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Don't Wait to Repair or Replace Your Leaking Roof

For many homeowners, a new roof can be the single most expensive non-elective home improvement one makes. So before deciding to buy a new roof, you may want to take steps to prolong the life of the one you've got.

It's often possible to inspect the roof yourself for trouble areas and, if you're handy around the house, even make repairs. If, on the other hand, you're afraid of heights or feel uneasy attempting such a project, then many roofing companies will provide free inspections and provide a written estimate outlining needed repairs.

Keep in mind that home improvement/repair scams rank second only to auto-related complaints received each year by the Better Business Bureau. What's more, roof scams are high on the list of home-improvement consumer rip-offs.

Be wary of a roofing company that comes to the door offering to inspect your roof because they "just happen to be in the neighborhood." Unscrupulous companies will make their way onto your roof and find several hundreds or thousands of dollars' worth of repair work to do. What follows is an "unbelievable" offer—typically a savings of 10 percent to 20 percent—if they can do the work "on the spot" for payment in full upon completion. Sadly, some will insist on advance payment without ever setting foot on the roof, and may never be seen again.

So remember our planning credo: Never be in a hurry to begin any remodeling work without doing lots of planning.

If your roof needs repair, have an inspection and estimate made by at least two (preferably three) licensed roofing contractors. You can then compare inspection reports and cost estimates.

Finding a roofing contractor can be a chore. The Yellow Pages, a local consumer referral service, and references from friends, neighbors or a real estate professional are all good resources for finding a reputable roofing contractor.

The National Roofing Contractors Association, a trade association, offers tips on selecting a roofing professional and information on roof maintenance.

If the thought of climbing on the roof brings on high anxiety, consider keeping your feet firmly on the ground and using a pair of binoculars. Look for loose shingles or wood shakes, or, if you have a tile or slate roof, missing or cracked pieces. In any case, keep traffic on the roof to a minimum to prevent damage to shingles or tiles.

On shingle roofs, look for curling, fraying, and tears at the edges. Don't forget to check the flashing around chimneys, vents, skylights and other roof penetrations; they should be tight and in good condition.

Many roof leaks are actually flashing leaks. Flashing is a solid waterproof barrier that prevents moisture from entering an area that cannot be completely sealed with a roofing material. Although most flashing is constructed of galvanized sheet metal, lead and copper also are frequently used. They are more flexible, which makes them the better choice for use with roofing material that isn't flat, such as clay or concrete S-tile.

Clean up rusted flashing with a wire brush, repair it with high-quality caulking, and paint with a rust-resistant paint. Replace severely deteriorated flashing and vents.

Leaves, pine needles and other debris on the roof can cause water to back up between shingles or around flashing, resulting in leaks. Clogged gutters and downspouts also can cause leaking.

Clear sticks, leaves, tennis balls and other debris from drains, scuppers and gutters. A scupper, typically made of galvanized sheet metal, is a short trough that discharges water off the roof and into a downspout. Scuppers are used in lieu of gutters for many flat roofs. Downspouts apply in either case.

Locating a leak can be daunting. Often, a visual inspection isn't enough to determine where a leak is coming from. In that case, a water test is in order.

You need to venture onto the roof to do this test effectively. Use a firmly braced or tied-off ladder equipped with rubber safety feet, and wear rubber-soled shoes to avoid slipping. Affix a safety harness to an anchor on the roof, a tree or a solid object on the other side of the roof to give yourself more protection. Using a garden hose, run water onto the areas where a leak is most likely to exist.

For example, if you have a water stain on the ceiling just in front of the living room fireplace, concentrate your water test on that general area. The chimney flashing may be the culprit in this case. Have a helper in the attic to see to see where the water is making its way through the roof.

When performing a water test, always work an area no more than 4 feet wide, starting from the lowest part of the roof and working up, standing on dry roofing. Once you reach the ridge, begin at the eave with another 4 foot section. This allows you to tackle one area at a time and prevents you from working on a wet roof, which can be a slip hazard.

After you find the source of the leak, you can either try the repair yourself or call in a professional. Sometimes all that's required is a dab of roofing adhesive, a touch of caulking or a small shingle patch. Other times, flashing, vents or sections of roofing must be torn out and replaced, in which case you should definitely hire a roofing contractor.

Waiting until the rains begin can make finding a reputable contractor almost impossible, and usually means paying more. Pay now or pay more later!

Winter Tips

Snow is great for skiing or for children to romp around in, but it can cause major problems in and around the home. Excessive snowfall can result in everything from a cracked chimney to a collapsed roof. What's more, the energy required to clean up after a major snowstorm can trigger health problems or even result in a heart attack.

