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Handyman Letter
January 15, 2001


1) A cool, mid-wintered romance... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

7) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop...



Here we go again... a new year looms ahead. Last year at this time, we were breathing a collective sigh of relief that our computerized society did not collapse. This year, we successfully navigated through what I come to lovingly call the "snob's millennium". If I hear one more time that Jan 1, 2001 was the "actual" beginning of the millenium I will gag up a furball! Gratefully... that time has passed.

One of my New Years resolutions was to make my life simpler and more organized. As I look at all the timesavers sitting in random piles on my desk, I might as well have resolved to make myself six inches taller and twenty years younger.

But I don't take my resolutions too seriously... at least not seriously enough to put myself on my analyst's couch! Because whether my resolutions become reality or just a tiny historical footnote, I start the year in love again. In love with my work... my friends... my family... and you, my loyal readers. Usually such expressions of youthful vigor are kept on ice till the scent of spring flowers and the heat-rushing hormonal frenzy but in keeping with my penchant for unusual timing, I lay my heart out and you may treat it as you will.

This past year has been one of great joy and great sadness. It was a year like many others and also distinct... of new life, new beginnings... and many, too many last goodbyes. So many good people have moved on to whatever follows this life, leaving behind the great gift of their works and their toil for us to build on and take strength from. Heroes and villains follow the same path out of this life... may we find peace in knowing that in the end, there is true equality and justice in this gift of life.

You, my good readers, have given me another great gift... the gift of your caring. Your hundreds of letters have kept me honest, humble and, most of all, open-minded. You are a marvelous mix of smart, motivated and intuitive people who have given me the opportunity to serve you in your quest for self-reliance. You have likewise served me by giving me your feedback and sharing a wealth of knowledge that no one person could carry alone without breaking.

Time to move on. There is much work to do and too little time. And I hope to use my time wisely and unselfishly, knowing that whatever benefits my brothers and sisters also benefits me.




Dear NH,

This past weekend, I went into the attic to cover a whole house fan that I have, and to my surprise I had icicles hanging from the joists to the rafters! I know why the moisture was there... because of the heat loss going through the fan. But since I have covered up my fan the moisture is still in the attic, and is leaking onto my ceiling.

Can you help me solve this problem... first as to why there is so much moisture in my attic and second how do I get rid of it. By the way, my furnace has a humidifier attached to it, but it is set very low.



Though your problem is admittedly extreme (ice-stalactites growing in your attic... really!!) it is nothing more than a testimony to the importance of adequate attic ventilation. Moisture rises into the attic in all homes, finding a way even if your home is properly insulated. If too much moisture collects in a cold attic, it condenses first on metal such as the roofing nails exposed inside the attic ceiling. This ice can build up to massive proportions over time.

Of course, there is a point where even a well ventilated attic can become overwhelmed with moisture. This can occur when the homeowner over-humidifies the air via automatic humidifiers (such as yours) or room humidifiers. In some cases, the air in the home can be "naturally" overhumidified due to extreme weatherstripping. This is the so-called "sick house syndrome" where there are so few air changes that the air reeks of toxins... yuck!

A lesson to everyone with a whole house fan... you were wise to cover it for the winter. The louvers on these fans are like a gaping hole in your ceiling and allow not only moisture but valuable heat to escape! Other sneaky places for moisture to enter your attic are recessed light fixtures and bathroom ventilation fans. These can be "boxed" from above to reduce movement of moist air into the attic, but caution should be taken to allow air space around light fixtures UNLESS they are specifically designed to allow "zero clearance". Be sure your bathroom vent fans are vented to the outside and don't just blow into the attic. Finally, attic access holes and folding stairways are also possible weak points that should be insulated and weather-stripped.

You mention that you have gable vents installed in your attic. They must not be large enough to supply enough fresh air to clear out the accumulating moisture... hence the ice problem. The easiest thing to do NOW is to install a gable-mounted ventilation fan on either vent. Though most folks use these fans to cool the attic in the summer, they can also help cool the attic in the winter. The additional movement of cool, dry air should stop the growth of the icicles as well as cool the attic enough to stop the dripping. You should try to manually chip away any large icicles to limit further dripping. Of course, if the weather warms up you might get a quick meltdown; lay down plastic tarps with cloth towels or tarps on top of it. This will catch the water and prevent staining of the ceiling below.

When the warmer weather arrives, you can take the additional steps of installing larger gable vents or even installing a ridge vent along the roof peak. Though ridge vents are supposed to be used in conjunction with soffit vents (vents under the roof overhang), a ridge vent will supplement the existing gable vents and help to keep the attic temperature closer to the ideal temperature... which is the outside temperature!

