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How to Prepare Your Home to Withstand the Worst Effects of Winter

The war against winter begins long before it arrives. Here are the best reasons to be proactive with gutter care and some tips on repairing minor issues.

New Jersey winters can be bitter. We’re also a state with plenty of rain – 2018 saw New Jersey hit with a year’s worth of precipitation before October had even started. This may be great for the lawn in summer, but as the colder months approach, all that moisture is just potential ice.

The accumulation of ice in a gutter isn’t a quick process; many homeowners believe they need a big freeze before facing a problem. Ice actually begins to form in smaller quantities that result in water blockages, and that backed-up water becomes more ice. Eventually, a completely frozen and dangerous gutter is the result.

Another misconception about ice is that it’s completely static – in fact, it expands. This is what pushes freezing water over the side to form icicles. A frozen gutter won’t be transporting water away from the roof, meaning all that moisture will start to pool on the roof’s surface, finding its way into any cracks and openings in the roof or even creating issues of its own.

It’s vital to start gutter care before winter does its worst. Dealing with a blocked gutter can be tricky, so here are some tips for homeowners who want to tackle smaller gutter problems by themselves.

Recognizing the risk factors of ice buildup on your roof

The dangerous weight of ice is too often underestimated. Ice settled on tree branches can increase their weight by 30 times, while only half an inch on a power line can add 500 pounds. A cubic foot of ice on a roof weighs 57.2 pounds and will stress the whole structure, but especially the far weaker gutter, which could collapse and damage a home, or worse, a person.

Some proactive gutter cleaning early in the year will give you a head start on such winter risks. An early start could mean that leaves will be the worst you have to deal with. Late spring and early fall pose the biggest leaf-blockage problems, making these seasons essential roof-maintenance periods.

Homes in or nearby heavily wooded areas are prone to gutter blocking from leaves dislodged by blustery weather. Leaf cleaning can be done with gentle-but-firm use of a paint mixing stick or plastic gutter scoop. A little elbow grease now can save a lot of time, money and potential pain down the line.

Repairing minor gutter issues

Modern gutters are usually fastened using hidden hanger screws as opposed to the spike and ferrule style. This old method used large nails driven through cylindrical chambers to fix the gutter to the home, but these spikes tended to pull away, weakening the gutter’s support.

Hammering them back in may seem like the easy answer, but the now-larger hole created by the loose spike severely compromises its security. Poor installation can mean spikes were hammered in badly in the first place, causing them to bend. But even the straightest spikes will eventually buckle under the stresses a roof endures, causing them to loosen and require further hammering.

Homes using the outmoded spike and ferrule attachments can be updated to hidden hangers affordably. Hidden hangers are more reliable and durable, and as the name suggests they’re invisible once installed, which improves a home’s facade. One rule of hidden hangers is that they must be made of the same material as the gutter. This will prevent the corrosion that occurs when metals of differing types make contact in a moist environment. 

Safety is paramount whatever the job, so always wear tough waterproof gloves, eye protection and a face mask. Your choice of ladder matters, too; a well-stabilized A-frame is better because it won’t rest its weight against the gutter to damage it or potentially tear it off. 

When you’re confident you’ve taken care of rust and removed any leaves and other blockages, enlist a second person at ground level. Their job will be to watch the gutter as you run some water through it using a hose. Two sets of eyes will be able to spot any areas where blockage or leaks may still be present. Double-check that the ground spout is also free of issues (a pipe-cleaning brush can be effective) and rinse it thoroughly. Hopefully, it will be all clear.

You may want to install gutter guards as a finishing measure. They’re not exactly a cure-all for your gutter troubles, but they can help cut down the number of times you need to clean them out.

Getting rid of gutter sag

Remember all that heavyweight ice we mentioned earlier? Even the strongest gutters can buckle under the pressure. If your gutters are already sagging, they’re really going to have their work cut out for them in winter weather.

Gutters are typically attached to a home by fasters, spikes or hangers, which are usually cheap to replace when they’re weakened. Sometimes, these may be strong enough but just spaced too far apart. You can get some advice from a professional to find out if replacing or adding fastenings will be best. Making your gutter as strongly supported as it can be will ensure your home and everyone around it are much safer when the cold arrives.

We hope this primer gives you some prep skills to win the winter war and handle minor gutter issues. Larger gutter or roof problems, however, are often best tackled by a professional. If you’d like more insight and advice on any issues with your roof or gutters, reach out to us.

Working with Blue Nail Roofing means coming home to craftsmanship. From the first call to final inspection, we’re with you every step of the way to ensure you benefit from our experience and background in old-school slate construction and many other services. For more information or a free consultation, drop by our contact page or call 973-937-8876.

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