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Winter storms present unique challenges

Contractors should prepare for the challenges winter storms will bring.

The last week of January brought a major snow storm to the Northeast U.S., as parts of New England received upwards of 30 inches of snow. This winter storm shut down businesses and school, prevented travel and caused significant delays to public transportation. Now, piles of snow, ice and slush linger across many residential and business-heavy areas. The layers of snow might be mainly cleared of the roads, but different problems arise when all that weight bears on a structure.

Contractors and repairmen should be prepared to respond to calls from landlords, residents and building owners about leaks, damage and other results of the storm. With the right power tools, fasteners and spray foam insulation, winter storm effects can be negated.

Roofs at risk after snowfall
The roof of a building plays a fundamental role in keeping the interior warm and dry, for more than the obvious reasons. Heat rises, so inadequate roofing will not prevent that column of air from escaping, bringing down the interior temperature and wasting resources. But that heat loss has another effect: ice damming.

Heat that escapes through the roof will melt the bottom layer of snow that sits atop the shingles. As that snow melts, it drips toward the eaves and eventually freezes over again. This process continues until blocks of solid ice form around the gutters and between shingles, which can be a serious headache, according to Norm Abram of "This Old House."

"Dams can tear off gutters, loosen shingles, and cause water to back up and pour into your house. If you've had ice dams in the past, the most important thing we can do is try to keep the snow off.," Abram told Boston Magazine. "There are a lot of options now, like electrical melting systems and cables you can put in a gutter, but these should be installed by a professional."

Additionally, overhanging branches are a risk to snap and collapse during and after storms as they grow heavy with ice and snow. These branches can fall through roofs and nearby power lines, and in the middle of winter, the last thing anyone wants is a hole in the roof and no power. Contractors should be aware of the at-risk trees and branches and remove them before the storm hits.

Insulation the key to a comfortable winter
Any building that stands in the way of a winter storm would be much better off with a robust layer of spray foam insulation, particularly in areas like the basement and attic that do not receive much heat, if any. It's essential to protect these areas for a number of reasons.

In the attic, insulation can prevent the aforementioned ice damming by eliminating heat loss through the roof. In the basement and other areas, insulation will help ensure that the pipes don't freeze and burst, causing thousands of dollars in potential damages.

Contractors can also use spray foam caulk around windows, doors and any other small cracks that let in drafts. Especially in regions like New England, with many old buildings, new insulation is a worthwhile investment.