winter preparation

Houseplants that Improve Indoor Air Quality

Who knew that having a green thumb could help with air quality in your own home? As the winter months set in, we are sealed up inside of our ever-more energy efficient homes. The "tighter" the home, the less fresh air that will naturally circulate within that home. I know that in our household, it seems my family members and I take turns feeling lousy this time of year. We live in an energy star rated home with a circulation system to keep fresh air moving through the house - but still, access to fresh air is limited as compared to warmer months. I have often thought that the lack of fresh air can lead to this increase in illness or allergic responses. The following article from Northampton's The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, January 17th, makes helpful suggestions about how homeowners can keep indoor air cleaner during the winter. I love that adding beautiful plants to your home has the added benefit of making the air cleaner!

Plants, techniques to keep indoor air clean in winter

  • Peperomia, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • Poinsettias, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are plants said to purify air

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air.

  • English ivy, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is said to purify air. GAZETTE STAFF/Jerrey Roberts - Buy this Image

  • Orchids, seen at Hadley Garden Center, are flowers said to purify air.

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, beside a display of plants that are said to purify air. At left a close-up of a Chinese evergreen. Gazette staff/Jerrey roberts 

  • A spider plant, at Hadley Garden Center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS 

  • Angela Karlovich, who works at Hadley Garden Center, holds an aloe vera plant, one that is said to purify air, Dec. 12, at the store.

  • Chinese evergreen, seen at Hadley Garden Center, is a plant said to purify air


By LINDA ENERSON
For the Gazette
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
 
The ravages of winter drive us inside, where we take comfort in a warm home well protected and insulated from the elements.

But while a weather-tight home is great for saving energy and resources, that efficiency often comes at the expense of indoor air quality. 

When the windows are closed for the season, a variety of indoor air contaminants can accumulate and bother residents. Some of these contaminants are allergens such as mold spores or dust mites. Others are toxic organic compounds off-gassing from furniture, building materials or carpets. 

Dr. Jonathon Bayuk, medical director of allergy services at Allergy and Immunology Associates of New England, says there are many things homeowners can do to clean indoor air. 

Getting rid of allergens 

Air purifiers can remove allergens and other air contaminants, including dust mites, smoke and mold particles. Bayuk advises buying one that is big enough for the area of the room and uses a HEPA filter to trap contaminant air particles. He cautions against products that utilize blades. This type of air purifier creates ozone by generating tiny electrical sparks when the blades strike a contaminating particle. While each spark generates a minimal amount of ozone, over the course of a day, the ozone can accumulate to toxic levels. 

Keeping the relative indoor humidity below 50 percent helps to discourage mold growth, according to Bayuk, but it’s important not to let humidity drop too low as dry skin can often become a problem when relative humidity drops below 35 or 40 percent. 

Mold growing on a hard surface, such as a tub, can be relatively easy to clean (Bayuk recommends a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water). However, porous objects, such as a box of books in the basement, may need to be disposed of in order eliminate that source of mold spores in the home. 

Dust mites are another common indoor allergen that can cause year-round problems for people with a sensitivity to the enzymes they excrete.

Dust mites feed on the dead skin cells that humans and pets naturally shed, as well as dust, pollen and other organic material. They live in areas where they can find food, sufficient moisture and warmth. 

Carpets, couches, and mattresses are common areas where dust mites live and breed. As these surfaces are porous, they gather below the surface of the fabric, making it difficult to get rid of them. 

Bayuk says a mattress cover is a great place to start in curbing dust mites. The cover is made of a very tight fabric the mites cannot penetrate. Cleaning the cover on a weekly basis keeps them from piling up on these surfaces.

Reducing clutter and keeping a house clean can also reduce the number of dust mites. Bayuk recommends using a high-efficiency vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove mites and their food sources from carpets and sofas. 

Dust mites are fairly easily removed from hard surfaces as they stick to a damp cloth. Bayuk says using a feather duster is virtually useless, and simply moves the mites and the particles they feed on to another surface.

