Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Digging out from the Blizzard of 2010

Blanketing Snow and High Winds were the Highlights of the Last Storm of 2010

By Mark J. Donovan

For many of us on the Northeast coast of the United States we spent the next couple of days after Christmas digging out from a powerful winter blizzard. Though the snowfall was significant it was the wind that was really the story. Wind gusts exceeded hurricane force levels in some northeastern communities and knocked power out all over northern New England towns. Here in New Hampshire gusts regularly reached 40 to 50 MPH.

The snow started falling on December 26, and really got going that night and the next day. I snowblowed the driveway and cleared the roofs, decks and pool during the tail end of the snowing phase of the storm. Due to the high winds and drifting I had to go back out and repeat the process again this morning. The winds had eased a little, but they were still gusting at around 20-25 MPH by my guess.

The walkways that my son and I shoveled the day before were packed with blowing snow. Actually there was more snow in the walkways than there was in the main part of the yard. Clearing the walkways and creating the snow piles adjacent to them from the first dig-out caused the drifting snow to accumulate deeper in the walkways than the surrounding area. In addition, it was packed down and had a 2 inch crust layer on top making it difficult to remove. See the accompany pictures.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bat Droppings in the Attic

How to Get Rid of Bats in the Attic

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: - I am seeing droppings in my attic and I think they are bat droppings. How do I get rid of the bats from my attic?

Answer: I had a similar problem in my home this past fall. Initially I thought it was mice in the attic so I set up a couple of mice traps in the attic. To my surprise I wound up catching a bat in one of the traps.

I discovered that the bats were coming into my attic via the small crevice between the rake trim boards and the house siding. To solve my bat problem I used pipe foam insulating tubes. It’s the type of foam insulation that is used for wrapping around plumbing supply lines. I pushed the foam insulation tubes up into the crevice between the rake trim boards and the house siding. It completely solved my bat problem.

To check if the droppings in your attic are indeed associated with bats, stand outside your home during dusk and see if you observe bats exiting the roof area of your home. If you see them flying out of the roof/attic area try the foam insulating tubes. They work and are very inexpensive. Just watch yourself on the roof or ladder.

Why Frost in the Attic

How to Eliminate the Formation of Frost in the Attic

By Mark J. Donovan

Question: - I went up into my attic last January on a very cold day and observed dripping water, and mold and mildew, on the roof sheathing. I made every attempt to resolve the problem by ripping out all of the moisture sodden insulation and installing new insulation. I also made sure the soffit vents were not blocked and had a new ridge vent installed. Unfortunately I am seeing the same problem again this winter. Do you have any ideas why?

Answer: Sounds like you have a serious moisture problem in your attic and a moisture source that you missed. You did the right things, however, by addressing the attic insulating and ventilation. To find the source of your moisture problem, I would first check the bathroom exhaust fans, vent stacks and then inspect the roof for leaks.

First, make sure your bathroom exhaust fans are being vented outside and not into your attic. Often contractors or DIY homeowners who install bathroom exhaust fans simply let them vent to the attic. This is a major mistake.

Second, make sure there is insulation packed in around any vent stacks that may be coming up from the living area below. Use a can of spray foam insulation to seal any of these types of insulation holes in the attic. The holes cut into the framing for vent stacks are notorious for letting warm moist air from the finished living areas below enter into the attic.

Finally, inspect the roof for leaks. I doubt you have a roof leak problem as you would most likely see much bigger signs of water/moisture problems, e.g. water dripping down into the finished living area of the home, or wet spots forming on the ceilings.

If all of these suggestions fail to uncover a problem, then make sure you have properly sized the amount of ridge vent and soffit vent for your attic. You possibly have an insufficient amount.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What to Look For When Buying a Snowblower

By Mark J. Donovan

If you are in the market for buying a snowblower first consider the size of your driveway and the average snowfall you get every year. Too often people buy too small of a snowblower and end up regretting it every snow storm for years to come.

I made the same mistake when buying my first gas snowblower. I lived in New Hampshire and had a 100 foot driveway at the time. I bought a 5 horsepower, 24 inch wide, two-stage snowblower. After just a couple of years it was worn out and I was fed up pushing around a snow-cone machine in my driveway. The snow basically oozed out of the snowblower by the end of its life.

So I went out and replaced it with an 11 horsepower, two-stage gas snowblower that is nearly 3 feet wide. Ten years later it is still easily pumping out the snow even when there is 1.5 feet of snow in the driveway. When buying a snowblower of this magnitude expect to shell out between $1,000 and 2,000.

If you live in a milder climate, you can go with a smaller sized gas snowblower, such as a 5 horsepower unit or a single stage one. They work fine for a 6 inch snow storm, and can even handle the occasional foot of snow that may grace your driveway. With these smaller horse powered snowblowers you can still expect to shell out between $500 and a $1,000 for it depending upon the make and model, and the particular features it may offer.

If you live in an area where you only get the occasional snow storm with a depth not exceeding 6 inches, an electric snow blower is acceptable. Just make sure you have access to an outlet and plenty of extension cord. Though they don’t have anywhere near the power of a gas snowblower, electric snowblowers are quieter, pollute less, are easier to store, and typically cost less.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prevent Ice Dams this Winter

By Mark J. Donovan

Ice dams form due to warm moist air that is trapped in the attic and the constant warming and cooling of the roof during the cold winter days and month. There are two main components that need to be addressed to prevent ice dams, insulation and ventilation.

