Feb 22, 2011

Ice Ice Baby

I've been in the heritage business since 2005. Educated and trained on the westcoast where rain boots reign, water, naturally, is the number one enemy to any heritage home. The ultimate goal of any successful heritage project on the coast is to keep water out and mitigate any areas damaged by water that got in. By the time I left Vancouver, me and water issues, well, we were tight.

But since moving to Calgary (1 year ago today!!!), I have to be honest, this ice thing is really throwing me under the bus. I understand the basic physics of freeze/thaw but had no idea the extent of its potential wrath. And again, correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Calgary a semi arid desert?

Feathered ice on our bedroom window. Coldest room in the house. Which is why I resort to sleeping on the couch on especially cold nights.

We've had an 'unusually usual' cold winter and snowy winter this year - unusual because of the excessively long stints of cold (below -20) and usual because, well it's Calgary and the weather here is totally nutty. I wonder, on days like today, when it's -24/blizzard and meanwhile in Vancouver, the crocuses are blooming, why people 140+ years ago decided to settle here, build a mud hut and call it a day? Am I just not bred right for Prairie life? Too much Mediteranean blood? Do I need to just buck up and finally purchase a function > fashion winter coat?*

Ice Dam gone wild, Banff, Alberta, 1910 (Photo courtesy of Peel's Prairie Province PC007250)

Freeze-thaw, apart from its obvious effects, is sneaky - a trickster - causing the house to shift so that doors that once opened smoothly get stuck, floors to sink slightly. And as soon as it melts, everything shifts back the other way.

My lazy susan corner cupboard in the kitchen, for example, has developed a stick on one side. I am holding back from sanding it down as I'm sure it will work itself out in the Spring. The floor in the downstairs bathroom is dipping down towards the outer wall. We have ICE on the interiors of our windows that we didn't restore last summer.

Anyone up for a snow cone from my living room window?

Even more exciting is the massive ice damming wreaking havoc on our roof. Ice dam? I thought roofs were supposed to be waterproof?? Well, as it turns out, we have no insulation in our attic. And while this makes for an extraordinary show of icicles, the lack of insulation leads to heat escape, causing ice in the eavestroughs to freeze and thaw. This ice backs up into the soffits, then the roof, further freezing and thawing with the temperatures. When the ice expands inside the attic, it pushes roof nails out, which causes leaks like the one in Lily's room this past summer.

When the ice in the attic thaws, it of course causes all kinds of interior leaks depending on how far back the ice has made it in your roof. Like the one in our kitchen window sash a couple of weeks ago.

In short, ice dams are like having your very own glacier. In the attic. Lucky us...

There are solutions. And they are actually quite simple. Add insulation and venting. Keep ice build-up free from
eavestroughs over the winter and snow build-up clear from roofs. We know what we have to do. Yet, knee deep (in snow) in the midst of a winter that doesn't appear to be ending, with the occasional water leak in the kitchen and a pet glacier in the attic, we are struggling with putting up the money for what we should do, in lieu of booking a trip to Mexico.

At this moment... Mexico is winning...


* I'm having a hard time with this... why is it so difficult for anyone to design a coat that is both warm and cute?


Sandi Ratch said...

When becoming an Albertan, one really has to give up the concept of a coat that is both warm and attractive. Instead, you have to swallow your pride and dive into a puffy, ugly, parka that will keep your ass from freezing and falling off. Consider it your own personal insulation that prevents the buttocks glacier from forming.

One of our neighbours, who has insufficient insulation in his attic, had a disaster about 2 weeks ago when the humungous ice dam on the roof melted just enough to slide off and take the eavestrough with it. Although Mexico might be (extremely) attractive today, I'd vote for the insulation. I can say that only because we're leaving for Florida on Sunday and have a respit for 10 days. If we weren't getting out, I'm quite sure I'd be begging to come to Mexico in your suitcase.

Laura said...

So we should go to Mexico then? That's what I'm hearing? hee.

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