Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Mon, April 22

Searching for snowflakes enlivens the housebound

Our recent snowfall gripped the area with bone-chilling cold. We experienced slipping, sliding, howling winds, closed roads, aching backs and blistered hands from shoveling.

Snow is a lovely, picturesque thing - it was so exciting to wake up in the morning to find our hills, mountains and trees covered in such a pure, clean, untainted, innocent snow. So what did I do while housebound? I went snowflake-watching in search of the perfect snowflake. I was flabbergasted by what came falling from the sky.

Hunting for the perfect snowflake with my magnifying glass and looking somewhat like Sherlock Holmes, off I trudged, slipped and slid, looking on patio chairs, tree branches, sidewalks and rocks, only to discover that it is difficult to find perfect ice crystals. But I discovered simple prism shapes, millions of dendrites, columns, needles, stars and radiating dendrites.

It is true that snowflakes come in all shapes, sizes and types, and I will forever remember the beautiful crystals that I saw, touched, watched fall from the sky and even melted in my hand. What beautiful perfection I experienced with the chaotic storm that blew in. I can only hope you took the time to hunt snowflakes that fell to the earth, dancing, flirting and blowing through the air.

Below is some information about how to prepare for another storm. Our friends at State Farm have some terrific loss-prevention tips to protect your homes.

On average, a quarter million families have their homes damaged and experience a disruption in living each winter, all because of water pipes that freeze and burst. Did you know that an eighth-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day? Both plastic and copper pipes can burst. So what should you do before cold hits? Insulate pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember, the more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be. Use heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to wrap pipes. Be sure to use only products approved by Underwriters Laboratories and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near pipes. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and heat in. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze. Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short space of pipe just inside the house.

When the mercury drops, a trickle of water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall. Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

If your home is vacant, set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees. Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it is warm enough to prevent freezing. Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it will be deactivated when you shut off the water.

If you find your pipes have frozen, do not take chances. If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave them turned on and call a plumber. If your water pipes have frozen and burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house - and leave the water faucets turned on. It is critical that everyone in your family knows where the main water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.

Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with warm air from a hair dryer - start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of the pipe.

Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water.

Another major source of storm damage associated with snowstorms and cold in our climate are ice dams. Ice dams sometimes occur on sloping roofs when temperatures are freezing. When the temperature in your attic is above freezing, it causes snow on the roof to melt and run down the roof. When snowmelt hits the colder eaves, it refreezes. If this cycle is repeated over several days, the freezing snowmelt builds up and forms a dam of ice, behinds which water ponds. The water can back up under the roof covering and leak into the attic or along exterior walls. We had the right weather conditions with this storm for ice dams to develop. When the outside air temperatures are in the low 20s for several days with several inches of snow on the roof, ice dams will occur.

In order to avoid ice dams in the future, a qualified contractor should assess the amount of attic insulation and attic ventilation (especially around where ice dams are formed), and look for holes in the air barrier between the living spaces and the attic. If you see water staining at an exterior wall or ceiling where there is snow on the roof above it, act quickly to avoid extensive damage. Call a quality contractor to carefully remove most of the snow from the roof above the ice dam.

Above all, be careful to avoid touching the roof with removal equipment or walking on the roof, because cold roofs are more prone to damage as they are more brittle. One or two grooves in the ice dam should be created to allow the ponding water to drain. These grooves should not be taken down to the roofing as this may damage the roof. Do not attempt to chip away at the ice dam, because shingle damage can occur. Do not use salt or calcium chloride to melt snow on a roof. These chemicals are very corrosive and can shorten the life of metal gutters, downspouts and flashings. Keep your gutters clean of leaves; this will keep help prevent the occurrence of ice dams.

Let's welcome 2011 in with the beauty and the glee of pure snow. What a joyful and a beautiful way to start the New Year.

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Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) is a professional association representing licensed, bonded and insured contractors, suppliers, distributors and business entities. Call YCCA for information on hiring a contractor at 778-0040. Submit questions and concerns to ycca@cableone.net or through www.ycca.org and watch for your answer in the Friday real estate section of the Daily Courier.

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