Chemical contaminants 

Organic compounds off-gassing from dry-cleaned clothes, and from newly applied paints, lacquers and varnishes, as well as from newer furniture, carpets and building materials are another source of indoor air pollution. 

In the late 1980s, NASA conducted a series of experiments to see if indoor plants could be used to purify the air of future space habitats. The agency’s final report on the experiments showed that some of the most common and easily cared-for houseplants were surprisingly effective at decreasing levels of the most common organic compounds found circulating indoors. 

Hadley Garden Center stocks many of the plants named in the study. Greenhouse manager Angela Karlovich is familiar with the NASA study, and can lead customers to a wide variety of air-cleaning plants that perform well in a wide variety of indoor settings. 

Karlovich says that many of the plants cited by NASA can thrive in low-light conditions, which makes them versatile and easy to care for indoors, including: 

Dracaena: Several varieties were tested by NASA and were found to be effective at removing trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene and formaldehyde.

Spider plants: effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are also non-toxic to pets. 

English ivy: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

Chinese evergreen: removes formaldehyde and benzene 

Bamboo palm: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde. Bamboo palm is non-toxic to pets. 

Golden pothos: removes formaldehyde 

Philodendron: removes formaldehyde 

Peace lily: removes TCE, benzene and formaldehyde 

While sun-loving Gerbera daisies are usually planted outside, these plants removed the most TCE and benzene of all the plants tested at NASA. They are also non-toxic to pets. 

Bayuk says like all plants, those mentioned above also add to indoor air quality by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 

Arctic Temps Expected to Hit Northampton Area!

Well, it looks as if winter has finally arrived to the Pioneer Valley, and she means business! It seems we can expect possible power outages due to the high winds. Make sure to have your flashlights powered up, and back up power and heat sources ready to go, should we lose power. It's also extremely important to dress appropriately for the weather if you need to be outside for any period of time.

Real Estate Reminder: Remember to keep your heat on low if you have to be out of town during the cold snap. Burst pipes can lead to very expensive plumbing and cosmetic fixes!

Here's the report from the Daily Hampshire Gazette today:

 

Cold snap expected to arrive in Pioneer Valley

By EMILY CUTTS
@ecutts_HG

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

Snowy Trail

Photo credit: Allegro Photography

An Arctic front is expected to hit the region bringing with it cold temperatures, high winds and snow, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Thursday morning’s high temperature in the 20s is forecast to drop throughout the day to the mid-teens, according to Bill Simpson, a spokesperson with the weather service.

Winds will gradually increase with wind gusts reaching up to 40 mph in the afternoon bringing with it wind chills dropping near zero, Simpson said.

“One good thing – it’s a relatively short period,” he said.

The highest winds and lowest wind chills are expected in the evening and could hit 10 to 20 below zero in Western Massachusetts with some locations even colder, according to Simpson.

Moving into Friday, winds are expected to die down and temperatures are forecast in the mid-teens.

Snow is expected to arrive following the evening commute and could drop four to five inches in the Connecticut River Valley.

“Dress appropriately. We have a wind chill advisory out once you get below zero to minus 20,” Simpson said. “Hopefully people are dressing appropriately.”

Simpson also said people should prepare for possible power outages because of the high winds.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

Artic Temps Expected to Hit Northampton Area

Well, it looks as if winter has finally arrived to the Pioneer Valley, and she means business! It looks as if we can expect possible power outages because of the high winds. Make sure to have your flashlights powered up, and back up power and heat sources ready to go, should we lose power. It's also extremely important to dress appropriately for the weather if you need to be outside for any period of time.

Real Estate Reminder: Remember to keep your heat on low if you have to be out of town during the cold snap. Burst pipes can lead to very expensive plumbing and cosmetic fixes!

Here's the report from the Daily Hampshire Gazette today:

 

Cold snap expected to arrive in Pioneer Valley

By EMILY CUTTS
@ecutts_HG

Thursday, December 15, 2016

 

snowy trail

Photo credit: Allegro Photography

An Arctic front is expected to hit the region bringing with it cold temperatures, high winds and snow, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton.