Be prepared. Deal with a snowstorm is before it arrives. It's futile to take measures in the middle of a blizzard. Stay on top of weather conditions by tuning into a local radio or television station. Know the difference between winter storm watches and warnings. A winter storm watch means a storm is possible in your area. A storm warning tells you that it's headed your way.

Have a plan. If you are in an area of the country that is subject to frequent snowfall, put together a disaster supply kit for your home in a clearly labeled, easy-to-grab box. The kit should include a battery-operated radio, a flashlight, extra batteries for both the radio and flashlight, canned food, a can opener, first-aid supplies and bottled water.

It's also a good idea to have a kit in the trunk of each car used by members of your household. Include blankets, extra sets of dry clothing, a shovel, sand, tire chains, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, and a brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna. And don't forget to winterize the cars before the storm season. While it's important to have your vehicle equipped with these safety measures, it is best to avoid traveling by car in a storm.

Where the home is concerned, minimize the amount of snow that collects on the roof by periodically removing excess amounts with a shovel. Use extreme caution when working atop the roof and never shovel directly on top of the roof material as this will likely damage it. The load caused by excessive amounts of snow buildup can damage the roof framing system or, in some cases, cause it to collapse.

An ice dam can also lead to significant damage. Ice dams form when melted snow freezes at the edge of the roof. The ice traps melting snow from above which creates a reservoir that allows water to back up between the shingles and result in a leak. The leak travels through the ceiling or along both interior and exterior walls. There are many ways to prevent an ice dam. Metal roofing, sheet metal ice belts, electrical heat tape and rubberized sheets are a few.

Another effective method of preventing an ice dam is with insulation. Tightly insulated walls and ceilings will hold heat inside the home, keeping it from rising into the attic, heating the underside of the roof and melting the snow. Snow at the roof's edge is not affected by this heat because it is usually above unheated space. The key is to keep the underside of the roof cold from eave to ridge. This is best done with unobstructed eave ventilation and another source of passive attic ventilation such as a ridge vent.

Personal health and safety are major concerns after a snowfall. According to the American Red Cross, accidental deaths occur most frequently in January, when an estimated 1,000 people die from falls outside the house.

To increase safety of family, friends and neighbors, keep your walkways and driveways free from snow and ice. Snow blowers and ice-melting granules make the process much easier and less physically demanding. Act early. It's easiest to remove snow immediately after a snowfall, before it becomes packed or turns to ice. You can help prevent ice from forming by spreading ice melters when heavy wet snow, sleet or freezing rain begins. Reapply later after removing any accumulation. Calcium nitrate or a garden fertilizer containing urea is effective, and you won't ruin the soil or harm or kill shrubs and trees.

A major health concern is shoveling. Don't shovel snow if you don't exercise regularly or if you have a history of heart problems or obesity. Unless you exercise regularly, don't shovel snow if you are older than 55. The strain from the cold and hard labor can cause a heart attack. If you must shovel, do it properly. Do it slowly. Lift small amounts using proper posture to prevent back strain. Keep your back straight and lift gently from the knees and hips. Don't throw or fling snow over your shoulders. Take frequent breaks and stop immediately if you feel pain or become short of breath.

Dress for cold weather. Wear a hat. Fifty percent of your body heat is lost through your head. Also, dress in layers. You can take off a layer if you get too warm. Woolen pants will keep you warmer than jeans, corduroys or sweatpants. Don't forget to wear long underwear to pull moisture away from your skin. Wear gloves or mittens and replace wet clothing immediately.

Finally, drink hot cider, soup or broth. They warm you and provide nutrients and energy. Coffee and tea, so popular on cold days, actually cool the body. Drinking beverages with alcohol or caffeine will make you more susceptible to hypothermia.

Winter Garden Chores by Rebecca Cole

Without the leaves it will be easy to spot those criss-crossed branches where one of the touching limbs has got to go. Also the shape of the tree will be easier to define with the skeleton showing. As for shrubs, prune only the ones that emerge from new wood in the spring like buddleia, forsythia and some forms of hydrangea. Perennials that die back in the winter can be cut back to the ground and mulched over to protect their roots from the harsh freeze/thaw winter cycle. And speaking of mulch, it often becomes a frozen blanket in the winter preventing the moisture from reaching the earth beneath. It is a good idea to rake your mulch beds a couple of times each winter. But be careful not to rake too deeply as to disturb the roots, and add new mulch as needed when the bald patches become apparent.

