Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nanook of the North V: And Now the Winter of Winters Calls Georgie Boy to a Higher Level -- the Roof.

"Look up, look up, Georgie Boy," the sweet voice whispered in my ear. "Look at all that snow on your roof, waiting, waiting, for you."

"No, no," I said.  "One false step and I'm dead.  You think I'm crazy?"

"Yes," she said. "What if you do nothing and your roof falls? How would you feel then?"

She had a point.  And with scary stories of collapsing roofs all over the news, I thought, "Why take the chance?"

Already my neighbor across the street had buckets in his living room collecting water seeping through the roof. He was on a ladder clearing snow from edges of the roof. His next-door neighbor was up on the roof shoveling away.  Several friends were paying from $300 to $450 to have their roofs shoveled off.

When I saw the neighbor below me, who is in the construction business, put his guys to work shoveling off his roof, I really got scared.

He's an expert who knows that a roof can only take so much snow. Here is a photo of them at work, taken from my back yard.

I got another nudge from a nearby neighbor and friend, Tom, who came over and offered to help me get snow off my roof, which was piled as high as four or five feet in some places. He made it perfectly clear that I am too old and reckless to be getting up on a roof. "Don't you go up there on that roof," he said sternly, like a  dad talking to a misbehaving kid.

He reminded me of how foolish I had been one summer when I climbed up my big tree in the front yard to saw off big excess limbs.  He came over then with his chainsaw and proper ladder and helped me finish the job.  And now, in this winter of winters, he said. "I'll come over."  Saving me from myself is apparently a summer and winter job for Tom.

"I won't go up, don't worry," I said, like a kid trying to impress his dad -- never mind that I am old enough to be Tom's dad.  In fact, I have a son older than he is. 

Tom is a fireman.  He knows how to work safely in dangerous situations.  You couldn't ask for a more qualified volunteer to help you get a huge, heavy snow cap off your roof.  On top of that, if needed, he is right there to give  emergency first aid to an old man who regularly tempts the fates.

So Tom came over with his long, heavy broom and proper ladder and I borrowed a snow rake from a neighbor a few houses up, Gabe.  Gabe took a shot at using the snow rake on his roof but, with so much snow, hardly made a dent.

Unlike me, Gabe is sensible. He said he was being careful not to overdo it.  "I don't want to have a heart attack," he said.  He handed over his snow rake with a relieved, "be my guest" look.  He came by to enjoy watching Tom and me work.  Here is a photo of the two of us.

I was covered with snow from snow swimming.  Snow swimming?  No, it's not paddling in the snow for fun (which I do ). With the snow around my house so high, snow swimming was the quickest and easiest way to get from here to there.

Tom taught me this. When he saw me struggling through the deep snow, he said, "Get flat on the snow and swim." I did and it worked.  Who knew?  I am now a snow-swimming believer.

Tom and I got to work.  Now I have to tell you that this was a once-in-a-long-life experience for me.  Having lived in New England all my life, having owned a home here for some forty years,  I have never even thought of getting snow off the roof before this winter.  Never have I held a snow rake in my hand nor even knew that such a thing existed until this winter.

The snow rake is one long, long, ungainly, springy, ridiculous-looking tool that, once you get the hang of it, works surprisingly well.  Well-engineered to its task, it offers great reach and, for all its floppiness, considerable power.

You have to let the snow rake do its thing.  You do this by throwing it as high and as far as you can so the blade lands with a forceful thunk, slicing through icy snow crust. And then, grabbing the very end, you give one big tug-of-war yank. With the help of gravity, you  easily pull the now loose snow off the roof.

In about an hour and a half, Tom and I got a huge amount of snow -- and weight -- off the front of the roof.  Here's the two of us working, Tom at left and me.

We didn't get it all the snow but we got enough weight off to avoid a roof collapse, or at least we thought so. And it put my mind at rest.

Except for one minor detail -- ice dams.  This is a perverse act of nature against homeowners that I had also never heard of until this winter. It is caused by indoor heat rising and warming the roof, which melts the snow.  The resulting water flows down until it reaches a cooler part of the roof where it freezes into an ice dam.