Thursday morning’s high temperature in the 20s is forecast to drop throughout the day to the mid-teens, according to Bill Simpson, a spokesperson with the weather service.

Winds will gradually increase with wind gusts reaching up to 40 mph in the afternoon bringing with it wind chills dropping near zero, Simpson said.

“One good thing – it’s a relatively short period,” he said.

The highest winds and lowest wind chills are expected in the evening and could hit 10 to 20 below zero in Western Massachusetts with some locations even colder, according to Simpson.

Moving into Friday, winds are expected to die down and temperatures are forecast in the mid-teens.

Snow is expected to arrive following the evening commute and could drop four to five inches in the Connecticut River Valley.

“Dress appropriately. We have a wind chill advisory out once you get below zero to minus 20,” Simpson said. “Hopefully people are dressing appropriately.”

Simpson also said people should prepare for possible power outages because of the high winds.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.

Time For an Energy Assessment for Your Home!

As winter approaches, heating costs may be on your mind. Perhaps you have put off winterizing strategies in past years. Or maybe you've been curious about how to make your home more energy-efficient, but you weren't sure how to get started. The Mass Save program makes it easy for homeowners to start the ball rolling towards creating a more energy-efficient home. Better for the environment, and easier on the wallet!


Buyers often want to gain as clear a picture as they can about the degree of energy efficiency in a house they are considering, especially in many of the older homes for sale in the Northampton area. Sellers often want or need advice about what they can do to improve household energy efficiency, when preparing to put their homes on the market. We realtors often suggest contacting Mass Saves for an energy audit as a starting off point. 

Yesterday's article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, below, describes the process in detail!

Dirty or graying insulation above this basement wall is an indication of an air leak to the outside. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Mass Save’s energy assessment is cheapest route to weatherizing your home

For the Gazette 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By LINDA ENERSON 

Any time of the year is a great time to think about how to save energy, but the crisp night air of autumn is an especially good reminder to get the house ready for winter.

But before going to the hardware store to buy all the products needed to fill in all those drafty areas around windows and doors, you might want to consider bringing an energy-saving expert to your house to do that and more — for free.

One of the most informative and economical ways to make your home more energy-efficient is through the Mass Save program, a private/public partnership between the state and all the utility companies.

Homeowners can call and schedule a free energy assessment for their home. During the assessment, which takes several hours, a trained energy specialist walks through the house and creates a report, or “road map,” detailing what aspects of the home can benefit from upgrades, weatherization or additional insulation.

In addition to energy assessments, the program offers: 

  • rebates for upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances; 
  • substantial discounts on insulation; 
  • no-cost weatherization of drafty areas around doors, windows, sills, etc.; 
  • no-cost replacement of standard light bulbs with energy efficient LEDs; 
  • no-cost replacement of shower and faucet heads with more energy efficient models; 
  • no-cost replacement of heating system filters.

To get a better sense of the program, we tagged along on an assessment of a one-story contemporary home in Hatfield belonging to Eversource spokeswoman Patricia Ress. Brian Tierney was the energy assessor, and Eversource spokesman Bill Stack was also present to answer questions about the Mass Save program.

Stack encourages all residents, whether renters or homeowners, to take advantage of the program and schedule an assessment. Every month, Eversource customers pay a couple cents for every dollar they pay for electricity to fund the Mass Save program.

“Everybody is paying into it,” he said, “It’s like putting money into a savings account. If you don’t do an assessment, it’s like putting money into the account and never using it.” 

Down in the basement 

Tierney started the assessment in the basement, where he tested the heating/cooling system to determine how efficiently it was working. Ress’ home has a geothermal heating and cooling system, which exchanges heat through pipes that run into the ground to heat the home in cool months and cool it in the summer.

Tierney checked the system’s filter. Whether geothermal, oil or gas, if HVAC system filters are not replaced regularly, then the system will not function efficiently. He recommends a filter rated at Merv 8 or higher. Lower-end filters will protect the system from damage by large particles, but will not improve home air quality the way higher-end filters do.

