January 8, 2014
By Nancy Arsenault
Last week’s winter storm extended Christmas vacation for the school kids by two Snow Days and delivered an uncommon light and fluffy snowfall. According to Stow resident and WHDH TV meteorologist Jeremy Reiner, that is a rarity in eastern New England, which is more accustomed to heavy wet snowstorms. With a long winter still ahead, local experts are urging homeowners to follow storm preparedness practices that go beyond filling your pantry with food and water and ensuring you have flashlights and batteries on hand.
Making sure you are not snowed in should be at the top of your list, says Scott Cumming of Stow, who has spent decades repairing and maintaining small engines like those found in snow blowers, tractors, and riding mowers.
Fire up your machines long before winter sets in, or at least before the next storm, and make sure they are running as expected. “Purchase gas one or two gallons at a time as gas starts to go bad after one month,” he said. So if your machine still has gas in it from last winter, don’t count on it working to optimal efficiency. ”Use a marine stabilizer as it absorbs water and helps preserve fuel longer,” he added, advising to also check the oil level, making sure you do not overfill the chamber.
“Keep extra shear pins on hand for your snowblower and never replace shear pins with machine bolts,” he said. The correct shear pin will prevent replacing a $350 gear, according to Cumming. If you are anticipating tree or limb removal work, “use fresh fuel in your chainsaw (93 octane plus 2 stroke oil) if you haven’t used it in a while, as stale gas will ruin the saw. If you don’t use your chainsaw often, you can buy fuel in a can 50:1 or 40:1. It’s ethanol free and lasts two years opened and three years unopened,” Cumming recommended. When it’s time to cut that wood, Cumming said make sure the chain is sharp, as a dull chain will overheat the saw and ruin it. “A dull chain is also when most people get hurt,” he said.
Protecting Your Property Before and After the Storm
Stow Building Inspector Craig Martin agreed that homeowners were spared from damage with the light fluffy snow that fell last week, but with rain later soaking the snowfall and forming heavy, icy mounds, the potential for damage increases. “Most roofs are designed to carry a load of 50lbs per sq. ft. with roof damage often occurring with older homes, those with flat roofs or those without a good pitch to effectively shed the water,” he said.
In Stow, the winter of 2011 saw a few homes with extreme roof damage and weakness caused by snow load, so much so that two homes had to be evacuated by their owners, and one house was condemned due to structural deficiencies. Martin cautioned homeowners who attempt to remove snow load themselves to not go up on the roof itself. “Leave that to a professional. One slip on an icy roof and you are gone,” he said. “Get a roof rake with a 15-20ft handle, and pull down what you can from the ground.”
He cautioned that roof shingles become especially brittle in the cold, and a heavy downward application of a roof rake could rip or break shingles. “Don’t hack away at the snow. Try to pull it down in a smooth, easy manner,’” he said.
Martin also said that the electric roof wires, often seen applied in a zig zag pattern near the bottom of a roof, actually do work to alleviate the ice buildup that can cause ice dams. He said the Town Building has this system applied to the east and west ends of the roof and has proven effective in eliminating ice dams that had occurred there in previous winters. “I just turn them on when there has been a lot of melting and freezing temperatures are predicted,” said Martin.
Inside the home, Martin said to take the time to find exposed pipes, perhaps in a basement or crawl space or on an outside wall and cover those pipes with flexible Styrofoam insulating tubes or rigid insulation. He does not favor the electric strips or heat trace wires that maintain a constant low level of heat around pipes. Those strips have the potential to ignite dried out wood flooring or other materials they might come in contact with; a suspected cause of the fire in a Stow home two years ago this month, that resulted in that house burning to the ground. If pipes do freeze, a careful application of direct heat from a hair dryer often will melt an area to allow water to start flowing, but again, that direct application of high heat has the potential to ignite other adjacent materials, so caution is urged, according to Martin.
Pat Dunn Boucher of Dunn Oil Company said that furnaces and boilers should be routinely checked by a technician to ensure that everything is running at peak efficiency, before unwanted breakdowns can occur, and before the cold sets in.
“When that is postponed into the winter months, it often gets rescheduled due to emergency calls taking precedence over the tune-up calls,” she said. “If you have a garage tank or an outside oil tank, we encourage you to add an additive to stop the oil from freezing or gelling,” she said. “Call your oil company if you ever notice anything odd or different sounding or smelling with your heating system and don’t wait until it has failed. “
Boucher said to be aware of your heat and hot water use, and how fast a home and its residents are using the oil supply. “If the customer is expecting a lot of company over the holidays, they will burn more oil typically with added showers/ hot water usage and turning up the thermostat to accommodate folks during the days when they would normally be working,” said Pat. “It is also crucial for the homeowner who is away during the winter months to have someone watch and check the house temperature daily,” she said, monitoring if temperatures dip drastically when severe weather occurs. “A freeze-up can happen very quickly. There are freeze alert devices that are attached to the phone system, or a light in the window that has a sensor to go on when the temperature drops below a certain set degree,” she said, all part of the preventive maintenance regarding an oil heat system.
While the Town is ready to activate a warming shelter for residents if power goes out for an extended period, Stow Police reported there were few issues with residents or properties during this recent storm, mostly attributed to the fact that the power never was compromised. The Council on Aging was offered as a warming center for those whose homes may have been uncomfortable during the storm, but few required that service this time around. With the next storm most likely just around the corner, take the next few days to prepare your snow removal equipment, your home and your heating system for the next Arctic blast.