As Monday's mammoth snowfall began to melt, plumbing, heating and other housing specialists offered numerous tips for homeowners in the Washington area yesterday to help contend with flooded basements, leaky roofs and other mishaps.
The experts' advice -- a mixture of common sense and technical know-how -- ranged from shoveling snow away from the sides of a house to chopping ice clots from the eaves. They recommended ways to combat mildew, unclog frozen pipes, prevent auto locks from freezing, minimize damage to oil furnaces if flooding occurs, and avoid electrical and other hazards.
"Make sure there's adequate drainage away from the house," said Don Luebs, director of building systems for the NAHB Research Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders.
To help prevent basement flooding, Luebs and others recommended clearing snow, ice and debris from drainage channels and pipes and removing snow from the perimeter of a house. Some experts suggested scooping snow off window wells and digging holes in the snow at some distance from a house to help drain runoff away from the house.
"Make sure your sump punp is running," urged Patrick Higgins, technical director of the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors. Not every home has a sump pump -- a device for draining water from basements -- but homeowners who have them may easily check to the if they are functioning. If a sump pump is not running, Higgins suggested, a homeowner should make certain that it is pluged in and its fuse has not burned out before calling a plumber.
Arthur Brigham, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Montgomery and Prince George's counties, urged residents also to shovel snow from curbside drainage inlets to help drain the streets. A Washington Gas Light Co. spokeswoman noted that clearing snow from basement windows also would improve air supply to gas-fueled furnaces and water heaters.
Ted Swaim, secretary-treasurer of the Metropolitan Area Roofing Contractors Association, cited a key cause of leaky roofs. "Basically, the problem during this type of weather is that the snow melts at the eaves," he said. Swaim and others noted that the melting snow often forms ice clumps on overhangs. Pools of water may then accumulate behind the ice and seep into attics and ceilings.
Clearing away such ice clots was described yesterday as a chancy under-taking. A homeowner may climb a ladder and chop the ice from the eaves with a hammer or a hatchet, Swaim said. But he added, "It's risky and may not be worth it."
Roofing specialists urged homeowners to try, if possible, to clear snow, ice, fallen leave and other debris from gutters and down spouts.
If water seepage through roofs or basement walls leads to mildew, several remedies were suggested."Basically what you want is air and heat," said Marie Turner, a home economist for the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University extension office in Fairfax County. In addition to drying out mildewed furnishings, Turner recommended use of chlorine bleach, ammonia or commercial midew-removing products.
If significant basement flooding occurs, housing specialists said, homeowners should shut off electric circuits and furnace switches to avoid electrical hazards and minimize damage to basement appliances.
If only minor seepage or dampness occurs in a basement, some experts suggest relying on sump pumps, turning off humidifiers to enhance evaporation and simply mopping up. Odors could be eliminated with soapy water and chlorine bleach.
For frozen pipes -- still described as the Washington area's most frequent current plumbing problems -- some specialists recommended using hair dryers or hearers to thaw out the ice blocks. They warned homeowners to avoid use of welding torches, describing these as a fire hazard.
To prevent auto locks from freezing, Glenn Lashley, an American Automobile Association spokesman, recommended covering the locks with masking tape at night. To loosen a frozen lock, he suggested warming the key with a cigarette lighter before inserting it into the lock.
Another technique recommended by several gas station operators is to pour boiling water into an auto lock. But they warned that the water must be hot enough to avoid freezing again before the key is inserted.
Most of the tips were aimed at dealing with what are expected to be relatively minor aftereffects of Monday's snowstorm. Weather forecasters predict the snow will melt slowly and will not cause major flooding.
Lashely urged motorists to shovel snow away from their cars as soon as possible, especially near exhaust pipes and radiators. A clogged exhaust pipe could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and a snow-jammed radiator could result in a car's overheating, Lashley said. Because car start-up techniques vary widely, auto owners should consult their car manuals for directions on cold-weather starts, he said.