He checked the hot water heater to ensure efficient combustion, and adequate venting, then checked the dehumidifier.

While dehumidifiers use a fair amount of electricity in the summer, keeping a basement below 60 percent humidity is important to prevent the growth of mold. Colder air, such as that in a basement doesn’t hold humidity well. That’s why homeowners will see sometimes see their basement walls sweating in summer.

“People sometimes tell me that they opened up the bulkhead to air out the basement, but that’s the worst thing you can do,” Tierney said, “It’s just a recipe for mold growth.” 

A better strategy is to seal any cracks or air holes around the sill and dehumidify the basement when necessary. Peeling back a piece of insulation near the sill, Tierney said that in some older homes, “you can actually see daylight along this line.” 

A gray or yellow discoloration of the insulation in attics or basements is a clear sign that air is somehow flowing in there. Air sealing in basements and attics is free of charge through the Mass Save program.

Air sealing is important not only to keep humid air from leaking in through the basement during summer but also to keep warm air inside the home during winter. Later in the assessment, Tierney will check the sill plate and inject an expandable foam into any holes to make this seal tight.

Spotting a chest freezer in the corner, Tierney mentioned that older chest freezers and refrigerators can be real energy hogs. Mass Save will pay residents $50 to haul these units away, and will then recycle 97 percent of the parts of these older appliances. Depending on the model, chest freezers are more efficient than those attached with a stand-up refrigerator as the cold air stays in the box when it is opened.

He also noted that it takes less energy to keep a full freezer at the set temperature. If there isn’t enough frozen food to fill the freezer, old milk jugs can be filled with water and set around the food packages to ensure efficient cooling.

Main floor 

Tierney asked Ress about her energy usage. Ress said her electric bill went up substantially when she moved into the house earlier this year.

Ress’ home was built in 2000, and so far, Tierney found little to indicate that it was inefficient. During his spot check of the basement sill line, the insulation and sealing seemed sufficient.

Ress said that the mix of generations living in her home may increase the demand for energy, as her elderly parents need to be in a comfortable temperature and her teenager uses a fair amount of hot water and electronics. 

“We have the TV on just about all the time,” she said, adding, “the geothermal system is great and keeps us comfortable, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but the pumps are running all the time.” 

Then Tierney started replacing dozens of small light bulbs with LEDs in several chandeliers on the main floor. He noted that Ress may start seeing substantial savings right away, because the cost of running a lot of incandescent bulbs, even if they’re small, can really add up. 

Stack added that homeowners may see savings up to over $500 with these lighting upgrades alone, as the bulbs use so much less energy and cost at least $4-5 each in stores.

Mass Save uses LEDs rather than compact fluorescent bulbs because they do not contain mercury, and last much longer. 

“One thing we tell customers is that if they put in an LED bulb when they have a new baby in the house, they may not have to replace that LED until their child is off to college,” Stack said.

Tierney also pointed to a few different power strips on the main floor where different appliances and lights were plugged in and, in many cases, still using electricity, even though they were turned off. He replaced power strips in Ress’ home with “smart sticks,” which cut power to several appliances on the strip when they are not in use.

The Mass Save program provides programmable thermostats during energy assessments, which can improve efficiency. Stack said the program can also provide Wi-Fi thermostats, some of which allow homeowners to adjust temperatures from afar, lowering or increasing them automatically when they are within a specific radius. A second visit is required to install Wi-Fi thermostats.

Tierney advised against temperature shifts of more than 8 degrees between day and night. 

“Temperature swings greater than that will require more energy to heat the house back up than if you had left the thermostat alone,” he said.

He also checked Ress’ appliances to see if they were running efficiently. Mass Save offers a tiered rebate program based on income to encourage upgrades to more energy-efficient models. Rebates on refrigerators, for example, start at $150 but are higher if a resident is low- or moderate-income. Rebates for clothes washers start at $350.