The dam grows as it is fed by melting snow above, which keeps the dammed (damned?) water liquid.  The water finds cracks in the roof, leaks into the attic, and can seep through ceiling and interior walls.

That's exactly what happened to my neighbor across the street and to several friends of mine. I had no ice dams on the front roof, but the back roof, which gets less sun, had a frozen solid ice dam along the entire edge of the roof.

The good news is that the roof is easily accessible from the back deck which Barbara and I had already shoveled.   Instead of having to snow swim there, I just walked out to the deck from our kitchen door.

Once outside, I had a choice: escape into this portrait of winter beauty at left or attack the evil ice dams.  I must admit that I contemplated this beautiful scene for some time before doing what had to be done.

I got up on a ladder with a square-bladed iron shovel, thinking that I could pry off the roof-long ice dam row piece by piece.  Wishful thinking.

The ice dam had found a home, latching on as a longterm unwanted resident. I ended up whacking away with my shovel, something not recommended by professionals.

Picture this.  I'm standing on the rung of a teetering ladder whacking away at the ice dam with two hands on my shovel. It was a circus act brimming with just the kinds of danger that Tom has been trying to protect me from.

I was just glad he couldn't see me.

Somehow, by whacking away for nearly two hours, I managed to clear the ice dams off the back roof. Did I damage the roof and perhaps make it worse?  I don't know.  I don't think so but I will certainly find out.

At this point in the writing, I took a break and went to play ice hockey in Waltham with my son's group.  In the locker room after the game a hot topic of conversation was, you guessed it, ice dams. Can I pick a red hot topic or what?

One of the players, Bill, gave us a little locker room tutorial on  ice dams.  He said he used to whack away at ice dams until he learned that old nylons or pantyhose filled with rock salt worked better.

I had heard about these so-called "roof socks," but didn't really take the idea seriously. But when a stark naked hockey player in a locker room speaks of old nylons and pantyhose, it gets your attention.

"It's simple and fast," Bill said. "You just fill them up with rock salt or any snow melter and place them perpendicular to the ice dam.  It takes about an hour to work."

"Perpendicular?" I asked. I had assumed they would be placed parallel.

"That's what makes it work," he said. "It makes a channel for the water to flow through.  What you end up with is a series of channels along the edge of the roof."

I imagined my roof covered with nylons and pantyhose. I couldn't help wondering what Tom and the other neighbors might think.  What's going on in that house?  Has the guy gone totally weird?  Poor Barbara.  Should we notify someone? 

I felt good about avoiding a roof collapse and for beating to death my ice dams. But then  I picked up the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and saw a front-page story about a new threat: that a "quick thaw might loose a torrent of water" into basements.

That's because an enormous amount of water is frozen in the deep snow in our yards.  I know that I have huge piles around my foundations from what we took from the roof, on top of what was already there.  In other words, all that packed snow is a looming threat.

According to the Telegram story, "a half-acre lot covered in three feet of snow has a volume of water frozen on it that, when melted, would fill roughly eight large tanker trucks." That's one hell of a lot of water pushing to get in a basement in a quick thaw. Pray for a slow melt.

Or... or...or.... OMG! I thought Nanook of the North was done!  Nanook VI?  No Way!  I won't do it! I won't!  Enough is enough! I'm done with snow shoveling, snow walking, and snow swimming. I'm not going to go swimming in my basement, period!

Oh, oh, she's back, whispering in my ear with that soft, sexy, irresistible voice of hers. "Do you really want to risk a flooded basement?" she cooed.  "Look down, Georgie Boy, look down."

So long and keep moving.

P.S. It is February 16 and the temperature is rising.  The melt is slow, so far.  But over the next few days, the temperature is expected to rise to 55 degrees and maybe higher.  City crews are out clearing sewers to handle a possible torrent of water.  Should I go out and shovel the mountains of snow around the foundation, much of it from the roof?  Yes. Will I? I don't know, but that voice, that sweet voice ....

P.P.S. My new e-book, "Last Laughs," is available on the Google Ebookstore. Click here.


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