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Ice skating on the roof Making it to spring, safe and sound

Q.I'm a homeowner, and I love my home. I always worry about Buffalo's winter taking a toll on the house I've invested so much in over the years, and since we're a few weeks away from spring thaw (I hope), is there anything I can do to make sure I make it through the winter with no permanent damage?

- Snowbound, but Determined, in Buffalo

A.Congratulations. You have reached the point in your life where you have one chance to quiz Ask First Sunday about her winter thrills and you have squandered it on how to care for your house. Nothing about finding that perfect point between anarchy and control while whizzing down the slopes. Nothing about being so infected with cabin fever, you're likely to do anything to break the monotony. No, you want to know about shoveling.

AFS understands. Buffalo's housing stock being what it is, many of us sleep with one eye open listening for telltale crashes that mean that beautiful turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts house you bought for a song years ago has suffered some irreparable harm, and you're the one who pretended not to notice small trees growing in the gutters last summer.

Not a problem. AFS remembers several years back when moisture from ice dams on her roof started backing up into her living room and she stood by helplessly as her textured wallpaper started to sprout the most realistic-looking ice crystal-template designs. That was a thrill.

Do not be embarrassed by your passion for property. Part of living in Buffalo is the satisfaction that, yes, the winter is on its last unfrozen-Lake Erie legs. Face the other members of your family, because whatever else they may think of you, you are steering this household into safe passage through another Western New York winter.

So. How to get through this final winter passage and sail for spring?

Easy. Listen to someone like Robert Cornejo. He's the owner of Hector's Hardware on Hertel Avenue, and the kind of person you need to know throughout the year. His advice for this month can save you more serious headaches down the line and prevent any late-season injuries. Remember, that Narnia-like thaw is just around the corner. The trick is getting there with all parts of your house and body intact.

Look Around: It's the first commandment in Cornejo's book of homeowner's late-winter survival. A simple inspection of your property can turn up havoc caused by ice and snow that will only get worse by mid-March. "Check the roof, check your gutters, looking for signs of damage," Cornejo says. "All that ice and snow we had in December will cause ice buildup that can pull gutters away from the house, loosen downspouts or plug up places where water runs off the roof."

No one, not even a neighborhood guy like Cornejo, is going to tell Ask First Sunday to go up on her roof right now. (Is this Snowbound's idea of chilled thrills? Watching the magazine's beloved advice columnist flop around like a landlocked guppy on her icy roof?) No, the trick is to use binoculars, look through windows, eyeball it from the ground. Unless you're living in the Palace at Versailles, you should be able to get a good read on any damage.

Check your chimney for cracks. Has the vent cap fallen off? If so, heed the advice that applies to most pressing roof repairs: Find a professional to climb up there and fix it. Local hardware stores with the personal touch of Hector's usually know someone to call.

Pay strict attention to drainage, Cornejo says. Melting water running toward the house's foundation can end up in your basement. If ice and snow have pushed gutters away from the house, find someone experienced who can reattach them before the really heavy runoff begins.

The Beauty of the Snow Rake: Western New Yorkers know the dread that comes from watching layers of snow on flat roofs become compressed, ominous and crusted layers of ice. Is it going to collapse the patio? Will the geometrically increasing weight of half-melted snow make a new skylight in the family room?

You need a snow rake, an inexpensive tool available at most hardware stores that extends to about 20 feet. The aluminum rake allows someone standing on the ground or a small stepladder to pull much of the snow off the roof before it becomes a living, breathing menace.

Furnaces, Humidifiers and Impromptu Skating Rinks: Furnaces have disposable air filters, and they should be replaced every winter month or so. The same with humidifiers. Change the filters or clean the plates. It saves energy and makes both work more efficiently.

And while you're still guffawing about AFS teetering on her roof, consider the February phenomenon of that standing patch of ice on the driveway or sidewalk. Day by day, it's grown a thin, slippery layer until it's as thick and smooth as a freshly Zamboni-ed surface at HSBC Arena. Stores sell ice melt, but some homeowners think it corrodes sidewalks or driveways. Cornejo suggests an alternative: kitty litter. It melts ice buildup and is kinder on concrete. Your cat might look at you funny, but come spring, she'll be another family member enjoying the benefits of a successful journey through winter.

And that, dear homeowner, is what it's all about.

The warmth and wisdom of Ask First Sunday is available throughout the year. Write to her at: Ask First Sunday, c/o The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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