I have more info and tips on attic ventilation online at the following link: 


6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

(NOTE: There are a few more Q&A than usual here this month. However, there has been such an overwhelming interest in ice-damming issues that we have interspersed a number of reader comments on this important winter-time topic! If ice dams don't interest you, our apologies... just quietly sip your Pina Colada and bear with us as we in the North Country zealously battle Mother Nature!)

Dear NH,

Thanks for the tips on ice dams. I have question concerning using the panty hose and calcium chloride ice melt. Can calcium chloride and magnesium chloride mix be used with out staining roof and aluminum siding?



I am not aware on anyone who has "tested" your situation so I can only suggest caution in your experimentation. Calcium chloride or magnesium chloride should not stain a normal asphalt shingle roof, though there may be a white residue which will, over time, rinse off with normal rain or you can hose it down in the spring. As far as aluminum siding goes, rock salt is much more corrosive to metals than calcium chloride, but then again calcium chloride is "somewhat" corrosive. Alternatively, there are non-salt ice melts available that are even less corrosive and just, as if not more, effective... though also more expensive. You may have to hunt for them, though.

There is perhaps one of the most informative articles I have read on the various types of ice melting products available today at the following link. I was written by a chemical engineer working with the US Postal Service. Now there are people who know ice! 


Dear NH,

I recently read your article on ice dams at your website and found it quite interesting. One thing not mentioned as a solution is to remove the gutter where the ice builds up. A friend of mine mentioned this as a possible solution saying that the only reason we have gutters on houses is so that rain water does not just run down the roof and drop off in a wall of water. If that is the case, does this make any sense? It seems to me that the gutters are the problem. No gutters, no ice dam. Your thoughts?

TD from Schaumburg, IL


Though ice dams can and do form in gutters, the fact is that buildings without gutters also develop ice dams so removing them may or may not be helpful in a particular situation. I have seen ten foot icicles hanging off gutterless roofs!

So his suggestion may or may not work. You must also consider what will happen to the roof runoff the rest of the year. Many homes may develop moisture problems in their basements if rainwater is allowed to drop off the roof next to the foundation... especially large roofs! In these situations, the ice melt bag or installing a heating cable just might be more sensible solutions.


Dear NH,

In your clothes dryer Q&A page, you tell folks they can disconnect the vent hose and let the warm air help heat/humidify the house air in the winter. Better add that this applies only to electric dryers, since gas dryers would pump carbon monoxide and dioxide into the house!



You are absolutely correct. I have amended the article with your warning.

Gas dryers do not produce excessive amounts of dangerous gasses (carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide being the most notorious)... if they did they would be required to have a separate exhaust as furnaces and water heaters do! None of the manufacturers specifically mention this issue as the REASON they require venting. This becomes somewhat confusing because manufacturers of electric clothes dryers have identical venting requirements. It's never easy! I have some inquiries out and as soon as I know more I will let you all know... right here!


Dear NH,

I have been a homeowner for less that a month, yet already had to deal with some severe ice damming due to record snowfall here in the Midwest. I am new to the problem so I thought about it for a day or so and then came up with this solution. Take the garden hose with the spray gun on the end of it, hook it up to the hot water spigot, and go at it. I started by melting away a channel in the ice dam for accumulated water to escape. Then I worked from back of the dam towards the eve, melting away the bottom layer. After some time I was able to push the ice dam off the edge of the roof piece by piece. The advantage of this method is that damage to the shingles is minimized. These ice dams were 6 to 8 inches thick. It took a while, and quite a bit of water, but seemed to work better than the hammer-and-chisel method.

If you're doing this over a walkway, beware of ice formation on objects below. Also, have someone in the house checking to make sure the water is not leaking in.

Thanks for the useful site!



Thanks for sharing your ice dam remedy. I hope it helps our readers as much as I think it will! Of course, it will also get a chuckle from our friends "down South" and "out West" who think snow is a decoration we put out for the holidays!


Dear NH,

I've been reading your page on ice dams and am not sure whether my problem is ice dams or not. My eaves seem to flow fine during the summer even in heavy rain, but during the winter the ice build up is consistent and in the same spot all the time. The section of the roofing we are talking about is on the east side of the building on a reasonably graded roof. I went up on a ladder the other day,( not the smartest thing to do) but did not pay special attention to the roof. The eaves were iced all the way to the down pipe.

Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. I am not the handiest guy in the world, but I'm willing to learn.



Yes... definitely an ice dam! I would suggest trying the ice melt bag first since your area of trouble is small. If it doesn't do the trick, you might find that installing a heating cable just in the troublesome area might be the magic bullet for your situation!

If you read the suggestion above concerning using hot water to melt a channel in the dam, do that first... then lay the ice melt bag in the channel to keep it open so water can flow through!

Be really careful with the ladder... they are dangerous enough to use when the weather is warm and dry! Make sure you have someone nearby just in case there is a problem.