Using an Extension Ladder

For strength and rigidity, select a ladder with a duty rating of at least 250 pounds. It should extend 3 feet above the highest eaves on your house. Add another foot to this distance to make up for the propping angle. The extended height of a ladder is about 3 feet less than the total of its sections. If you have never scaled an extension ladder, ask someone to steady it from below when you make your first few climbs. You will soon gain confidence.

Always stay clear of power lines, even if your ladder is made of a nonconductive material. Never allow more than one person on a ladder at a time. Don’t use a ladder on a windy day—not only is it hazardous for you to work in heavy winds, an unattended ladder can blow over, leaving you stranded. Store ladders indoors, away from moisture and “second-story” burglars. Don’t paint a wooden ladder; paint can hide defects.

Caution! Watch out for power lines - Metal—and even wet wooden or fiberglass—ladders can conduct electricity. Be especially careful when moving or extending a ladder near power lines. In addition, phone and cable lines can be damaged if hit by a ladder.

Leg extension. When the feet of a ladder must span uneven terrain, you can use a sturdy 2x4 to fashion an extension for one foot. Use at least two strong clamps to securely fasten the extension.

Ladder brace. The top of a ladder can easily damage a gutter or even siding. A brace improves a ladder’s stability, protects siding and gutters, spans obstacles, and keeps the ladder away from the house.

1. Walk the ladder up. To set up a ladder, place its feet firmly against the foundation. Do not extend it yet; wait until it’s vertical. “Walk” the ladder up, hand over hand, keeping your arms straight. It will seem to get lighter as it rises.

.2. Pull the rope. To extend the ladder, brace a rail with your foot and pull the ladder carefully away from the house until you feel you can hold it securely; you may need help. Pull the rope to raise the top section. Go a little higher than you need, then let it slide back down. Make sure both locks catch.

3. Position the ladder. Position the ladder so that the distance from the base to the wall is about one-fourth of its extended length. Make sure the ladder’s feet dig a bit into the ground.

Inspecting a Roof

To ensure a tight roof overhead, you should examine it every spring and fall. You don’t have to haul out the extension ladder and risk life and limb crawling onto the roof. Just scan it from all sides through binoculars, paying special attention to the problem areas illustrated here. If you do decide to climb up for a closer look, exercise caution. Also bear in mind that the sun does more damage than the wind and rain combined, so you may want to focus most of your effort on the sunny side of the house. Don’t mount a roof on a hot, sunny day. Shingles (especially asphalt shingles) are easily damaged when hot. If a number of shingles are broken, blistered, or balding and many have lost their luster, prepare for a reroofing job.

Clean the gutters. Keep your hips between the rails, and don’t overreach; erect ladders are easily tipped with little motion.

Use a stabilizer. For roof work, buy a pair of metal roofing jacks, which are held in place with nails driven under a shingle. Install two jacks and stretch a 2x4 between them. Or secure the ladder with ropes tied to a tree on the other side. Or hook a stabilizer over the ridge.

Ice Dams - In an area with freezing weather, the attic must be kept cold in the winter. If not, snow can melt, flow down near the eaves, and then freeze. The resulting “ice dam” can work its way under shingles and flashing, seriously damaging the roof’s sheathing and possibly the framing. If you see signs of ice dams, install attic insulation. This will keep heat from escaping into the attic space.

Ridge shingle. Ridge shingles often fail first. Look for cracks and wind damage. In the case of asphalt shingles, the mineral granules may be worn away. A leak here can show up anywhere inside.

Valley. Valleys are another place where deterioration causes problems. Make sure any flashing is sound. Shingles should lie flat on top of the flashing. If leaks occur during windy rainstorms, the shingles that lie on the flashing may not be cut correctly; ask a pro.

Flashing. Check other flashing too. It should be tight, rust-free, and sealed with pliable caulking or roofing cement. Installing a new vent like the one shown above is not difficult, but other types of flashing require a pro.

Missing shingle. Loose, curled, or missing shingles leak moisture that weakens sheathing and harms walls and ceilings. If individual shingles have been damaged by a falling branch, replace them singly. If shingles show general wear and tear, it’s time for a reroofing job.

Granules in the gutter. A large accumulation of granules in the gutter means your roof is losing its surface coating. Expect problems soon.

Flooding gutter. Watch during a heavy rain to see if gutters are free-flowing. Flooding can work up under lower shingle courses.

Pinpoint leaks. Water that gets through a leak in your roof will often follow a meandering, brooklike course. It can travel under sheathing, down a rafter, even along an electrical cable, before showing up as a drip or damp spot on a ceiling or wall. You may be able to trace the trickle to its source from the attic. Look for water stains on framing and sheathing. Keep in mind that a leak will originate higher than the area where it first appeared. Even then the cause of the leak may be above the point of entry into the attic. Often the culprits are damaged flashing and damaged or misapplied shingles. On a sunny day, a leak may appear as a pinhole of light in the attic. If you find one, drive a nail up through it from the attic to mark the spot on the roof itself. Attach a string to guide water to a bucket until you can make the repair.

Solving Roof Problems

If you are queasy about moving around on high places— especially if your roof is steeply pitched—hire a professional for even small jobs. If you conquer your fears, however, you will find most repairs are relatively simple. Often the biggest challenges are hoisting up your tools and materials and getting around on the roof. On gentle slopes wear shoes with rubber soles. Attack steep pitches by hooking or tying an extension ladder over the ridge of the roof. Or use ladder jacks and a length of 2x4.

Do not step on gutters or rely on them for support. With any type of roof, don’t walk on it more than necessary. And don’t go up at all during hot or cold weather extremes. Try to repair asphalt shingles on medium-warm days (40°-80°F); asphalt roofing turns brittle in cold weather and is too soft to handle when hot.

Wood shingles and shakes are not temperature-sensitive, but they are affected by humidity. Soaking them makes them much more pliable; dry shingles may split when you drive nails in them. Wet wood shingles can be slippery. Only a few supplies are required for repair work. Roofing cement is available in cans, and you can apply it with a putty knife or a scrap of wood. Butyl caulk and “gutter caulk” are messy to work with, but worth the trouble because they adhere so well. For fastening use galvanized roofing nails that are long enough to penetrate all the way through the sheathing. If you have several layers of roofing, you may need nails as long as 2 inches. Wood shingles and slate tiles require shingle nails, which have thinner shanks. In your garage you may find shingles or roll goods left over from the installation; otherwise take a sample to buy materials of matching color.

Patch cracks, minor splits, and holes with roofing cement. Drive home popped nails and seal them or the shingles that cover them. Make sure that all shingles lie flat. If any are even slightly curled, fasten them down with dabs of cement. Don’t be stingy with roofing cement or caulking around the flashing.

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