In the attic 

Tierney climbed into the attic and found that Ress’ home was well insulated. With 14 inches of cellulose insulation in addition to a layer of hard insulation, her home was well protected from heat loss. But Mass Save offers large discounts on insulation for homes that need it. Homeowners may qualify for discounts of 75 percent of the cost of approved insulation improvements, up to $2,000, Ress said. Discounts are even higher if residents are low- or moderate-income. 

In addition, the program offers no-cost targeted sealing of air leaks. She added that qualifying residents may also be eligible for zero percent financing for eligible measures through the HEAT loan program http://www.masssave.com/en/residential/expanded-heat-loan.

Stack said Mass Save also works with contractors building and remodeling homes, offering discounts on energy-saving measures. He said homeowners who are in the process of construction can encourage their contractor to call the program to take advantage of these savings. 

In addition, the program is reaching out to real estate agents to do energy assessments before new owners move in. 

“When the house is empty, that’s the best time to look around and see what can be put in place to make sure it’s energy efficient,” he said.

Mudroom Gratitude in Western Massachusetts

This time of year I feel grateful for my mudroom. I'm grateful for the cubbies we had built, so that each of our family members has somewhere to store their winter layers, their boots, their backpacks, etc. I'm grateful for the rubber floors which we chose, which are colorful and easy to clean. I'm grateful for the coat closet in the mudroom, where we can hide away our warmer weather outerwear. I'm grateful to the resource of Pinterest, where I found great mudroom design ideas. And, perhaps, I am mostly grateful for the door between the mudroom and the rest of our living space - so that we might keep that clutter from spilling over into our living room.

As a realtor in the Northampton area, I am reminded this time of year, to point out to my buyer clients the benefits of purchasing a home which has an entryway or mudroom. A home with an entryway -- even if it is just a small transitional area (as an alternative to a full mudroom) -- allows the homeowner a place to leave off the baggage that winter necessitates. It is so nice to be free from the bulky clothes, the mud, snow, dirt, etc before entering one's home. 

Looks as if the Daily Hampshire Gazette shares my opinion. Here is a recent article about the benefits of the mudroom from our local newspaper.

 

A mudroom is more than a place to store stuff



JERREY ROBERTS The mud room at the home of Suna Turgay and Ben Woods in Florence.

By ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER
For the Gazette
Thursday, February 11, 2016

A great mudroom has its own heat source, gets natural light, is easy to clean and is well organized. With those four fundamentals it’s hard to go wrong and easy to find ways to let creativity flourish.

Mike Buehler and Anne Vaillant of Southampton did theirs as part of a more extensive renovation in 2014. The mudroom is not only a highly functional space but it also is the way visitors are greeted and introduced to their household. It bespeaks order and charm in its functionality.

“The single best thing that we did was to put in a very large storage area, including closed cabinetry, a bench with space underneath for shoes, and then lots of hooks for hanging jackets and backpacks,” said Buehler, a self-described “neat freak” in a “family that doesn’t always share that priority.”

A mudroom performs several tangible and psychological functions. It serves as a barrier between the hearth and the rest of the world. It’s a place where you transition from your outside self to your inside self. You get to leave the dirt on your shoes behind and unburden yourself of some of the paraphernalia, like keys, backpacks, umbrellas, coats and hats that aren’t necessarily of much use in the house. You can even leave your cellphone behind in a charging station of you want to be beyond its reach when you get home. It will be revved up and ready to go in the morning.

A mudroom can also be a place where pet supplies, like a brush, feeding and water bowls, and food can be kept, especially for animals that spend time both indoors and out.


Suna Turgay compares the feeling of having a mudroom to watching Mr. Rogers on television. “He comes in and takes off his coat and then puts on his sweater, takes his shoes off and puts his slippers on,” she said. Having a mudroom “definitely mimics that.” She keeps some guest slippers for visitors.