It is imperative that there is adequate and properly installed attic insulation to prevent warm moist area in the living areas below from filtering up into the attic space. Warm air in the attic can cause the back side of the roof sheathing to become warm and the snow just above it to melt. As it melts it drips towards the roof eaves. Then, as evening approaches and temperatures cool the water freezes up. This daily repeated process of thawing and cooling causes ice dams to form along the roof eaves. Eventually the ice dams build up to the point that melted snow works its way up under the lower courses of shingles. Once the water gets to the back sides of the shingles it inevitably finds a way into the attic and eventually into the lower living areas of the home.

The other major component that needs to be addressed to prevent ice dams is adequate and proper attic ventilation. Any warm air that does filter up into the attic needs to be quickly expelled to the outside so that it does not have time to warm up the underside roof sheathing.

Attic ventilation should include soffit vents and roof vents, such as ridge vent. The rule of thumb is to have approximately 1 square feet of attic ventilation for every 300 square feet of attic ceiling area with a vapor barrier, or every 150 square feet of attic ceiling area without a vapor barrier. Typically there should be around a 50/50 split between soffit vent and roof vent.

So by making sure you have adequate and proper attic insulation and ventilation you can prevent ice dams this winter.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Fix a Door Lock

A Couple Shots of Graphite Lubricant is often all that’s Needed to Fix a Door Lock

By Mark J. Donovan

If you’re having a difficult time inserting or turning the key in your door lock you may be able to fix it with an inexpensive tube of graphite lubricant. Simply squirt in a couple of shots of the graphite lubricant and then reinsert the key and turn it a couple of times. Often that is all that is necessary to fix a door lock.

If the locking button on the door lock is the problem, where it won’t turn easily or only partially, then you’ll need to do a bit more work to fix the door lock. To fix a door lock with this type of problem, remove the screws that hold the door knob handle to the door. Then remove the door knob handle itself to expose the internal parts of the door lock and handle. Again, a couple shots of graphite lubricant on the movable internal parts of the door lock are all that are typically necessary to resolve the door lock problem. Make sure to apply graphite lubricant to the door lock column and to the inside pieces of the door knob handle.

Then reattach the door knob handle back onto the door and test it to see if you’ve fixed your door lock. With any luck your door lock problems are history.

One final note - do not use WD40 as a substitute to the graphite lubricant. The WD40 will attract dust to the door lock and in short order you’ll have a sticking door lock again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deicing Salts and Concrete Driveways and Vegetation

By Mark J. Donovan

In preparation for winter weather it’s always wise to buy a few bags of deicing salt and have them handy in the garage. However it is important to understand that deicing salts can wreak havoc on concrete driveways and walkways and can damage adjacent shrubbery and vegetation. In addition, there are number of deicing salts available on the market, each with their own unique pros and cons, and that are designed to work effectively at different temperatures. So which one do you use?

All deicing salts do basically one thing. They lower the melting point or freezing point of water. Their effect is to cause the ice to melt and stay in a liquid water state at lower temperatures.

Sodium Chloride, or rock salt, is the most commonly used deicing salt, and it can effectively melt ice down to about 15o Fahrenheit. Unfortunately it is very corrosive to concrete and metal, and can damage vegetation. It also produces a high amount of Chloride ions which is not healthy for the environment. Consequently rock salt should be used sparingly and on asphalt driveways only.

Potassium chloride is another common deicing salt, however it is effective only down to 20o Fahrenheit and it too easily damages concrete.

Calcium chloride dicing salt is another option. It melts ice even faster than Sodium Chloride and can effectively melt ice down to -20o Fahrenheit. It can be an irritant to skin and it too is corrosive to concrete.

The last fairly common dicing salt is Magnesium Chloride. Similar to Sodium Chloride it works down to around 0o Fahrenheit, however it is less damaging to concrete and vegetation. It also releases fewer Chlorides ions than Sodium Chloride.

So this winter make sure to stop by the local hardware store and pick up the right dicing salt for your climate, and driveway and sidewalk surface conditions. Regardless of what deicing salt you choose, the best rule of thumb is to use it as sparingly as possible. By doing so you can accomplish your main goal of eliminating ice build up on your driveway or sidewalk, while at the same time minimizing environmental harm to your concrete surfaces and localized vegetation.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Snow Blower Maintenance

Prepare Snow Blower for Winter

By Mark J. Donovan

With winter almost officially upon us it’s time to pull out the snow blower and prepare it for winter weather. Snow blower maintenance should include cleaning the spark plug, changing the oil, and putting fresh gas into it. Also make sure to turn the gas cut off valve to the ON position. In addition, check the snow blower shear pins to make sure they are connected to the auger blade and drive shaft. You may also want to buy a couple of extra shear pins in case you break one during the winter season. It’s a major pain to break a shear pin in the middle of a snowstorm when you can’t as readily make it to the hardware store. Also make sure the muffler does not need to be replaced.

Also, as part of the snow blower maintenance, check to make sure the adjustable skids that are attached to the base of the snow blower frame are set evenly and at the right height so that the horizontal auger blade is not touching the pavement. In addition, make sure the pull chord is not frayed and is in good working order.

Once the general maintenance has been completed, fire up the snow blower to make sure it runs smoothly. If it does not, you may need to adjust the carburetor. If you do not have the skill or energy to adjust the carburetor take it into a shop to have them tune it up for you.