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Originally appeared in Ha​verhill Life magazine, January 2018

This is the time of year when we worry about the effects that cold, snow and ice will have on our houses. One common problem is frozen pipes. Pipes can freeze when there is a cold spot in the house caused by a small hole in the exterior siding or by a broken window or slightly opened cellar window. Pipes also freeze when they are on outside walls below bath or kitchen sinks and in crawl spaces.

To prevent pipes from freezing, look for any open windows or voids on outside walls and close and seal all those areas. Also, insulate the accessible pipes in the cellar, crawl spaces and below bath and kitchen sinks.

If a pipe does freeze, heat the frozen section with a hair dryer or wrap a wet, hot towel around the pipe. Never use an open-flame torch and be very careful if you use a heat gun. Both have been known to start house fires. You may have to open the sheetrock wall below a sink to gain access to a frozen pipe. In very cold weather, open the cabinet doors below sinks to allow those areas to warm up.

Another common winter problem is ice dams on the roof, which can lead to leaks and water damage. Ice dams are caused by the buildup of snow and ice on the roof edges along the fascia gutter lines of the house. If the snow and ice remain long enough, they can become very difficult to remove. Roof leaks occur when the buildup of snow and ice at the bottom edge of a roof creates a dam that traps the water from melting snow. Instead of flowing off the roof and into the gutters, the water backs up under the roof shingles and leaks into the house. The water can damage insulation, ceilings, walls and floors and it can cause mold to form inside your house.

If your attic is incorrectly ventilated, it will become warmer than the outside air and could lead to the snow melting that creates ice dams. It is very important that the attic have correct air movement, which involves venting at the soffit lower areas of the roof as well as the upper ridge areas. This low-to-high cross-ventilation should keep the attic cool enough to minimize the ice dam problems. If your attic is incorrectly insulated, heat from your house will escape into the attic, causing the melting and water-leaking problems.

We recommend using a roof rake to remove the snow along the lower areas of the roof. Never rake or shovel the snow completely off the roof and down to the shingles, because this can cause damage to the shingles themselves. I have seen many roofs badly damaged by the removal of snow. If you hire a contractor to remove the snow and ice, be sure heh or she is a fully insured professional. Please don’t ever climb onto a snow-covered roof, because it is extremely dangerous.

One safe way to control the ice dam is to fill nylon socks with ice-melting calcium chloride and place the socks every few feet along the roof from the bottom edge toward the ridge. The calcium chloride will melt the ice down to the bare roofing, allowing water to flow off the roof instead of backing up and seeping through the shingles.