Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Iceberg, Dead Ahead!

A few nights ago, Lily started barking at the dining room door.  I don't believe in "things that go bump in the night," unless it has anything to do with someone breaking into the house.  Thankfully, this wasn't the case.  I opened the dining room door and heard a drip.  Then another.  I ran to grab my flashlight, since dripping anything + electricity isn't ever a good idea.  Shining the light on the ceiling revealed the worst-case scenario:  the ceiling was leaking.

We've had quite a lot of snow since December 23rd, to the tune of nearly two feet.  The roof over the dining room doesn't have a steep slope, so snow tends to just sit there.  I generally don't worry about it too much, especially since it hadn't leaked up to this point.  Suffice it to say that this particular roof is no longer a worry-free zone.  Small, dark stains started to appear in a linear pattern where the water dripped through the drywall seams in the ceiling.  I did what any sane person would do at nearly midnight:  I cleaned up the water in the dark, put down towels, and several buckets to catch the drips until morning.

the next morning
By morning, the small stains turned into a slow, dripping leak over stretches of drywall seam, in two different places.  The harsh winter sun revealed the issue: we had an ice dam on the roof. 

Ice dam at roof edge

Ice dams generally occur in homes that are poorly insulated.  The edge of the roof that overhangs the house houses a wall of ice when the roof below heats up and water attempts to drain off the roof.  Eventually, the water backs up, filters under the shingles and into your house. Eventually, your ceiling turns into this:

Water damage
Note how the water extends to the light fixture.  While no water dripped into the light, we cannot be sure that the electrical housing wasn't affected.  We won't be using that light until the electrician looks at it.

So, how did we get the leak to stop?  

A trip to the folks at This Old House for some much-needed DIY advice did the trick.  We cut off the legs of a pair of pantyhose and filled them with calcium chloride salt, knotted the end, and tossed them on the roof so that they hung over the edge of the ice dam.  We're lucky that we can access the top of the roof via a small window in the alcove upstairs, and we pushed the tube o'salt into place.  Experts recommend that you safely remain on the ground and toss the tube onto the roof.  

None of our local home improvement stores had roof rakes in stock, but we plan on getting one so that we can keep snow off of the roof and avoid ice damming completely.  Alternately, there are calcium chloride "pucks" (called Roof Melt) on the market that can be thrown onto the roof safely from the ground.  These run about $30 for a 60-puck bucket (including shipping on, but I couldn't find any of them in my area, either.

According to This Old House, another way to get the water to stop is to get into the attic and blow cold air at the area where the leak is coming through the roof.  This will freeze the water, stopping the leak immediately, allowing you to get the salt working on the ice dam so that the water drains off properly.  

We're not using the dining room until summer, so the ceiling will have a chance to dry out completely and we can begin to gauge how best to tackle fixing it.  One thing is for sure, though:    Insulating just moved to the top of the To-Do list for spring/summer.

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