Icicles

Icicles hanging from the roof can pose a danger to people below.

Got ice dams and icicles? Usually these troubles are confined to roof edges and gutters along northerly exposures. The cause of these buildups is always the same: constant freeze/thaw cycles brought on by an overly warm attic or the effects of the midday sun.

Ice dams can cause real damage if they get out of hand. The ice can creep up underneath the shingles and eventually let water leak into the house.

Icicles are also bad news. They weigh down gutters and can warp and twist them, or actually pull them off the house. Plus, they are extremely dangerous. Anyone walking underneath when an icicle decides to let go can be injured badly. So when you break them off, use a tool with a long extension handle so you can get out of the way.

The best way to avoid ice problems is to maintain a cold attic. Warm attics tend to exacerbate the buildup from underneath. That’s why good ventilation and extra thick insulation are vital, as they slow heat transfer from inside the house.

Here are some other steps to take:

After a storm, use a snow rake with an extension handle to pull off as much snow as possible.

Heat cable also can be a lifesaver. Lay the wire in a zigzag pattern along the bottom edge of the roof and inside the gutters. This stuff is pricey — about a dollar a running foot — but its benefits are worth it, and it can be left in place year-round.

Dear Ken: You said you like motion detectors so that lights aren’t left on in the garage and other seldom-used rooms. Don’t they use energy too? — Tony

Answer: Yes, but only the teeniest amount to run the solid state circuitry inside. I put one in my garage because I had left the two 150 watt bulbs burning all night. That wasted energy alone could power a motion detector for years.

So I still think they’re a good choice in certain rooms. They are especially useful as outdoor security lights. I have two sets of floodlights and a coach lamp on the front porch triggered by motion sensing. Since they are on infrequently, I’m free to use higher wattage bulbs than I would choose if they were on all night.

Finally, there’s a compatibility issue here. If you’re going to use LED bulbs, make sure you get an LED-listed motion detector switch; otherwise, you’ll have flickering and unpredictable on-off cycles with which to deal.

Dear Ken: I had a rust spot on the driveway and then used concrete cleaner. The spot is now bigger than when I started. How can I get rid of it? — Rick

Answer: The sun eventually will bleach it away, but for now you could try CLR or white vinegar scrubbed with a stiff-bristled broom. A stronger formulation would be an oxalic acid-based product such as Bar Keeper’s Friend cleanser or one of the many deck-brightening chemicals. Look for them in the deck-stain aisle at a hardware store, and verify that the acid is listed as the main ingredient.

Dear Ken: I have a small hole to patch on a wallpapered powder room wall. Do I have to remove all the paper around it, then patch the hole first? — Tracy

Answer: If it’s a small hole, probably not. You can cut a matching piece off a spare roll, apply Elmer’s glue on the back and slide it into place. Once the glue is dry, wipe the area with a wet sponge. If the hole is bigger, put a little acrylic spackling compound on the end of your finger and smear it into the cavity first. When that dries, swipe some sandpaper over the surface before you apply the paper. Even though you know there’s a defect in that spot, once the right colored patch is in place, no one else will notice.

Dear Ken: I have a septic system with a cesspool, and I’ve always dumped in a sewer-cleaning chemical. But now it looks like you don’t like that stuff. — Art

Answer: Right. Enzymes or bacteria formulations added to the system usually do more harm than good. They can over-process waste, giving it less time to settle as sludge; that can let solids into your cesspool and interfere with percolation into the ground.

By the way, you likely need to plan on installing a regular percolating leach field soon, especially if you decide to list the home. Your pool is probably more or less “grandfathered,” but it will be an issue to a future sale. At that time, the county authorities likely will ask that it be replaced.

Here are some basic septic system rules to adopt:

• Add no harsh chemicals into the system, such as solvents or paint.

• Use your disposal sparingly (but remember, you’ll have to pump out the tank more often if you have one).

• Do not flush paper towels, cigarettes, diapers, gum, feminine products, personal wipes and grease.

• Don’t discharge output from a water softener into the system. Salt kills friendly bacteria in the tank.

• Keep trees, bushes, sheds and vehicles off the leach field.

• Also, keep surface water from downspouts well away.

• Have the system checked and serviced at least every four years.

One more thing, but no less important: Make sure that you can see the septic tank lids. In many cases, they are buried under a foot or so of soil.

When sewage gets processed, it produces hydrogen sulfide gas — that “rotten egg” smell from high school chemistry. When this gas combines with water vapor inside the tank, it produces sulfuric acid. And that can eat through a concrete tank in only a few years.

But when the tank lids are extended to ground level, there is just enough air leakage to set up cross currents and eliminate the harmful chemicals. But don’t worry, there won’t be much, if any, extra odor in the yard.

The company that maintains your system can add a couple of plastic riser sleeves and lids relatively inexpensively so there is ground level access at all times.

Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His call-in radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com

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