In Winter, Don't Spring a Leak

Learn how to weatherproof your home from ice and snow damage.
By: Dwight Barnett

Question: During a record snowfall, I noticed water leaking to my walls and ceiling. This did not happen right away, but as the snow began to melt. Did the snow damage the roof as well as the walls and ceiling of my home?

Answer: Ice dams form when there is a heavy layer of snow on the roof and the warmth from the interior of the home escapes through the joint where the ceiling and walls meet. The underside of the snow melts, and the resulting water runs down the roof, where it is blocked by snow at the home's overhang. There's no warmth at the overhang, so a dam made of impenetrable ice forms. Water continues to build up behind the dam until the shingles are flooded.

Roof shingles are water-resistant, not waterproof, so the pooling water seeps in under the shingles, where it then accumulates on the ceilings, walls and overhangs of the home.

In northern states where ice damming is an annual event, roofing contractors install an ice shield — basically a rubber membrane that adheres to the roof's sheathing. The shield is available in rolls 36 inches wide, and should be installed on at least the first 6 feet of roof decking. The cost of adding an ice shield may not be warranted in states with milder weather.

In areas where high winds drive rain up and under shingles, an ice-shield barrier is often a good investment if installed over the entire roof's surface.

Another solution to the leaks from ice dams is to prevent the snowmelt that forms ice. A well-insulated attic, one that has insulation near the eaves of the home, does not release as much heat as a poorly insulated attic, thus preventing the melting of the snow.

Since the weather and shingle life will vary across the country, you should talk to your roofer or local building authority about ice-shield requirements for your area.

Question: After a cold snap, I noticed a water leak in my basement. The basement is heated and finished, but the water pipe to the outside faucet froze and burst. What do you think caused this, and what can I do to prevent it in the future?

Answer: In winter, when I'm inspecting a home, I often find a garden hose attached to the outside faucet. I disconnect the hose because I know the trapped water will freeze inside the "antifreeze" water faucet and damage the pipes. An antifreeze water faucet will not protect the pipe if the hose is attached.

Expansion of frozen water trapped inside the hose and faucet ruptures the pipe, which will allow water to leak into the home when the pipe starts to thaw. An antifreeze water faucet will leak only when the faucet is in use because the shut-off valve is not at the faucet but is about 18 inches inside the home, where it stays nice and warm. Simply go outside, turn off the faucet and the leaking will stop.

Remove and drain the garden hose, and store it in a warm area until spring. The entire water faucet will have to be replaced.

Because the joints for most faucets are soldered together using a blowtorch, you need to use the services of a licensed and insured plumber. Open flames near the wood floor joists can be dangerous.

(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.)

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