The cold hard truth

John Brannen
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NEW GLASGOW – They may look pretty from a distance, but up close, icicles hanging from your roof may be an ugly sign of heat loss.

 

A large icicle hangs from Temperance Street School. In some instances, icicles can indicate heat loss and if left unattended can result in water and ice in between shingles. 

With more unseasonably cold weather on the way, it may be time to take action.

David Webber of Nova Gutter and Exteriors does roofing, siding, windows and doors while specializing in gutters. He’s fallen prey to the cool beauty of icicles at his own home.

“I’ll admit, it looks nice have icicles with the lights shining through them,” he said. “But I know it’s not a good thing.”

Icicles form when snow on a roof melts due sunlight, warmer temperatures or heat loss from the home. The latter reason is Webber’s business comes into play.

“Why is it that you can have two houses, one across the street from the other, and one has a lot of snow on its roof and the other has none,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s usually because of heat loss.”

Specifically, poor insulation in an attic space can lead to heat loss. Webber, who recently bought and is renovating an older house in West River can attest to this.

“In my attic right now, there’s about 10 to 12 inches of insulation,” he said. “Codes now call for two feet minimum so you can see that older homes are more susceptible to heat loss.”

Icicles aren’t just a sign that you may need to do upgrades to your home; ice can also do damage.

Once the melting snow reaches the eaves and gutters where there’s no heat, it refreezes and accumulates. Ice stopped at a gutter acts as a dam forcing the ice back up the roof.

“Water can go back up between the shingles,” said Webber. “At that point you’ve got water damage.”

One cheaper and less invasive solution is to use an electric heat trace line, usually found near eaves and gutters, to keep ice from forming or to heat up ice that has already formed.

In English folklore, a story dating back to 1776 recounts the story of the son of a parish clerk in Brampton, Devon, who was killed by an icicle that fell from a church tower. His memorial sardonically read, ‘Bless my eyes / Here he lies / In a sad pickle / Kill'd by an icicle.’

Another approach is to try to break the ice up on your roof manually with a pick or shovel. From Ken Jardine’s experience, it’s not the safest approach.

“About 15 years ago there was a lot of ice and cold weather,” said Jardine of Original Roofing and Siding. “We had to walk on a couple roofs that were full of ice. It’s not fun being up that high with ice under your feet.”

He said that on an older home, picking at the ice on the roof can do more harm than good with potential leaks and holes in shingling and the roof deck.

“It’s all about ventilation and insulation. If these aren’t good on your home, you may have to get out there with a rake to get the snow off your roof before it becomes an icy mess.”

An alternative approach is to pour hot water on an icy roof but besides the safety and logistical issues, when the temperature drops too low, hot water can quickly become yet another layer of ice.

In English folklore, a story dating back to 1776 recounts the story of the son of a parish clerk in Brampton, Devon, who was killed by an icicle that fell from a church tower. His memorial sardonically read, ‘Bless my eyes / Here he lies / In a sad pickle / Kill'd by an icicle.’

 

john.brannen@ngnews.ca

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn 

Geographic location: West River, Brampton

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