And don’t forget the birds. By mid winter the berries and seeds can be terribly scarce. Winter is the perfect time to put out the sunflower seeds and if you’re lucky some will reward you in the summer with a big bold show.

Winter is also the perfect time to organize, repair and replace your garden tools and container boxes. Tools should be tight, clean and sharp. Containers should be tightens, repainted and repaired. Replace and add soon because the spring could sneak up on you right in the middle of your hibernation!

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Fireplace

(AP) - North Pole. Well-informed sources have it that Ole' St. Nick has been forced to replace his bright red uniform with a new one as a result of extensive soiling due to unusually dirty fireplaces this holiday season...

While we are sure that St. Nick's wardrobe is something that is of concern to many, there are other more critical reasons to keep one's fireplace and chimney clean and in tip top operating condition. In fact, a dirty chimney will not only diminish the effectiveness of a fireplace, but, with severe neglect, could be the reason for a chimney fire. And, chimney fires lead to house fires.

According to statistics published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for 1988, 65,200 residential fires in the 50 states were related to chimneys, fireplaces, woodstoves and other solid fuel appliances. These are fires that may possibly have been prevented with regular chimney inspection, cleaning and repair.

The first step to having a healthy fireplace is by burning the right fuel. Never burn garbage, plastics, foil, coated paper, or painted or chemically treated scrap wood. In addition to causing an unfavorable build up on the interior of the firebox and chimney, these also produce noxious fumes which pollute the air (in & out of the home). Burn only seasoned split wood. Seasoning allows moisture in wood to evaporate. Forty-four per cent more heat can be generated from a seasoned log. A clean burning fire is a hotter fire with good drafting conditions that produce cleaner combustion and less smoke from the chimney.

The next step is to have your chimney inspected by a professional chimney sweep annually and, if necessary, cleaned of soot and creosote which is a chemical substance that forms when wood burns. It is the heavy creosote build up that becomes highly flammable often resulting in explosive chimney fires. According to the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG), a national trade association for chimney sweeps, a visual inspection is all that is required for most chimneys. Whereas fees vary according to height and configuration of the fireplace, most visual inspections range from $35. to $60.

In the case where a visual inspection is not adequate, many chimney sweeps are now equipped to do more elaborate inspections with a video camera and monitor referred to as a "chimscan". The chimscan is more costly than the visual inspection ($100 to $200), but will reveal significantly better information about the condition of a chimney. This is especially important when the integrity of the flue is in question due to age or damage from an earthquake or chimney fire.

Finally, as part of his inspection and cleaning, the chimney sweep will also make comments relative to the condition and operation of the damper and spark arrester. Frequently, these will either not exist or are in such a state where they need replacement.

The damper is a steel or cast-iron door that opens or closes the throat of the firebox into the flue. It regulates draft and prevents the loss of heat up the chimney. The spark arrester is a cage-like device which is secured to the top of the chimney. It prevents sparks and ash from escaping and causing a fire on the roof or other potentially flammable substance. It will also keep squirrels, birds and raccoons from nesting in the chimney. Nesting materials can cause a serious safety hazard. Their droppings pose health risks because diseases may be transmitted through their fecal materials. A spark arrester will prevent this.

Prices for a standard cleaning range from $50 to $100 for a single story home and between $75. and $125. for a two story home.

I’m Dreaming of a Colorful Winter by Rebecca Cole

So how do you choose a color that you know you could live with, and where are some of the most effective places to put that bold new color? To begin with choose colors from your closet before leaving home. Grab that favorite sweater, great t-shirt or perfect scarf…etc. and take these items into the room you want to brighten up. Most of us are bolder with our clothes than our house, and if we aren’t, hopefully someone we live with is. Lay these colorful items around the room. Narrow the choice down to the one bold color that works the best. Don’t add two bold new colors to a neutral room. When adding a bold bright color to a room you will create more drama and punch if you saturate your accents with variations of the same color. And if a room already has one bold color ask yourself if it is possible to eliminate it? If not, than embrace it: that is your bold color and change will come by using more of it and in different ways than you ever thought possible. Consider painting just the back walls of the bookshelves in the bold color, leaving the outside brown or grey or black. Stretch the impact of the your one bold color by finding decorative items in the same color range but not the exact hue. A room will be instantly more sophisticated and richer when there is a variety of the same color. Mix up the texture and pattern as well. Juxtapose a shine red tray with a rustic red clay vase and a brown and red plaid wool blanket.

Suddenly winter doesn’t seem so bleak!

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