Revenge of the House


I think I’ve hurt my house’s feelings; it’s acting out.

This morning, I opened my eyes to a disconcerting bulge in the plaster almost directly above, on the wall behind my bed. So I got dressed, laid down some plastic and towels, then poked at it. It began weeping.

Clearly, the house is sad that I’m threatening to sell it. Clearly.

Outside, at about the same location on the house as the interior problem, there’s a killer icicle. (Seriously – that thing could kill someone were it to fall on them…but, it’s inside my fenced backyard, so if it does fall, well, I think I would win that lawsuit.)

I thought it was a box gutter problem, but Dyami Plotke (of The Penultimate Woodshop renown), tells me it’s likely a result of ice damming – melting water from the house’s escaping heat being forced back under the shingles by the gutters, which are probably full up with ice.

And, he kindly gave me several options for fixing the problem…none of which are in my skillset even if I had a 40′ ladder. (Dyami, by the way, is a division manager for a New York roofing company, and is an expert in diagnosing and fixing these kinds of things. Too bad he’s a 10-hour drive away.)

But there’s nothing to be done in the short term…other than be vigilant about changing that towel tucked into the plastic behind my bed (there’s more plastic taped atop the baseboard and onto the carpet, to create an “overflow” trough with more towels, in case I manage to sleep through my every-two hours alarm tonight to change the towels).

I have a roofer who specializes in old houses coming tomorrow at lunch time; I’m just hoping he can do something to mitigate the immediate problem (so I can get some sleep), and that a permanent fix can be effected quickly.

Then, it looks like I’m breaking out the hawk and knives again. Then the paint.

I don’t like it when my house cries. It’s making me want to cry, too.


About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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19 Responses to Revenge of the House

  1. Dyami says:

    Glad I could help, Megan. Sorry I’m so far away or I’d stop by with a 40′ ladder myself. Good luck with the repair.

  2. Wesley Beal says:

    I’ve heard of this method for dealing with ice dams in the short term. Long term it’s a matter of insulation so the heat from the house doesn’t melt so much snow on the roof. Anyway, rock salt packed into a knee high nylon, laid over the edge of the roof so it just clears it by a small bit.

    I live in the Boston metro area and we’re all getting educated a lot this winter about ice dams and roof raking.

    • fitz says:

      Interesting…but no way to get it up there! I’m keeping my fingers crossed the roofer can institute a short-term fix, then a proper fix when wether permits.

      • Wesley Beal says:

        I’ve never had to do it myself, so there’s that. I’ve heard it said you can tie a string/rope to the stockings, over throw the thing up onto the roof, and slowly pull it down to where you want it. Of course, this whole method is something that works better *before* an ice dam significant enough to cause leaks forms. Works better as a preventative than a fix, I suspect.

  3. snwoodwork says:

    This is further proof that if I moved north of Tennessee I’d be screwed. By the way, it was 70 degrees here today.

  4. Dave Reedy says:

    A pressure washer hooked up to hot water with the right nozzle might do the trick. But 40 ft. might be a stretch.

  5. Joshua Clark says:

    Yikes, sorry to hear about this, Megan. We faced the same problem four years ago when ice dams caused flooding throughout our house. I tried ice melt in hosiery to no avail. In the end the short term solution was to call a roofer to come out and chop holes in the the dams to drain the water backed up behind. It cost a fortune but stopped the leaks. Long term the solution was to find the source of the heat escaping into the attic and fix it. In our case it was two bathroom fans venting into the soffits. We fixed that and haven’t had ice dams since, even with 2+ feet of snow on the roof this year. Gotta keep that attic space cold!

    Good Luck,


    • fitz says:

      I kind of want to know what “a fortune” means…but I suspect I’ll find out for myself soon enough! Sorry you had to go through this, too.

  6. jmwagle86 says:

    So sorry, that looks like more than a small problem. Beautiful home though. Best of luck. Me? I’m thinking of Florida.

    • fitz says:

      Nah – my brother lives in Florida, and he had a problem with some part of his a/c mechanism – water everywhere; he had to have the drywall, floor and carpet replaced, and is still in need of a few replacement kitchen cabinets. We just have the luck of the Irish 🙂

  7. toolnut says:

    Unfortunately, you are in the “chop-it-out-and-wait-til-spring-to-fix-properly” mode. If you want to feel like you are doing something proactive, poke your head in the attic and see how cold it is up there. It should be very cold. If not, the roofer should recommend more roof vents and insulation. In my first house, I could wear a t-shirt in the attic in mid-winter an be quite comfortable. I put some insulation in an by the time I put the last roll down, I was freezing up their. No more dams.
    Actually, now that I think about it, I did have to blow insulation into the north wall. The house was built right after WWII and insulation wasn’t a priority, (read as none).

    • fitz says:

      I already had insulation blown into the roof – but the “attic” is my third floor, and is finished. First time I’ve had problems, but this is no where near the worst winter we’ve experienced since I bought the place. I dunno…done guessing; I’ll let the experts deal w/it (and write what will no doubt be a painful check).

      • toolnut says:

        Well that does complicate matters. Good luck it will work out for the best. Being Irish I know all about Irish luck, so to put this in a positive perspective, you were “lucky” it happened before you put it on the market. ( yeah you’d be luckier if it didn’t happen at all, but we’re Irish, it doesn’t work that way.)

  8. Dave Reedy says:

    Turning off the heat in that room and shutting the door might cool the area off enough to keep the ice frozen. Temp fix only.

    • Dave Reedy says:

      Open the window also?

      • fitz says:

        Yup – turned the heat down in the whole house to 58 (it’s usually a toasty 62), shut that vent and shut the door. At around midnight, it stopped dripping. It was 6° last night; I suspect it refroze. It’s 13° now, and I’m headed to home to see what’s going on…might be cracking a window!

  9. John Fitz says:

    Oh no! So many people have been having that issue around here. Insurance adjusters are VERY busy. 40′ is a little high for me, but when possible I’ve had a lot of luck with the ice-melt-in-a-stocking trick. I call it the “salt sausage”. As long as you can get it into position running over the ice and up the roof, it should melt a channel for water to get out. Calcium Chloride has worked best for me – stay away from sodium chloride. It’s a temp fix though as the ice will form around the sausage, especially once the salt is exhausted. Good attic insulation and proper ventilation are key. For us, snow blocking the ridge vent caused some issues but overall we’ve been fortunate.

    • fitz says:

      Roofer came out today and cleared the ice from the gutters; seems to be fixed (though Im reserving rejoicing until a few days bears that out).

  10. Pingback: Trouble Above, Trouble Below | Rude Mechanicals Press

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