handyman on call | Peter Hotton

Should I pay to have snow shoveled off roof?

Q. On the radio (Saturday) before the snowfall begin, the newscaster said that people should shovel their roofs because more snow is expected; I heard the same admonition by a weathercaster on a Boston TV station. Now roofers are roaming the streets asking homeowners if they want their roofs shoveled for $500!!! All the houses in my area are Capes or splits. What is with this cry to shovel roofs of snow to prevent Armageddon?


JACK SLATER, Chelmsford

A. A mistake is harder to eradicate than the truth. Sloped roofs do not need clearing of snow, because they will hold infinite amounts of snow, up to maybe 3, 4, or 5 feet, even more, because a double slope, which most houses have, will hold many times their own weight. Shoveling off snow will do no good, is extremely dangerous, and criminally expensive as you found out. The only roofs that need clearing of snow are flat ones, if their interior drains have failed. Besides, snow is an insulator, and helps prevent loss of heat. The only need for clearing snow off a slanted roof is to help prevent heavy water leaks, into attics and living spaces.


Q. We are looking at radiator covers, and leaning toward metal for better heat distribution as opposed to wood. What do you recommend? Any vendors around?

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A. Are you talking covers over the tops of radiators, or enclosures, covering top and sides, with a screen in front? Both are good in wood, and the enclosures are like furniture, elegant, and very expensive. Covers are fairly efficient in keeping air from blowing up rather than into the room, but enclosures are much more so. When you find wood enclosures too expensive, you can design and build your own. Or be content with covers. Incidentally, the best color to paint radiators is black, improving their efficiency by quite a bit.

Q. How would covers make radiators more efficient?


JONATHAN, from Framingham


A. Covers keep heated air from flying willy-nilly, and help aim the heat into the room rather than up and away. Enclosures do this even more efficiently.

Q. I have big old ice dams, with huge icicles hanging from the gutters. I have plenty of batt insulation, and no leaks from the ice dams. Can I take some insulation away from the eaves, to make sure the soffit vents are working? The soffit vents are perforated vinyl, and I am afraid they were applied over solid boards of the soffit itself. Anything I can do about that soffit? And the icicles?


TOM JEROME, Holliston

A. Yes, a million times yes. That soffit story is amazing, if true, and you can take off the perforated vinyl and you may find a few holes drilled in the soffit boards, but they are useless. Take off the boards and screw the perforated vinyl over the open soffit.

Or cut a 2-inch-wde strip along the entire length of each soffit and install an aluminum screen. The icicles formed when the gutters froze and tumbled over the gutter tops. Nothing you can do except fence off the area under the icicles to keep people from getting hit by them. Don’t try to knock them down; you could take the ice and gutters with you.


Finally, if the attic is musty or you see signs of moisture and/or mold, put in a ridge vent when the weather is nice. If the attic is dry, the gable vents already there will be adequate ventilation with the new soffit vents.

Q. My house on the midcoast of Maine has a bathroom exhaust fan venting across the attic floor (insulated, as is the pipe), and goes through the gable end wall. Trouble is, condensing water vapor does not make it outdoors but flows back to the fan, causing water problems. How can I fix that? The vent is a fragile, flexible, wiggly thing.


STANLET HARLOW, Newcastle, Maine

A. Replace that wiggly-waggly vent with a PVC pipe. Extend it at least 6 inches above the bathroom fan, then let it drop gradually to the outside outlet. You might get a little storage of water near the outside vent, but that will soon evaporate.

Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930 or e-mail He also chats online from 2-3 p.m. Thursdays on