Handyman on Call

Don’t insulate eaves: it will expand icicle trouble

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / February 13, 2011

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Q. I have big icicles. Should I put insulation in the eaves?


A. No, no! That would cause more problems of condensation and other water problems you haven’t even heard of. A cool roof and proper ventilation of the attic and lots of attic floor insulation will most likely end the icicles.

Now that I have raked snow from my roof, in many places the snow from the roof has piled up against the clapboards and foundation. Is this a problem?

CINDY, Hollis, N.H.

A. No problem with snow on the clapboards or foundation. It will be gone in a few days, before it can cause any problem. In fact, the ancients in New England and other northern climes left the snow in place or piled it against their houses as insulation. If you are really concerned, you can pull some of it away from walls to allow it to melt a little faster.

Q. Can you offer hints as to how to avoid a flooded basement during the spring melt of this unusual accumulation of snow? How do we prepare for heavy rain on top of snow and protect our finished basements?


A. Good thought, but if the snow melts slowly enough, there may be no problem. As for spring rains flooding everything, last March we had two 100-year storms back to back which caused most of the flooding, but will we get them again? Maybe, but let’s hope for less rain. Snow melt and early rains will saturate the earth; any severe storms later will cause the flooding. So, the only thing we can do has already been done: installing sumps and pumps to handle water, french drains for heavier floods, and try to keep catch basins open. This latter chore is not for you and me.

Q. The heat failed in my year-round house and all the pipes froze. We turned the heat off and also the water. What else can we do to see if there are any burst pipes? Also, are there any telephone alert systems to warn against such happenings?


A. Let the pipes unfreeze, then turn the water on at the meter to locate bursts. There are companies that provide systems that alert the owner in case of a heat failure. Here are two: Freeze Warn of Sharon, Conn. 203-364-0332, or 800-328-0322. Control Products of Chanhassen, Minn. 800-947-9098 or 612-448-2217. You could also use Google and the Yellow Pages, but choosing the right code word is iffy.

Q. Two problems: First, we have a family of flying squirrels nesting in the space between roof and cathedral ceiling. They are cute things, black and smaller than gray or red squirrels, with a large membrane between their feet so they can soar. They have gotten in through our ridge vent, which is about 2 inches thick, leaving plenty of room to get in and out. They must have also pulled out the filter material from the vent. How can I get rid of them humanely? The other question is about the brown, almost syrupy, water that is coming out of our soffit vents: What is causing it to be brown and how can we stop it?


A. Let’s try the squirrels first. Because they are in the insulation between roof and cathedral ceiling, you can wait till spring to see when they come out, then replace the ridge vent with a squirrel-proof one, or by securing heavy steel mesh over the ridge vent. Or, hire a nuisance animal remover to remove them so you can put in a new vent. As for the brown water, it may be from the squirrels’ fecal matter, so the situation is urgent. Or, the water flowing through the soffit vents picked up the color of the wood the water passed through or over. The water is flowing over frozen gutters and dripping under the gutter to make brown icicles. The water will stop when the gutters thaw out, which may be the only problem. You can also check for an ice dam close to the roof’s edge. Heat cables in the gutters and downspouts will keep the gutters clear. You also can have the water checked by your board of health.

Q. My condo is in a building built in 1960s, heated by gas-fired baseboard hot water. I am getting a funny smell occasionally, a smell like burnt toast. What is it?


A. It sounds as if the heating units are getting pretty warm, and hot metal can have a strange odor. Have it checked out by your heating firm. Also, install a carbon monoxide detector, which is required by law.

Q. I like to put my dish drainer in one of my double sinks, but with a new sink, I cannot fit the drainer in the smaller sink, and I can’t find a drainer to fit. Do you know where I can find a smaller drainer? CURIOUS

A. How about putting the drainer in the bigger sink? Or, put the drainer on the counter. I Googled dish drainers, and found a lot, so you might be able to do that.

Peter Hotton is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to