Turgay, who lives in a 2,000-square-foot house in Florence with her husband, Ben Wood, and their two children, a 13-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, said their mudroom is “almost like an airlock. You come in, whether it’s raining, or really hot, or snowing, or muddy, you close the door behind you and you dump all your stuff.” She values the organization it lends to her life. It also makes it a lot easier to keep the rest of the house clean. Another big advantage, because there is the outside door and the inside door, is “that all that precious heat in the home isn’t escaping” every time you go outside. The savings in heat, in fact, makes the initial investment that much more worthwhile, she said.

She has a small heater in the mudroom, which is on a zone unto itself. It doubles as a drying station for wet mittens. Heating is crucial if you really want your mudroom to be fully functional in all four seasons. Without it, said Turgay, it becomes a place to store things. You would end up bringing your shoes into the house to dry out and to be reasonably warm when you go to put them on.

Hers has a heating panel mounted on a wall. It is connected to the house’s central heating system but has a knob that goes from one to six. “We keep it around one,” said Turgay. It’s like “an old-fashioned radiator,” only smaller, sleeker and more modern looking.

Easy clean

Turgay’s mudroom has organizing features built in from ceiling to floor. It is long and thin and has hooks, shelves and baskets. “We also have little cubbies, though the little people have gotten much bigger and they are probably not that necessary anymore,” she said. “Now there are places to hang backpacks and bags and things like that.”

In the summer the mudroom is a way station between house and garden. “I am a grower of food, which makes the mudroom that much more important,” she said. Besides growing most of what the family eats on a fenced-in third of an acre, she also keeps chickens and bees. The grit that collects on her shoes and outer clothes gets trapped in the mudroom.

Tile or stone is the ideal flooring surface for a mudroom because it is easily cleaned. Dirt tends to collect quickly in a mudroom and that’s a good thing, because that is all dirt that is not making it into the house. An easily swept and occasionally mopped floor makes it relatively simple to expel that dirt at a rate that keeps up with the traffic.

That is something that Buehler seconds. As part of a family with girls aged 15 and 11, skis and snowboards are often left to let the drippings of melting ice and snow puddle up in the mudroom. “And my younger daughter has a horse, so she leaves her barn clothes and riding boots there,” he adds. “It’s a good solution for an active family.”

Their mudroom is where there used to be a direct opening into the kitchen. “It’s nice not having a blast of arctic air coming into the kitchen every time you open the door in the winter,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”


The cabinetry and shelves are cherry. “We like the warmth of it and we liked the idea of a wood that ages and evolves over time,” said Buehler. “Cherry darkens nicely and gets these rosy tones if you’re lucky.”

The mudroom reflects the style of his kitchen, which he had renovated at the same time. “We were looking for a warm country look, not a sleek, granite stainless kind of job.”

Size counts

Dan Bradbury, who manages projects for Valley Home Improvement Inc. in Northampton, said his firm does about four to six mudrooms a year, some as part of a larger renovation and some as stand-alone projects. They can range anywhere between $8,000 and $40,000 depending on the size and materials one chooses. “The main driving force of cost is the footprint,” Bradbury said. “That becomes an exponential number that includes framing, drywall, electrical installations and finishing. Size really counts.”

Then comes the quality of the wood and other materials one chooses. “Even the tiles have a huge range in price,” Bradbury said. The company has its own cabinetry shop and the workers are skilled in helping customers design the storage scheme. “The most important thing is that it is well organized,” he said.

A heat source is crucial for it to be a four-season room but the cost of heating need not be exorbitant, according to Bradbury. There are a number of options, including radiant heat from the floor.

Another consideration is light, especially if you are adding a mudroom to an existing part of the house. “You don’t want to steal light from your kitchen or living room,” he said. “That’s very important, especially in the dark months around here in the wintertime.”

That means taking angles of the sun into account when situating the room. It might also mean adding a window to a wall in the room giving onto the mudroom.

Monet Singh of Florence, who describes her household as “a very active family” with three children, is in the planning stages of a mudroom she hopes to build in the spring.

