have an air leak.

GET A PROFESSIONAL INSPECTION. Of course, you can also hire a professional to identify air leaks by performing a home energy audit. Typically, the process includes a blower door test, where a powerful fan is mounted to the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the pressure inside, and allows the higher outside air pressure to flow in through cracks and other openings (the pros typically use something called a smoke pencil, similar to the DIY smoke test outlined above, to spot the culprits; a blower door test not only locates air leaks but can also assess the overall air tightness of your home).

Some energy companies and local and state governments offer free energy assessments and recommendations to make your home more energy efficient, so if that’s something you’re interested in, contact your local energy supplier or state public services.
Gather your materials

Now that you’ve found your home’s air leaks, it’s important to get familiar with the tools of the trade. Caulk and spray foam are designed to seal up stationary materials and fixtures like window frames (Energy Star recommends using caulk on holes 1/2 inch or less and spray foam on holes 1/2 inch to three inches). Weatherstripping is meant for items that move, like doors and operable windows (between the frames and sashes). You might also need a few specialty materials, like high-temperature caulk, metal flashing and reflective foils, depending on the project.

One important thing to note: Air sealing can inadvertently cause a different problem, trapping indoor pollutants like radon or carbon monoxide and creating an unsafe situation inside your home. Energy Star says you should consider bringing in a professional to test for radon and to check whether heating appliances are sending out potentially harmful gases — both before and after doing any air sealing; he may recommend ventilation fans to maintain safe air quality in your home.
Prioritize your projects

So, where to begin? Energy Star recommends prioritizing projects based on the biggest opportunity for comfort and savings.


At the top of the list is your attic. Don’t worry about finding all the little gaps and cracks, the program says; focus on sealing up the largest holes first, because that’s where you’ll realize the biggest energy savings.

An attic air sealing project might include creating pouches of fiberglass insulation to plug open stud cavities and gaps behind knee walls; using reflective foil to cover soffits; and fitting aluminum flashing on the openings surrounding furnace and water heater flues.

Basements & Crawl Spaces

From there, your next biggest savings come from tackling the basement and crawlspace, where sealing air leaks can prevent cold floors and reduce drafts from below.

A basement air sealing project might include using spray foam or caulk to seal cracks and openings in the basement walls, ceiling or floor; along the gap between the sill plate and the foundation; at the bottom and top of each rim joist (where cement walls meet the wood frame) at each end of the house; and the openings for gas, water and electrical lines, ducts and wiring that pass to the outside (like your dryer vent). Larger holes might need pieces of insulation to cover them.

Doors, Windows & Walls

Though leaks in doors and windows probably result in your most noticeable drafts, sealing them has the least impact on your energy use, Energy Star says. But, because these areas area readily accessible and the solutions tend to be simple, they offer an opportunity for a simple do-it-yourself job that will likely result in minimizing obvious uncomfortable drafts.

A door or window air sealing project might include rolling self-adhesive weather stripping (felt, vinyl, rubber or silicone) down the side of a window; installing a door sweep to seal the gap between the bottom of the door and the threshold; applying plastic over windows; and fitting inexpensive foam gaskets (found at most hardware stores) behind electrical outlets on perimeter walls.

Whether you do these draft-stopping projects on your own or hire a pro, once you’re done, don’t forget to sit back and enjoy that extra warm feeling that only comes from saving on your energy bills.

6 Green home Improvements

Going green means different things to different people. For some, it’s getting LEED certification; for others, it’s screwing in an energy-efficient light bulb. The good news is, no one is judging (well, maybe the LEED-certified folks are, just a little), and there are payoffs.

While some federal tax credits for energy-efficient improvements expired on Dec. 31, 2011, many of the federal tax rebates on EnergyStar qualified products are valid through Dec. 31, 2016. Be sure to check federal and local government resources for up-to-date, accurate information. And, since green materials create healthier homes and tend to stand up better to disasters, some insurance companies offer incentives as well. Here are six eco-friendly upgrades-with-benefits.

Geothermal heat pumps

Instead of burning fuel like a furnace does, a geothermal heat pump capitalizes on the earth’s stable temperature (about 55° F at six feet under) to provide heating, air conditioning and, in most cases, hot water. These systems will save you between $400 and $1,400 a year, but the installation price is hefty (anywhere from $11,000 to $30,000). Federal tax rebates repay 30 percent of your costs, helping a bit; check EnergyStar for more information.

Solar panels

Rooftop solar panels pack energy-saving potential, plus their cool appearance will get you instant respect from your neighbors. They typically cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to install, but a 30 percent rebate on your federal taxes, along with state and local incentives, will save you money. Expect a return on your investment in three to ten years, depending on how expensive electricity is in your area. To learn more, check out:

Bamboo flooring

Bamboo hits that eco- and wallet-friendly sweet spot in that it’s both less expensive than real wood and more sustainable (bamboo plants take five years to mature, while trees take 50). Plus, it looks simple yet elegant, and is stronger than oak. Prices will vary depending on whether you get solid bamboo or engineered.

Recycled glass tile

Want to create a gorgeous shower surround or kitchen backsplash and feel smug and virtuous? Recycled glass tiles are absolutely beautiful, come in both subtle opaque shades and bold colors and will not break the bank. These tiles are often less expensive than standard tiles but have the same quality.

Low-VOC paints, glues and finishes

Low VOC paint In a remodeling project, every surface needs to be covered and sealed, and that means odors galore. Many products will off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for weeks, even months, after the project is complete so it makes sense to minimize the toxicity level. If you can’t afford to go green on everything, go green on a few materials. The smaller party those chemicals are having in your house, the better.

Dual-flush toilets

These nifty toilets have two buttons instead of a single lever. The smaller button disposes of liquid waste (which, of course, requires less water) and the bigger one takes care of the bigger stuff. According to the Sierra Club, a family of four can save 7,000 gallons per year by switching to a dual-flush toilet. And they don’t cost much—you can get one starting at $250.

If your home improvements don’t qualify you for a federal tax credit, inquire about incentives with your state government or local utility. Also check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. And remember, taking steps toward LEED certification could lower your insurance premiums.

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