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Tom West: As ice dam breaker, he gets the heave ho

More convincing evidence has arrived that I should not repair my own home. Several years ago, when we were searching for a home in Duluth, we went to about 80 real estate open houses. At each place, the drill was the same. Walk into the house, ta...

More convincing evidence has arrived that I should not repair my own home.
Several years ago, when we were searching for a home in Duluth, we went to about 80 real estate open houses. At each place, the drill was the same.
Walk into the house, take off your shoes, and pick up an information sheet.
I understood about taking off one's shoes. Even in the summer, having 100 or 150 people tramping through the house could be cause for calling professional carpet cleaners.
What was interesting, however, was that when people stopped by to visit us in our home, they frequently took off their shoes without asking. I know they do that in Japan, but longtime Duluthians should know that shoe doffing is fairly unique to this region of the United States.
I failed to understand why until this winter. Of the past 60 days, my guess is that I have probably shoveled some snow on at least 30 of them.
Meanwhile, many side streets have become snow packed in spite of the best efforts of the street department. The result is that one cannot even walk to the mailbox without getting some brown slush (an odd combination of salt, sand and snow) on one's shoes. Unless you have a carpet that matches perfectly in color, the only alternative is to take off one's shoes when entering the house.
I have adopted a three-shoe system for the winter. I have a pair of black shoes that I wear to work most days. I also have a pair of rubbers that fit over them.
I am amazed at how many people prefer not to wear overshoes or rubbers anymore. I believe they add at least a year of life to any pair of shoes. I have such a weird shoe size that my shoes come expensively. I try to get a couple of years out of my shoes, and that brown slush eats at the underbody of shoes as well as cars.
The rest of the time, I wear either a pair of hiking boots or a pair of walking shoes. Both have those molded rubber soles. Since rubber soles stand up to the brown slush better than leather, I simply alternate them as I come into the house. That way, the wettest pair is able to drain on the door mat, and I can still wear shoes around the house.
If that were the only inconvenience of this winter, of course, it would be no big deal.
However, the other part of snow every other day for two months is the build up on roofs.
At our house, we have a nice little ice dam, front and back.
In one particular spot, close to the furnace flue, the dam is larger. In fact, it is enough that I decided I needed to put a heat tape up there to melt off some of the ice.
So I went to the hardware store and bought a 60' coil. Then I went home and got out my extension ladder. Unfortunately, the ladder had been lying by the back of the house in the snow for two months. The extension part of the ladder resisted extending.
I needed to extend it so I could reach the ice dam by the furnace flue. Since that was out of the question unless I wanted to spend a couple of hours with a hair dryer blowing on it, I went around to the back of the house where the ladder would reach the roof.
I figured if I could at least throw the line over the house so it covered both the front and back, at least I could create a drainage spot on both sides.
So, a la Roy Rogers, I gathered up the heat tape like a lariat and climbed up the ladder to throw it. I left the end down on the ground so that it would not all fly up on the roof where I could not reach it.
I gave the heat tape a heave, and it made it almost to the top of the house. I realized that I would have to heave a little harder.
So I climbed down the ladder, gathered it up again, climbed back up, and gave a little harder heave. This time the direction was not so good, and it bounced near the chimney.
So I climbed down the ladder, rewound, and climbed back up.
This time I heaved as hard as I could. Unfortunately, I held on a split second too long, and the heat tape shot off to the right, barely making the top of the house. In addition, the tape on the ground came snaking up over the eave, and stopped about four feet up on the roof.
I climbed down the ladder, went to the garage and found a broom, climbed back up the ladder, and fished the end of the heat tape back within reach.
Then I climbed down, rewound the tape and climbed back up determined to give the best, most accurate heave of my life.
I took the cord in my good hand, and flung it as hard as I could. It flew straight and true -- right at the furnace flue, which it hit.
Then, as if in slow motion, it seemed like all the energy heretofore spent in uncoiling the heat tape was transferred to the tail end. I turned back just in time to watch the tail go flying up and landing on the very top of the house, about 10 feet from the main coil. It is now safely out of reach of me or my broom.
The secretary of health and human services at our house had exacted a promise before I started that I would not try to climb on the roof.
Thus the heat tape is now on the roof for the duration of the winter, or at least until I can get the extension ladder extended so I can climb to a spot closer to the tape.
In the meantime, I learned that one good thing about a heat tape is that, because it is black, it is still doing a partial job even though it is not plugged in.
When I walked back in the house, I didn't bother changing my shoes. Winter had won another battle.
Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer news. he may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.wst@duluth.com .

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