“My kids are all over the place and their stuff is all over the place and this is the first time we are doing work on our house to make it a more livable and comfortable space,” she said. “We just had the kitchen done, so the next big thing that needs to be done is the mudroom so we can feel a little more comfortable and organized and have place to put all our stuff.”

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com

 

Time to make sure you are prepared for winter!

Many of us Northampton area residents are wondering whether this winter will come close, in snow accumulation, to last winter. So far, it's not looking that way - though you can't seem to go anywhere in town today without hearing conversations about the upcoming Nor'easter (the Emperor's New Nor'Easter?). But, impending storm or no, it certainly makes sense to stock up on the types of materials and gadgets that you will be thankful to have on hand once the snow really does start falling. Our local Northampton paper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, had this article to share, with great ideas about how to be ready for the snowfall when it finally comes. I imagine these items are flying off the shelves at local hardware stores, so put them on your shopping list if you don't already own them!

 

Stock up on the right tools to beat back Old Man Winter

 

R

Photo credit: Kevin Gutting

 

By ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER
For the Gazette

Rock salt mixed with sand is the first thing that comes to mind for many people when the task is melting the ice beneath their feet.

This is a perfectly acceptable solution for a limited number of applications, according to David Chaisson, co-owner of Stadler Ace Hardware in Belchertown. Maybe the bottom of a sloped driveway could use a sprinkling of this gritty concoction that provides the benefit of added traction along with its melting properties. It will give you the grip you need to build momentum as you ascend.

But in most cases you'll want something a little less harsh.

Rock salt is not only hard on metal, accelerating rust, but it also does no favors for concrete. In fact, "it will eat your concrete," said Chaisson. It may not seem like much at first, but the salt, which is perfectly fine on asphalt or blacktop, will start pitting a concrete walkway. Small cracks can develop and when water gets into those and freezes, the expansion will lead to a cascading cycle that will eventually destroy the concrete.

Salt is also not great for shoes, it will burn your pet's feet, and if you track it into the house the carpets will suffer.

The alternative is a product that comes under a variety of names but is usually referred to as Ice Melt. Chaisson carries a brand called Mr. Magic, which he prefers because it goes on orange, allowing for easy even distribution.

"When you are putting it on the white snow you can see where you are putting it to get a nice even mix," Chaisson said, "so you are not putting it on too light or missing some spots."

The active ingredient is calcium chloride. It keeps melting ice even when the overall temperature drops to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. That is considerably colder than rock salt, which only keeps melting down to minus 10 degrees.

Chaisson recommends getting your Ice Melt early because it often sells out. Last year it was very hard to find by midwinter.

Depending on your needs, the cheapest way of buying Ice Melt is in a 50-pound bag, though Chaisson recommends buying it in a drum the first time, and then buying refills.

"It's always a good idea to have a drum or some kind of sealable container so you can do your job and then fill it back up," he said. "You have to cover it up and keep the moisture out because if the moisture gets in, it will make it hard as a rock and you have to break it up and it becomes a pain in the neck."

Chaisson said you can apply Ice Melt on the ground before the snow falls or you can put it on ice that has already formed. "Let's say you have a thin layer of ice, you can put it down and it will stay there until the next storm," he said. "It keeps melting until it's melted out." How long that might be depends in part on how well the melted water drains off, or whether it puddles and refreezes.

Roof care

Driveways, walkways and paths to the wood pile are not the only places you want to think of in terms of keeping the snow and ice from piling up, Chaisson said.

A little bit of early intervention when snow starts piling up on the roof can go a long way toward preventing bigger problems.


Most importantly, he said, is to get the right kind of rake (with a long handle) so that you can clear snow off the first few feet of your roof. If you do that, the rest of the roof will take care of itself, as normal sunshine will heat up the shingles just enough to let the snow dissipate in an orderly way.

Ice dams were an issue that people in our area used to deal with once in a decade, said Chaisson, but in recent years they have become an annual phenomenon. That is when ice builds up toward the bottom of the roof and stays there, preventing the melting snow from dripping off. In fact, it can build up and start pooling on the roof and then as it repeatedly melts and freezes it can seep under the shingles and over time cause major damage.

