Handyman on Call

Icicles on roof; water pipe leaks

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / January 1, 2009
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Q. The last storms loaded my gutters with icicles. Some were big and fat and 2 feet long, and a potential hazard. In places where there are no gutters at all, I still got icicles. There were no icicles on the garage. What can I do?


A. Icicles grow readily from a warm roof, so the cure is to ventilate the attic to make that roof as cool as possible; this will also help prevent ice dams. There are no icicles on the garage because the garage roof is cold. The icicles formed under the gutters because the gutters filled up with snow and ice and water cascaded over the filled-in gutters and froze as it dropped. Nothing you can do about that but break off the long ones.

To make the roof cold, vent the attic. The best vents for this are soffit vents, on the underpart of the roof overhang. Cool air will go into the vents and into the attic, cooling the roof as it goes along, hopefully to go out of the roof via a ridge vent. I built a continuous soffit vent along all four sides of the hip roof, and my icicles are not more than 3 or 4 inches long. If a house has no overhang for soffit vents (a design defect that should be considered criminal), a contractor can rebuild the fascia board to create what is called an eaves vent.

Other callers reported icicles. Mary of Belmont said her icicles were skinny little things, not more than 12 inches long. Forget about them, Mary, they are harmless until they grow bigger. Knock them down when you can. Mary's house is a ranch, so knocking them down is not hard to do.

Q. Our 100-year-old house used to have a well. Pipes go from the well into the basement and were capped, but when the groundwater is high, water bursts out of the pipe. How can we stop that?

EILEEN, in Hotton's chat room

A. Try cutting off the pipe in the basement and creating a sort of standpipe over the well outdoors, then put a valve on it so you can use it for non-potable purposes such as the lawn and garden.

Q. My rubber roof is 12 years old and is in good shape, except for the vent pipe. There, air bubbles are showing around the boot flashing where a rubber boot covers the pipe as it comes through the roof. There are resulting leaks. How can I fix that?


A. One way is to replace the boot, but why would air bubbles come up around the boot? I think it is because air is forcing its way from the attic. Or, there is a leak in the soil pipe. Check out that soil pipe for small holes. And consider a new boot anyway. When you install the new boot, use rubber roof adhesive instead of tar or roofing cement, because tar will damage the rubber.

Q. I took off the ceramic tiles from my bathroom wall and floor (it took a lot of chipping) in my project to redo my bathroom, and I discovered hard plaster on a metal lath under the tile. Can I put new tile over that base? The plaster and lath are in good shape, and does not give when I press against it.


A. It is not plaster on the steel lath, but mortar; you have discovered a mud job, which is the best way to handle ceramic tile in a bathroom or anywhere else. Install the new tile with thin-set mortar, and you will have continued a great tradition.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the Sunday Homes Section. Call 617-929-2930 with questions Tuesdays 1-6 p.m. Hotton ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays: Go to

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