"If it's looking like it's going to stay cold for a while, you should get a bit of your roof opened up even if there is not a lot of snow," said Chaisson.

There is also a relatively new product that has come to the market in the last five years that looks something like a hockey puck that you can put on your roof to help keep the ice from building up.

These are a little pricey, Chaisson said, but they work very well.

"If your roof is frozen solid, especially your gutters, you can throw them up onto your roof a couple of feet," he said. "You don't have to be very accurate and you don't have to send them way up."

The effect may seem to be almost imperceptible at first, but as the pucks (or discs) slowly melt the ice around them the chemical (just like the Ice Melt, it is calcium chloride) drips down with the water, clearing built-up ice along the way. "It may not look like it's doing a lot, but it is doing all the work under the top surface," said Chaisson.

One of the reasons it is so important to clear the lower portion of the roof is that starting in the late afternoon the chilled air coming up can quickly freeze any moisture that gathers there during the day, Chaisson said.

"The wind is what starts the thing because you are melting every day," he said. "Around 4 o'clock you get the uplifting cold."

Throwing snow

Back on the ground, ice is one thing, but snow measured in inches and sometimes feet can be another. Shovels come in at least 30 varieties and brands, ranging from less than $10 to up to $40.

"You truly get what you pay for," Chaisson said. The major differences are between the "pushers" and the "lifters." There are also the so-called "back savers" which have angled posts that allow you to stay in a more upright position as you heave the snow to where you want it to go. The advantage is that you get to let your legs take some of the weight that your back would otherwise handle.

Another variable to look for in shovels is whether the blade is made of metal or plastic. As you might expect, the metal blade is more durable but it might not be the right solution for a deck, for instance, where scratching could be an issue.

And then there are snowblowers. Tom Perron, the owner of Boyden & Perron in Amherst, prefers to call them "snow throwers" but, he said, the terms are interchangeable and are usually dependent on who the manufacturer is.

There is a lot of variety there.

The simplest power tool for clearing your front steps and maybe a walkway or small driveway is a power shovel, which is electric and plugs into the wall. An obvious advantage is that you don't have to deal with smelly gas and oil. There are also no spark plugs or carburetors that need to be serviced. Besides being clean, they are also light, so you can easily take them out to a deck you want to clear. The obvious down side is that you have to be within reach of a power source and you have to manage the cord while you are doing your work.

Perron sells three sizes of power shovels.

When it comes to gasoline-powered snow throwers, there is a major distinction between single-stage machines and double-stage machines.

For the first, the auger (think spiral blade) touches the ground directly. As it spins it throws the snow off to the side. This is good when you are working on smooth surfaces and the snow is not too deep or tightly packed.


The motion of the blade helps propel the machine forward as you go. Depending on use, the blade needs to be replaced every few years. It can throw the snow 25 to 30 feet, according to Perron. He sells these in seven different models.

For bigger jobs you will want a two-stage snow thrower. In this case the auger does not touch the ground, which means you can use it on a wider variety of surfaces, including rougher terrain like a lawn or a gravel driveway. The rotating blade in this case cuts into the snow and feeds it to a secondary mechanism, called the impeller, which is what throws the white stuff up to 40 feet.

Unlike the single-stage snow thrower, this machine has a transmission, which means that you can adjust the power depending on the job. The wheels are also connected to the transmission so you get a power assist in moving the machine forward.

"Some of the larger snow throwers are easier to use than the smaller ones," Perron said.

He sells seven models of the two-stage snow throwers. Those at the higher end include features like heated handles and headlights as well as, of course, more power and a wider intake so you can move more volume more quickly.

Finally, if you want to go really large, there are riding snow throwers. These are for people who have large surfaces they need to clear quickly.

The added benefit of these is that they have a dual use as lawn mowers in the summer.

That is something nice to think about as you head out into the frigid environs of a heavy blanket of snow left behind by a winter storm.

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com